T/N: In this book Narita uses a different word for the sections between chapters—usually he titles them ‘Interlude (間章)’, but in this volume they were titled ‘Intermission (幕間)’. The main difference I guess is that an ‘interlude’ can mean a short piece between the main parts, while an ‘intermission’ is a break/recess (e.g. between acts of a play or musical pieces). The nuance is a bit different.
(Illustration: Anri in the Sonohara Hall apron)
A few days ago.
Antique store Sonohara Hall.
The shop existed some distance from the heart of Ikebukuro.
The first floor of a house had been renovated into this store, and the display window facing the street exhibited objects with an aura of agedness to them.
Whether a well-worned flower vase, a calligraphy scroll of unknown origin, a vacuum tube radio—the impression was that these items, collectively regarded as ‘antiques’ regardless of their original time period or genre, were laid out here without discrimination.
Despite the store’s antique feel, the shopkeeper inside was a woman who still had the air of a young girl.
Yet it was not the same air of the modern youth; she radiated a vintage sense of calm, and from a more occult perspective it was as if she was the anthropomorphised spirit of the shop itself.
This young shopkeeper bowed her head to the boy entering the store with a gentle smile.
“Welcome. …Um, Mizuchi-kun, right?”
To this, an expression of surprise came onto the boy that was her customer.
“You remembered me?”
“I did. Is the radio working out for you?”
“Yes, it’s made my room more homely.”
It was only the second time the boy—Mizuchi Yahiro—had come to this store.
Thinking that installing a TV in his room would not be cheap, he had visited this antique store run by a Raira Academy alumnus, and wound up purchasing an antique radio.
Yahiro had found it odd that such an old store had a shopkeeper just out of high school.
When he had asked about it, her answer was that the store had been run by her deceased parents, and she had reopened it after receiving the rights to it when she came of age.
Yahiro thought that running a store straight after graduating was incredible, and looked up to the storeowner, his senior from Raira Academy, with respect.
While he was still shocked that such a person had remembered his name, Anri smiled with amusement, and revealed,
“Ryūgamine-kun’s told me a lot about you.”
“Ryūgamine… the library committee president?”
“He said he got a great junior in the library committee; he was very happy when he said so, too.”
“Are you friends with Ryūgamine-sempai?”
To Yahiro’s query, Anri, the shopkeeper, gazed off into space, and replied as if reminiscing,
“We were in the same year. He’s important to me, even now.”
Her reply hinted at hidden depths.
Yahiro supposed that something must have happened between them, but thinking that it would be rude to probe, he hesitated on his reply.
But just then, as if playing ambassador to his inner thoughts, the boy entering the store from behind him spoke.
“Eh? Ohoho, could you be dating Ryūgamine-sempai?”
“Kuon, that’s too direct.”
“I, I never thought I would ever hear that from you of all people…”
With shock written all over his face was Yahiro’s schoolmate, Kotonami Kuon.
His green-dyed hair could not be more clashing against the antique air of the store.
At this point, a third customer appeared from behind him, and uttered the following cruel words while completely expressionless:
“It’s because he’s Yahiro-kun that he’s saying that, isn’t it? To be honest it was extremely awkward for me too, but I would never have worried so much about your future to warn you about it.”
“…Himeka-chan, do you hate me?”
“I don’t hate you. If you’re asking how much I like you, I guess it’s on the level of any stranger on the street.”
“‘Zero romantic interest.’ Message received.”
Kuon joked, and the girl added, as if to finish him off,
“It’s not that I don’t care about you. It’s just that your good and bad points are roughly equal, so it rounds out to zero.”
At these words, spoken evenly by the girl—Tatsugami Himeka—and Kuon’s forehead broke out in sweat.
“Uh… How do I react if you say that so calmly?”
Landing a hand on Kuon’s shoulder, Yahiro said, seriously,
“It’s alright, Kuon. You can still increase your strong points from now on. I’ll work hard to increase mine too.”
“Work on what exactly?! How are you saying you’re gonna work on whatever it is that you’ll become a better person?!”
Yahiro went silent at Kuon’s retort, but after some time, he said, slowly,
“…take ethics courses…?”
“Hey… Again, you’re giving such a normal answer it’s hard to react…”
“It was normal? Really? Thank goodness…”
“Don’t look so relieved! Ah dammit, why are you so weird?!”
Kuon was halfway to tears as he said this, but he noticed the storeowner smiling benignly at them in the corner of his eye, and changed the topic, asking,
“Now now now, more importantly: Miss! So are you dating Ryūgamine-sempai after all?”
After some thought, Anri said to the boy,
“That’s… a secret.”
Afterwards, the high school students left with their various purchases.
Anri thought back on them, and smiled with nostalgia again.
—It really reminds me… of back when I just met Mikado-kun and Kida-kun…
As she saw the overlap between their past selves and the trio of high school students, Anri quietly savoured the contentment of her everyday.
Running the antiques store had not been a smooth ride the whole way, but even so, she was truly happy to have gained the place for her to belong, that she had been seeking.
Her tumultous fortune that had begun in Ikebukuro several years ago.
With the premonition that her juniors from Raira Academy would eventually live out a similar fate in the face of the huge wave with the Headless Rider at its root, Anri simply chose to pray that they have a peaceful journey.
Meanwhile, Anri did not pray for her own peace as strongly.
From the time she had chosen to inherit this store, with its abundance of history tying its fate to countless others, she had been ready to encounter some rockiness—and most importantly, she felt that these waves were what sealed her connection to many others.
Certainly one could say that Sonohara Anri’s varied fortunes would continue.
And as though to prove it—
The store’s door opened quietly, and the shape of this latest ‘wave’ appeared.
As per usual, Anri bowed from the counter at the new customer.
But the strange customer—a young man with his face covered in bandages, and glasses perched on top—did not respond to Anri’s greeting, checking that the shop was deserted before he spoke.
“Are you Sonohara Anri?”
“? Yes, that’s me…”
Anri tilted her head in puzzlement at having her name called by an unfamiliar man.
And to her, this man stated, evenly, the ‘product’ he was seeking to purchase.
“…I want to buy Saika.”
