T/N: Yes, the title is a Durarara!!×1 throwback to Shizuo. Yumasaki tags on -ssu (colloquial of ‘desu’) when he talks, but it is difficult to make apparent who is speaking after translating to English.
Content warning: Mentions (themes?) of sibling incest.
Go On Ahead, Leave This to Me
Somewhere in Ikebukuro. Commercial Building Hall of Treasures, 4th Floor.
It was a commercial building some distance from Ikebukuro station.
It did not occupy a large area. The first floor sold miscellanies imported from Taiwan, the second floor was a Taiwanese restaurant, and the third was a bookstore; the amalgamation of different businesses lent an air of liveliness to the block.
The fourth floor was used as an event space for the resident businesses by rotation, but when unoccupied oftentimes it was borrowed by some people as a hangout, specifically the group of Ei Li-pei, a relative of the landlord and leader of Dragon Zombie.
“That’s how it is. So do you have any idea who the Slugger might be, Li-pei-san?”
At Yahiro’s words, Li-pei shook his head incredulously.
“No… You came all the way here to ask that?”
“Good job finding this place.”
“I asked Kuon-kun.”
Yahiro answered calmly. Li-pei snorted.
“Well well. Kuon’s that green-haired kid, right? I wonder why he knew? Ah, it’s not important.”
Li-pei’s sisters stood beside him, and other Dragon Zombie members loitered around the event space, keeping a wary eye on Yahiro from a distance.
“I was hoping you’d say you were here to join us… But I guess that was expecting too much…?”
“No, you don’t have to apologise… But isn’t it scary? Coming by yourself to a bōsōzoku hangout?”
Yahiro said this frankly, before he continued,
“But leaving the Slugger unchecked is, um, scarier…”
“Hey, I don’t really wanna say this, but from our perspective you’re scarier than the Slugger, yeah? Snake Hands-kun?”
“Please don’t. I don’t know why that name spread…”
A blush spread over Yahiro’s face, and he looked away.
Li-pei was the very person who had popularised the name, but he kept that tidbit to himself and shook his head.
“Stranger things have happened. But it’s all right. The name fits you.”
“Then maybe it’s okay…?”
Seeing Yahiro tilt his head consideringly, Li-pei laughed and said,
“Well; it’d be a great help to us as well if you caught the Slugger. We’ll help you in any way we can if it comes to it, yeah?”
“But well, we’ve been trying to investigate the case, too. To be frank, it became our business since the moment we became suspect ourselves.”
“There are two culprits… That’s what some people are saying. But there are also those pointing fingers at us. Or Blue Square.”
Yahiro was aware of this as well.
Kuon’s sister had spread the rumour on her website that same morning, and as it had come up in conversation with both Aoba and Himeka, he was far from surprised.
“Blue Square is looking for the culprit too, so I think those rumours are false.”
“…Right, you have connections there too, don’t you?”
“Just an acquaintance.”
“You’re safe with me, but you’d best keep that to yourself, yeah? You can get on Toramaru’s bad side just by being friendly with Blue Square.”
With that, Li-pei smiled wryly, and continued,
“Damn, I really hate to work with them. I guess it’s still way better than working with Jyan Jyaka Jyan, but… There’s no way we can be seen cooperating on the surface. If we’re careless and rumours get out that we’re acting in concert, people will start to put their guard up. They’ll think we’ve formed an alliance.”
“Is that how it works?”
“That’s how it works.”
Yahiro tilt his head, and Li-pei mimicked the action back at him teasingly.
Yahiro was musing on how similar this conversation felt to the one with Kuronuma-sempai, when the thought came to him.
“But I didn’t come down to ask you to do anything, I’m just here to talk, so isn’t it fine?”
“Is that so? You’re one thing, but aren’t the kids with you trying to use us?”
Li-pei pointed out, shrugging. Yahiro tilted his head again.
“Hmm… I’m not very good at understanding that kind of thing.”
Thinking of Kuon, his employer, Yahiro recalled,
“Ah, but I know he’s using me, at least. He said so.”
“What an evil kid.”
Li-pei shrugged. Yahiro told him,
“But I’m fine with it, so it’s okay.”
“Huh? Is that the problem?”
Li-pei stared at Yahiro for a moment, before, sighing, he returned to their main topic.
“…Well, if you don’t mind, I guess it’s fine. In any case, neither Dragon Zombie nor Blue Square can take any drastic action. Unlike before this time you don’t have the advantage of numbers over the Slugger, okay? Ah, well, though that time you did it all yourself, in the end.”
At this point, an evil smile crept across Li-pei’s face, and he pointed a finger at Yahiro.
“That’s why… If a mysterious guy like Snake Hands did the Slugger in, the case can reach closure without us nor Blue Square interfering or being suspected. Make sense?”
After some thought, Yahiro nodded firmly.
“I see, that sounds reasonable.”
“Oh look, he accepted that.”
“I see… I see, and if a mysterious guy catches the culprit, the Slugger won’t have anyone to hold a grudge against, either… So even if they have accomplices no one has to worry…”
After mumbling this to himself, Yahiro looked up brightly, and bowed.
“Thanks, Li-pei-san! I think I get it!”
A few minutes later.
Yahiro had gone home after talking for a little more.
Li-pei watched him leave, and as his back disappeared into the distance, his smile faded, and he murmured,
“He’s in trouble.”
With a face genuinely worried but simultaneously wary, he said to himself,
“Hopefully he has a friend to put brakes on him; whether that friend is the good or bad sort.”
A certain apartment. Kotonami residence.
Kuon, having returned home, prepared his sister’s meal and placed it before her room as always, before going back to his own room and opening his laptop.
He organised the collection of information on the screen and contemplated his future plans quietly.
“Now… Things have come along nicely.”
Stretching out his arms from his seat on a chair, Kuon smiled faintly.
Right at that moment, the phone he had left on the desk began to vibrate.
‘Hi~, Kuon. Doing fine?’
“Yo Nee-chan, your food is outside the door. Eat it before it gets cold.”
‘Yeah, I know, I know. Just thought I should talk to you a little before that.”
It was routine for him to talk to his sister through the phone despite her being just in the next room.
It was not to put space between them; rather, Kuon knew that this was how he could be closest to her—to Nozomi.
“What did you want to talk about?”
‘Are you planning to wrap up the Slugger case within the holidays?’
“I guess. It’ll be troublesome once school starts, anyway… Not to mention Yahiro seems to have gone all the way to Dragon Zombie to ask for information. If I just leave things to him it’ll blow up too much.”
Kuon said tiredly. Mischievously, Nozomi told him,
‘You’re worried for that boy.’
‘He’s your very first friend, after all~.”
“He’s not! I’ve always had friends!”
Kuon ground his teeth, and in return, the voice from the receiver continued teasingly,
‘Just saying, Kuronuma-kun doesn’t count, okay?’
‘I mean, you don’t have a speck of trust in one another, do you?’
“…I don’t think being friends means having absolute faith, though.”
Kuon said, sighing. His sister laughed.
‘Really? But it looks like Yahiro-kun considers you a friend, at the very least.’
“I certainly don’t. That’s just his niceness talking.”
Kuon went quiet briefly, before stating,
“It’s proof enough that I’ll be forcing him to do the dirty work again this time.”
A wicked smile crept over Kuon’s face.
While, surfacing in his mind, was the chance encounter with a researcher he had had a year ago.
One year ago. Somewhere in Ikebukuro.
“You want to know about that fool?”
The moment Izaya’s name was mentioned, a look of displeasure came onto the woman’s face.
“I heard you’re the most well-versed when it comes to him.
At Kuon’s statement, the long-haired woman tsked disgruntledly.
“…I only come back to Japan now and then for work, and this is what I get. I don’t know if he’s alive or dead but he’s still a load of trouble.”
Even saying this, she who had once been Izaya’s assistance—Yagiri Namie—began to share in her own way about Izaya.
“You’re asking how he managed to control the city? You have it wrong just asking that question.”
“In most cases, he never controlled the circumstances at all. He only planted seeds. And he was entertained regardless of whether those seeds sprouted or rotted away. No matter the situation he acted like things were turning out his way and enjoyed it, so from an outsider’s perspective it looked like everything was in the palm of his hand.”
“But I don’t think that’s all there was to it. Since because of his machinations… there are people whose lives have been messed up…”
A dark fire filled Kuon’s eyes as he spoke.
At this point in time, he had yet to dye his hair green, and was still a goody-two-shoes by appearance.
Seeing the light dwelling in his eyes, Namie, perhaps curious, softened.
“…Fuun? You don’t admire Izaya; you hate him, don’t you?”
“I’m curious. So I’ll tell you: it’s true that in many cases, he was in complete control of the situation. Often of the hearts of the people involved, too.”
“For that to happen, there was one criteria. It’s the number one reason he was so insane, and it’s not something you can imitate easily. It’s something people in their right minds would never do.”
Namie seemed to be reminiscing as she spoke.
“Whenever he truly desired to be in control, he always put himself in the most dangerous position. The deepest, darkest place in the eye of things. It was where he could lose his life at any time that he pulled off the most depraved of things.”
“At the same time, while he remained in a risk-free position, he never succeeded much. Perhaps it was the difference in resolve. People often say the only people who can kill are those prepared to be killed themselves, but Izaya was the kind of man ready to be killed just to punch someone’s face.”
Namie said this, before looking into Kuon’s eyes, and as if she had seen through to his heart, she concluded,
“If you want to be like him, whether you can go that far is the question.”
Even while overwhelmed by her pressurr Kuon looked back at her unflinchingly, and Namie sighed.
“Well, you can choke in the mud for all I care. Anyone who involves themselves with him in any way end up consumed and destroyed if they don’t brace themselves.”
Why had she not been consumed by Izaya?
Why was it that, despite being so closely involved with him, she had never been brainwashed by him?
When he asked this, Namie looked into the distance, and said, with an enamoured expression,
“My heart has an unbreakable pillar supporting it. It’d take much more than a guy like that to overcome me.”
—My heart has a pillar, too.
Remembering the conversation with Namie, Kuon silently mustered his resolve.
“I love you, Nee-chan.”
‘Yeah, I know.’
Was it familial? Or romantic? Neither could tell.
But after saying that, Kuon added,
“I hate humans. You’re the only one I like.”
‘Are you saying that for yourself to hear?’
“Yeah. I’m sorry you have to play along with my self-satisfaction.”
‘It’s okay. That’s what siblings are for.’
At the sound of his sister’s chuckling, a small smile appeared on Kuon’s face.
Some time after ending the call, Kuon tightened his fingers around his phone.
Then, leaning his forehead onto the wall facing his sister’s room, in an inaudible whisper, he spoke to himself.
“I can be as evil as it takes. I’ll even do things Orihara Izaya couldn’t; I’ll even use my friends as pawns and go down into hell.”
