Everyday Life B – Vagrant's Concerto
6 years earlier, Ikebukuro.
What am I seeing right now?
That man was only good at fighting.
Even for a person who was part of the type of organisation that was known to be a 'violent gang', this man exhibited extraordinary amounts of violence.
The rumours were that he was powerful, and he believed in that strength of his.
The truth was, the man had been wandering around the dark side of the world with only his own strength.
A strong fighter.
With only that, he was able to continue living. He was able to hold pride in his way of life.
He didn't care about things like intelligence gangs, or the Anti-Crime Laws.
Of course, he had to go along with things like that, but in the end, if he was made light of, it was the end for him.
All he could do, was push on down his own path.
Several years earlier, upon hearing that the subordinates of a person in the same business, who was rumoured to be his rival, were taken down by a kid in a bakery, feelings of pity, contempt, and anger all rose inside him at the same time. He became suspicious, and believed it to be some sort of joke.
He had no way of knowing that in the future, that child would begin dressing himself in bartender's clothes, and become somewhat of an urban legend in Ikebukuro.
So, simply in order to teach those colleagues the basics of fighting, he continued his violence.
He fought, and fought, and fought.
With just his overwhelming strength, the man tried to make everything he could see, become his.
He knew that it was impossible.
But he didn't stop.
He couldn't stop.
He couldn't stop the impulses that would rise up inside of him.
His intoxication with violence.
He couldn't live without being able to test the strength that he had tempered, the technique that he had polished, in real battle.
He couldn't live without displaying it.
Even if he knew that all that awaited him was destruction, the man went with his desires, and swung around his power like a blade.
Then, one day.
He met a monster.
What is this...
It was not the Headless Rider, who rode a black bike that made no engine noise, and had often been rumoured about recently.
It was another recently started rumour, about a Ripper Demon, wielding a Japanese blade.
What am I seeing!?
At the time, nobody really knew.
There was no way they could know.
Even now, other than him, the people who knew the truth were few in number.
Is this even real?......
The Ripper Demon was – in every sense of the word – a 'monster'.
A red-eyed monster, with superhuman movements, who could grow a blade out of any part of its body.
The man did not know the name of that monster.
The name of that blade, who loved humans. 'Saika'.
“You, what the fuck are you!? Dammiiitt!”
Without responding to the shouting man.
The edge of the demon-sword, held by the red-eyed human, cut through a part of the man's body.
And so, time passed...
Present time, May 4th, late night, somewhere in the city, at a certain night-club.
Sensual music, and lights blended together throughout the room.
Under the criteria of the Business Regulation Laws, it was registered as a 'cafe', but in truth, it looked more like a night club, or like the 'discos' from long ago.
Every night there was some sort of event, with various entertainment businesses on rotation, hiring out a space in the hall.
Young men and women would dance about in this loud, lively environment, and indulge in various pleasures.
These young people's bodies and hearts would tremble with the deep bass resounding in this darkness.
Some would move their bodies with the music, and some let their bodies be taken by the taste of alcohol, and the beat of the bass. And some, their hearts filled with desire, would call out to the opposite sex.
The various movements of these young people, moving to the beat of the music, burning under the flickering lights.
However, in this club, there were some young people who were not being influenced by the music, and who were making no particular movement.
Inside the men's-only toilet of the club, where the sound was less than half as loud.
“Come on..... You brought the stuff didn't you? Quickly.”
“We've got the money you wanted, so come on. Ok?”
Girls in heavy make-up spoke in voices mixed with impatience.
It may have been a male toilet, but those girls had walked straight in, without hesitation.
On the opposite side to the girls, were three brawny looking men.
Around the necks of the three men, they had tattoos of a particular design, and seemed to be in their early-twenties. However, they were surrounding the girls who were younger than themselves, and emitting a strange intimidating aura.
As they did this, the smallest of the men grinned, and brought his face close to the girls.
“Yeah, yeah. Calm down. We brought it, ok?”
The girls looked relieved to hear these words.
But their faces were absolutely pale, and a layer of cold sweat had formed on their skin.
“But, there's just one thing, you see, this stuff is pretty popular right now, and that makes it pretty damn hard to get your hands on, get it? You understand, right? So, well.... We can leave the payment till later, but... For now, it means we need to do this.”
The man brought a vinyl pack out from somewhere, with a zip attached, and flashed it in front of the girls. Inside it, there were a few white pills.
One of the girls looked at the contents, and her face became pasted with a look of despair.
“No way, but... That's not even half the usual amount......”
“Well, really I was thinking about letting one of our other regulars take this, but you girls were just breakin' my heart. Really, even people like us can't watch a girl in pain, you know?
“...... So... if we.. if we pay double... we'd get the normal amount.....?”
The words the girl had said didn't really match the way that she was so out of breath.
Since a while ago, she had been gulping constantly, as if she had a dry throat.
