T/N: Sorry, my former phone took a swim… What happened to those fortnightly chapters? (I was young and spry)
Enjoy the chapter and take care!
What would you like to buy?
(Illustration: Akabayashi close-up.)
Shinjuku in the past had had a legend about a demon sword named Saika.
Saika was a demon sword with great love for humans, and it was said that its modern-day debut was right after the war, when American soldiers had come across it on the black market.
The artefact later vanished once again into the darkness, leaving only the legend that it had been sealed as the result of a terrible deathmatch against a sentient bamboo spear—yet it was common knowledge, among those familiar with extraordinary things like the Headless Rider, that the sword was very much a real thing.
Demon Sword ‘Saika’.
It was an item with a feminine persona that lived on parasitically in human bodies; that could evade the laws of physics, and needless to say the explanations of modern science, like the shadows of the Headless Rider.
Her curse was to flood the minds of her wielders with words of love, and with this she would command her host to love humans and increase her offspring.
Those who were brainwashed by her words and had their minds taken over would then attempt to spread the love to other humans.
With just that information, one might think Saika would be the most harmless demon sword imaginable, but the problem was that, to the blade Saika, expressing love meant touch between bodies.
To steep its blade in the flesh of humans, to bathe in their blood, was the utmost expression of love for Saika, on par with the act of intercourse—and that act also transmitted its cursed ‘Words of Love’ to the human that was cut. Victims would lose their free will and begin to defer to the carrier of the original blade as their Mother.
Those cut by the blade were called ‘children’, and would take up scissors, choppers, or any other blade, and they would gain the ability to whisper their own love to other humans. Those cut by the children would become ‘grandchildren’, and the continuation of this chain enabled the Mother to spread her curse (love) near and far.
But occasionally children and grandchildren could escape the control of the Mother through sheer willpower.
And there were those who, even possessing the original Saika, remained unaffected by the curse for various reasons: those who had uncommonly strong wills, unusual psyches, or were not human, for instance.
One able to wield the power of Saika while holding on to their free will as a human being could become an enormous threat in modern society—yet right now in Ikebukuro, one wielder of Saika seemed to have no such ambition or malice.
The case of Sonohara Anri was an extremely unusual one, where she protected her self-identity by co-existing with Saika.
Saika, the parasitic blade that fed off of humans, that sang to the world of the sin known as love:
(*Recap: Sai-ka = sin-song)
The girl, who envied the love of the demon sword, accepted it into herself—and in this way, feeding parasitically off the blade in return, keeping this strange balance, she lived on in the world.
Nonetheless, just living alongside Saika often led to her being often dragged into unnecessary trouble.
But in the end, whether it was Saika or something else that set off this latest event—would be beyond Anri’s guess.
Anri first discovered the incident in the morning after waking and having breakfast, when she entered the storeroom to take out items to fill the empty shelves in the shop.
The padlock on the entrance to the storeroom, built into the back of the shophouse, had been broken, and the shelves and boxes were in disarray, clearly ransacked. The drawers had all been opened and their contents scattered on the floor.
Anri was relieved to see that nothing was obviously damaged, but having realised an earthquake could not have caused this kind of mess, after some hesitation, she eventually called the police.
Her hesitation was not because she had anything to be ashamed of.
It was true Saika lay sleeping within her body, but Anri had not been concerned that the police would wind up entangled with the sword, either.
Her worry had been something most people would find a little surreal.
Essentially this room only contained goods, as the property deed and the safe for the money were both in the living area of the building. Since at first sight nothing big appeared to have been broken or stolen, as a person rather out of touch with the world, she had been concerned that reporting a minor crime like this would only inconvenience the police. Yet, although she did consider that word would spread anyway, she could not remain silent if other places in the neighbourhood could be broken into as well.
With that train of thought, she filed a police report.
Police cars parked before this house again for the first time since her parents had passed away.
And as she was being interviewed by the police, some of their questions led to a realisation.
She herself did not know what had been stolen exactly.
In the first place, the contents of the storeroom had been left as they were since her parents’ deaths, their true value unknown. Although Anri set prices on a few of the items and moved them out into the store for sale, and occasionally moved newly-purchased goods into the storeroom near the entrance, there was no complete index of goods.
Due to this, since even the corners of the storeroom had been ransacked and the larger items were generally intact, it was impossible to know the true cost of the damage.
“Hmm… I see. Please contact us if you find out what was stolen. It’s possible that the culprit broke in to steal things, but couldn’t gauge the worth of the items and just pocketed some small items… Or they could have escaped without stealing anything. And there are some sly fellows who can spin things so they’re caught for trespassing rather than burglary.”
It seemed that they had discovered some fresh footprints that were not Anri’s, and although they asked her who else used this storeroom, it was essentially only Anri herself who did. During the run-up to the store’s opening, her peers from high school—Ryūgamine Mikado and Kida Masaomi—as well as some acquaintances, Kadota and Karisawa, had done some work in the room, but their footprints could hardly be this fresh after so long.
Apparently the police had also collected another person’s fingerprints from the padlock, but that could only be used in the investigation after cross-referencing with their database.
With the formal investigation complete, the police quickly excused themselves.
Since it was not a violent crime and the exact damages were unknown, investigating this was probably not a high priority.
Even so, Anri was grateful that the police had sent so many people—nearly ten—to examine the scene, and sent them off from the storefront with a proper bow.
At this moment, a voice called to her from behind.
“Oh no, did something happen, Sonohara-sempai?”
Turning around she saw a boy with eye-catchingly green hair.
It was Kotonami Kuon, a Raira Academy freshman who had become a regular in the past few months.
“Yes, it seems a burglar broke in…”
Anri replied nonchalantly, as if the entire thing had happened to someone else.
“What?! Is everything alright?!”
“Um, we don’t know what was stolen exactly… Ah… I’m very sorry. I think it’ll take a little time for me to open the store.”
“Ah! No, no, don’t worry about that! It’s just that I saw on an Ikebukuro message board that a nearby antique store had police cars parked outside, and I thought it might be this place, so I came down to snoop!”
Without any attempt at sensitivity, Kuon voiced his reasons so directly, and continued,
“It was probably unexpected to find an empty nest… The thief must have thought an antique shop would have ancient coins, or Edo era pottery, the kind of treasures that you see on documentaries, you know?”
“Wait, I don’t mean what you have here aren’t treasures! Sorry.”
“No, it’s fine…”
Anri had gone quiet not because she was especially offended by Kuon’s words.
It was because she already knew why.
She had been asked by the police for any inkling as to the criminal motive, and there was indeed one thing that had been on her mind from the moment she discovered the break-in.
But it was not something she could possibly reveal to the police.
It could only have been for Saika.
Because the very evening before, an unusual man had arrived seeking the sword.
—”…I want to buy Saika. As for payment… I’m prepared to part with up to five million yen.”
The previous day’s conversation replayed in Anri’s head.
—”If it comes to it, you can even cut me and make me a ‘Child’.”
—”I don’t know what you mean by this… ‘Saika’.”
Anri had tried to bluff her way out, but the man with the bandage-wrapped face had smiled humourlessly.
—”You don’t have to pretend. From the fact that I have this much information you should already know this is a serious offer, right?”
—”Where did you hear…”
—”I know someone who was a Child and escaped the Mother’s control. That’s all the information you need, right?”
—”Well, from that expression of yours, I doubt I can buy it with money. I guess I’ll give up then.”
As the man stood to leave, Anri found herself calling out to him.
—”Wait, please. If you wanted that, then couldn’t you have asked the person you know to cut you…?”
—”He disappeared. And he wasn’t that sane anyway. Actually I saw two of them, but neither seemed in their right mind, unfortunately.”