Kuon’s expression became faintly sorrowful as he added one last sentence.
“…Sorry if I make things hard for you, Nee-chan.”
Last day of Golden Week. Somewhere in Ikebukuro.
One of the Sluggers, Ajimura Shōya, was walking in Ikebukuro with a complicated expression.
“Yesterday was dangerous… I didn’t expect him to dodge so quickly…”
That man with dreadlocks who should have been knocked out in one blow had instead dodged the attack.
After that he had fallen and injured himself, but the degree of it was far less than the intended ‘punishment’.
“Shit… Even though he was scum…”
That man was often beside Heiwajima Shizuo.
Ajimura knew that Heiwajima Shizuo was inhumanly strong.
That was why he had tried to deliver the city’s symbol of violence, Heiwajima Shizuo, a psychological punishment by attacking someone close to him.
But his attack had been dodged by a hairsbreadth and a commotion had occurred, and he had only barely escaped being destroyed himself.
—They may be scum, but people used to fighting are still scary.
—And I never expected that Horada guy previously to hit back either, shit! Shit!
There Ajimura went abruptly silent, and he sunk deep into thought.
He lacked the self-awareness that he was a serial assaulter, but he no longer hesitated to do what he did.
But—there was a single point that puzzled Ajimura.
There was one thing he did not understand about the time he had brought the hammer of justice down on Horada.
After being struck by the initial retaliation—
When he got up, for some reason the man was lying on the ground and bleeding from the head.
—Who did that?
He had been acting alone.
He did advocate to his site’s members that it was not assault but the execution of justice, but he had never gone so far as to admit he had been responsible.
The time was yet ripe for that revelation.
It was too early.
He would reveal to the world that he was Dark Owl after all of the unfair criticisms, such as being labelled an assaulter, were overturned.
At that time he would truly become one with OPD.
He would show the world his true form.
With that, he arrived at the answer to his doubts.
—That must have been a fan of OPD… of me.
The one who had knocked Horada to the ground could have been an ally of his who sympathised with his cause.
He had chosen Horada because he had heard rumours from his allies online that Horada was a well-known gangster.
Perhaps the other Slugger had done it purely out of hate for Horada.
But coincidence or not, now came a being that had assisted him from the shadows.
Was this not proof that the world had chosen him?
With such thoughts, Ajimura nodded fiercely.
He was doing this for OPD.
Even if he were caught by the police, the charges would probably be lenient.
After all, he was doing their job for them.
Packing his belongings into a Boston bag, Ajimura smiled.
He simply smiled.
—I knew it. This is my destiny.
Dyeing his hands with the act of assault he had felt truly alive for the first time.
He stepped forward once again, so as to prolong this experience.
While feeling, hidden in the false bottom of his Boston bag, the weight of the bandage-wrapped hammer.
Evening Yahiro’s apartment.
It was evening when Yahiro returned back to the front of the apartment he lived at.
“Yo, you had fun outside again today, huh.”
The man whistling while washing his van—Togusa Saburō—greeted Yahiro happily.
“Yeah, I went around.”
“Where’d you go?”
“Um… Uh, Hall of Treasures…”
Yahiro decided that there was no real need to hide where he had gone, and answered truthfully.
“Oh, the place with the Taiwanese restaurant. This gang, Dragon Zombie, they have their base there, so be careful not to get caught in any fights, okay?”
Saying ‘I went to meet them’ would naturally be problematic, so Yahiro answered vaguely.
“All right~, there’s that Slugger going around recently, so be careful!”
“I will, thanks.”
At that point Yahiro remembered that he had yet to ask Saburō about the Slugger, and so he tried,
“There was a serial assaulter in the past, too, right?”
“Hm? …Oh, you mean the Slasher?”
There Togusa’s eyes narrowed.
It did not go unnoticed by Yahiro.
It was not the kind of distaste one had when mentioning criminal activity; this clearly ran deeper than that.
—Saburō-san… knows the Slasher?
Yahiro was choosing his words so as to continue, but just then, his phone rang.
“Hello. This is Mizuchi.”
‘Ah, hi~! This is Karisawa. Yappi~, are you free tonight?’
‘Yappi~’ seemed to be a nickname for him.
Yahiro inferred this, and answered hesitantly.
“Yes, I’m free.”
‘Oh, really? So, since the holidays are ending, do you want to meet up to share information?’
“…I see, that’s a good idea.”
Yahiro wanted to hear what the others had found out as well.
If the Slugger case escalated further, it would truly begin to affect OPD, which would not do.
‘OK, so, there are some people I want to introduce, so could you make your way to Tokyu Hands now? Kuocchi says he’s busy so he’s not coming. Is that okay?’
“Yeah, no problem. Thank you very much.”
Yahiro ended the call, and turned back towards the apartment door.
“Sorry, Saburō-san, it looks like I have to go out again.”
“Heh, kids are always busy. Well, look out for the Slug…”
This time it was Togusa’s phome that rang mid-sentence.
“Oops, sorry. …Oh, it’s them?”
Togusa said as he put his phone to his ear.
Thinking it would be bad to impose on Togusa’s conversation, Yahiro bowed his head and made as to leave, but—
“Oh… Got it. I’ll go now, then. …Ah, Yahiro wait!”
Ending the call, Saburō called for Yahiro to stop.
“Are you heading towards Ikebukuro station?”
“Ah, yeah. 60 Storey Street.”
“Great! That’s just nice.”
Yahiro tilted his head, and Saburō opened the van door, smiling.
“Some people I know just called. I’ll be going there too, so hop on.”
Dusk. Shinra’s apartment.
While watching the 6 o’clock evening news, Celty confided in Shinra her doubts.
‘I’m helping to search for the Slugger, sure, but I think it’s best if the police nab the guy first.”
It would be in her favour should the police catch the criminal first.
Yumasaki and Karisawa’s commission would go unfinished, but if the police were the ones to catch the Slugger they were unlikely to complain. This applied likewise to Shizuo.
There was the slim possibility that Shizuo would storm into the detention centre bare-handed, but it seemed that Shizuo was deeply indebted to the police, so Celty felt that he would not go that far.
Therefore the most peaceful solution would be for the police to catch the culprit and wrap up the case.
She had spoken to Shinra with these hopes, but—
“Yeah, of course. It might take a little more time, though?”
‘Why? Can’t they just track down people who bought those pajamas?
“…Well, the mascot pajamas…”
‘What about it?’
Celty asked, puzzled. Shinra sighed deeply.
“It’s a trend right now in Ikebukuro. So there could be hundreds of people who own it, I think?”
“It started of as a pajama set sold as fan merchandise, but when word about the Slugger spread online, and people began to worry the company would stop selling it, a huge number of people went to buy it… Furthermore, once stores started announcing they would stop selling for prudence’s sake, all those who bought and hoarded the pajamas popped out online and resold a large number. Hahaha.”
Celty’s knees went weak at this information, but Shinra was not done yet:
“On top of that, right now there are people online being thick and thinking wearing that will give them attention, so even if the police think they’ve found the Slugger, it could just be a middle or high schooler wearing the same pajamas… It’s happened a number of times already.”
Those people should just be ar’
Arrested, she was about to type, but just then she stopped herself.
—I’m not one who should be saying that, huh.
Remembering the image of the traffic police squad chasing after her, she shuddered.
‘…These people have way too much time…’
“Yep. An online troublemaking group seems to be at the centre of it. They call themselves Underrars.”
Celty felt odd at this familiar name.
“Yep. The Dollars are gone, right? The kids who couldn’t accept that reality banded together to make another anonymous online group to replace it. They spray graffiti along roads saying it’s guerilla art, or plant radishes on unoccupied space in the city; a willful bunch.”
‘I never knew.’
“It’s probably a portmanteau of Dollars and Under. Under Rars. I wonder what Rars means?”
At the text Celty showed him, Shinra cocked his head.
‘In Icelandic. It means a plan, or advice, along those lines.’
(*The ‘rars’ is the Icelandic word ‘ráð’. According to Anni-fiesta, it is a reference to the valkyrie Ráðgríðr.)
“Oh I see! Amazing as always, Celty! You even know Nordic languages!”
‘Well, a very, very old friend of mine had that as a nickname, so… Anyway that’s not important right now. We’re talking about the Slugger.”
Celty changed the topic casually, making a sigh-like gesture.
‘OK, so the clothes are one thing, but there’s no excuse for having a hammer, right?”
“Actually. Isn’t it something you can hide easily? Since you just need to attach something hard and heavy to a rod and wrap it up with bandages. You could even use a pestle and any rock on the street.”
‘…Uuu, finding the culprit might be harser than I thought…”
“It’d be a snap if you could catch the person in the act. I’ll be bait if it comes to it, Celty.”
Shinra said carelessly. Celty pressed a finger onto his forehead.
‘How would you attract the criminal? Anyway, even if you could, don’t do dangerous things.”
“Even if you’re doing dangerous things? You’re being selfish.”
‘Yeah, I am. This is my selfishness. Is it bad?’
“It’s not bad. But I might be selfish in return, you know?”
Shinra said with the smile of a mischievius child, before he clapped his hands.
“Right! It might take time, but there’s a way we can be sure to catch the criminal!”
“Yeah, first I need to use Saika on the people of Ikebukuro and…”
Celty rejected him without listening him out, and continued to think.
Just then, her phone rang.
‘Speak of the devil, it’s the boss.’
“Yumasaki-kun and friends?”
‘They’re the client, right? The boss is… the boy I talked about before, Kotonami.’
Celty said, checking her mail.
And there, written in a nonchalant tone, was:
[We will be capturing the Slugger tonight. Please come outside my apartment.]
Night time. Somewhere in Ikebukuro.
Shirobishi Yōko was panicking.
Everything had gone well.
She had even found the perfect target.
So how had things come to this?
While Yōko remained in this turmoil, the voice of a young man reached her ears.
“Fuffuffu, I never thought I would be targeted… So I really am a hero chosen to be guided through a 2D-esque destiny…! Soon I’ll get in a traffic accident and be reborn in a different world!”
Standing before her was a slit-eyed young man, holding a fire extinguisher that spouted fire.
As she looked on the young man spouting all of these strange words, Yōko merely continued to think.
About just how she had ended up in this situation.
10 minutes ago.
What Yōko’s eyes saw as she combed Ikebukuro for the day’s sacrifice was the one thing she loathed most at this point.
‘Owl of the Peeping Dead’
The wave of evil that had started all this remained rampant in the city even now.
The outbreak of assault incidents had stemmed it somewhat, but still the live action film’s Revival sequel was being screened, and posters decorated the streets.
—How can everyone still laugh when all this has happened?
Feeling the world unfair, Yōko reaffirmed her resolve to correct that problem.
She began to glare at her surroundings as she walked on the street.
So as to find a new sacrifice.
Being the last night of Golden Week, it was less crowded than the day before; chances were people were preparing to work the next day.