The man continued to talk, as he patted the cheeks of each of the girls.
“It's okay, it's okay. We'll even help you find some work. I don't wanna see you girls with such sad faces. Mkay?”
The man had kept waving the vinyl bag in front of the girl's faces, and smiling as he spoke.
Almost like he was waving a carrot in front of a horse.
However, the carrot was suddenly caught, and carried off by a crosswind.
Whusssh. The sound of water being flushed down a toilet in one of the closed off stalls.
The men frowned as they looked towards that stall.
It was the stall closest to the entrance. When they had walked in, there had definitely been no-one inside.
Also, the girls did not know this, but outside the entrance, two guards had been posted, and told to inform anybody other than 'customers' and colleagues, that the toilet was 'currently being cleaned'.
He first thought it might have been one of the guards who had come in to go to the toilet, but then, until now they hadn't felt any presence, nor heard the sound of the door closing.
The man looked with precaution towards the door, while silencing the girls.
Only a few seconds passed, but to the men it felt like several times that.
What they were looking out for, was somebody like a cop.
If it was just a customer who had accidentally walked in while one of the guards wasn't looking, then they could easily act naturally till they left, or beat them up and drive them out themselves.
In the first place, they hadn't even heard the sound of somebody doing their business in there, or even the sound of toilet paper being rolled.
Meaning.... That the person in the stall, had only flushed the toilet.
Seeing the door begin to open, the men confirmed that the person was not simply about to use the toilet.
This meant that the person had taken the time to enter the stall, and then flush the toilet... Exactly why had they done that?
To think they had just flushed the toilet after only spitting, was overly optimistic.
To them, the fact that an outsider was even able to enter the stall was completely beyond their expectations.
They would frequently come to places like this to make push a certain 'illegal drug', so it seemed that the reason they were this wary, was simply from their experience as drug dealers.
“Hey, who's there? Hey.”
While saying this in an intimidating voice, the men took one step towards the half-opened door.
As they did, the door opened, and a man appeared from the stall.
But the person who had appeared, was not the police detective they had expected.
Having said that, they still were not an ordinary person at all.
He was a curious man.
“You young people, well, I guess... It's good to see ya'll so energetic.”
He was a tall man, wearing a dress-suit with a flashy print.
He looked to be somewhere in his thirties.
From his appearance, he was not young, but he also couldn't be said to be middle-aged.
He may have been tall and thin, but thanks to the scar on his face, he certainly didn't look weak.
He was wearing a pair of obviously high-class, tinted glasses, and held a cane in his hand, with an elaborate design on it. It almost felt as if he had escaped from the set of some movie from long ago.
He may have been holding a cane, but that didn't necessarily mean he had a bad leg.
As he smiled lightly, he slowly walked out of the toilet stall.
At the appearance of this strange man, the young, tattooed men looked at each other, and then two of them said, with ridicule in their voices.
“Whaddaya want, old man?” “We're enjoyin' ourselves at the moment, would ya kindly bugger off?”
But, the other young man was looking at the face of the older man, and seemed to have something on his mind.
The girls, on the other hand, were frantically trying to grab the vinyl case that one of the men was holding onto.
While one man held them off with his back, the other two fearlessly stepped towards the older man.
“This toilet is bein' cleaned right now, so get the hell outta here.”
“Well, well. Kids these days really are hot-blooded now, ain't they? Uh-oh, you won't start pulling out my front tooth for saying that, will ya? Oh, I meant that as a joke, do kids your age get that one, I wonder?”
“What the hell are you talkin' about, old man? Oi.”
“Ahh, ok, it's fine, it's fine. I thought you might read manga or somethin'. Kids should stay kids, not get all worn out like little old me. You need to stay pure, believe in the powers of perseverance, friendship, and victory!”
Grinning widely, the man cracked his neck, then held out the hand that was not holding his staff.
The younger men stopped moving.
The item in the older man's hand, was exactly the same as the vinyl case that they had been showing to the girls, just before.
However, this case had nothing inside of it.
The smiling old man with the glasses continued to speak to the boys, who's expressions had turned stiff.
“Ahh, so sorry for intruding. The big guys that were at the entrance, they had some yucky looking stuff inside this here bag, so I thought I should flush it down the toilet for them. Listen, for junk like this, you have to properly disinfect it, or flush it down the toilet, right? Well, you shouldn't really flush it if it looks like it won't go down, I guess. But I reckon this junk'll probably dissolve down nicely.”
“.....! You bastard!”
Before they worried about the fate of the guards they had placed outside, the muscular young men went to grab the neck of the older man.
“Come now, you shouldn't do something like that, boys.”
Crack. A sound like a damp, wooden pole being snapped in half.
“You shouldn't be grabbing people's necks like that.”
Slowly moving his body, the grinning man saw before himself...
The body of the man who had tried to grab his neck, spinning, and drawing a graceful trajectory through the air.