The instant she heard this word, Anri’s smile was replaced by wariness.
While she remained unspeaking in her surprise, the male customer calmly continued to propose his deal.
“As for money… I’m willing to fork out five million yen, to start with.”
Following this, he uttered the words that demonstrated his knowledge of Saika’s nature.
“You can even cut me and make me a ‘child’; it doesn’t matter to me.”
Same day. Night time. Along Kawagoe Highway. Shinra’s apartment.
‘I think I’m going to start working.’
To his cohabitant who said this—Celty Sturluson—the owner of the apartment, Kishitani Shinra, tilted his head.
“Celty? Why so sudden? You’re already doing a part-time, right? That, um, freelancing business by those high schoolers?”
Right now she was working for a freelance business called Snake Hands, run by a boy by the name of Kotonami Kuon.
She did not receive many assignments, but perhaps Kuon specifically selected ones with high profit, for the jobs he introduced to her earned plenty of money. For Celty, who had no need for food, it was more than enough to cover living expenses.
‘Not that part-time; I’m thinking of officially resuming my courier job.’
“No way, Celty! If you work it’s losing!”
Shinra cried out and clung to Celty, but she pried him off and retorted calmly with her smartphone.
‘Who’s losing to what?’
To this perfectly logical question, Shinra cried out his truest thoughts:
“I’ll be losing to reality! How can I win over the loneliness at home when you’re out working?”
‘Just keep going.’
Celty typed, exasperated at Shinra’s tantrum.
“To keep going I have to charge up! Just a hug from Celty can refill my health to the max and give me unlimited livessbebu”
‘Don’t say weird things and try to hug me! …Anyway, I have a reason for wanting to resume the job after so long.’
Celty sat back down on the sofa, and Shinra settled in seiza on the carpet to face her.
“Alright, tell me about it. Whatever it is, surely there’s a loophole. If it’s a problem with money, I’ll pay, so it’s no problem at all! The power of money where society runs on it is incredible! Money makes the world go round!”
‘You… really can say such things without feeling embarrassed, can’t you…’
Celty said with resignation, to which Shinra replied unabashedly, eyes shining,
“There’s no need to hide anything from you at this point of our relationship. Ah, but let me say this, okay? It’s true that money is important. But it’s not the most important! The number one most important is Celty! Of course, the number two is Celty, too! And number three, and number four… Ah whatever, it’s a megasale, take it all! Number five is Celty, too! Celty makes the world go round! Celty is king!”
‘…Do you actually understand the Japanese you’re speaking?’
“Yeah, it’s like a dream, having Celty be the world number one all the way to number five. Having Celty alone is a full harvest of the five grains to me!* Just by having one Celty, I can enjoy all five flavours ufufumogagaga”
‘Sorry, it’s starting to get creepy.’
Despite having indulged him thus far, Celty saw that the conversation would not be progressing at this rate, and used her shadow to gag Shinra.
‘That’s enough, just listen to me now.’
To Shinra, who was in seiza with his limbs bound like a prisoner in a period drama, Celty began to type out on her smartphone what she had been mulling over for the past few months.
‘It doesn’t matter to me personally what the world thinks of me. I think it’s alright so long as it doesn’t affect you, Shinra. That hasn’t changed.’
‘But in the six months we were away, the world has changed. I’ve lived here for more than twenty years, but societal values and the cityscape changes in the blink of an eye. Like… if you remember, it hasn’t been a few years since the time of the Dollars or Yellow Scarves and whatnot, but now the streets are completely free of colour gangs, and they’ve become a relic of the past, haven’t they?’
‘If I say this, maybe others will think I lack concrete beliefs, or that I’m just giving way to social pressure. But it’s not that I don’t have solid values within me. My dream, Shinra, is to achieve happiness with you, in our own way.’
Shinra shivered in surprise and tried to answer joyfully to these unexpected words, but being that he was gagged, it only made for a perverted-looking scene.
Celty ignored him, and continued on her own tangent.
‘I want to make you happy, Shinra, and I want to achieve happiness with you, in our own way. …To be honest, I get the feeling the fastest way to do this would be to make you stop working this illegal job as an underground doctor, but it’s somewhat late for that, and I doubt you’d take up an honest job otherwise anyway, so I’ve never had hopes for that. So long as you don’t get involved with drugs, it’s fine with me.’
Shinra nodded vigorously.
From the start, Celty had been half-reassured on this point.
She knew the Awakusu-kai officer Akabayashi was tremendously against drugs; if they involved themselves with drugs talk of happiness would be redundant—their very lives would be in danger. Shinra ought to have been aware of this as well.
‘Well, if you’re ever arrested I’ll wait patiently for you to come out.’
‘Anyway, in short, it’s rehab. It so happens that someone I worked for before sent me an email just yesterday. It’s a good opportunity to go out and feel the city up close and personal.’
Afterwards, Celty appeased Shinra, who had cried ‘Celty!’ and tried to pounce on her once he was released. Then she left the apartment so as to reach her meeting place on time.
Just as she straddled Shooter in the underground car park, the thought struck her.
—But I’m not working an honest job myself, in the first place… And I break traffic laws on a regular basis…
Visualising her nemesis, the traffic police, Celty shuddered.
—…What if I’m the one who gets arrested?
—Research subject… Experimental facilities… Deals with the U.S…. Area 51…
Celty shivered, the image of aliens like Little Grey Men, alongside reptilian, psychic and silicon-based life forms playing across her mind.
But determined to surmount the terrors in her own mind, she gripped the handles of her motorcycle tightly, and rode off into the night on Kawagoe Highway.
Unknowing of what awaited her at the end of the job she was soon to accept.
The next day. Morning. Yahiro’s apartment.
‘—as such, I won’t be able to take Snake Hands assignments for a few days. I’ve informed Kotonami-kun already so I think it should be fine.’
Under the noon sky, Yahiro, who had received this text from Celty, read through it while leaning against the apartment wall.
“‘I feel like I’ve drifted apart from the city’, huh.”
Celty’s message detailed even such reasons behind her return to her courier job, and Yahiro, who had been immersed in it seriously, was reminded of his past.
Because what she felt was the same uneasiness that had been plaguing him from a young age.