Until now she had attacked indiscriminately, going for the easy targets.
But had that been wrong?
Should she act with a specific target?
Thinking this, she murmured with determination,
“Yes, that’s it… That’s it… That’s why I’ve always been overtaken by that false Samaritan.”
She labelled the other Slugger a false Samaritan in her mind, her eyes clouding over with hate.
Those eyes caught on to an atypical sight on the street.
There was a van parked in a car park.
Some manga illustration decorated one of its side doors.
—Ahh, disgusting. Printing a manga design on the car, what are they thinking?
She had evolved from despising not only OPD but the entirety of anime; with hateful eyes she glowered at the group surrounding the van.
One of them, a young man with narrow eyes, was holding an OPD fan while talking excitedly.
—Ahh, even here there is trash!
Moving closer, she could hear him delivering an impassioned speech.
“Anyway! We need to tell people OPD isn’t at fault! The Slugger’s definitely an OPD hater! They’re just trying to ruin OPD’s image!”
Yōko felt as if she had been punched in the stomach.
The man’s point had in all truth hit the mark. She felt as if her true identity had been exposed.
Her head spun.
She could not believe that there could still be a man believing OPD was ‘not at fault’ in this situation.
—I never imagined there to be such fools in Ikebukuro.
In her heart, Yōko had long condemned OPD to be at fault.
Was there anything else so harmful?
Owl of the Peeping Dead.
Was it not the existence of such a thing that had brought her to lose herself in assaulting others?
—How could the thing that turned me into the Slugger have no blame!
It was possible her mind had no logic at the moment.
But her brain still operated sufficiently as a system to achieve a single objective.
She had chosen.
The victim of the Slugger that would become tonight’s sacrifice.
And she went on to justify herself with cyclical logic.
It was not punishment, but salvation.
Those eyes captured by evil things would be awakened by the blow she struck.
Those foolish worshippers of evil would come to know.
What kind of tragedy awaited those fallen to their path.
With this everyone would be saved; saved.
So she, at least, believed.
It contradicted her thoughts from merely seconds earlier, but it was still adherent to her goal.
She targeted the silt-eyed man.
Peeking from a distance through the gaps—it appeared he had just bade farewell to his friends, and after only a few minutes’ wait he parted from his friends and headed away from the downtown.
—Ahh, things are moving in my favour.
—This is proof I’m doing the right thing.
—I knew it, I should have chosen my sacrifices!
Synchronising with the other Slugger in the delusion that the world was her ally—she watched the man’s movements, waiting intently for her chance.
And setting her mind on an unpopulated location, she made her preparations.
The man seemed to have just received a call, for he took out his phone and began speaking to someone.
Yōko saw it as her chance.
She removed the clothes she had worn over her suit, revealing a different material.
In seconds she was clad in the Dark Owl costume she had worn beneath, and walking towards the man’s back.
At first, slowly.
And then faster and faster.
Suppressing her breathing so as to be silent, she took out the bandage-wrapped hammer she had hidden in her bosom, and swung it hard.
But in the next moment—
A yell from afar shifted the attention of the slit-eyed man to behind him.
Where holding his phone, turning around obliviously—head-on he met the eyes of Yōko, who had the hammer raised.
After an instant of blankness, Yōko, panicking, brought her hammer down hard.
The slit-eyed man dodged by a hairsbreadth, and fell on his backside on the road.
—I can do it!
A glance behind told her that there were two figures running this way, but there was still time before they made it. The distance was sufficient that she could injure the man and escape.
No; it did not matter even if she could not escape.
She had to sacrifice the scum who worshipped that vile owl.
Even if she were caught, the police and court, and the public, should understand.
It was that vile owl’s fault that she did this.
And so they would surely censor that series.
For that to happen, she had to offer one last sacrifice.
One last sacrifice, for the wholesome future of Ikebukuro.
Because she thoroughly believed this, without wavering, she brought her hammer down on the man still fallen on the road.
Without the time nor care to ensure it was non-fatal, it was a blow purely meant to immobilise him.
Clang! With a loud sound, something blocked the hammer.
When Yōko looked at her to-be victim in surprise, she saw that he had taken off his backpack in a flash, and had used it as a shield against the hammer.
The strangeness of his reaction filled Yōko with anxiety and shock.
She had not expected there would be a large metallic object in his backpack.
What happened in the next moment answered her questions, while generating even more.
The slit-eyed man whispered this, and took something out of his backpack.
—A fire… extinguisher…?
The appearance of this absolutely random object confused her.
And the very next moment—the fire extinguisher spewed fire.
A few minutes before the fire extinguisher spewed fire.
The boy who shouted ‘Watch out!’ had been sitting in the back of Togusa’s van.
“But well… I never imagined you would know these guys.”
Togusa Saburō sighed deeply from the driver’s seat as he said this to Yahiro sitting in the back.
When he was about to let Yahiro off the van at the meeting point, Karisawa and Yumasaki had greeted the boy before Togusa, and so Togusa slowly came to realise that they were already acquainted.
—”Ehh?! Why’s Yahiro-kun coming down from Togucchi’s van?! Magic?!”(K)
—”Sorcery… No, maybe it’s some type of mind-control superpower…!”(Y)
—”Huh? You know Saburō-san?”
—”Not only that; we were going to introduce you, you know?”(K)
—”I see, actually, I’ve been staying at Togusa-san’s apartment…”
—”Nonono! Wait! Guys, wait! What’s happening?!”
After that excitement, both sides had explained the situation, and Togusa had accepted it for now.
With a quick mutual introduction Karisawa and Yumasaki had chased Togusa out of his own van claiming, ‘We need to talk in secret,’ and started talking and laughing using the van as a makeshift conference room.
Despite being annoyed, Togusa had given up as this always happened, and had passed the time outside with another of his friends.
—Well, since it’s those two, it’s probably otaku stuff.
—Now I think of it, he does look like a manga type. He might even be into dōjinshi or cosplay.
—Ahh, but I never thought he’d catch the attention of Karisawa and Yumasaki.
Just being aware of the duo’s more dangerous side made Togusa feel torn.
Even so, within the bounds of their hobby they were well-behaved, and furthermore they were veterans of the lifestyle.
—It’s not like I can ask him to cut ties with them.
—But if anything happens, what do I say to my family…?
After being immersed in those thoughts for tens of minutes, he found that the trio had exited the van, perhaps having concluded their business.
Karisawa headed home through Tokyu Hands, while Yumasaki made his way on foot.
—Well, apparently there are a lot of people who do dōjinshi and keep it secret from their family.
—Maybe I shouldn’t ask too much.
Driving the van out if the parking lot, Saburō said to Yahiro in the back,
“I don’t know how you know Yumasaki and Karisawa, and I’m not going to ask, but… Well, choose your friends wisely.”
“Yeah, I’m sure they’re trustworthy now. I’m not a good judge of character, but I felt relieved knowing they’re your friends, Saburō-san.”
While Saburō remained at a loss for words, the man in the passenger seat laughed.
“Hah… That’s touché for you, Togusa.”
The man with the bandana had already been introduced.
However, Karisawa and Yumasaki had brought Yahiro aside immediately after, so they had not talked yet.
Perhaps sympathising with Yahiro’s awkwardness as to how to interact, Kadota turned around and said,
“I’ll introduce myself again. I’m Kadota. This guy and I ended up stuck together over the years. I go to your apartment now and then.”
“Ah, okay. I’m Mizuchi Yahiro. Nice to meet you.”
“Mizuchi, that’s a strange name. Where are you from?”
“Whoa, that’s a long way.”
Just then Saburō, who was in the driver’s seat, told Kadota, smiling,
“Listen, this kid, right after he came to Ikebukuro he got beaten up by Shizuo, you know?”
Yahiro nodded honestly, and Kadota’s eyes widened.
“How did you piss him off?”
“Um… It was my fault. My friend from my class happened to make him angry… I tried to stop him, and then it turned into a fight.”
“I see, so that’s what happened.”
Kadota found it odd that Yahiro had used the word ‘fight’, but putting it aside, gave his advice as a more experienced resident of Ikebukuro.
“Well, he might have a short fuse, but he’s not unreasonable. If you apologise properly he’ll forgive you.”
“Yes, that’s what Saburō-san said too. I’ll say sorry when I meet him again.”
“Yeah, that’s the important part.”
There, Saburō smiled wryly, and continued,
“And you know what, after getting beat up by Shizuo he just stood up and walked home, and then the next day he went to school like normal. This kid’s really something, isn’t he?”
“That’s… actually impressive.”
Kadota glanced at his face disbelievingly, and Yahiro said honestly,
“No, it was just coincidence. I, um, ended up at a convenient spot…”
Yahiro had simply described from his own perspective, but Kadota, perhaps not expecting the quiet boy to be physically sturdy, tilted his head and mumbled,
“Speaking of which… Well, they say Shizuo’s toned down recently, but still…”
With that, Kadota tried to continue a casual conversation with Yahiro—
But seeing Yahiro looking outside the van anxiously as they spoke, he asked,
“What’s wrong? Did you forget something?”
Yahiro went quiet for awhile, before he took in the surroundings once more, and said,
“Um… Which way is Yumasaki-san’s house?”
“Hm? He stays in the middle of the residential area north of here… Why?”
“Will there be other people on the streets?”
“It’s a housing district, so at this time… Hm.”
The clockhand had already passed 10.
Away from the downtown area, it ought to be fairly deserted at this time.
“Could you let me off the van? And please teach me the way to Yumasaki-san’s house?”
“? Oi, what’s going on? You still have school tomorrow, remember? You shouldn’t stay out late.”
Saburōsaid this in worry for his tenant’s school life, but Yahiro replied, anxiously,
“I hope it’s a mistake, but…”
As if out of time, Yahiro cried out,
“Someone might be after Yumasaki-san or Karisawa-san.”
Saburō hesitated. Yahiro took out something black from his bag, and bowed his head with a grave expression.
“Please, I’ll explain later, please let me down. And call Yumasaki-san to ask him to be careful, if possible… Since now I think of it, I only exchanged numbers with Karisawa-san.”
“No, you can’t just…”
Beside an increasingly perplexed Togusa, Kadota, seeing how serious Yahiro’s eyes were, said,
“Oi, stop at the end of this road.”
“I know his address. If we go from here, it’s faster to run than take a U-turn.”
Kadota removed his seatbelt, and stated to Yahiro,
“I’ll lead the way. Follow me.”
And so things led to the present.
Yōko, feeling part of her suit burn, began to strip it off hurriedly.
Gripping her hammer, under her full-face hood she was in cold sweat.
—What is this?
—What is going on!
Meanwhile, Yumasaki as well was sweating from his palms.
He had never actually thought he would be targeted by the Slugger.
He had come to carry this fire extinguisher-turned-flamethrower around since back when he had been searching for the culprit of Kadota’s hit-and-run.