With that, the man rested a hand on the door, and turned to leave these final words for Anri:
—”…To be honest, I admire how you choose a normal life despite having such power at your disposal. And that’s not sarcasm; I truly respect you.”
Remembering the young man who had left this mystery behind him, Anri felt it might have some relation to the break-in.
Yet there was the question of why he would go so far as to soil his hands with criminal activity, given how he had given up so promptly back then.
—He could have used Saika to blackmail me instead…
—In that case, I might have wound up slashing him… But he said he wouldn’t care just becoming a ‘Child’ either…
To begin with, if he had known so much about Saika, he should also have known that ransacking the storeroom could not possibly produce the physical blade.
—But then, if he knew that the number of Saika blades could be multiplied by ‘Branching’…
Following this train of thought felt like wading into quicksand, and so Anri decided to try excluding Saika from her ruminations.
Thinking she should inform others of the recent events as soon as possible, she started off by contacting the person who had taken up the role of trustee for the store, as well as Mikado.
Her calling the former—was almost concurrent with Kuon’s texting to the members of Snake Hands upon finding out about the burglary.
Beside the fence of a park some way from the store.
There were two silhouettes looking on at Sonohara Hall as the police left and onlookers dispersed.
“…I didn’t think our paths would coincide to this extent. This is a surprise.”
‘…Neither did I. …Um, Akabayashi-san, about me knowing Anri-chan…’
“Yeah, I more or less knew. I’ve heard multiple times of a girl matching her description coming in and out of Kishitani-sensei’s place. And then there was the issue with Ryūgamine Mikado, too.”
Celty had some idea of Akabayashi and Anri’s relationship from her information gathering after reuniting with her ‘Head’ in the Dollars incident.
But as Anri appeared clueless of Akabayashi being in the yakuza, Celty had not mentioned the man before her.
“Well, lying isn’t enjoyable, but that girl still thinks I’m a businessman trading crabs, you know. Once the shop’s got its gears running I’ll talk to her properly and put some more space between us. After all, if it gets around that there are yakuza behind the store’s workings it’ll just taint her reputation unnecessarily.”
Akabayashi said, smiling dryly. Celty nodded internally, answering,
‘Don’t worry, she won’t be finding out from me.’
“I owe you one, Courier-san.”
While their conversation continued in this vein, a stir arose at the store entrance.
A van familiar to Celty parked at the roadside, and the faces of two acquaintances emerged.
—That’s… Yahiro-kun?! And… um… Kadota’s driver, the Ruri fan?
—Ah, so the message from just now was sent to Yahiro too.
They alighted from the vehicle hurriedly, just as the door was opened from within.
However it was not Anri who appeared, but Kuon.
Evidently, even after the police had left, his busybody streak had activated and he had lingered in the store.
—Honestly. He’s still so energetic, this child.
Knowing Kuon’s background, Celty imagined he was here to use the burglary as material for some article.
As she was just thinking she should step in and prevent Kuon from causing Anri too much trouble, Akabayashi muttered flatly beside her,
“I’m bothered by that kid with the green hair.”
‘…?! Nonono, it’s fine! Anri-chan has Mikado-kun, remember?! And that green-haired kid isn’t the complete villain that he looks like. Probably.’
“Well, mm, Mikado-kun’s worrying in his own way. Though less so since he’s pulled out from the underworld completely as of late. Anyway, that isn’t the main point…”
Here Akabayashi started to fiddle with his phone, and opened a certain video file.
“This is probably that boy, isn’t it?”
On the screen played the scene Celty had encountered numberless times on the internet.
The scene, hazy from the distance, where one boy challenged Heiwajima Shizuo to save another green-haired boy.
“From that reaction just now, it seems you’re acquainted with that green-haired kid…”
—Wait, what grave did I just dig for myself?!
Celty broke out in a cold sweat internally. Akabayashi clapped a hand onto her shoulder, and said, with a smile and sharp eyes,
“You wouldn’t mind gracing this old man with an explanation, would you, Courier-san?”
Meanwhile. Outside Kishibojin Shrine.
“Hey hey Shijima-san, Shijima-san! Is this Kishibojin Shrine Shinto? Or Buddhist? Which is it?”
An innocent voice mismatched with the height of its owner rang out over the stone tiles of Kishibojin Shrine.
“If it’s for a god so it must be Shinto, right? But the atmosphere’s not like the Shinto shrines I’ve been to?”
It was a brown-skinned boy who, in spite of his notable height, had a face that still held traces of youth. The one to which he spoke was a man with a bandaged-up face walking a little in front of him.
“…Kishibojin is a guardian goddess in Buddhism. So it’s Buddhist.”
“But there are so many torii over there. My dad once told me if it has torii it’s Shinto, and if it doesn’t it’s Buddhist!”
“…The torii over there are from Takeyoshi Inari Shrine which was for Lady Inari*. Apparently this area used to be called Inari’s Wood but they built a Buddhist temple for Kishibojin on it afterward.”
(*Like many deities, Inari has no rigid gender.)
“Ooh, so that’s what happened?”
The tan boy nodded thoughtfully, and then snickered.
“It’s funny that someone as evil as you says ‘Lady Inari’ all properly.”
“You’re tempting fate if you talk like that.”
As though abashed that the man he called Shijima-san had called him out, Jami’s cheeks flushed under his cold eyes, and his expression twitched awkwardly.
Unable to see Shijima’s face while walking behind him, he smiled guilelessly, and broached a topic quite inappropriate in their public setting:
“I think the one punished would be you since you tried to traffick drugs here, though?”
At this, Shijima’s eyes narrowed behind his glasses.
“If that’s your concern, I’ve already been punished.”
As his cold gaze slanted with self-derision, he murmured, as if to himself,
“Though with what I did, there’s probably more in store, with how I’m still walking alive right now.”
He was born into the family behind Shijima Group, a powerful business with huge influence in real estate.
Despite leading a diligent life, in his mind he had always had a tendency to look down on the people around him, and he had passed his schooling years with a sense of tedium. It was at this point when his wealth and connections caught the eye of a man named Kumoi, who had invited him to start a group for legal drug substances.
The man called Kumoi had been a puzzling character.
In person, he had been neither intimidating nor charismatic in the least; yet he had been able to astonish Shijima and his fellow associates with unexpectedly precise instructions.
With how their drug business expanded, it had been easy to see him as someone who saw things from a perspective unlike others’, a chessmaster in full control of the board.
Even after Kumoi himself had disappeared into smoke, Shijima had continued to chase the man’s shadow.
Even as their merchandise turned from legal to illegal substances, pitting them against the Awakusu-kai—he had continued to walk ever deeper into the darkness, without pause.
“At the same time that I admired Kumoi-san, I was jealous of him. I wanted to stand in a place above him.”
While they exited the temple grounds, without heed for his surroundings, Shijima began to speak of his past.
“That was why I hijacked Kumoi-san’s name and kept the group going, fully prepared to erase Kumoi-san himself if the need arose. Those plans were foiled by the Awakusu-kai’s Akabayashi and someone called Orihara Izaya. I never intended to underestimate him, but Orihara turned out to be even more dangerous than Kumoi.”
“O-ri-ha-ra I-za-ya. Never heard of ‘im.”
“Not surprising, since he hasn’t shown up in Ikebukuro for about two years now. The last time I saw him he was dying from a knife through the stomach. …Anyway, it doesn’t matter if he’s still alive or not.”
“That’s new. You’re such a gloomy guy, so I’d expect you to hate him forever, Shijima-san.”
The brown-skinned boy said, laughing. Shijima smiled bitterly as he replied,
“I do hate. But what I hate isn’t Orihara Izaya; it’s the way of the world. Or maybe it would be more fitting to say I hate the district of Ikebukuro.
“…It didn’t notice me.”