—Am I different from everyone else?
—I don’t fit in.
—I’m not normal?
—I don’t fit in.
—But I don’t want to be different.
—I don’t fit in.
—Is it alright for me to be with everyone else?
Thinking about it now, he had the feeling that was all he had ever thought about.
And, in reality, he had truly been out of place.
Back then he had thought it unfair, but now he had come to Ikebukuro and met a variety of people outside of his own family, he had come to somewhat accept that it was he who was the odd one out.
—Even so, I think those people overdid things…
He had been on the receiving end of behaviours like people swinging at his head with a nail bat, or using a truck to hit him from behind; evidently extreme methods for a fight with a child.
But when he looked back on it now he understood that it was he himself who had invoked such malice.
Yet while he could understand, he could not accept it.
In fact, even if he could restart his life, he could not imagine himself maneuvering through it adeptly. Should he have ignored the playground bullies that had attacked him at the very beginning?
When he had confided in Kuon, the other boy had shrugged and said the following.
—‘You should just play along with things like that. The people who do that are mostly dumb, so so long as they’re not beating you up you can just suck up to them; and if they bully you you can fight back so they don’t look down on you, then once they cry you can be like, alright let’s stop here, get it? It might not be the way for me, but you’re strong enough to do that, right?’
Despite that, Yahiro felt it was impossible.
He felt that he lacked that sense of moderation.
Whether it was about how much it would take for the other party to be satisfied, or how far was going too far, his ability to judge such things was catastrophically non-existent.
He considered that this was what separated him from others, and thought that what the Headless Rider had said in the email could not be more right and was the most important; he even respected the Headless Rider for attempting to bridge that gap.
—I have to do something, too…
—I really need to work hard on this Snake Hands job.
Whether or not a job half-steeped in the underworld could actually help him integrate into society was a doubt that never crossed Yahiro’s mind.
—I’ll do my best not to cause trouble for Himeka-chan or Kuon, and not come off as weird.
—Alright, let’s set that as my goal for now and work hard towards that.
To Yahiro, who was oblivious to even the unusualness of his own situation, one could say that connections such as Kuon and Himeka, and Celty, were the last tethers keeping him from drifting apart from the city completely.
Right then, a member of this small group of connections called out to Yahiro.
“Hey, Yahiro. Sorry for making you wait.”
It was Togusa Saburō, the younger brother of the landlord.
He owned a large van, and had done Yahiro many favours in the past by driving him to his entrance exams and such.
“Sorry for making you help out on a Sunday morning.”
As he said this, Saburō passed the bucket and rag he was holding to Yahiro.
“Anyway, I’ll do the last part with the waxing by myself, so you can just pass me tools when I’m servicing the underside, and help with the washing.”
This as well was something like a part-time job of Yahiro’s.
When he had returned home after going by Sonohara Hall, Saburō had made a request of him: ‘Help me out with my car maintenance later on, I can give you some pocket money for it.’
Yahiro, glad at being entrusted with a task, had agreed immediately.
“But honestly, I still can’t believe it. To think you’re friends with Celty, and you can fight with Shizuo head-on.”
“…No, Heiwajima-san beat me completely.”
“Liar, I saw the video after I found out, and you put up a really good fight, okay? The number of people in Ikebukuro who can last more than 3 seconds against Shizuo is practically zero. And if we’re talking a proper fight, it’s only Simon and… well, there was this guy called Izaya, but thinking about it I haven’t seen him around recently.”
Although he put up an expressionless face, Yahiro was moved by Saburō, who was speaking of all this so conversationally.
Yahiro’s identity had been exposed to Saburō last week during the serial assault case, and he had been on tenterhooks as to whether he would be avoided, or in the worst case chased out of the apartment entirely, but it seemed that Saburō had not informed his older siblings of the situation at all, and was taking it in stride with surprising ease.
Yahiro, who had been raised being treated as a monster from all sides, could not have been happier.
“…Saburō-san, don’t you find I’m a dangerous person?”
“Why would I? I think you’re polite and a good guy overall, actually? …Ah, well, I think it was dangerous for you to attack the Slugger in that recent case, but I never chose my opponents properly in my student years, either. It’s not like I reflected on myself and became a better person afterwards, so I’ve no right to preach at you.”
“No… I mean, aren’t you afraid of me?”
Saburō nodded his head in understanding, and replied wearily,
“Hey now, how long do you think I’ve been living in the same city as Shizuo and Celty?”
Faced with this ultimate argument, Yahiro exhaled in relief.
“But… don’t the people around here fear Shizuo?”
“Yeah… The majority do. It’s probably ridiculous to ask people not to be scared of the guy uprooting telephone poles and swinging them around. But those who’ve spoken to him personally without getting him mad will know. I was doubtful too, until I got to talk to him through Kadota no danna. Anyway, the ones who understand will understand, so I think you don’t have to worry too much or feel bad for people, you know?”
With that, Togusa sighed deeply, continuing,
“In the first place, if you’re talking dangerous, Karisawa and Yumasaki are way worse…”
Yahiro tilted his head, asking.
“Yeah, you haven’t seen their true colours… Ah, well, you’ll find out if you’re hanging out with them. I didn’t want you to be too close with them, but I can’t do anything if you’re already friends.”
Togusa, who was cleaning the window wipers with care, slumped his shoulders tiredly.
Then he spoke up, tone changing abruptly as though he had just remembered something.
“Speaking of which, it looks like both you and those two mistook your first meeting. You know you met them once in the van several months ago?”
“I drove you to your exams, right? Back then there were a couple of noisy people in the back, remember?”
—I remember now.
—There were some people in the back who were talking about manga the whole time…
—So that was Karisawa-san and Yumasaki-san… I never saw their faces properly back then, so I never realised…
—But then again, I didn’t even remember Saburō-san’s face very well back then…
He had been too nervous about his exams to specifically remember the faces of people who only happened to have been hitching the same ride, but feeling that that was at most an excuse, Yahiro asked Togusa worriedly,
“Oh no. I thought it was our first meeting, so I said ‘Nice to meet you’… That must have been so rude…”
“Oh well, isn’t it fine if they didn’t realise either? Anyway those two have trouble remembering the faces of real life people compared to those in manga…”
Then Togusa sighed deeply, and started grumbling about the two in question.