In the past few days, he had often fantasised about being attacked by the Slugger, and when he was alone in the streets he would often be formulating counterstrategies.
It was the same way he had in his school days fantasised about what would be the coolest way to fight back if a terrorist were to attack the classroom at that moment—
But unlike back then, when the terrorist had never appeared, now his fantasy had come true.
If a terrorist or the Slugger really appeared before a normal person, they would probably be unable to move as they had fantasised, and be frozen in fear.
But Yumasaki was just a little abnormal.
It was as simple as that.
On one hand, the rumoured Slugger, wielding a hammer.
On the other, the young man chattering strangely, wielding a flamethrower in the guise of a fire extinguisher.
The fact that not one but both of them could be arrested meant nothing to Yumasaki.
He even felt he wouldn’t mind being charged with excessive self-defence or other crimes if he could stop the Slugger’s attacks once and for all. ‘I’m not an OPD fan, I prefer news programmes with shocking footage instead of manga,’ Yumasaki reminded himself to say in his testimony, and he gave the lever a gentle squeeze.
Flames spurted forth.
The Slugger flailed and retreated, but Yumasaki yelled,
“Now, surrender yourself! Pass the rope, please!”
“What… What are you saying! I’m not afraid of you!”
The fact that the Slugger’s voice was feminine stunned Yumasaki for a second, but deeming this unimportant, he aimed the nozzle of the fire extinguisher and said,
“Being scared would be an insult! No one said I can’t use a flamethrower to level up my strength!”
At Yumasaki’s yelling, the Slugger became hysterical, screaming,
“I don’t understand anything you’re saying! You freak!”
“You’re one to speak! Turn yourself in peacefully and have a taste of what it’s like to look like the zombies you look down on!”
“What do you want! You freak!”
“I’ll be the one asking the questions later, very thoroughly!”
In the duration of their exchange, Yumasaki had caught sight of two human figures running their way.
He could not make out their faces for the distance, but from their dressing it was probably Yahiro and Kadota.
Yahiro was ahead of Kadota, and Yumasaki shouted to him,
“Yahi… It’s dangerous, stay back!”
Yumasaki almost said Yahiro’s name in front of the Slugger, barely managing to stop himself.
He had heard of Yahiro’s true prowess, but it was unthinkable to ask a high schooler to fight the Slugger with him, especially when it seemed he could somehow manage the situation by himself.
With this in mind, Yumasaki planned to disarm his opponent and have Kadota restrain her—
But the words of the boy running towards him threw a wrench in those workings.
“Watch out! Behind! Behind you!”
Sensing the unusual urgency in the boy’s voice, Yumasaki turned around, keeping the nozzle of the fire extinguisher pointed at the Slugger.
And there he saw a figure clad in Dark Owl mascot pajamas—
Raising its hammer high to strike him down.
At the same time. Somewhere in Ikebukuro.
Ajimura Shōya was taking his time following his ‘target’.
It was a delinquent boy, walking along a deserted road without any alertness whatsoever.
—Walking alone at night when the Slugger hasn’t been caught?
—Delinquents really have no brains.
Scoffing, Ajimura slowly moved closer.
There was a specific reason he had chosen to target that boy.
When the boy had banged into Ajimura in the street, he had complained unapologetically, ‘Ow, don’t get your smelly sweat on me, dumbass.’
The delinquent boy had made this irrational complaint despite being the one at fault, glaring down at Ajimura.
While Ajimura had been angry at this boy a full generation younger, he had been grateful.
Was this not a gift from heaven?
Was this not a sacrifice sent by the city itself?
To think such a suitable candidate would show up here; one he would have no weight on his conscience punishing.
His plan had been to target more famous delinquents, but it was best to lay low for now.
After all, he had only recently bungled the attack on Heiwajima Shizuo’s friend.
After tailing the boy carefully, oh so carefully, he finally arrived at a location suited for his ‘fan activity’ of assault.
It was far from the downtown. Ajimura watched the boy loiter in a nearby park, and slowly hid himself in the shadows.
The open gate of an apartment. A narrow alley. Behind a pile of scrap.
It would have been impossible to get this close in the busy street in front of the station and still be able to change clothes, but here, in a quiet residential district, it was another story altogether.
Ajimura had worn his mascot pajamas in preparation.
However, the hood was off, tucked into the jumper he wore over it, and only the black pants were exposed.
As his lower half was covered in only black cloth, it would be hard to distinguish the pants from regular track pants. It would be impossible right now in the night time.
Ajimura was able to finish changing just by removing the jumper, and he stuffed the jumper into the pajamas, making his stomach appear bloated.
With that he put on the hood. In the dark, Ajimura had transformed into Dark Owl in the span of seconds.
After checking that the surroundings were deserted, he closed in secretly on the delinquent boy.
It was as always.
With no hesitation.
He had to make up for the damage he had failed to deal on Heiwajima Shizuo’s friend.
With these unreasonable thoughts, Ajimura tightened his grip on the hammer.
—This is it. This is the feeling.
—Ecstasy throughout my body. Like I’m not myself anymore.
—No, that’s not it, this is the real me.
—Dark Owl. I am the true Dark Owl.
One step after another, suppressing all noise, he closed in.
—Yes, I have people on my side.
Ajimura saw a Dark Owl standing beside the delinquent, and nodded vehemently.
—I have comrades that will come to… help me…
The Dark Owl was staring at him.
—That will? ….Th-th-th-th-that? ? ? ??????? ?? ?
A Dark Owl that was not himself stood before his eyes.
Ajimura was bewildered.
—W, wh-wh-wh-, who, is this?
—The real thing! Or the, real, the real Slugger?!
—Or, an, an ally? My ally? Which is it, w, which-ch-ch-ch-ch?
Ajimura’s voice had begun to stutter even in his thoughts. Sweat broke out over his whole body, seeping into the entire suit.
While he was experiencing this psychological shock, the ‘Other Dark Owl’ raised its hammer high in the air—
And swung it down on the delinquent boy.
After a frozen instant, the boy crumbled bonelessly to the ground.
And so Ajimura came to believe.
That the being before him was his comrade in executing justice.
That the world was truly being born anew for him.
Ikebukuro Station. Before the east entrance.
“Are you okay, Horada-san? Didn’t you say you’d only be discharged next week?”
“Shut up, don’t underestimate my recovery speed.”
Horada, wrapped in bandages head to toe, hobbled along the street.
His juniors accompanying him exchanged uneasy glances.
In truth he was in no condition to walk, but predicting that Izumii would visit again if he remained in the hospital, he had forcibly discharged himself, half-threatening the doctors.
Thinking on it now the police would find his behaviour suspicious, but still this was preferable to living in constant fear Izumii would hit him with a hammer in his sleep.
With this in mind, Horada had felt it necessary to search for the Slugger personally as well, bringing his juniors along to march around Ikebukuro.
“But Horada-san, I doubt the Slugger will show up right in front of the station.”
“How sure are you? The Slasher attacked people right next to the station, back then.”
“That’s true, but the Slugger attacks have happened in Shinjuku, Setagaya, other places; not just around Ikebukuro. I don’t think we’ll find anything just marching around here.”
His juniors, who had been walking around with him for half a day already, were beginning to complain.
—Kuh… These guys…
—It feels like they’ve been looking down on me since Shizuo beat me up…
The fear from the time Shizuo had beaten him half-dead reawakened, causing the wounds from the Sluggers to sting.
The juniors, unaware of Horada’s self-punishment, looked at him doubtfully.
“Were there really more than five Sluggers, anyway?”
“What the hell? Are you saying I fucking lied?! Huh?”
He attempted to threaten, but the wounds throughout his body made him wobbly, and he was not intimidating in the least.
“But to have so many people would catch too much attention, right? If they had to change clothes secretly it must have been one or two at most…”
The man suddenly stopped, staring at the crowd on the street with his face stunned.
“? Oi, what’s wrong?”
He furrowed his brow and asked, turning to look himself.
There, he saw ‘black’.
In front of the station on this night:
Illuminated by the streetlights, a black silhouette stood in the middle of the street.
The instant he saw it, the blood drained from Horada’s face.
“Wh… Wha… How…”
The Slugger that had knocked him down with the hammer now stood before his eyes.
Night as it was, there was a fair crowd before Ikebukuro Station, since the trains were still running at this time.
The people glanced oddly at the Dark Owl, but believing it impossible for the Slugger to show up so brazenly in front of the station, they assumed it was a prank or an OPD publicity event, and simply walked past.
And there was one more reason they assumed it was a prank or a publicity event.
“I, i-i-i-i-, it’s here! O, oi, protect me, you guys!”
Saying ‘protect me’ instead of ‘go get them!’ put him in a negative light, but—
“B, but Horada-san, there… Look!”
When Horada looked at where his junior pointed—
There was a Dark Owl there too.
“There’s one over there too!”
And another more.
Just counting those visible from the station there were easily more than five Dark Owls spread around.
—W… W-w-w-, what the hell?!
Just as Horada’s mind was in chaos, his junior said to him,
“Th, there really were many of them…! Sorry! Sorry, Horada-san!”
“Huh? Y, yeah. It’s fine so long as you know, it’s fine.”
It was more that his lie had been realised, but Horada would rather have done without a reality like this.
Along with this thought, Horada was struck by a deep sense of unease at the possibility that he had been embroiled into something truly grave.
“What do we do now Horada-san!”
“I don’t even know…”
After a few beats, he looked back to the road outside the station—
And noticing even more Dark Owls, he spun back quickly.
“Wait! Wait up, Horada-san!”
Horada escaped straight into the station, but being injured he could not run, and was overtaken by his juniors one by one.
“W, wait, guys! W… Don’t leave me behind!!!”
“What is this…”
Himeka had, after completing her preparations for school the next day, been browsing the internet for information on the Slugger, when she came upon a very strange exchange of information.
It was that a large number of Dark Owls were appearing in Ikebukuro right now.
Indeed, from the numerous phone camera uploads one could see many Dark Owls parading around the street in the night time.
As they did not seem particularly violent, the assumption was that it was a prank in bad taste, and netizens were in uproar.
Deciding to call Yahiro first, she took out her phone.
And pressed the call button for Yahiro from her call history, but—
‘The person you just called may have run out of battery or may be in a place without signal—’
With a sense of omen, Himeka looked out her window.
She gazed at the lights of Sunshine Building through the gaps between the buildings outside, and her fists curled loosely in worry of her friend.
“I hope… Yahiro-kun’s not in trouble.”
Upper Ikebukuro. Alley.
Coincidentally, at this moment, Yahiro’s phone had become unable to take any calls.
It had been jolted violently and stopped functioning.
Because it was a smartphone to begin with, and not the heavy-duty type that could withstand strong impact, it was hard to tell if it would still work. But he had with Kuon’s help made a backup of his information with cloud storage, so probably he could recover everything without problems after it was repaired.