The brown-skinned boy tilted his head curiously, still smiling, and Shijima continued blandly,
“After Heaven Slave was disintegrated, I was used over and over; by Orihara Izaya, Yodogiri Jinnai, Nasujima. I felt that to this very district I was just a minor actor that had been used and discarded. That’s why I abandoned all hope and even tried to pull the leader of the Dollars down with me.”
“I’ve heard of the Dollars, but I didn’t know it was such a production when it ended.”
“…Yeah, I was the one who misunderstood. The Dollars, Orihara Izaya, Yodogiri… and the Headless Rider—to the players manipulating the city I wasn’t even a character worth knowing. I was forced to learn that I was just scum unworthy of attention.”
Remembering those times, Shijima ground his molars beneath the bandages concealing his mouth.
Back then, when he had been drawn into the Dollars and Slasher incidents, he had without doubt been close to the epicentre of events.
But had he, because of this, been dealt his fair share of punishment for spreading evil in the city?
The answer to this was: no.
He had simply been abandoned in that position. Everything had gone on and reached its conclusion, while he alone had remained powerless.
No retribution had befallen him. Of the urban legend that had caught him within its shadows, of the man named Nasujima who had shown him the power of the supernatural entity Saika, of Orihara Izaya who, right beside him, had been fighting the monster known as Heiwajima Shizuo to the death; of the monsters and bōsōzoku that had inundated the city, of even the colour gangs and Awakusu-kai and police: no one had seen fit to do anything about him.
In the moment he was faced with this reality that by all right he should have found fortuitous—Shijima discovered that his pride, that he had thought destroyed, had only been crushed halfway up till then.
He had merely been part of the background cast.
As the tsunami muddling reality and illusion was engulfing Ikebukuro, he was paralysed by the idea that his existence had been rejected as worthless.
The background villain despaired.
It was not because he had been grouped together with the people he had looked down on till then.
His hope had been snatched away by the fact that he of all people had been convinced he was worthless.
By the fact that he did not even have the right to bring someone down with him.
By the fact that the man Shijima Hiroto had been even less than a beaten dog.
“I just want to have my revenge. I don’t have a grand ambition or any solid plan for my future. If one day the city turns upside down because of the small imbalance I cause that’s all I can ask for. It’s more likely my head will be the one to roll before that, though.”
Smiling self-effacingly as he spoke to himself, Shijima then asked the dark-skinned boy walking behind him,
“You’re really fine with this, Jami? You realise following Earthworm and me around won’t take you anywhere good.”
At this, the boy he had called ‘Jami’ replied with a nonchalant expression.
“I don’t mind. I knew you were a nasty guy from the start.”
And then, narrowing his eyes, continued,
“Big players don’t have the luxury of going wild, anyway. I prefer following Shijima-san, you know? I get let out to wreck havoc even without any planning.”
“Yeah. I can give you as many opponents as you like. Hoping that one day, it’ll accumulate into something that will screw this city up.”
“But today’s target is a woman, right? I’m not a big fan of attacking or hitting women, yeah? C’mon, let’s nottt. No matter how petty you are I think this is bad taste, you know?”
“…Are you misunderstanding something?”
Shijima said, frowning, and turned for the first time towards the boy he called Jami.
Only to see that at some point, instead of walking on the pavement, Jame had switched to going on the wall along it.
“What are you doing?”
“Balance training! It’s fun! Wanna see me do a dance up here?”
“Don’t attract attention.”
“Says the mummy with his face all bandaged up?”
Grumbling, Jami leapt back down to the ground.
“I think Shijima-san attracts way more attention…”
After checking that Jami had started to walk properly on the road, Shijima turned back to face the front, and continued on the previous thread.
“Anyway, I said I was going to let you have a look at a woman you should guard against, but I didn’t mean for you to fight her. …No, maybe the fastest way to show you would be if she were hostile…”
“Show me what?”
Jami tilted his head, anx Shijima answered,
“That there are things beyond human knowledge scattered all around this town.”
With this, wearing a fearless smile, Shijima was about to turn the corner–
But his body went from rounding the corner straight to making a 180 degree turn, and placing a hand on Jami’s shoulder, he marched quickly back in the opposite direction.
“Huh? What? What’s wrong Shijima-san?”
Jami said, bewildered, and Shijima, going back where they had come, whispered,
“Poor timing. I just saw a bad combination.”
Jami snuck quietly to the corner, and peeked at the scene beyond.
There he saw, on the next corner, he saw two figures talking while trying to remain unseen.
One was a man with sunglasses and a cane.
The other was the Headless Rider in the flesh; a figure he had seen before in videos and such.
Jami whistled unthinkingly, and pranced back to Shijima.
“Hey hey! That’s the Headless Rider, right?! I know since I’ve seen the real thing before! Ah, is it really not human, you think!”
“Yeah, it’s not human. You know something’s wrong when even things like that are walking around in broad daylight.”
Shijima answered evenly. He gritted his teeth a little through his next words:
“The problem is the guy next to the Headless Rider.”
“The guy with the cane?”
“…Akabayashi, from the Awakusu-kai. He’s the one who wrecked the group Heaven Slave that I was in.”
“Ahh, so he’s in the yakuza! Don’t worry, I’m not scared of guns.”
Jami said. Shijima, instead of pointing out his overconfidence, corrected another part of his sentence:
“…Akabayashi doesn’t use firearms. He’s dangerous in a slightly different way.”
Then, glancing behind himself cautiously, Shijima sped up his pace, and continued,
“We’ll pull back for today. Stepping on Akabayashi’s toes when he already despises drugs was the first mistake I made. If he knows my face, I won’t be surprised if he tries to kill me the moment he sees me.”
“I can win even against yakuza you know?”
“Yeah, you’re strong so you’d probably be fine. But I’m not the same, I’m weak. If he were to attack me while you were occupied with the Headless Rider, I have no chance of winning at all. Same goes for the reverse. The Headless Rider might not care either way, but it has no reason to let me go. …But wait, are you wanting to wreck havoc right now?”
Shijima said, sighing. Jami nodded with his innocent smile.
“…Maybe we should switch things up, then.”
Shijima directed a cold gaze to the floor, before he brought up one person’s name, as if it were irksome.
“What about… we go find that Heiwajima Shizuo you’ve been dying to meet, first?”
Celty turned around upon feeling something foreboding, but there was no one on the road behind her.
“Is something wrong, Ms Courier?”
‘Ah, it’s nothing, sorry. I mistook something.’
—There was a strange presence just now, I wonder what that was.
Her curiosity was piqued, but not so much she could neglect Akabayashi, so she chose to let it go for the moment.
“So, o~nce again, you’re indulging the latest batch of troublemaking high schoolers.”
‘No, it’s not like they’re creating weird gangs like back with Mikado-kun… I mean, doing freelance work as high schoolers is dangerous in itself, I think, but they would probably have crossed the line into that territory with or without me, so it might be better to stay on the inside where I can intervene if anything happens…’
“I do understand where you’re coming from. I’m also aware that you’re not the type to strong-arm high schoolers to stop what they’re doing. Anyway, from where I stand, I’m just not keen to have any trouble going near Anri-chan. So long as you keep an eye on that, I’m fine.”
‘Of course, I’ll do what I can.’
—Wait, why do I get the feeling I just agreed to something super demanding?
—But that aside, Akabayashi-san looks like the biggest trouble magnet here…
“Please don’t make that face. I know I’m the one who sticks out the most and causes the most trouble. You don’t have to go beyond your means to do anything.”
—Why?! How do all the Awakusu-kai’s people see expressions on the face I don’t have?!
‘No, I think of Anri-chan as a friend, too. I don’t want to see her drawn into any trouble myself.’
“I see, then we can’t be entrusting anything too dangerous to you in future, too. Like transporting a bomb or people’s organs…”
‘Have those been what I’ve been delivering?!’