“…Really, I’ve known those two for a long time, but what they did to the door…”
Togusa was looking towards the side door of the van, at the enormous sticker of a character, perhaps from some anime, that was stuck there.
“They’re always pasting the sticker when I’m not looking, and by the time I notice there’s a different one on the door…”
“Can’t you peel it off?”
“…Well, I owe them a lot, so… I decided I should let them have this one freedom, but… shit, if it has to be an itasha*, I’d at least want it to be dedicated to Hijiribe Ruri-chan…”
(*Recap: Itasha = an ostentatiously decorated car/vehicle, generally with an anime/manga/game theme.)
Hijiribe Ruri was an idol of unshakeable popularity, and was both a model and an actress.
It seemed that Saburō held an important position in her fanclub. One could safely say half of the conversations between them concerned Hijiribe Ruri in one way or another.
Yahiro, who liked movies, had also known of Hijiribe Ruri since her beginnings as an SFX make-up artist, and was also a fan in his own way.
Ever since the first time she had turned up in conversation, where Yahiro had said, “She’s great isn’t she?”, Saburō had been inviting him to join the fanclub.
Nevertheless, being a firsthand witness to Saburō’s devotion, Yahiro felt that it would be presumptious for someone like himself to join, and so he continued to decline the invitations.
In fact, he was surprised that Togusa had not converted his van into a Ruri itasha. But Togusa shook his head at Yahiro’s question.
“Well there’s personality rights*, for one thing, but more importantly Ruri-chan might not like it if there’s a van running around with her face on it… Yumasaki said, “Then we should plaster the van with manga characters Ruri-chan’s voiced before,” which I thought might be a good idea…”
(*Laws about displaying a person’s face.)
Togusa, drying the windows, came around to the back of the van to stand beside Yahiro, who had been washing the rear window, and pointed to a certain area.
“Anyway, I love Ruri-chan and the van both. So it’s more than enough to have just a small decoration like this.”
There, alongside the words ‘Hijiribe Ruri Life’ was the sticker of the official Hijiribe Ruri chibi mascot.
“Recently I finally made a sticker I’m happy with.”
“You made this yourself…”
“Yep, this way, I can think of it as part of Ruri-chan’s soul residing in the van, and driving naturally becomes more enjoyable. It’s the one thing I don’t let Yumasaki and company touch. If anyone vandalises this I’ll drag them a hundred laps around Shuto Expressway’s Circular Route.”
A shudder ran down Yahiro’s spine.
Yahiro’s instincts as a congenital coward told him one thing.
The words the man uttered were not a joke in the least; he was serious.
“But really, I’m sorry for making you help out on your hard-earned day off.”
A few minutes later. Togusa, who had started on the waxing, said this as he smiled in high spirits.
“No, I came because I was free.”
“Free, huh. Well, Raira’s a private school, so you don’t actually have the full two-day weekend, right*? It’s strange for me to say this since I’m the one who asked you to do this, but you should spend the days you have off productively, okay? If I could I would bring you to Ruri-chan’s concerts, but I can only get the special seats for myself… Wait… Maybe if I ask Kaztano… But then…”
(*Meaning Yahiro has a six-day school week and goes to school on Saturday too.)
“No, please don’t worry. I think Hijiribe Ruri-san is amazing even just by seeing her on TV or in movies.”
Saburō had broken off into mumbling when Yahiro spoke up, not for politeness’ sake or to suck up, but to express his honest feelings towards Hijiribe Ruri.
Seemingly pleased with that answer, Togusa gave a strong nod as he waxed the van rhythmically.
“Exactly, that’s how it should be, Ruri’s cuteness is divine even from across a screen! But seeing her in real life really makes a difference, you know? She’s goes beyond an angel; it feels like she’s the god that created my entire world. She’s not the gasoline that lets my heart run, she’s the oil farm itself.”
—Ahh, Saburō-san’s friends with Karisawa-san and Yumasaki-san after all.
Yahiro, who had detected something in common with the two in question within those fervent words, admired that Togusa had something he could be so passionate about, and continued a little more on Hijiribe Ruri.
“…I guess for me, I like how Hijiribe Ruri-san feels somehow close, even when she’s so detached from the rest of the world.”
Here Togusa’s hand that had been waxing the car halted immediately, and he looked at Yahiro with his face shining.
“Wow, you get it, don’t you! Yeah, there are those who say Ruri-chan’s air of mystery makes her unapproachable and eerie, but they’re the pitiful ones who can only reject her mysteriousness!”
Yahiro had said what he did meaning that he felt close to her because she was surrounded by an atmosphere similar to his own, even if his instinctive cowardice had completely suppressed him from saying “I get the feeling she’s like me” in front of Togusa.
—There are still people who want to keep their distance, in the end.
(Illustration: Togusa showing Yahiro the sticker)
Although the words were not targeted at him, faced with the reality that even such a popular idol was shunned, he grew despondent with the logic, ‘If even Hijiribe Ruri-san has people feeling that way, what’s going to happen to me?’
Just as Yahiro sighed heavily, a lively tune came to his ear.
It was the main theme of the Carmilla Saizou series, which featured Hijiribe Ruri in its cast. Realising it was coming from his own phone, Yahiro excused himself from the conversation and took it out.
On the screen he saw that he had received a text, and the sender was displayed as Kotonami Kuon.
—It’s from Kuon.
—I wonder what it is.
While normally he would assume it was a new assignment for Snake Hands, the message was not from the business email but Kuon’s personal email address.
Without much deeper thought, Yahiro accessed the message—only to unwittingly make a sound of surprise.
“? What happened?”
Togusa asked while waxing his van.
Yahiro let his gaze flit around, and spoke of the information he had just received in the message.
“It says this antiques store my friends and I go to, Sonohara Hall… had a break-in…”
Togusa produced a sound similar to Yahiro’s from a moment ago, and furrowed his brow as he asked,
“By Sonohara Hall, you don’t mean Anri no jou-chan‘s place?”