The repair fee would likely be expensive, but Yahiro did not have the luxury of worrying about that.
For two Dark Owls were standing before his eyes, emanating a sense of danger.
At the cost of Yahiro’s mobile phone, Yumasaki had managed to avoid the attack of the Slugger by a hairsbreadth.
A few seconds ago, just as the hammer came down towards his head—
Yahiro’s mobile phone, thrown at high velocity, had struck the Slugger’s hammer directly.
Even running he could not make it. Yahiro, thinking this, had simply flung the most flingable object in his hands—in other words, his mobile phone—with all his might.
Had it been luck or Yahiro’s inborn skill that had allowed not even a ball but a mobile phone to hit its mark?
At any rate, as a result the mobile phone struck true, and with a jarring crash the hammer rebounded upwards from its downswing.
The two Sluggers slowly turned to watch Yahiro in shock—and tilted their heads disbelievingly.
Meanwhile Yumasaki, who had put distance between them and had been preparing his fire extinguisher, turned towards Yahiro—and widened his slit-eyes dramatically, yelling,
As said, Yahiro was currently both Yahiro and not Yahiro.
He did not want the Sluggers to see his face.
Moreover, he did not want others to see his face while there was the possibility he would be utilising extreme violence against the Sluggers.
It was those cowardly thoughts, combined with the straightforward reasoning from his conversation with Li-pei that, ‘If a mysterious guy defeats the Slugger, the rumours that it’s a gang war can at least be put down,’ that had led him to don what he usually carried around in his bag while running here.
A practically weightless, mystical black cloth.
The black coat Celty Sturluson had bequeathed him.
With matching black pants, Yahiro was now black from head to toe.
‘Shadow Man’ could be the most apt description.
In contrast to the Headless Rider’s dark rider suit, shadows writhing like dry ice wrapped Yahiro’s body.
A being far more unusual than the Sluggers.
The latest urban legend Snake Hands now manifested before the Sluggers—in this moment, in the district of Ikebukuro—as not myth but reality.
Though, since he had donned a mask of shadow because of his cowardice, it made a fairly odd scene on this residential street.
Two ‘Dark Owls’.
The mysterious ‘Snake Hands’.
And a regular civilian with a fire extinguisher that was in fact a flamethrower.
Upon his late arrival, Kadota furrowed his brow, and uttered the one sentence most fitting to this scene.
“…What the hell?”
Underneath the almost comical appearance of this situation—
Sirens were going off throughout Yahiro’s body.
—Could I have misunderstood?
The sense of foreboding overtook the whole of his body in an instant.
This was not simply a serial assault case.
At first he had thought a gang war would be the worst scenario.
But what if the real situation made even that theory seem naïve?
What if the assaults were deliberately planned?
What if the people standing before him were not simply random assaulters, but something else—what then?
The possibilities flashed through his mind, and a chill almost like pain lanced through every cell.
The reason was simple.
It was not because the situation was so eerie; having two serial assaulters running amuck.
It was not a matter of the Slugger at all.
The two Dark Owls.
The atmosphere they emitted made Yahiro shudder.
The Slugger who had attacked Yumasaki first let out a high-pitched scream, and began to move.
Yumasaki tried to give chase—but before he could do so, the other Slugger blocked the way.
“Kuh! Cloning jutsu is nothing! I’ll dispel the fake!”
With this, Yumasaki squeezed the lever lightly.
The flamethrower had been built to spew flames as far as five to ten metres if he squeezed it properly, but even Yumasaki had the common sense to avoid setting fire to a residential area.
In the first place whipping out a fire extinguisher-turned-flamethrower in said residential district or even having made such a thing was less than commonsensical, but in this way Yumasaki’s mind had a screw cleanly missing.
The controlled flames shot towards the second Slugger.
But the Slugger crouched low, moving out of the fire’s range.
The Dark Owl escaped the flames right before Yumasaki’s eyes.
The person had, with superhuman speed and reflexes, evaded the stream of fire easily, slipping up close to Yumasaki.
From Yumasaki’s perspective, it was as if the Slugger had teleported.
—Could this be—
Before Yumasaki could finish his analogy to a technique from an anime or manga series, the Slugger launched an offense from beneath, granting him not even that time.
A lightning-quick uppercut.
If it connected he would surely be knocked out—
But just before it did, Yahiro kicked the arm from the side.
The kick diverted his arm, and the Slugger’s uppercut missed and grazed Yumasaki’s cheek.
—I knew it!
The current series of events confirmed it.
The Dark Owl he was facing was a ridiculously strong foe.
Yahiro’s kick had been to bodily topple his opponent.
But all he had been able to do was alter their arm’s trajectory slightly.
His opponent had to have incredible balance, and strong lower half muscles.
Back when he had lived in Akita, Yahiro had been challenged by self-proclaimed martial artists—this felt similar to that time.
But although the style was similar, the scale was on a different level.
The self-proclaimed martial artists that had attacked him in his hometown had gone down quickly enough, but the Dark Owl in front of him seemed able to withstand any number of his kicks.
The warnings had been blaring in Yahiro’s mind from earlier on.
It was akin to when he had faced off with Shizuo.
—It’s scary. Scary. Scaryscaryscaryscaryscaryscaryscaredscaredscaredscared sc a re d S C A R E D
—It’s the same.
—The same as with Shizuo.
—This person might be able to kill me.
The instant he recognised this as fact, fear usurped his body.
Kill or be killed.
A feeling he had not experienced for a long time rose from the depth of his gut.
He had felt nothing this close to killing intent with Shizuo.
Shizuo’s motive had clearly been anger, and it was justified.
The figure before him now had none of that.
He felt such terror it was as if naked blades had sprung at him from the ground.
One slip and it’s over.
The identity of this Dark Owl did not matter.
“…Please stay back.”
As he told Yumasaki this, Yahiro began his next offense.
Yahiro’s open hand thrust towards the Dark Owl’s throat.
But the Dark Owl evaded with a limber backflip, and with that opened up several metres between them.
When dodging that flat-handed strike, the person’s body had bent backwards more than 90 degrees.
Without coming back up, the stranger had transitioned into a backflip; faced with this borderline-frightening flexibility and elasticity, Yahiro thought.
—Ahh, I want to run, I want to run.
The cowardly boy thought.
He wondered, after he ran away, how soundly he could sleep in his futon.
His face was masked.
His name was secret.
Safety was just around the corner.
—But if I run away now…
Yahiro gritted his teeth, and stepped forward.
—Yumasaki-san and Kadota-san…
—No, even if all of us escape… No one knows who the next victim will be. It could be someone important to me.
—Isn’t that so, so much scarier?
Resolutely, he pulled himself together.
And he leapt.
Aiming to catch his opponent off guard, he kicked off the asphalt powerfully, accelerating his body.
Feeling his bodily fluids shift towards his back, Yahiro ran across the ground, and jumped diagonally.
He ran up the wall until he was full 3 metres in the air.
With that he leapt towards his opponent, attempting to kick their head like a football.
But the Dark Owl ducked a millisecond faster, dodging the kick.
Yahiro’s shoe brushed the top of the hood , and singed, fine threads danced through the air.
Without pause, Yahiro kicked the wall on the other side, and flew towards the Dark Owl.
A flurry of fists.
Faced with the vicious assault of elbows and kicks, his opponent’s stance fell apart countless times.
But each time the stranger would hold their ground wherever they ended up, and begin a counter-assault against Yahiro with fluid motions.
Yahiro’s experience-honed intuition and trained reflexes told him their stalemate was a precarious one.
If he was distracted for just one instant, he would be knocked out or worse.
The last time he had expended so much effort was in the fight with Shizuo recently.
Yet the physical strength of the Dark Owl in front of him was not at Shizuo’s level.
Instead, inborn or through martial arts experience, he had atypically sharp instincts and judgment, which he used to block or evade the series of attacks while sending out his own.
—He isn’t as strong as Shizuo-san, but this is close!
The assault felt truly life-threatening.
Even worse, his opponent still had the hammer in one hand. Just one blow connecting could be lethal.
—I have to stop him from moving.
In the face of this offence, Yahiro felt strangely calm.
—I have to stop his legs.
—I have to stop his arms.
—I have to stop his thoughts.
—I have to stop his senses.
—I have to stop his breathing.
—I have to stop his ●●●●●.
—I have to stop his ●●●●●.
It was a feeling he had never experienced fighting the delinquents in Akita.
—I have to stop his ●●●●●.
—I have to stop, his heart.
Through the repetition of attacks—for a single moment, hostility bled into true killing intent.
For that moment, Yahiro’s attack grew sharper, and he landed a single hit on his opponent’s face.
The hood fell back partway, revealing the mouth of his opponent.
It appeared it was a young man. With blood running from his mouth, the man was smiling.
There, Yahiro thought.
About what expression he was making right then.
—I wonder why?
—Even when I’m so scared.
—Even though I could die…
Unable to organise his emotions, there was only one thing Yahiro could grasp; the expression he was currently wearing.
At the same time. Somewhere in Ikebukuro.
“Y, you did it! Hey you did it!”
Ajimura kicked the fallen delinquent, as he called to the ‘Other Dark Owl’ gleefully.
“Ha, haha! Hahah! Well done, well done!”
Although that Dark Owl only continued to stare at him silently, Ajimura continued, unfazed.
“It, it was you who helped me beat up Horada recently, right?! Hey! Thanks for that! That bastard tried to hit me even though he was scum!”
The ‘Other’ remained silent, holding its own hammer, and there Ajimura began to feel a chill.
“O, oi, say something.”
Rather than answering, the ‘Other’ started striding towards him slowly.
“…Y, you’re kidding. You’re not going after me too, right? Stop kidding around!”
Still there was no answer.
Ajimura took one step back, and then another, leaving the delinquent behind him.
“W, wait! Please wait? You’re my ally, right?”
“…! I am you! You are me! We’re both Dark Owl, right?! OPD is about our destiny, right? Hey! We’re fellow fans, let’s settle this nicely!”
Still not replying, the Dark Owl slowly, slowly closed the distance between them.
Almost as if a zombie from Owl of the Peeping Dead itself.
In the moment he saw the image of the zombie superimposed on the figure, Ajimura succumbed to the pressure, and swung his own hammer at its head.
With a squelch, part of the hood that formed Dark Owl’s head warped and collapsed on itself.
The hammer had sunk in deeper than expected; Ajimura shuddered fearfully and fell on his backside.
As he shook violently he looked up at the ‘Other’, who had stopped moving.
He had definitely felt the head sinking in.
It was like nothing he had felt before, but seeing how deep the hammer had gone, it was hardly possible to survive.
“Ahhhhhh, I, I did nothing wrong. It’s your fault, you were the one who scared me. Right?… Ri, right, right, ria… AAAAaaaaaaaaaAAAAA?!”