“Nah. I’m just kidding, kidding.”
Akabayashi smiled pleasantly.
While Celty was convinced it could only be a joke and was heaving a sigh of relief, Akabayashi, gazing towards Sonohara Hall, continued nonchalantly under his breath,
“We have to handle goods like that ourselves, after all.”
Celty decided it was a joke and let it slide, choosing to observe Sonohara Hall in silence.
“It’s probably a bad idea for me to be showing up in front of high schoolers. I’ll check in after they leave.”
‘Alright, I’ll come back some other time, then. Going together is weird, anyway.’
Having bidden farewell to Akabayashi, Celty made her way back to Shooter, and, riding slowly on the roads, she parsed the auras surrounding her.
—Ahh, the strange presence from just now is gone.
She thought back to the unusual being she had sensed moments ago.
—It didn’t feel like a faerie or a regular human being…
—It felt a little like Kujiragi, but not exactly…
Celty continued her search, remembering her former romantic rival who was almost definitely of mixed human and supernatural blood.
As she did so, she turned her attention to a presence that was drawing closer.
—Yes, Kujiragi’s aura felt exactly like this.
In the spot Celty was focusing her senses on.
Standing there was a bespectacled woman with an air of aloofness.
It was the woman who had once played a part in upheaving Ikebukuro, and had tried to take Shinra away from Celty—Kujiragi Kasane.
Celty’s full-body flinch was such that an onlooker could imagine that, had she a head on her shoulders, she would probably be gaping at this point. Meanwhile, Kujiragi bowed her head and said, primly,
“…It’s been a long time, Celty-san.”
Then, still expressionless as she raised her head, calmly, she uttered the greeting that would set Celty’s heart askew:
“It’s a pleasure to see you doing well. How is Kishitani Shinra-san?”
Sonohara Hall, interior.
“So you don’t know what was stolen?”
Tatsugami Himeka said. In reply Anri nodded troubledly.
“That’s right… I know about the goods I brought in myself because I kept a record… But I hadn’t managed to keep track of the stocks from when my father owned the store…”
“Hey, so there really could have been some awesome artefact, maybe a family heirloom even Storeowner-san doesn’t know about, or a treasure map…”
“Kotonami-kun, time and place.”
“Arghowowow, wha, wait, the piercings are gonna stretch!”
Kuon beat a retreat with Himeka dragging him away by the ear, while Yahiro took the boy’s place to speak with Anri.
“In any case, thank goodness you weren’t hurt, Sonohara-sempai.”
Yahiro said, a tinge of relief in his expression. Anri smiled back gently.
“Thank you very much. I’m sorry regular customers like you have to worry about such things…”
Saying this, Anri observed the trio of her juniors once again.
Himeka, Yahiro, Kuon, all of them were similar in that they seldom expressed their true feelings on their faces; but as of late Anri had begun to piece together the differences between them.
Yahiro was simply unused to expressing himself, it appeared. If distressed he would frown as was normal, and he would smile if he was happy, but whichever way it would seem foreign and stiff on his face.
Himeka was probably one with extraordinary strength of character. She was unruffled by most things, but in exchange it was near impossible to see her smiling or upset.
Kuon had a whole gamut of expressions, but Anri’s impression was that he exaggerated those changes in order to conceal his true feelings
—Maybe Kotonami-kun is Kida-kun, and Tatsugami-san is like Saki-chan.
As she thought of these close friends, suddenly, from the concept of ‘someone expressionless’, she remembered.
—Kujiragi-san’s expressionless, too… But I don’t think she’s like any of them.
—I wonder why she’s like that. When she talks it sounds as though there are some things she enjoys, too…
Ikebukuro. On the street.
‘”How’s Shinra-san”?! You think I’ll tell you?!’
“No. I should be your enemy, so I was not expecting an answer. But I can confirm that I asked after Kishitani Shinra-san purely out of my own interest, and it was not meant to challenge you.”
‘Now stop right there! More importantly, you have some cheek showing up in front of me now, don’t you?! I was sure you wouldn’t come near Ikebukuro ever again!’
Celty got off Shooter and thrust her smartphone in Kujiragi’s face, advancing towards the woman so forcefully it was as if she would be grabbing Kujiragi’s collar any minute now.
However Kujiragi did not cower and took her anger in stride effortlessly, replying,
“It is true that I have limited opportunity to visit Ikebukuro now, but I do come by for deals with Sonohara Hall and costume fittings for Megane Boy: The Double Shotgun.”
Celty said, confused. Kujiragi elaborated as to the title’s meaning:
“…Megane Boy: The Double Shotgun. A noble sect led by Lady Eternal de Charmonte devoted to escaping from the self and descending into new personae.”
‘What on earth are you saying?! Wanting to auction me off was bad enough; did you go and get your hands on drugs now?! …No, wait. Lady Eternal whatsit?’
“Lady Eternal de Charmonte.”
Celty frowned in her heart at this name that could have belonged to a noblelady in a video game.
‘I’ve heard this name before… Where was it… I’m pretty sure it had to do with a video website…’
With some thought, the image of a black-clad friend popped into her mind.
‘Isn’t that Karisawa’s handle name?!’
“Yes. It is also Miss Karisawa Erika’s cosplay alias. Incidentally, my cosplay name is School Kitty. ‘School’ is in katakana followed by the kanji for ‘girl cat’, but pronounced ‘Nyan Nyan’; do avoid confusion. Note it is girl-cat, not cat-girl.”
With this, Kujiragi offered a cosplay circle name card, meant for special events.
Even as Celty took the card, she still shuddered and typed,
‘I couldn’t possibly care less! Aaaaah, there are too many things wrong here my brain just can’t keep up! You’re not even the age for the ‘School’ to make sense! I mean, I know adults go back to school too but still!’
“Please do not misunderstand. According to Miss Karisawa Erika who conceptualised the name, ‘school’ does not refer to the institute, but is rather a portmanteau of ‘serious’ and ‘cool’. The initial writing was ‘su’ in kanji followed by ‘cool’ in katakana.”
‘I really, truly don’t care!’
Celty punched out the words as if yelling, and then typed, brashly,
‘Ah dammit! It’s like I’ve been bickering with everyone since last night! Honestly how can the only people around me who act their age be the Awakusu-kai!’
“By the way, how is Kishitani Shinra-san?”
‘Listen when I’m talking!’
After this, for about a minute there was a struggle where Celty attempted to snare Kujiragi with her shadows while Kujiragi dodged using inhuman movements and never-before-seen trinkets—
But sensing that they were beginning to gather an audience, Celty slumped her shoulders in a semblance of a sigh, and said,
‘…What about we change locations for now?’
“Agreed. I did not come here today to fight you. Moreover, the Awakusu-kai are on my tail… I did see you earlier, but I could not show myself with Mr Akabayashi Mizuki there.”
Kujiragi said this while stowing away her various odd gadgets, and seeing this, Celty showed the woman her smartphone incredulously:
‘…So you’re actually self-aware that you’re wanted.’
While the high schoolers had huddled to another part of the store for a discussion, Togusa, who was playing chaperone, sidled over to Anri discreetly.
“Just asking, Miss. They don’t know about that, right? I mean, the sword?”
Togusa whispered, and Anri gave a small nod.
“No, they don’t… I think. I don’t think Mikado-kun told them, either.”
“Ah, alright. Uh, Karisawa and Yumasaki know them too, so I’m sorry if it gets out that way. They should be sensitive enough not to say, though.”
“I was surprised when it turned out you knew Yahiro-kun, too, Togusa-san.”
“…Ah, you remembered my name.”
Togusa, who had resigned himself to being remembered as “the driver”, felt the warmth of human compassion for the first time in a long while, and was stunned.