“Wait… You know Sonohara-sempai?”
Yahiro’s eyes had gone wide; seeing this, Togusa sighed and shook his head.
“…Ikebukuro sure is a small place, I guess…”
And with a friendly smile, he added,
“Or I could say your network is more widespread than most.”
At the same time. Somewhere in the city. An apartment bar.
“Strange things happen, huh. I never expected you would approach one of us without being called for.”
In the corner of an apartment unit that had been renovated into a bar, a man with sunglasses and a scar on his face—the Awakusu-kai executive Akabayashi—smiled as he said this.
Sitting across from him was Celty, who, obviously unable to eat or drink, was feeling guilty for sitting there without ordering anything. She typed,
‘I apologise for taking up your time. The truth is that a case I’m on right now could be linked to your group, so I wanted to try asking…’
“Oh my, that sounds dangerous.”
Akabayashi swirled his glass, causing the ice inside to clink around. He smiled dryly.
“Are you getting into dangerous cases that aren’t from us? I presume you’re not accepting jobs from Asuki Group.”
‘I’m not that foolish. Besides, if it was related to that kind of group I would be talking to Shiki-san instead.’
“Hm, but there are only so many things I know that Shiki doesn’t, I think?”
Akabayashi was not playing dumb, but genuinely puzzled. Celty calmly typed the information she wanted onto her smartphone.
‘…I’ve been told that it’s not Shiki-san but you who’s in charge of bousouzoku-related issues, like with Jyan Jyaka Jyan or Dragon Zombie.’
“Ahh… so it’s about that.”
Akabayashi sighed, smiling wryly, and savoured the contents of the glass in his mouth.
“I was thinking the kids have quietened down more than expected, ever since the Dollars and Yellow Scarves dissolved. But instead it seems we had some urban legend worshippers running wild and such; is something bothering you now?”
‘There’s no evidence yet, but…’
After some hesitation, Celty typed, wary of their surroundings,
‘I’m tracking down a certain person right now, and I heard that that person… might be a member of bousouzoku or some such gang.’
“I see… It’s unusual for a courier to be tracking people down, but we’ve had you doing similar things before so there’s nothing I can say, I suppose. So, the person you’re looking for… who is it? From what you say, I get the feeling it’s a kid, maybe a young adult or going to be.”
‘I really can’t tell you that. …Trustworthiness is important for a courier, you see.’
After showing him those words, Celty startled, and added hurriedly,
‘Of course, my intention is not to selfishly demand free information without providing any of my own. I’m prepared to pay what I can.’
“Ahh, no, it’s fine, it’s fine. Shiki no danna or Aozaki-san might have forced you to cough up that information anyway, but for me… That’s right. It’s fine if you pass on anything you’ve heard about some information I’m looking for, the next time you’re free.”
‘Information you’re looking for, Akabayashi-san?’
“Yeah, about a group that’s caught my interest recently.”
Akabayashi sipped lightly at his glass, and with his usual smile, uttered the name.
“…Have you heard of Heaven Slave?”
‘…Um, I think I might have heard of it somewhere…’
Having ‘heard of it’ was a vast understatement.
It was a group Celty had been involved with in the past when Orihara Izaya was using her, and the name had shown up in the ‘New Religion: Headless Rider Sect’ incident only days ago.
—Why is that name…
—Anyway there was that thing with Izaya, so I guess I should play dumb for now.
‘I hear about them sometimes, but never the specifics…’
“They’re the same group that was distributing drugs that shouldn’t have been in Ikebukuro, back when the Dollars was around.”
‘…That’s certainly foolhardy.’
Celty was fully aware that Akabayashi despised drugs, and that the Awakusu-kai, in line with their chief’s ideals, avoided the drug market.
She knew just as well what kind of end awaited any party so frivolous as to spread such drug-related products.
“Yeah, we dismantled them once before, but it seems the remains of the group have been active lately. Was what you heard something like that too? Hmm? Our esteemed icon of the Headless Rider cult?”
‘Please stop. To me it’s a black record that came about without me knowing…’
“Ah, my bad, my bad. I’m curious about that ‘Snake Hands’ guy that turned up in that incident, who people have been calling your lover… But he isn’t causing doing anything bad in the city, so I’ve no intention of saying anything about that.”
‘…Thank you very much.’
—There’s no way I could introduce Yahiro-kun and the Awakusu-kai…
Celty felt thankful that Akabayashi had let the matter of the mysterious ‘Snake Hands’ go without much fuss, and proceeded to accept his terms of the deal.
‘I see… I understand now. I’d want to prevent weird drugs from circulating and causing conflict in Ikebukuro, too.’
“If you don’t like conflict in the city, more importantly you can’t be working with bad guys like me, yeah? With your level of strength you could crush the Awakusu-kai easily, couldn’t you, Courier-san.”
‘That’s too much praise. Besides… Even if I’m safe myself, I don’t want to endanger the people around me.’
“Then all the more you should stop dealing with yakuza.”
It was hard to tell if what Akabayashi said, smiling, was a joke or not, and after that, just as he was about to continue on to the business they were here for—
“So, let’s start off with your… Oops, sorry. I’ve a call.”
His phone rang, and seeing the words on the screen, he narrowed his eyes and rose from his seat.
“Sorry, Courier-san. It’s a personal call, could you wait a moment?”
‘Of course, don’t worry.’
Celty said this, only to feel her phone, which she had tucked into her bosom, begin to vibrate as well.
—I wonder what it is.
Seeing the words Snake Eyes on the screen she realised it was Kotonami Kuon.
Kotonami had two separate contacts in her address book; Celty had saved the business number as Snake Hands, and his personal number as Snake Eyes.
The boy himself had declared, ‘Since Yahiro’s the mysterious Snake Hands, I can be Snake Eyes. And let’s make Himeka-chan Snake Skin, and Celty-san Snake Tail!‘, but in the end only Celty had actually saved his contact as Snake Eyes.
—He said it was a pun on ‘folk tale’, but… It still sounds like he was saying it just for the sake of it…
—Snake Tail… I wonder how that melusine Meline I met in that forest in France is doing.
Reminiscing on the distant past, Celty nonchalantly checked her inbox.