The man’s bewildered plea turned into a shriek of terror.
For the ‘Other’, half of whose head had been crushed, was slowly beginning to move regardless.
The ‘Other’ took out a smartphone, and after typing something slowly, showed Ajimura the screen.
‘I’m not very familiar with Owl of the Peeping Dead. Though I’m planning to see the live action soon.’
At the sight of the ‘Other’ typing effortlessly even after having its head crushed, Ajimura gaped in bewilderment.
The ‘Other’ before him removed its Dark Owl hood, letting it fall back.
And so Ajimura discovered.
The reason the being was still moving after its head was crushed.
The fact that it had no head to begin with at all.
Shuddering uncontrollably, Ajimura uttered its name:
“The… He-he-he… Headless… Rider!!”
‘This is my answer to your question.’
As the Headless Rider displayed these words, the hammer it held morphed.
The bandages snapped off, and the hammer inside swelled to twice the original size, transforming into a pitch-black squeaky hammer toy.
Then, with a blow ten times stronger than the one she had given her cohabiter, she bashed it ruthlessly into Ajimura’s cheek—
But Ajimura, having lost conscious while he was sent flying, had no way to know of her previous experiences.
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.
And on this night, she wore a slightly different face.
She was clad in mascot pajamas, in the dress of the serial assaulter known as Dark Owl.
A few minutes later.
‘…Honestly. I never thought I’d be dragged into a charade like this.’
In a corner of the park.
After checking that no one was around, Celty said this to the delinquent boy beside her—Kuon.
The unconscious Slugger was now bound arm and leg by Celty’s shadows, and lying on the ground just as Kuon had been before.
In short, Kuon had been bait.
The plan had been to lure Ajimura to a deserted location and have Celty finish him off wearing the same costume, and it had been executed seamlessly.
Kuon, who had pretended to fall from Celty’s blow, now said to her energetically,
“I must say, that was perfect, thank you! But he found out you were the Headless Rider in the end; is that really okay?”
Kuon had called Celty having tracked down the Slugger, and when she arrived at their meeting point he had passed her a Dark Owl mascot pajama set.
—”See, if the Headless Rider beats up the Slugger for no reason, won’t the Slugger want revenge?”
—”Plus, if one Dark Owl nabs another Dark Owl… Dark Owl’s image will be restored, right?”
Although she did not believe things would turn out so perfectly, Kuon was after all her employer, and so she had abided by his wishes.
Since, in the end, it was trivial compared to getting to stop the Slugger.
As a result, even though she was exposed to the Slugger to be the Headless Rider, Celty was not particularly bothered.
‘Well, it’s all right. I’m used to being hated by people like that.’
“I see, that must be hard.”
‘Shouldn’t you be the one bothered by this?’
Kuon feigned ignorance, to which Celty pointed out calmly,
‘You specially prepared a Dark Owl suit for this. Didn’t you want to film something like, ‘Dark Owl nabs Dark Owl!’ and earn some profit?’
“…Dang. Where would I have filmed that from…?”
‘The pen in your breast pocket’s a digital video camera, right? It’s popular these days. Even I was impressed, thinking the spy movies I watched had come to life; I bought a few along with the glasses-type myself.’
Kuon was about to ask, in jest, just what the Headless Rider would be doing with camera-equipped glasses, but judging that the atmosphere was inappropriate—he answered honestly.
“Damn. Yes, I have lots of hidden cameras, and I hired people to keep other people out, and I have a cell phone camera filming this secretly from afar.”
‘Don’t give me attitude.’
“…Are you angry?”
‘I’m not angry, but let me warn you, it’s not something you should be proud of.’
Celty slumped her shoulders in a gesture like a sigh, and gave the young man a warning.
‘You shouldn’t underestimate people. Anyone can see through a scheme like that. You’re free to use me to make profit, but don’t spread videos that expose my identity or make people think I’m a kidnapper.’
“…I’ll edit out the part where the head was crushed, then.”
‘How are you still thinking about that?!’
“It’s going to make money, come on?”
Kuon said unapologetically, and seing this, Celty was able to grasp just what kind of a person he was.
‘It’s fine to use other people. Humans are creatures that live on by using one another; that’s what I think. But don’t think you’re the only one using others. There was a man who tried to achieve that position in the past, but that takes a special type of person, and it’s not something that people will like you for.”
“…Do you mean Orihara Izaya?”
‘You know him?’
Celty startled slightly.
More than the fact that he knew Izaya, she was surprised by the fact that Kuon’s smile had evaporated the instant he spoke the name, his eyes brimming with a bottomless iciness.
“Some things happened in the past…”
‘Then you should understand, right? His footsteps aren’t to be followed.’
“I know he’s a scoundrel, and he’s the one person I hate the most.”
Kuon ground his teeth hard, before making a pained expression for some reason, and spat,
“…It’s just that… there are people he saved exactly because he was a person like that.”
Seeing his expression, Celty went silent for a time.
In the end, perhaps deciding it would be best not to pry, she changed the topic, typing,
‘I see. I won’t probe, but I’ve warned you. …In the first place, that wasn’t my question.’
“…What was it?”
‘How did you know this person was the criminal?’
。Celty’s biggest question was regarding just one fact—how Kuon had known the man was the criminal. If he had not known, the trap or any other strategy would have been useless.
“It wasn’t me, it was Nee-chan.”
‘What do you mean?’
Seeing what Celty had typed, Kuon explained somewhat embarrassedly regarding the family business.
“There was a user weirdly enthusiastic about the assault case on Nee-chan’s forums, saying Dark Owl was a good guy cleaning up the streets. He would agree with himself under other handles, or re-post the same thing everywhere. Nee-chan traced the IP address.”
‘And it was Ajimura?’
“Yeah. Nee-chan runs a few OPD information sites too. Apparently it was the same IP as the admin of a notorious self-proclaimed fansite who had been visiting her sites. Looking into it it turned out he’d been emphasising how bad that Horada person was even before the police publicised the attack.”
‘So it was just a brainless guy all this time.’
Celty said frankly. Kuon smiled wryly, and nodded.
“Well now we know all that it seems that’s it. In the first place assaulting strangers isn’t something intelligent people do, huh?”
Kuon said wryly. Celty asked further,
‘Is that all?’
‘If that was everything, I think you’d be helping the culprit along or make Yahiro-kun handle it.’
It was hard to tell in the form of text, but Kuon sensed that she was being cynical.
“What are you trying to say, Celty-san?”
‘Something beyond you… or your sister’s expectations happened, right?’
“Beyond our expectations… We caught the Slugger, so not really. Though I must say I didn’t expect the criminal to be someone who’d shown up on Nee-chan’s websites.”
Kuon began to ramble on about his miscellaneous thoughts, but as though to stop him, Celty asked a single question:
‘Just now, when the guy said thanks to me while I was wearing the Dark Owl costume… What was that about?’
“That… I’d like to know myself. Well, chances are the rumours are true that there are copycat Sluggers. Whether or not he’s a copycat doesn’t change the fact that he’s one of the culprits.”
Kuon said this, and stepped on Ajimura’s back with a foot.
“Well, all I can do is pass this guy to Karisawa- and Yumasaki-san.”
Chuckling, Kuon took out his phone—and dialed Karisawa’s number.
Almost as if to run away from Celty’s questions.
“…Ah, hello, Karisawa-san? It’s Kotonami.”
‘Oh?! Kuocchi?! What’s wrong? Did you say you were busy today?’
“I finished what I was doing. …I just went with Celty-san and nabbed the Slugger.”
“I want to pass him over, so, could you ask that driver you’re always with… uh… I don’t know his name, but could you ask him to drive his van over?”
‘Ah, um… That’s fine, but… What’s going on?’
“? What do you mean?”
‘No, I was with Togucchi awhile ago, but…’
The sound of footsteps and breathing peppered the call, as though she was running while on the phone.
‘Togucchi and Dotachin just called me, they said Yappi… Mizuchi-kun is fighting the Slugger…’
The call ended without any clarification, and seconds later, another number was calling.
Though bewildered by the timing, Kuon accepted the call.
‘Ah, Kotonami-kun? The commotion online… are you seeing it?’
‘They say a whole lot of Dark Owls are showing up in the city…’
A few minutes later—
As Kuon’s eyes roved over the internet for information, Celty put her smartphone.
‘What happened? Another surprise?’
Kuon gave a forced smile, to which Celty typed,
“It’s difficult to make people act in ways you expect. Izaya never controlled others. He appeared in control only because he accepted and loved any result. …Well, just know he was a pest.”
Despite saying he was a pest, Celty was strangely calm as she typed.
Glaring at her, Kuon said—
“Don’t act as if you know any…”
After cutting off, he looked away unhappily.
“No… Maybe it’s as you say…”
Kuon went silent, and continued to comb the web for information.
Celty made no move to blame or comfort him further.
She knew that saying anything more would be ‘acting as if she knew’.
Aware that the only thing she knew was in fact Orihara Izaya’s past, and not this boy’s present.
By the time Karisawa and Saburō arrived, the fight had reached a standstill.
For some time the two had sparred back and forth, neither having an edge over the other; but now they separated and watched one another over the distance between them.
Yumasaki took it as a chance and raised the nozzle of his fire extinguisher, but Kadota stopped his hand.
“Dumbass, if you make him dodge again, it’ll only disadvantage Yahiro.”
Kadota whispered. Yumasaki accepted his point, and lowered the fire extinguisher.
Saburō, who had come behind them, saw the Yahiro-like figure and asked,
“O, oi, what’s happening! …? What’s that? Why’s he wearing that black mask… Wait, isn’t that Celty’s shadow…?”
“Hero transformation?! Incredible! If this were SFX those moving shadows would be high-level!”
“No, wait Karisawa, pull yourself together. You’re not making sense…”
Alongside Karisawa’s voice, Saburō heard a different sound.
It was a familiar siren.
“Ah, it’s the cops.”
Perhaps the nearby residents had heard the commotion and seen what was going on through their windows, but in any case it was clear that police cars were headed their way.
The Dark Owl, who had heard it as well, gazed regretfully at Yahiro—
And after a few seconds, he grinned through the hole in his torn hood, and left.
“Ah?! He escaped?!”
Yumasaki aimed his fire extinguisher hurriedly.
But he was unable to use it.
To his shock, the man scaled the wall of a house in one shot, and proceeded to leap onto the roof of the first floor, and then the second floor, disappearing upwards like a wild beast.
“I, is he a wildcat?!”
“Could he… be the real Dark Owl, come out from the movie…”
Saburō’s exclaimed, and Yumasaki gave his own stunned commentary, but—
Seeing the fire extinguisher in Yumasaki’s hands, Saburō shouted in a panic.
“Oi Yumasaki! Keep that! We need to run!”
“What?! What about the Slugger?! Th, there’s still one more! The one who ran away!”
“We’ll deal with that later! It won’t mean anything if we get caught now!”