“Ah, no, it’s nothing. Anyway, I don’t know about the other two, but that kid Yahiro knows Celty, and he’s like a little brother to me. Anyway, well, just look out for him?”
“Oh yes, it looks like he knows her.”
“Oh, you knew already.”
Togusa shrugged, while Anri smiled back wordlessly.
She had heard roughly about Yahiro from Mikado, and hence had imagined there was a high chance the boy knew Celty; but finding out that he knew even Togusa and Karisawa brought her face-to-face once more with how astonishingly small the world was.
It was hard to tell if he could have guessed her inner thoughts, but Togusa continued,
“In any case, if anything crops up Kadota no danna,or Karisawa, or Yumasaki, they’ll all rush to your aid. So if there’s anything at all we can help with, just ask.”
“…! Thank you very much…”
As much as Anri was apologetic for causing worry to so many others, she was also grateful that she lived in the same city as such warm people who would go out of their way to be concerned about her.
There was a time when she thought Saika could only bring misfortune, but in spite of the trouble it invited, it had also led her to meet Celty and other kind people. Anri was thankful for this, and wished to somehow repay these people as well as Saika.
All of this, while she continued to hear Saika’s words of love in her mind.
At this point, the high schoolers, having finished their conversation, moved towards her and spoke up.
“Sonohara-sempai, is there anything we can lend a hand with?”
Anri’s eyes widened at Kuon’s offer.
“I mean, all this time you’ve let us buy things cheap and stuff because we’re your juniors, too. To be honest, we do some freelance work on the side. So we want to do something for you in return. Take it as a special free gift; we can even watch over the store at night?”
“Kuon, you sound like you’re forcing someone into your debt, I think that’s a little rude…”
Yahiro hurriedly put a stop to Kuon’s speech, but even so he himself continued, explaining,
“Uh, excuse me. I’m, um, scared that there might be a burglar running loose in the city, too, so if there’s anything we can do to nab the culprit sooner…”
“Ah… That’s too much to ask. The police are already on it…”
Anri turned down the suggestion, unable to get mere high schoolers involved in something like this, but the green-haired boy with the piercings wore the gaze of a predator that had found on amusing prey, and he continued, viciously repressing a smile,
“But isn’t it actually way scarier that the thief might not have stolen anything? If they have a specific motive, they could come again, isn’t that right? Ahhowowowowowowow! Careful! Piercings!”
“Stop saying things to frighten people…”
Kuon’s ears were tugged on either side by Yahiro and Himeka.
Side-eying the trio, Togusa sighed, and whispered to Anri,
“Ahh… That is, uh. This kid, Yahiro, he’s the same type as Celty, kind of, so even if you order him not to lift a finger he might run off and start a vigilante group, I think you should just give him some simple task so he feels useful, yeah?”
Much as he made sense, it was dangerous for them to go looking for the criminal.
After some thought, with a sheepish expression, Anri made her one request of the freelance group Snake Hands:
“Then… is it alright if you help tidy up the storeroom the burglar messed up?”
Road in front of Sonohara Hall.
Akabayashi, who had been observing the situation for some time by himself, tilted his head.
“Hmmm? The students still aren’t coming out…”
Right then, his phone rang.
Checking the screen showed it was a member of the bōsōzoku gang Jyan Jyaka Jyan, which worked under him.
“Yes yes, it’s me. …Ah, yeah. … …’kay then.”
After exchanging formalities for a while, he passed down his own instructions and hung up.
Then, looking up at the sky, he tapped his cane on his shoulder, and sighed.
“So that’s how it is… Heaven Slave’s teamed up with some foreign guests, huh?”
Suddenly his amiable smile vanished, and he narrowed his eyes dangerously, murmuring,
“It’s getting past the point Grandpa and Dad can shield you, Shijima Hiroto-kun.”
Somewhere in Ikebukuro.
While Akabayashi was whispering this—
“That’s Heiwajima Shizuo.”
Shijima Hiroto stood beside an incarnation of violence no amount of influence could protect against.
“He’s the one with the blond hair and sunglasses.”
Shijima jerked his chin towards a pair of men exiting a building, and Jami whistled.
“Ooh. He really is dressed like a bartender! Why’s that?”
“I dunno. Maybe he likes bartender suits.”
“Alright, wait a second, I’ll go pick a fight with him.”
“Ah, wait, shouldn’t we watch a little longer…”
He watched on as Jami ran off without even hearing his protests, and clicked his tongue.
“Good grief. Anyway, he won’t be useful for awhile, now. …Hope he doesn’t die.”
Although he sighed, a part of Shijima was curious.
Snake Hands himself had fought on equal footing with Shizuo, but how would Jami fare against the same opponent?
Shijima simply shrugged at this question logical calculation could not answer, and thought back to his first meeting with Jami.
A few months ago.
Somewhere in the city. An illicit casino.
“…So in the end, you really can’t use Saika’s power?”
“Not an option. I don’t remember… what’s it called? I don’t remember actually being controlled. It’s annoying, but we can only go looking for that Niekawa woman who cut me, right?”
“But apparently the original Saika’s in this city, too. Anyway, we should start searching.”
The speakers in this conversation were Shijima and the leader of the organisation ‘Amphisbaena’ that had once been his enemy—Earthworm.
Earthworm had once been controlled by Saika and manipulated by a third party, and although she had been released, by that time she had already lost everything. Lost in the streets, she had found Shijima, which brought them to the present, where she had joined him, also partially for his protection.
Although nowhere as large-scale as before, Earthworm had used her accumulated knowhow to open another illegal casino elsewhere from Ikebukuro.
The place did not have the IC chips from before, but could still make profit from the customers it pulled in using the internet.
Shijima, having judged that it was about time the local motorcycle gangs caught on to them, had come to tell Earthworm to close shop at least temporarily—
But while they were still digressing over Saika, they heard the sound of something breaking coming from the casino room.
“Look at what you’re up to over here, get your boss out. You know what I mean, right?”
Apparently Shijima was one step behind, for it seemed that the local bōsōzoku had already come bursting in. A man who looked more like a brainy type, accompanied by another five gruff-looking men, was quietly threatening a card dealer.
“Oh dear, we’ve only opened shop two or three times and they’re here already. That’s fast.”
Observing the casino room through a one-way mirror, Earthworm sighed unhappily.
“Can you handle them?”
“If that’s all of them and they don’t have guns. Things might screw up if there are still more waiting outside, though.”
“Alright… Then I’ll leave it to you since you’re the boss here. …Nn?”
As Earthworm, shrugging, kept an eye on her subordinates and the situation outside—Shijima caught something off in a corner of the casino room.
A man who had been raking in huge winnings from the roulette game in the shadowy corner had made an unexpected move.
Whereas the other customers were fearfully watching on at a distance, the man went straight up to the fierce-looking thugs—and walloped one of them in the face with a wine bottle for customers that he had gotten ahold of.
With a dull thud, the man fainted before he could even scream.
Shijima’s eyes widened.
It was at once obvious that the act was not purely reckless.
For the man moved skilfully into the blind spot of half of the thugs that were looking around the casino, and hit them with the bottle before they could notice him.
The remaining men who turned at the noise lost consciousness to a single strike to their temple, chin, or nose.
“?! What the hell is…”
The clever-looking leader sensed something off, but was viciously struck, smack between his brows, before he could register the face of his attacker.
As his top half shook and spasmed, foam bubbled from his mouth, and the leader collapsed.
Before the gobsmacked audience of the dealer and the surrounding people, the man walked forward as though nothing had happened, and approached one of Mimizu’s female subordinates.
“Hey there, do you serve orange juice?”
The man who had just beaten down six opponents with a glass bottle gave a childlike smile, and thrust the bottle towards the woman.
“I’m underage, so I’m not supposed to drink!”
“Stronger than Heiwajima Shizuo…?”