And there, written casually, were the shocking words:
[Apparently there’s been a burglary at Sonohara Hall. I heard from Aoba-san and Kurumai-sempai*, you know Sonohara-sempai, right? Just thought to inform you!]
—…Huh? What?! A burglar in Anri-chan’s shop?!
—What’s going on? Is Anri-chan alright?!
Being a wielder of Saika, Anri ought to be able to fend off any untrained robber if they tried to force their way in, but Celty could not help but worry.
—I should send her a text first… There might still be police around the scene, so maybe I should just try to make my way nearby for now.
Even before replying to Kuon, she sent Anri a message to check if the girl was safe.
Just as she finished doing this, as she was hitting the send button, Akabayashi returned.
“Excuse me, Courier-san. We’ll have to end early. Something cropped up.”
‘How strange, there’s something I’m worried about too…’
After that Akabayashi and Celty ended their business with the minimum of conversation, reaching the consensus that they would prepare the detailed informations for their next meeting.
As Celty was about to hurry out of the bar, she noticed Akabayashi heading out as well.
Seeing him about to call for a ride, she found herself asking,
‘If we’re going in the same direction, I could drive you part of the way?’
“…Really? Well, I’m headed to the area a bit further down from Zoshigaya from Ikebukuro Station.”
‘That’s just nice, I happen to need to go that way too.’
“Haha. Honestly, I’ve always wanted to try riding that bike of yours, Courier-san.”
With this conversation, the two left the bar.
Celty had yet to notice at that point.
That Akabayashi’s destination was exactly the same as her own.
Intermission: A Black Business ①
The previous day. Night time.
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.
At present, she held an occupation in the distant land of Ikebukuro, Japan.
While technically an occupation, it was not a regular job to cover her living expenses if minimally; she was self-employed and her income varied from day to day—in fact she was an underground courier that took on even illegal jobs.
When passing by legitimate couriers, particularly motorcycle deliverymen, Celty would be impressed by their diligence, but at the same time envious of they who could go about their business in broad daylight without any weight on their conscience.
At the same time, she would feel guilty.
She, a person who did not even adhere to the traffic regulations, could transport all sorts of dubious items and receive sums above and beyond regular courier rates. Her service was highly efficient, and excluding the danger it was by and large a clean work environment, but once legalities were brought in there was no occupation more dipped in black.
—It’s not like I have any other strengths… And it’s Shooter’s abilities and not even my own that let me be a courier…
With these thoughts on her mind, Celty headed towards the residence of her employer.
—Right. If anything, I can at least choose assignments that can help people.
—Jobs that could bring hope, like delivering an object of sentimental value, or fetching someone to the airport to confess to the person they love who’s about to board the plane.
With such ambitions for her resuming courier job, Celty rode on Shooter in the direction of her latest employer in high spirits.
“I want you to abduct someone and bring them here.”
At the same time Celty typed this, she spun on her heel and made as to leave the reception room.
—Don’t screw with me!
—There’s no way I’d assist a kidnapping…
“Aaaaa, wait a minute! It’s a mistake! A mistake! Those words might’ve invited misunderstanding, but I must say, you fell completely for that word trick and misunderstood the whole thing! Goodness, people will think you’re the type to carelessly jump to conclusions! People, namely, me!”
‘I should go back after all.’
Celty tried to leave the reception room immediately, while the well-dressed, middle-aged man clung to her waist and wound up being dragged along.
Celty was about to tear him off and tie him up, like how she always did with Shinra—but a moment before she could do so, a third party, having heard the ruckus, opened the door to the reception room and made their appearance.
“What’s going on, Father… Eh?!”
Exclaiming in shock upon laying eyes on Celty was a girl who on first sight could be identified unmistakeably as a ‘lady’, wearing a high-class indoor robe.
“Courier-san?! Is it you, Courier-san?!”
She was a girl of elementary school age, with numerous distinguishing features, be it her sweetness or the elegant air she emanated—but the most prominent of them all was the humongous white snake twined around her body.
“I can’t thank you enough for back then!”
The lovely young lady bowed her head with the snake wound around her neck.
‘Nah, what’s most important is both you and White Lady-chan are doing well.’
It was their first meeting in two years, but Celty remembered the girl clear as day.
Her name was Natsugawara Awayuki.
Natsugawara Group was a toymaking company said to have been first founded back in the Edo era. The girl was the youngest daughter of the founding family, and had in the past requested for Celty to retrieve her albino pet snake which had been abducted.
While her job description as a courier did not include retrieving hostages, her father Byakuyamaru was a childhood friend of Shinra’s father Kishitani Shingen, and so Celty had ended up taking the job.
—Back then attack helicopters and all sorts of stuff popped up, it was a real mess…
It had been a surreal experience, but to Celty this household was itself out of this world.
In Saitama, along Arakawa River. Smack in the centre of all the farmland, there was a grand manor on a plot of land the area of a baseball field.
There was a fountain in the centre of the garden; it was a residence that one could believe was home to European nobility.
—Building a road in the middle of all this farmland… Did this really pass all the land use laws?
The first sight of the humongous residence had been enough to inspire a thought like this—but it was not only the spaciousness; everything about this home was abnormal.
—This reception room is half the size of the apartment I share with Shinra…
The Kishitani father and son were of the bourgeois class, and the apartment they owned along Kawagoe Highway was large enough to be considered a one floor-style. Celty had the awareness that she was living a considerably privileged life.
Yet, surveying the interior of this house, it was once more impressed upon her that there was always someone better off.
While Celty looked around at her surroundings, Byakuyamaru, who had sat down again, spoke to her.
“Ah, well, it was my fault earlier on. I summarised things a little too much. It seems it was I who was the careless one, so from now on do call me Careless Byakuyamaru.”
As she shot back those words, Celty thought, ‘He’s a friend of Shingen, alright…’ and began to feel uneasy about the personality of the man that was her latest employer; but deciding that it would be pointless to pursue that, she started to make small talk so as to break the ice.