While he heard these panicked voices around him, Yahiro continued to gaze up at the roof the Dark Owl had escaped from.
As he realised this, sweat broke out over Yahiro’s entire body.
It was impossible to tell if it was cold sweat or perspiration due to the intense workout.
Yahiro remained unable to make head or tails of his own feelings, conflicted, when a familiar voice called out to him from behind.
“Oi! Yahiro! What are you doing? You need to run too!”
With another glance at the red lights of police cars flashing in the distance, Yahiro turned his back on the scene.
Yahiro stripped off the shadow mask and shirt as he ran.
Hugging the ball of shadow and running, he felt just slightly relieved.
The immediate threat was over.
But his fear had not yet faded completely.
His opponent could have merely made show of running away, planning to ambush him later.
Or they could have caught the eye of the police.
Or Saburō-san could get angry and chase him out of the apartment.
Fed by these normal fears, there was a new fear taking root.
It was of himself, whose ecstasy he had felt duelling the Slugger had been even greater than during the fight with Shizuo.
Even in the middle of a battle, Yahiro had felt that twinge of fear towards his own self.
Yahiro reached the main road, still feeling torn—
When a voice called out from behind him.
When he spun warily, he saw something being thrown at him.
—Knife?! Acid?! Bomb?!
The possibilities flitted through his mind, and at the same time his sense of sight ascertained its identity, Yahiro caught the ‘smartphone’ from the air.
“You left it on the ground back there, you forgot. It looks broken, is that okay?”
The man shrugged as he spoke, and tilting his head curiously, Yahiro uttered his name.
“Kuronuma-sempai…? Why are you here?”
Ikebukuro. An alley.
“H, Horada-san, what do we do!”
“Whatever, let’s just move away from the station! We need a strategic retreat first! We’ll figure it out later!”
As Horada said this, he was trembling in pain and terror in the passenger seat of the car his junior was now driving.
Horada, who had escaped through the basement of the station and managed to board his junior’s car, was for now just driving away from the city.
Because the main roads were congested, they were sticking to narrower back alleys.
“Damn it… What are they! This is even worse than colour gangs!”
Horada was shouting this when his phone rang.
“What! Who the fuck is calling at this… kind of time…”
Seeing the word ‘Izumii’ dsiplayed on the screen, he blanched further and picked up the call.
“H, hello Izumii-san! It’s Horada!”
‘Now, quiz time.’
‘Why is Horada-kun out of the hospital already, when he was meant to be there for a week?’
Horada’s teeth chattered at Izumii’s ‘quiz’.
Half the time Izumii had given ‘quizzes’ in this manner, he was even less sane than usual.
If handled poorly, even a trip to the hospital might not fix the resulting injury.
Even with these fears, Horada could not put together a good answer, and Izumii continued,
‘So? What’s the progress on the Slugger?’
“A, about that—”
Shirobishi Yōko continued to run.
—It’s the end. It’s over, it’s over, shit. Shit shit shitshitshitshitshitshit
She had fallen into despair.
That the police could track her down now her voice had been heard was not on her mind at all.
The dark shadows that had appeared right before her escape.
Completely unlike normal black clothes, as though shadow itself had coalesced to form an undulating cloth.
It was not simply the Headless Rider. And this unidentified being had not only shown up, but acted so as to obstruct her.
—Aahh, it’s the end. It’s the end for Ikebukuro.
—The gates of hell are open already. The demons are really spilling out!
—It’s not me. It’s not my fault.
—It’s the fault of those scum. Those scum, those scum… ●●●●●●s lower than maggots like the juice wrung from garbage those scum that embraced evil, it’s their fault the gates of hell have open!
—It’s the end for this city. I must end it. With my own hands.
—No, there’s still time. I will save it, with my own hands.
—It can just burn. Burn the evil books.
—Buy a lighter from the store, and raze the streets of Ikebukuro.
—My own hands handd handshandshandshandshandshands h h h h h h h h h h
Saliva was dripping from her mouth, but Yōko continued to run like a woman possessed.
She was clearly not in her right mind.
Was it because of her terror, or because she had found a new purpose, or something else altogether?
Her confusion became euphoria, and as she ran, she felt no fatigue.
For she was running for the sake of Ikebukuro.
Running forward, forward towards the future—
When a car hit her from the side, and sent her flying.
‘What happened? That was loud.’
For a while after Izumii said this, Horada was unable to talk.
Because of the impact of something hitting the car, the injuries over his entire body were screaming.
“N, no… The car…”
“H, Horada-san, t, that’s…”
A short distance ahead of the car, there was the silhouette of someone collapsed on the road.
—Don’t fuck with me! I’m not dealing with the cops again!
—I didn’t do it! It’s not my fault!
Horada, still clutching the phone, alighted from the car to check if the person was still alive, but—
“…Burn…burnnn. The scum, kill the scum, the scum…”
Seeing the Dark Owl shaking while mumbling this, and the bandage-bound hammer in the person’s hand, Horada’s eyes widened.
‘Oi, what’s going on, say something, Horada.’
The voice from the phone brought him back to earth, and Horada put it to his ear again.
“S, sorry! Something cropped up!”
‘Whatever, just answer. You’ve found the Slugger, right? Yeah?’
“O, of course!”
“Of course, Izumii-san! I’ve found the Slugger and punished her accordingly! I, I’ll pass her over, the rest is up to you~!”
Ajimura awoke to the inside of a van.
“Oh, you woke up. Or would saying ‘revived’ suit Dark Owl more?”
“Well, you’ll be in jail very soon, though.”
Seeing that he had awoken, a narrow-eyed man holding a bucket and a black-clad woman with a battery-charged soldering iron spoke out to him.
“Wh… Wha… What’s this?!
At this point he realised his arms and legs had been bound, and he began to squirm.
“Hey, don’t struggle, don’t struggle. Dark Owl’s got to be cool.”
“We should lower his body temperature so he’s like the real thing.”
Right as he said this, the slit-eyed man poured the dry ice in the bucket into Ajimura’s suit.
“~~~~~~~~~~! ?! Ah… Aaaa!”
“Well well well, I was surprised that a Slugger would carry his driving license around, but the name was another shock. To think that the admin of that infamous OPD site’s the Slugger himself.”(Y)
“Though if you think about how bad their rep is, it’s not surprising… I never imagined you were running the site under your real name.”(K)
“Wh… B, bad rep?! Don’t fuck with me! We do everything to protect OPD! I cleaned the streets of trash like Horada and Heiwajima Shizuo! It was to protect Dark Owl’s reputation!”
Ajimura shrieked. The man and woman exchanged glances—and sighed, bone-weary.
“Becoming a hero that cleans up the streets, you say… Isn’t that completely against the theme of OPD, where the character has trouble even killing zombies and questions if he’s doing the right thing when he defeats the bad guy?”(K)
“Seriously, even the bad guy Dark Owl declares themself evil and does evil proudly, right? What have you been watching? You’re even worse than fake fans!”(Y)
“Shut up! That’s only on the surface! WWW writes ridiculous things like that because they’re licking the boots of capitalism! You don’t see the underlying theme, you casual!”
He yelled this egoistic opinion, but the slit-eyed man pushed him down.
“Gua… What are you… AAaaaAAAAaaah…”
Being pushed to the floor caused the dry ice in the suit to burn against his skin.
At Ajimura’s shrieking, the pair continued, eyes cold,
“I admit, we’re not fans. I can’t imagine real fans using violence to handle the series’ problems.”
“Right, you can’t see. Which reminds me… Did you know Dark Owl’s initial design was blind?”
The woman, as she said this, inched a soldering iron towards the man’s eye.
“S, sto… N-N-NOOOOooOOooOOoo!”
Right before it could reach his eye, the door to the back of the van opened.
Ajimura perked up with the hope of rescue—but from the coldness of the eyes that flitted over him, his hopes were quickly dashed.
Then, the newcomer, a man with a bandana, sighed, and spoke to the man and woman.
“Oi… Don’t get your priorities mixed up, okay?”
Kadota said from the open door. Karisawa and Yumasaki nodded successively.
“Don’t worry, we’re just asking how many comrades he has.”(K)
“Aw~, I wish you’d trust us more~.”(Y)
“…That’s fine, but we’re sending him to the police straight after. Don’t forget that.”
With that warning, Kadota called out to Saburō, who was outside.
“What happened to Yahiro?”
“I told him to go home before we came to pick up the Slugger. I couldn’t possibly let him see this.”
“I can’t believe he’s the rumoured Snake Hands.”
“…I have no clue what’s going on anymore.”
Saburō said tiredly. Kadota asked,
“Are you going to scold him about it tomorrow?”
“Not really? I’m not like my my siblings; I have no right to say anything when it comes to fighting.”
Saburō shrugged, and thinking of Yahiro’s face, smiled bitterly at the sky. He said to Kadota,
“There’s only one thing I can think of right now. The world’s a dangerous place. I just hope he goes straight home without detouring anywhere.”
Night time. Kuon’s apartment. Rooftop.
“Shit… All those plans, wasted. Not one thing went right…”
Kuon, arms rested on the roof’s railing, muttered irritatedly.
“What the hell… Mass appearance of Dark Owl…? That was never in the plan. Who the hell are they…”
Who had done it?
Thinking now, it could have been Underrars, whose web presence had been growing; or another prank-loving group passing it off as art.
Whichever the case, the public image of Dark Owl in Ikebukuro had changed drastically. All this meant was that the video of the Headless Rider and the Slugger would be less impactful, but to Kuon it was inexcusable.
—Everything was out of control.
—I should’ve been able to make more use of the Slugger…
Kuon tsked and sighed—
Only to hear, under the sound of his sigh and the wind, the door behind him opening.
Only his sister knew he was here, but the one who stood there was not Nozomi—
Mizuchi Yahiro, in his casual clothes, stood there with his regular expression.
“Why are you here?”
“Mm, when I went to your place Nozomi-san pointed me here.”
“If you wanted to talk you could just call.”
“Sorry, I sort of broke my phone.”
Yahiro said calmly. Kuon smiled and asked,
“I heard you fought the Slugger… what was that about?”
“Yeah, I fought Dark Owl. He was strong. I don’t know who was inside, but I get the feeling Kuronuma-sempai knew.”
“…Oi, wait, why is Aoba-san’s name appearing?”
Kuon smiled and creased his brow at the same time, to which Yahiro replied, evenly,
“All the Dark Owl’s that appeared in town today… Almost all of them were from Blue Square.”
“…Huh?! What?! Why would they…”
“They say they just wanted to show you up.”
Yahiro asked a question of the dismayed Kuon.
With an expression no different from usual, he asked, simply, calmly,
“Did you know that Ajimura guy was the criminal from the start?”
‘As promised, I caught the Slugger, so I passed the culprit to the Blue Square member Kotonami Kuon-kun. What comes after is none of my business. Our debt’s cleared.’