Six men who were gang members by trade, reduced to unconsciousness within seconds.
Recalling Jami’s feat from when he first saw him, Shijima contemplated the chances of this.
But the answer came almost instantly, and he averted his eyes, smiling mirthlessly.
With that, he looked up to watch Jami’s fate as the younger quested for his next achievement, to provoke Heiwajima Shizuo—
Only to see Jami had vanished.
In Shijima’s field of view, he saw Shizuo turning in his direction.
He had the feeling Shizuo was looking this way, and kept his guard up thinking something must have happened, when someone grabbed his shoulder.
Thoughts of Akabayashi or other Awakusu-kai members flit through his mind, and, warily, yet quickly, he turned around, only—
Standing there was Jami, face ashen, shaking.
Why behind him?
Had Jami’s seeming disappearance been because he was hit and sent flying all the way here? If he had picked a fight with Heiwajima Shizuo, that was certainly in the realm of possibility.
Still, Jami’s face was unmarred, and his clothes spotless.
As Shijima was scratching his head over this, Jami, in spite of his pale face and his trembling, still gave the same innocent smile, and tugged at Shijima’s hem.
“C-c-c-c—, crap crap crap, that one’s dangerous Shijima-san…”
“You got hit already?”
Perhaps he only looked uninjured, and had already been hit hard enough to seed trauma in his psyche. Yet, contrary to Shijima’s assumption, Jami shook his head and said, smiling,
“No no no, getting hit would be game over straightaway Shijima-san. Uwahh, that was close, what is that thing. Like, it’s not about human or monster anymore, wait, even some monsters would be beaten to a pulp, that’s the kind of creature we’re talking about Shijima-san.”
The smile he wore could not have been more innocent or joyful; yet he was dripping torrents of cold sweat.
—Like people who got their hands on low-quality drugs.
For some reason Shijima received this impression. Why Jami was behind him when previously the other had been in front of Shizuo had long become irrelevant.
“…What was that?”
“No idea… An invitation for a martial arts centre or something?”
Meanwhile, Heiwajima Shizuo and Tanaka Tom remained puzzled by what they had just witnessed.
They had turned around upon hearing a, “Hey, Heiwajima Shizuo-san!”—but the second he made eye contact with Shizuo the brown-skinned man had stiffened up, and then sprung up like clockwork doll.
The man touched down directly onto the wall of a building, and before their eyes he began to run on the wall, stepping deftly on makeshift footholds as though having forgotten the laws of gravity; and from there he leapt away.
It was virtually instantaneous; to any but the most perceptive he would have seemed to vanish into thin air.
Having opened about ten metres between them, the stranger then proceeded to hide behind another man standing there with his face wrapped in bandages.
“Recruiting for a circus, maybe…? There are strongman stunts where they get people to break chains.”
“Ah, but, I’m not too good with jobs so exposed to the public…”
“Anyway, no idea what’s going on, but… should we go ask in case it’s urgent?”
With that, the duo took a step towards the other pair.
“He’s here! He’s coming he’s here he’s here he’s coming Shijima-san! Never mind me, you’ll die, Shijima-san, and if you die things will be dull again or I mean like I can’t deal with that big sis Earthworm I wouldn’t know what to do at all, let’s run away!”
Jami rambled, simultaneously excited and terrified like a particular brand of horror movie fanatic.
“Oi, cool down, just don’t get me invol…”
Before Shijima could finish complaining, he felt his body lift off the ground.
“Okay, we’re running! We’re running Shijima-san! Sorry if I drop you!”
(Illustration: Jami running with Shijima.)
“Wha, wait, oi— ”
Before Shijima couls protest he was quickly hoisted up—
And unaffected by bearing another person’s weight, Jami took off running like an athlete in the middle of the city.
Shizuo and Tom, left in the dust, exchanged puzzled glances.
“…What just happened…?”
“Haa, haa… Haahah… Hahahaha! Hahahahaha! Wow that was both fun and scary huh Shijima-san! That was great! I’ve never gotten a thrill like that even from a roller coaster or haunted house!”
“Just let me down already.”
From his position slung over Jami’s shoulder, Shijima said this with a cold glare.
“Right, sorry sorry Shijima-san. But you’re really light, Shijima-san. If Shizuo-san hit you back there you’d really have died, I know it. Scary~!”
“…What happened? Why’d you run all of a sudden?”
“Ah well, you know, what’s that phrase… the one about the rotating lantern you put in your room during summer?”
Jami gestured emphatically as he spoke, to which Shijima sighed and replied.
“Life flashing before your eyes?”
(*Revolving lanterns are a Japanese metaphor for this.)
“…By the way, you put those lanterns in your room? You have strange tastes.”
“They’re pretty. …Anyway, that’s not the point, I mean, I just met his eyes and I already knew. I was thinking, ‘Oh no, I’m going to die!’ All of my hair was standing on end, and before I knew it I was running on the wall!”
—So to sum up he chickened out after just eye contact?
—Why’s he so excited about that?
Shijima was perplexed. Jami twirled in circles, eyes bright.
“This place is super fun, Shijima-san! I’m so glad I came!”
“You seemed to enjoy facing Snake Hands, but Shizuo has you running away, huh.”
“Their natures are different! Snake Hands feels dangerous like a real snake, and like a worthy opponent, but with that Shizuo guy it was like being scared of a bomb going off. Fighting isn’t even in the equation.”
Then Jami recalled the mysterious Snake Hands he had crossed blows with days before, and said, gazing at his palm,
“That strange guy, he was super happy, when he directed his killing intent at me.”
As Jami said these strange and even more disturbing words, he smiled again.
“That’s why I think, if I’m going to fight, I’d rather it be him.”
Sonohara Hall. Storeroom.
Himeka noticed Yahiro staring mutely at his palm.
“Oh, I cut my finger.”
Yahiro had gotten caught on a splinter on the shelf while packing, and there was a bit of blood seeping from his finger.
“Are you alright? I have a bandage if you need one.”
“No, it’s fine, a small cut like this won’t bleed for long.”
Yahiro said unbotheredly.
Saying this, he pressed on the wound for a few seconds with another finger, and although the injury was still there after, it had stopped bleeding.
“…Wow. That healed quickly.”
“I’ve always gotten hurt a lot, so…”
“I don’t think that’s really the reason.”
Himeka was about to say more, but seeing the countless scars that littered the back of Yahiro’s hand, she deemed it wiser not to touch too much on the topic.
She had heard by now that the scars on his hands were from him punching other people, but even so, those could not have been pleasant memories.
With this conclusion, Himeka was on the verge of returning to her packing, when—
“Ah, you can finish up soon if you want.”
Anri called out from the entrance of the storeroom.
Although the place had been ransacked, the culprit had not gone out of their way to destroy things, so returning the toppled items back to the shelves took only half an hour or so.
According to Anri, the artefacts had not been too meticulously sorted in the first place, so it was fine just clearing the path so it was walkable.
“Thank you so much. I think it’s even tidier than it was before.”
The Raira alumnus bowed her head seriously. Yahiro felt that they had not helped much, so her gratitude only made him feel bad.
Beside him, Kuon asked Anri,
“So, any change? Any idea what’s been taken, after we’ve neatened up the place?”
“I see, sorry we weren’t much help.”
“No, I can’t thank you enough.”
Saying this, Anri’s eyes swept across the storeroom, and with a gentle smile, she said to the high schoolers,
“It’s not quite a salary, but if it’s alright, I’d like to give you something from this storeroom, so please take one each.”
“What?!! We can’t do that!”
Kuon said this, despite the obviously gratified expression on his face.
Yahiro and Himeka eyed him sideways, and exchanged glances uncertainly.
“Um, we didn’t mean to…”
Yahiro started to reject her gift, but Togusa, who had come to the front of the storeroom at some point, spoke up.