‘But anyway, this is an amazing house…’
“Hahaha, isn’t it? Our Natsugawara lineage may not be as prestigious as the Kisa family, and we may not have as much influence as the young Adamura Group in the coal mining industry, but when it comes to money we have it in bucketloads! What matters most in the end is neither your ancestry nor influence, but the power of money! My role model is the owner of the huge American conglomerate, said to have warded off robbers by throwing coins at them; the honoured Rude Gardastance.”
(*Naritaverse references: The Kisa family from Otsuberu to Warau Suiyoubi, with a member attending Rakuei Gym mentioned in SH Vol. 1; Adamura Group from Orihara Izaya to, Yuuyake wo; Rude Gardastance from Vamp!, romanisation standardised with Untuned Strings’.)
—That’s not something you say in front of a child!
—And I think you used ‘the power of money’ wrong?!
Celty imagined her head which was currently in America, and in her mind’s eye she wore a grimace on her face.
‘Um, should we move on to the work…’
“Hm? Right, let’s talk business.”
Celty shifted her helmet in a mime of glancing at Awayuki; Byakuyamaru seemed to get the message, and told his daughter,
“Now now, Awayuki. Courier-san and I are going to watch a bloody R18 horror movie as we talk, so go to bed and tremble imagining unseen monsters, like a good kid.”
“M, monsters? The bogeyman, Father?”
“That’s right. The story about the bogeyman coming after naughty children… is actually a lie. The truth is… he goes after the good children too!”
—I knew it, he’s the same type as Shingen!
—There’s no way any decent person would get along with Shingen, if you actually think about it!
With this faith in her heart, Celty’s face paled, and she turned to Awayuki and typed,
‘It’s fine, Awayuki-chan. We’re not watching any scary movie. We’re just talking about work.’
At this, Awayuki said to Celty in surprise,
“Then, are you going to help us look for Onii-sama*, then, Courier-san!”
Awayuki’s spoke rather more maturely two years ago. To be precise she sounded like a young miss; and it was in this manner that she continued, expressing her gratitude to Celty.
“Thank you! …Thank you so much! To rescue not only White Lady, but even Onii-sama…! Thank you so much, Courier-san…!”
With misty eyes the girl gazed up at Celty with admiration, and clasped her hands.
—Um, this is, uh… Wait…
It was only her speech that had evolved; at the core she remained the same innocent princess she had been two years ago. At the very least, this was what Celty perceived, and she was not strong enough to so cruelly say, as those eyes gazed upon her, ‘Actually, I have no idea what you’re talking about.’
And the corrupted adult who noticed this immediately interrupted so as to seize the opportunity:
“Yeah, don’t worry, Awayuki. You can sleep peacefully. Courier-san will fix everything in a few days.”
In the face of the sparkly-eyed girl, Celty was rendered speechless—and in the end she could only watch as the girl retreated to her bedroom, thanking Celty profusely.
And the moment the girl disappeared, Natsugawara Byakuyamaru proclaimed gleefully,
“Ha ha ha, it seems a little hard to reject the job now, don’t you think?”
At this, Celty selectively forgot that this man was one of the few super-rich in Japan, and strung him up on the ceiling with ropes of shadow.
“You shut up!”
A few minutes later.
After hearing out the situation, Celty roughly sorted out the information in her mind.
Natsugawara Byakuyamaru, the current owner of Natsugawara Group.
—That name’s amazing no matter how many times I hear it…
(*Byakuya: ‘White Night’. Different kanji from the Bleach character.)
The man before Celty was one of the few super-rich persons in Japan, as well as the businessman running a large toy-making firm and expanding it internationally.
It was hard to believe he was in the same age range as Shingen from how young he looked, and he was clad in the stereotypical dress of a high-class wealthy person that one would expect from a movie.
While his toy company had already been famous for its analogue toys, recently it had begun venturing into the arcade game industry and social games for mobile phones; it was a huge, well-known entertainment firm with fingers in many pies.
Because of their ruthless profiteering, they had enemies for every yen they made.
As a result they had even been targeted by an international criminal organisation in the past, an incident which Celty had been involved in—but her assignment this time was a family problem.
Natsugawara Byakuyamaru currently had three children.
At first it had only been the oldest son and Awayuki, but circumstances had led to the adoption of another son.
Following that the adopted child, now the second son, had proceeded to outstrip the oldest son, excelling not only in academics but in all aspects; apparently he was so accomplished outsiders gossiped that the Natsugawara had inducted this talent into their family so he could succeed ownership of the corporation as an official heir.
The oldest son had been thoroughly unamused.
Perhaps fearing that his seat as heir would be usurped at this rate, he had begun to blatantly pick on his younger brother—but it seemed that he had immediately been retaliated against, and grown increasingly rebellious for it.
His mounting discontentment at the present situation had led to him straying from the right path, and now suddenly he had run away from home.
‘So, what you need me to do is just bring your runaway son… Awayuki-chan’s big brother back here, right?’
“Well, that is it in a nutshell. Their mother’s so worried she has to lie in bed, and Awayuki might try to keep her own spirits up, but she must be full of anxiety on the inside. So I’d like you to help bring him back here, so we can have a good talk with him.”
‘Then you should have said so from the start, did you have to ask me to kidnap anyone…’
Byakuyamaru slipped into mumbling, before he whispered,
“Somehow it looks like he’s gone and joined a gang by his own will. I doubt he’ll be returning peacefully no matter how much we negotiate.”
‘So you’re asking me to make enemies of this gang and drag that unpleasant son of yours back whether he likes it or not.’
“Hahaha, I like people who catch on fast.”
‘…What about the police?’
Celty asked this perfectly natural question. Byakuyamaru averted his eyes.
“No, that is… We haven’t told them anything.”
‘Is there a reason?’
“…Well, does it really matter? Hahaha.”
‘Is there a reason?’
Celty shoved the same screen into the man’s face, and continued to exert silent pressure on him.
Caving under the pressure, with his eyes still averted, he began to stutter.
“Er, um, actually… When my son ran away, he took along a hand-carry safe box, antiques, things like that…”
“There were some micro SD cards containing very important information hidden in those things…”
‘Isn’t that more reason to ask the police?’
Celty reasoned. Byakuyamaru’s eyes darted frantically, and a stiff smile fixed itself on his face.