Aoba, seeing Celty’s message, smiled wryly and murmured,
“So that’s how you’re playing it.”
It was no surprise.
Likely she had seen through the odd relationship between Kuon and Blue Square and chosen this course of action.
“But to think Celty-san knew Kuon was one of us… She’s surprisingly perceptive to things like that.”
“By the way, what are we gonna do about Kuon? He really went too far this time, didn’t he?”
“Worst case, even Blue Square will get dragged through the mud.”
Aoba replied to his gang members,
“Isn’t that fine? We have so much dirt on us already.”
“Oh, it’s on the news already… I wonder how much Kuon’s sister will pay for that advance notice.”
“Yoshikiri did a good job, too. I have to call him and say thanks later.”
Aoba and company chuckled as they discussed their ‘assignment’ today.
“Ha, I wonder what face Kuon is making right now.”
“Well, won’t he think it was Underrars that did it? He probably never expected us to bypass him and make a deal with Nozomi-san directly.”
Aoba drank his juice imagining the embittered face of his junior, and added,
“Well, what happens to him next… will depend on that friend of his.”
“Since I just told him everything.”
“Aoba-san… knew what I was doing all along?”
“Since about last month… after the fake kidnapping case he’s been monitoring you, apparently? Very secretly. It seems Aoba-san keeps an eye on the internet too.”
“That’s creepy. Is he a stalker?”
Kuon had spoken jokingly, but before Yahiro, whose face remained blank, his smile faded.
“…So what did he say I did?”
“Mmm… I don’t know the details, but he said that he put everything together in the last few days. That once he realised the Slugger you had identified was Ajimura, he suspected that you had been instigating everything since you found out.”
“He said there was someone on Ajimura’s site pretending to be his ally, giving him information about delinquents. When that person started pushing Ajimura about how bad Horada-san was, Aoba-san thought it might be you.”
It had all been planned.
Kuon had found out about Ajimura through the same process he had told Celty.
But the timing was different.
His sister had informed him Ajimura was suspicious even before Yumasaki and Karisawa’s commission.
He knew the culprit’s identity.
With this advantage, what couldn’t he do?
Could he manipulate the Slugger into attacking specific people?
There had been no ulterior motive.
If one had to say, it would be that controlling the Slugger in itself had been the objective.
Was he capable of it? Kuon’s greatest motive had been to find the answer to that question.
It had been a test.
To test his own nature; if he could become Orihara Izaya.
Kuon reaffirmed this to himself, and still unsmiling, he glared at Yahiro.
“Yeah, that’s right.”
“I knew even before the holidays. And I was the one who pitted Ajimura against Horada.”
Up to that point things had been comically straightforward.
Kuon had accepted Yumasaki and Karisawa’s commission nonchalantly, and had passed the job on to Yahiro and others while being aware of the perpetrator.
He had succeeded in targeting Horada, who had been troublesome as he seemed intent to entangle Yahiro with Blue Square more than necessary. It had been a vague plan of his to have Yahiro nab Ajimura under his Snake Hands identity right after, which would not only act as publicity for Snake Hands but also cause Horada to be indebted to them.
At that point—things had gone awry.
Third party interference.
Another Slugger had turned up, aiding the assault of Horada.
Who it was was irrelevant. The issue was that someone besides himself had influenced Ajimura.
Hence Kuon, sensing danger on the horizon, had ceased all interference in favour of monitoring the situation.
At that point Ajimura seemed determined to seek out Heiwajima Shizuo anyway, so Kuon had stayed quiet, waiting for Ajimura to attack Shizuo.
There was no way Ajimura could have done anything to Shizuo.
It was supposed to end when he faced Shizuo’s counterattack; then Kuon would have passed him over to Yumasaki and Karisawa.
But instead of Shizuo, Ajimura had targeted his superior Tanaka Tom.
Kuon, who had been watching the situation on the scene, had at that point concluded that it was impossible to control Ajimura.
That was why he had used Celty for emergency disposal.
“And? What if I did?”
Kuon said, defiantly.
He might be able to talk his way through if he tried, but since he did not know how much evidence Kuronuma Aoba had procured, it was pointless.
“Even if I say I knew the culprit and pretended not to even when that Horada guy or Shizuo’s sempai were targeted, what are you going to do about it?”
—I’ve already decided to become a person like Orihara Izaya. What need is there for me to get along with Yahiro?
—It’s normal to be disliked, or looked down on, or despised, right?
—Yeah, that’s right. If I’m Orihara Izaya, that makes this guy Heiwajima Shizuo, huh.
—Well, I’m not opposed to that.
Even if he and the boy in front of him wound up trying to kill one another, that was fine with him.
Kuon said these things to himself as he waited for Yahiro to answer.
“That’s alright, then.”
“Ah, I just wanted to make sure. If that’s what really happened then it’s alright. Thanks.”
Yahiro nodded as though reassured, and seeing this Kuon gaped blankly for a moment; before, grinding his teeth angrily, he said,
“…What’s alright about this. You came all the way to my house just for this?”
Replying, Yahiro said with a tone no different at all from how he usually spoke casually,
“If it wasn’t true, I was thinking I had to go to Kuronuma-sempai right after and tell him he got it wrong.”
The unexpected reply threw Kuon off so much he forgot even his anger.
But with Yahiro’s next words, he was able to accept Yahiro’s reasoning.
“It’s not nice to have misunderstandings about you spreading around. But if it’s true then it’s fine. If this is what you want, I won’t say anything.”
Yahiro had had a lonely, dangerous adolescence because he was rumoured to be a ‘monster’ in spite of his own intentions. He had simply been trying to prevent Kuon from suffering that same fate.
—He really came here just for that?
“Are you really fine with just that?”
“You have a bastard like me right in front of you and the power to do anything you like to me, and you just let things be?! It’s like you think it’s someone else’s business!”
Kuon cut himself off, shocked.
—I… What was I just going to say?
—”Or… do you not give a damn about me at all?”
Realising what he had been about to say, he truly paled.
Before a silent Kuon, Yahiro thought for some time about what he had just been told—
Finally, after assembling his thoughts somewhat, he tried to verbalise them.
“Ahhh… Kuon-kun, you’re planning to become someone like that Orihara Izaya person, right?”
“Damn it, Nee-chan, always talking too much. …So what of it?”
“But isn’t that meaningless?”
“…What? What are you trying to say?”
Kuon’s brows creased angrily as Yahiro cornered him with his words.
Even knowing there was no winning if they fought, there was a line he could not back down from.
“Am I wrong? Is it so wrong for me to want to save my sister?”
“I don’t think you’re wrong. But I think you’re going about it the wrong way.”
In the face of Yahiro’s blunt statement, Kuon found himself stumped for words.
“I can’t put it in words it that well… It’s just something that bothers me… When Orihara Izaya disappeared, your sister got into a really bad state, right? And that’s why you want to become Orihara Izaya, so she can go back to how she was before… That was what you decided, right?”
“But… then, what if you die?”
The question was like an unexpected blow.
While his friend was wide-eyed, Yahiro, thinking seriously, wove his words one by one.
“If you’re gone, then won’t the same thing happen again…? To your sister? Then, how can your sister be happy when you’re not around…?”
“So I think, for your sister to be able to live independently even after you’re gone… you can’t become Orihara Izaya, Kuon-kun.”
Yahiro himself seemed uncertain if what he was saying was right, and nervous he might have made a mistake; even so, he looked Kuon in the eye and continued to state his opinion.
“I can’t say it very well, but… I think the only way is for you to be even greater than Orihara Izaya. To truly become someone who can make your sister happy, I think?”
At the end he tilted his head as if doubting himself, wondering if there might be a better solution.
Seeing him like that, Kuon was quiet for a while.
And then the anger faded from his face, replaced by a small smile, and he answered,
“…That’s enough. Go home.”
“Ah, sorry? Maybe that was inappropriate.”
“Yeah, go home. I said already, I hate this nice guy part of you.”
“…I see. Sorry.”
He was expressionless still, but after looking away somewhat regretfully, Yahiro turned away from Kuon.
Kuon started, as if to call out, but could not form words.
When it became apparent Yahiro would keep walking, the false smile on his face faded, and with eyes that seemed close to crying, he spoke.
By the time Yahiro turned back, Kuon had reverted to his usual smirk.
Then, with a voice light as always,
“You said it a while ago? That you’ll always be ready to hit me?”
Still no different from usual, Kuon said,
“Now’s that time. Hit me. Stop me.”
The next moment—
Like a professional boxer, Yahiro’s right fist made a sharp right straight towards Kuon’s bowed head, directly into his right cheek.
Kuon was thrown back violently, and his back slammed back into the railing of the roof.
Then, before he could even feel the pain, he went under the darkness.
20 minutes later.
Kuon woke up to find his entire face throbbing with a dull pain.
A broad sky stretched out before him, but for all there were stars some were obscured by the neon lights of the city, so it could not quite be described as starry.
Looking to the side he saw Yahiro sitting beside his prone form, leaning against the railing.
“Are you okay?”
Pain flared through his face when he tried to move. Something warm and metallic-tasting spread in his mouth.
“You… really didn’t… hold back.”
“Yeah. You were smiling, but I felt your eyes were serious. So I thought, I had do it seriously, too…”
Yahiro replied unhesitantly. Kuon, desperately enduring the pain, smiled.
“I could’ve died from that, you dumb bastard…”
Kuon spat into his hand. What came out was a lot of blood, and two broken teeth.
“Yeah, you should see a dentist ASAP.”
As Yahiro said this, he stroked the back of his hand.
He did not know if Kuon knew the countless scars there were from the broken teeth of others; Kuon only moaned, grumbling at Yahiro.
“Gguah… Guh… Dammit… you’re so useless.”
There Yahiro tilted his head, and replied,
“Kuon-kun, I don’t think you’re much better.”
“…Hey, you just hit me so ruthlessly… It’s weird to still call me -kun. You can drop that… It’ll just make me feel gross.”
“Is that how it works?”
“That’s how it works.”
Yahiro tilted his head, and Kuon returned the gesture bearing the pain in his face.
Yahiro, hearing this, nodded solemnly.
“All right, I’ll just call you Kuon from now on.”
Then, with that solemn face, he asked Kuon a question.
“I wonder if I could just call Himeka-chan Himeka too?”
“That’s… kinda… personally unforgiveable.”
“I see… Sorry. Though I’m not sure why you’re angry, Kuon.”
Yahiro said dejectedly. Kuon looked at him, and simply continued to smile through the pain.
He felt as though if he stopped smiling, he would cry.
The useless boy gazed up at the quiet, starry sky, and never, never stopped smiling.
(*Dry ice and a soldering iron: Yumasaki and Karisawa’s tools of trade, since Yumasaki is an ice sculpter and Karisawa runs a jewellery blogshop.)