“Take it, take it. High schoolers shouldn’t be all bothered about being considerate.”
“Saburō-san. Where did you go?”
“Oh, it looked like we’d be here awhile so I moved the van to a carpark nearby. Anyway, you don’t have to call it volunteer work, just take your reward. Then Anri-chan can feel less bad about taking up high schoolers’ precious time and making them work for free on top of that; everyone wins.”
“But… we wouldn’t know what’s expensive…”
Yahiro said, still unsure. Anri replied,
“Ah… Please don’t worry about that. The things I brought in myself are all cheap things… and those that were here from before are the ones I had trouble pricing, anyway. You could say this is where all the rejects go.”
“Alright then… in that case…”
Yahiro exchanged glances with Himeka again, and they nodded.
Hence with Yahiro aiming for ‘something that won’t bother Sonohara-sempai even if it’s given free,’ and Himeka for ‘something practical, at least,’ while Kuon went for ‘something that can be resold for profit, or a rare artifact that could increase site traffic’, they began their search.
A few minutes later—they each chose their own item, and showed them to Anri.
For Kuon, a rustic-looking puzzle box.
For Himeka, a fountain pen in a small paulownia-wood box.
For Yahiro, it was a large fossil of a shark’s fang, though whether it was genuine or a replica was anyone’s guess.
“So things like these were in here too… I really do have to make a checklist…”
Although she said this, Anri gave them the items amicably.
“Is it really okay? This looks kind of expensive…”
Himeka said awkwardly. Anri answered,
“It’s fine. I hadn’t planned to put then out in the store anyway, and I think these children will be happier being used or placed somewhere as a decoration.”
As she called the numerous antiques her ‘children’, Anri gave a smile warm as the Virgin Mary herself.
“Thank you very much! I’ll treasure this!”
The high schoolers, moved by her words, thanked her profusely.
Only Kuon amongst them averted his eyes, mind already set on selling the puzzle box once he checked the contents—but although Yahiro and Himeka saw his true intention, neither voiced anything about it.
Since both of them knew that, even if they rebuked him here, there was no way he would change the way he lived.
Somewhere in Ikebukuro. A park.
‘So what were you doing there?’
“I received a tip-off from a plant in the police that Sonohara Hall made a report, so since it’s a trading partner I came by personally to take a look. It so happens I spotted you in Ikebukuro for the first time this half-year.”
They sat side by side on a park bench, some distance away so as to avoid encountering Akabayashi.
Celty attempted once more to reach an accord with Kujiragi:
‘To be honest, I have no clue what’s goes on in your head. And the police are after you, right?’
“Yes, I’m currently listed as a person of interest for a serial murder case. It seems they’ve determined that Yodogiri Jinnai is the main culprit, and I aided his escape.”
‘Did you do it?’
“No? But it makes no difference. I was the one who instigated that behaviour. I’m not obligated to elaborate on the reasons.”
Hearing this, Celty typed, after some thought,
‘I see… That’s a relief.’
“What is it?”
Celty replied evenly to Kujiragi’s question,
‘It’s good to know the person who fell for our Shinra and who’s friends with both Karisawa and Anri-chan isn’t such a complete villain she’d commit serial murder.’
“Is that so. I am after all a villain, and it’s just as possible the actual culprit was a good person with their own circumstances.”
‘Ah… That’s true. It’s a breach of the law, but I’m in no position to comment on that… I spoke hastily without knowing the culprit. Sorry.’
“Why are you apologising?”
Kujiragi said, uncomprehending, to which Celty spoke her thoughts honestly:
‘If you’re protecting the culprit, that means you know whoever it is, right? I was wrong to call that person a complete villain without knowing the situation.’
“…I’m surprised. You are kinder than I previously imagined.”
‘That’s not the case. I’m still very angry about when you abducted Shinra.’
Celty leant towards Kujiragi as she fiercely showed the other her smartphone screen, but Kujiragi’s expression remained unmoved.
“…I will not apologise for that, nor do I regret what I did. Just so, I will not defend myself from any criticism or punishment, either. Do condemn me to your heart’s content.”
‘…It’s too late for that. I’ll just answer your previous question.’
‘Shinra’s doing great. Better than he ever was before. He tells me he’s happy just being with someone like me, and smiles for me every day.’
“…I stand corrected. You are a little unkind.”
‘It’s not just a little, I’m pouring salt on your wounds, you know? You could stand to be a little more upset.’
Celty typed discontentedly, sensing that Kujiragi was smiling slightly.
‘Gah, you’re making me look like the irritating character who boasts about her boyfriend in romance movies! …Whatever. Shinra’s doing fine. He wouldn’t be if you hadn’t lent him Saika, so it feels stupid to stay angry at you, it’s really just pointless. …Though let me warn you in advance. I don’t care if you get arrested, but don’t make trouble for Karisawa or Anri-chan.’
“No worries. As I’ve said before, I have my pawns within the police and the press.”
‘Pawns… But you’ve left your Saika with Shinra, how…”
Celty tilted her helmet curiously. Kujiragi, glancing occasionally at the cat next to their bench, replied,
“Even without Saika, I have numerous ways to manipulate people as I wish.”
‘I’m getting that evil vibe from you again… So you have a whole stockpile of gadgets like Saika…’
At this point Celty remembered something, and asked a question to confirm it.
‘Speaking of which during the serial assault ruckus previously Shinra mentioned a demon hammer Bannanjin. That doesn’t happen to be in your hands, does it?’
“Yes. Your information is impressive. As one would expect, from Kishitani Shinra-san.”
‘…? What does that mean?’
“As I said, I’ve had it for some time now. I’ve left it in the storeroom of Sonohara Hall at the moment, though.”
Kujiragi dropped this bombshell nonchalantly. As though yelling, Celty typed in large font,
‘Why’s it with Anri-chan?!’
“As an apology, for the trouble Saika has caused. I’ve been transferring a number of my own possessions into the storeroom secretly, separate from our usual paid transactions.”
“She is the type to reject if I pass her the items for free, no? There’s no problem; I’ve passed them off as things that were in the storeroom all this time.”
Kujiragi said, blasé. Celty onc more clutched her non-existent head inside of her helmet.
‘That’s full of problems! I just said not to get Anri in trouble and you come up with this?! I heard it’s a hammer that takes over people’s wills and amplifies their desires! Why would you put something so dangerous…”
Celty tried to argue, but Kujiragi only tilted her head slowly, narrowing her eyes.
“Your information is mistaken. The truth is that demonic hammer Bannanjin has no will of its own, unlike Saika. It is merely a small hammer made by a post-Edo era craftsman, inspired by another hammer created by the western artist and blacksmith Carnald Straussberg.”
“Yet, although it was only a replica of Carnald Straussberg’s original… The exquisiteness of the grip, the excitement evoked by the grip’s texture, the visual effect of the hammer’s appearance, such traits create a euphoria similar to being in a hypnotised state. Those who saw that state must have spread the rumour that the hammer is capable of possession. It would have no effect on a person with duller sensitivities.”
Having delivered this explanation, Kujiragi stroked the cat that had come to her feet, and added expressionlessly,
“Though, given a wielder with average sensitivity, if this person were petty and small of heart, the effects would be several times greater; since they would be acting very unusually compared to normal, I suppose assuming possession occurred would only be natural…”
Somewhere in Saitama. Office rental space.
Natsugawara Yukihiko had not been blessed with much talent.
Talent was not everything, and if he searched hard enough he might have found an area he had affinity with, but at any rate, he had yet to discover it.
Having been born into wealth, with diligence his background could have empowered him to be above-average in both academic and athletic arenas, but from a young age he had relied complacently on his privileges, with the unfortunate misconception that he could be successful without effort.