“If the police checked the data it would be kind of disastrous… The company’s survival could be endangered… Or at worse I could end up taking a long vacation behind bars…”
At that reply, Celty grabbed his collar and shook him back and forth, while thrusting her smartphone in his face using her shadows.
‘You still have that sweet, innocent daughter to think about; what are you doing?!’
“Fufufu… They say the best businessmen are open-minded when it comes to morals. I would sacrifice my life for my daughter in a heartbeat, but at the same time I want to stay faithful to my own desires… Yes; I am balancing my desires and my love for my family simultaneously!”
‘Don’t self-proclaim that! And that’s not called being open-minded! That usage is completely wrong!’
After that, Celty threw Byakuyamaru onto the sofa with a thump, and slumped her shoulders.
‘As I thought, we should pretend this conversation never happened…’
“Wait a moment Courier-san, I mean, Miss Celty Sturluson. It’s one thing if I get arrested, but are you really fine with it if my daughter gets bullied in school for being the child of a criminal?!”
‘I don’t want to hear that from the criminal himself! I mean, I don’t have the right to say that, but still!’
Celty continued to stew inside, reflecting on her own numerous traffic violations.
Once she had calmed down somewhat, she continued, tiredly,
‘Seriously, I don’t know if it’s tax evasion or window dressing or whatnot, but you’d better turn yourself in before the damage spreads too much and make sure the fire doesn’t spread to Awayuki-chan. …Though if it’s something on the level of assassinating a rival company’s director I’ll tie you up and bring you in myself right now…’
“Please wait! It’s not tax evasion or window dressing, much less assassins!”
“My company makes toys… Our line of work exists to fulfill the dreams of children and bigger friends like us adults! There’s no way we could do something like that and betray the dreams of children!”
Taken aback by the seriousness in Byakuyamaru’s eyes as he spoke, Celty chose to listen properly to his side of the story.
‘Then those SD cards contain…?’
“…The dream of boys mostly in the high school demographic; some tens of thousands of videos of sexy people from overseas, freed from the bounds of mosaic censorship…”
Seeing how Celty seemed ready to string him up with her shadows, Byakuyamaru quickly cried,
“Wait a moment, right now, you’re thinking I’m just a rich guy who knows nothing, don’t you?”
‘I actually think you’re a fool, regardless of status…’
“The truth is I’m only acting as a fool. By becoming the jester, I’m soothing my family members so upset by my son’s running away… How’s that? If you think that way, don’t I seem more sympathetic? Don’t you suddenly want to accept the job?”
‘There’s no way a guy who says that himself can be trustworthy!’
Byakuyamaru trembled at the immediate rejection as if in shock.
“How can this be, Shingen clearly said, ‘Celty-kun’s a ditz, so you can easily trick her’… Uwahh?!”
Celty tied Byakuyamaru up ruthlessly, and typed in a large font, as though yelling,
‘I’m not going to be tricked by someone who believes everything that Gas-Mask says!’
“Wait, I understand now, why don’t we do this instead. If you accept this job, we’ll make toys of the Headless Rider under the Natsugawara brand. Of course we’ll give you a cut of the profit, and besides, your reputation will be sure to improve.”
Perhaps interested in his proposal, Celty abruptly halted the movement of the shadows tying him up, and asked about it somehow nervously.
‘Toys of me… Like what?’
Surprise came onto his face at Celty’s reaction, as though to say, ‘Oh? She’s interested?’, and Byakuyamaru, with a gleam in his eye, voiced a rough sketch.
“…Maybe a ‘Pop-up Headless Rider’ toy where children can slot knives into a barrel with the Headless Rider inside, and if they’re unlucky your helmet will pop out…”
(*Copying this toy.)
‘You know you’re going to get sued?!’
Late at night. Shinra’s apartment.
‘…Anyway, just hearing him out was exhausting… In the end he was saying, “Lust affects any age or gender, it’s a dream of humans too, so it’s fine,” or some nonsense, so I just tied him up and got the minimum of information from the butler.’
“Ahh… I’m so sorry Celty, they say birds of a feather flock together, but to think even my dad’s friends are like that…”
‘Thinking on it, whether it’s that entertainment company president that put a bounty on me, or your old man, or the president of Yagiri Pharmaceuticals, there’s no one middle-aged man around me that’s decent. Shouldn’t it be weird that the ones with most common sense are from the Awakusu-kai like Shiki-san and Akabayashi-san?! That’s abnormal isn’t it?!’
Celty, gradually becoming despondent, continued, typing,
‘…Is it me after all? I don’t fit in with the rest of the world, so I just attract weird folk?’
“That would make me the weirdest, then.”
‘Ah… Sorry, I didn’t mean…’
“Why are you apologising? If loving you makes me a freak, it would be my honour. Celty, I always say this and I’ll say it again; no matter how disconnected you are from the rest of world, I’ll be the one to follow you. So it’s alright for you to think you’re doing the right thing, always.”
He said these words completely unabashed, gazing at Celty with solemn eyes.
And still wearing that honest gaze, he tried to hug Celty, at which she twisted away, dodging the ambush.
‘Sorry, I’m really glad about what you said, but I don’t have the mood right now. I have to think about how to find that rich boy.’
Shinra, having missed his target and plowed headfirst into the sofa, rubbed his nose and said,
“Ah, you accepted the job in the end?”
‘I honestly wouldn’t have if it weren’t for Awayuki-chan.’
“Whatever you say, you’re nice to children, huh. I wish you pampered me more as a kid.”
‘You’re pretty much still a kid.’
Celty typed, seemingly amused. She pulled herself together, and
‘Anyway, I’ll try to contact Akabayashi-san. Then I can narrow down the groups that boy could be in and look for him directly.’
Celty had not yet noticed.
That at this point she was already entangled in multiple plots simultaneously occurring.
*Kanji for new names: 夏瓦淡雪 (Natsugawara Awayuki, Awayuki=’light snow’), 夏瓦白夜丸 (Natsugawara Byakuyamaru)
**The snake’s name is Hakujōshi (白娘子), lit. ‘White Lady’, the snake in the Legend of the White Snake who transforms into a woman and marries a human man.