But things began to spin out of control when his parents took in an adopted child.
Placed in the same environment, his adopted younger brother, a driven person by nature, performed better than him in every aspect.
Yukihiko had tried to alienate and bully his brother, but the boy turned out to surpass him even in fighting ability; the oldest Natsugawara son, now a complete underdog within the family, gave up turning the tables through hard work, and turned rebellious.
He started showing up at the haunts of delinquents, intending to make a name for himself among them—but by the time he realised people were only getting close to him for his money since his family was rich, he was already too entangled to pull out of the life.
Now, at this point where he had run away from home, he had just caused trouble with this group of people and they had dispersed in their escape—
“What a shocker. Young Master Natsugawara getting back to us without an invitation.”
A voice echoed in one room of an old building.
The speaker was a young man somewhere in his early twenties.
Anyone could tell from the air he gave off that he was an unruly sort.
Meanwhile, the one he spoke to had wild eyes that did not befit the young master of a rich family in the least; if anything he looked like a threatened victim.
“Oh well, to be frank, I guess I’m a little sick of running away.”
“Fucking waste of time. So? Where’s the goods? I’ll contact those people once I’ve done a check, so get it out.”
“…I have it safekept someplace else. I’ll get it later.”
“What? Useless rich brat! You should’ve brought it in the first place! Unless you’re planning to make some kind of deal?”
To the man who was taking advantage of him, the young man with a somehow bourgeois vibe—Natsugawara Yukihiko—only smiled pleasantly, taking one step closer.
“Nah, that’s not it. It’s just that there was something important I had to get done first.”
“Something you had to do, huh?”
“Yeah, it’s kind of important, I don’t really want other people to know, so do you mind if I just tell you?”
Confused, the other man leant his head forward to hear what he had to say.
Then Natsugawara Yukihiko drew the small hammer with strange engravings that had been tucked in his belt, and swung it full-force at the man’s temple.
The man’s lungs released this unusual sound as he convulsed and collapsed.
Witnessing this, the surrounding men broke out of their moment of stupor and began to yell.
“F, fuck! What the hell do you think you’re doing!”
“Are you crazy!”
But Yukihiko, gripping the hammer tightly, raised his voice above the commotion and shouted loudly.
“Hey bastards! How much did this guy buy you with!”
Pointing to the man toppled by his hammer, he continued,
“You’re really happy following orders for some loose change?! I don’t believe that!”
To the clamouring men, Yukihiko screamed his own name.
“The name’s Natsugawara Yukihiko! I’ll have you know I’m a son of the all-powerful Natsugawara Group! I have tons more money than this, and I guarantee you guys can see even more goodies from now on!”
Then he took out banknotes from a pocket and began to strew them indiscriminately.
Throwing what must have been several million yen worth of money around the room, Yukihiko took in the reactions of the men around him.
The thugs hesitated for a moment, but with a glance at the spasming man who was up till then their leader, they started to pick up the money.
In the span of a moment, their positions had switched.
“From this day on, I’m the boss of Heaven Slave! Any complaints, I’ll pay you off!”
Intermission: A Black Business ②
Somewhere in Saitama.
—What a day. A bunch of things happened, but I have to get my job done.
At the end of the day, Celty was unable to meet Anri face-to-face.
Since Akabayashi’s plan had been to go after the high schoolers had left, but thinking it would be counterproductive if they met him on the way out, he decided to come another day.
For now she just conveyed, ‘I heard the news, tell me if I can do anything to help,’ to Anri via text, and probed indirectly about the small hammer Kujiragi had spoken of by adding, ‘By the way, I heard from Shinra’s father that there used to be an unusual hammer at the store a long time ago, do you know if it’s still there?’
She had surmised that revealing Kujiragi had secretly placed it there would only cause Anri unnecessary stress, and so had used Shingen’s name in this manner.
—Honestly. Why am I even minding Kujiragi…
As she shrugged self-deprecatingly to herself, Celty parked Shooter along the curb, and entered a pub where a crowd of young people were loitering.
A staff member near the entrance widened their eyes upon seeing her.
‘Sorry, I’m just here to look for someone. I promise I’ll leave right after…’
Celty took out a wallet made of shadow from somewhere on her person, and closed the employee’s grip around a few thousand-yen notes.
‘If only customers are allowed to enter, you can take this to the counter and get yourself a treat, so please.’
“Uh, wait, that’s not…”
Celty passed by the confused employee, and entered the place.
Just as Akabayashi’s earlier text had mentioned, this place was a hangout for delinquents on Natsugawara land.
Celty’s figure, rather than blending in, was all the more conspicuous for its pitch black, and upon seeing her the young people in the shop all went silent.
After a beat, lukewarm chatter began to well up,a mix of shock and mockery.
“Whoaa, looks like we have a chindon’ya* coming in.”
“What kind of outfit is that? Is this a joke? Since it’s not funny can I hit you?”
—A lot of goons like these seem to have their own unique catchphrases…
Celty, though exasperated, decided to approach the last man who spoke.
‘Don’t insult chindon’ya. I’m only here to look for someone.’
But as she tried to take the photo out to show them, the man challenged her angrily.
“You think I care? Anyway, seriously, isn’t it common courtesy to look people in the eye when you talk?”
With that, he began to shake Celty’s helmet vigorously.
In the next moment, the helmet toppled cleanly off her neck and dropped straight to the ground.
“…” “…” “…?”
All time stopped in the room, cloaked in a silence far heavier than the one before.
Amidst this, Celty alone moved at her own pace, bending to pick up her fallen helmet.
Naturally, there was only empty space above her neck as she did this.
She placed her helmet back on, and with that, the atmosphere in the room unfroze.
The flood of feelings that had been suppressed was all at once forced to the surface.
“The… The Headless, Headless Rider…”
“It’s not a cosplay! It’s the real thing!”
“I heard if you bring this guy to the TV station you’ll get lots of money!* I swear it’s true!”
—How long ago was that.
(*Refresher: Durarara!!×4, Max Sandshield.)
Despite her irritation, she did not outright deny it.
And so, with no provocation, with no rhyme or reason whatsover, the gangsters attacked.
She had long gotten used to this kind of commotion. There was one fastest way to get people like these to spit things out:
Scare them witless, and force them to give up.
Ten minutes later.
Celty had created a spider’s web with her shadow, and with it entangled the men attacking her. This was completed without touching a hair on any customer or employee, and she left after simply telling a man who looked in charge, ‘Don’t worry, nothing was broken. The black stuff I’ll dispel a while after I go.’
—Ahh, I get the feeling my perspective’s just getting further and further away from normal civilians’ when I keep taking these types of jobs…
—100% black. I’m running a black enterprise at this point.
—I’m really not in any position to call Shinra out on his job…
Celty felt that, although she had started working again to close the gap between herself and society the opposite had occurred. Even so, she pulled herself together, resolving to follow through with the assignment since she had already accepted it.
—But anyway, I got more information than I expected.
In general, she learnt the following:
First of all, Natsugawara Yukihiko had already stopped frequenting the pub at this point.
Secondly, before he had gone missing, several people, supposedly drug dealers, had intended to approach him.
And lastly, after his disappearance, someone who did not feel like your regular thug had come looking for him.
—Maybe it was a detective Natsugawara hired.
She had concluded this of the last statement, and started to ask more regarding the second—only to learn that the drug those peddlers were dealing in was a dangerous one known as Heaven Slave.
She was well aware of its effects from the Headless Rider Cult incident.
—Damn, to think this of all things would link back to what Akabayashi said.
—Shijima Hiroto, huh…
—What on earth is he planning, making so many enemies?
Translator’s note: Once again, sorry for the long wait. If anyone has alternative spellings for Jami (pronounced ‘Jah-mee’), or if you spot any problems, leave a comment below.