And the fingers which had been aiming for his neck went against the spinning motion of the body, forming a twisted angle.
But the spinning man did not raise a scream.
The young man, his fingers broken, continued to spin with vigour, till his head forcefully hit the ground.
“!? ng-..... mmph-! !? ? !”
His lungs were in no state for talking.
It was as if every blood cell in his body had been stolen of all of its oxygen, and carbon dioxide.
A mixed sensation of pain and numbness rose up from his fingers, and as if it were a finishing blow, he then received a violent impact to his Adam's apple.
The cane held by the older man, had been thrust towards the fallen man's throat.
His mind turning cloudy from the pain and shock, the young man lost consciousness.
“It's a good thing I never learnt me any martial arts, ain't it? You could get away with just a broken finger.”
Seeing what had happened before them in only a few seconds, the remaining two young men had stopped moving.
In this room where it almost seemed that time had stopped moving, the first to raise their voices were the girls.
“He- hey, what are you doing!? Quick, sell us the stuff!”
“We've got nothing to do with this fight!”
But to the shouts of the girls, one of the tattooed men only shouted back, angrily.
The young man had elbowed the girl face, who had been attempting to grab the vinyl bag from behind him, but when he turned around...
“That wasn't nice.”
Before him, was the face of the mysterious man.
And reflected in the lenses of the man's glasses, he saw his own, shocked eyes staring back at him.
Without thinking, and without any technique, the young man threw a punch, but the only thing that the powerfully swung fist hit was air.
“Ya know, you really shouldn't be elbowing girls like that. Ya need to treat them nice and kindly.”
The next moment, the young man's ear was grabbed strongly, and pulled downwards.
“Wai-...... Sto-...... It'll brea-.......”
Feeling the impending danger of losing his ear, without thinking, the young man naturally brought his body towards the ground.
Like this, his feet were easily swept from underneath him by the man with tinted glasses, and he was made to vigorously kiss the floor of the toilet.
“Blegh...... You basta-....... Bgyuh!?”
With an angry voice, he tried to stand back up, but that dream would not come true.
A kick from above brought his head to the floor with such force that his nose, and front teeth broke... After which the young man truly went into a dream world, taking his own consciousness with him.
Seeing his two companions in this state, the remaining young man's face trembled in fear.
I remember now.
His fear however, was not brought about from the violent acts of the man in front of him.
Tinted glasses, patterned suit, and holding a cane.
It was because as he had remembered the true identity of the man in front of him, he had also remembered the 'organisation' he was a part of.
Akabayashi......This guy, is the Awakusu's Akabayashi!
“P-please, wait! I'm sorry! I am seriously sorry!”
When the man wearing tinted glasses looked towards him, the last young man was already prostrating himself on the floor.
“Hey, hey. Mister, that's dirty. Puttin' ya hands on the toilet floor like that.”
While he was pushing the face of another man into the floor with his foot, the man in tinted glasses – Akabayashi smiled lightly.
“And anyway, don't be slamming your face to the ground like that, when a man hasn't even told ya to. And really, I mean, come on. Do ya really think little old me wants to see somethin' like that?”
As Akabayashi ridiculed the prostrating man in a light-hearted tone, the young man, sweating all over, spat out his next words through shaking, pale lips.
“S-s-seriously, I'm sorry man! I-I mean, I di-didn't know you were from the Awakusu! Sorry for picking a fight with you......”
“Nah, nah, ya don't need to be apologising for somethin' like that. I mean, if any of us was pickin' a fight, it was little old me, right?”
Akabayashi continued to smile light-heartedly, but...
As he squatted down, his smile faded slightly, and he spoke in a low voice.
“If ya gotta apologise, it's for somethin' else entirely. Right?'
Akabayashi picked up the vinyl bag that one of the man had dropped, and brought it in front of this young man's face.
“This club, right... Our company, we got allota business relations goin' on with this club. So, and I know ya probably heard this before, but... Who do ya get this stuff from, hm? Who's ya supplier? Hm? Why don't ya tell little old me.”
“Ah...... No, I......”
Akabayashi turn his head, but his eyes never left the young man's face.
“That is...... I-......!”
Faintly seeing Akabayashi's eyes from behind his tinted glasses, the young man's entire body once again became stiff.
“I-I..... I d-didn't know anything about this being Awakusu's turf! I-I'll pay my taxes next time, I swear!......”
From inside the men's toilets, a false-sounding laugh could be heard.
“Ahh, you crack me up! You really know absolutely nothin', do ya mister?”
“Ya don't even know the law? In Japan, this stuff I have here is illegal, you know? Well, I mean, there was a chance this stuff was just lemon candy or something, so before I came, my little old friends did some investigating for me.”
Akabayashi shook his head exaggeratedly, and brought his face closer to the man.
“This place that little old me looks after, you know, it doesn't really have any, whaddaya call em? Local rules? Let's say it's a drug-free business.”
What the hell?
I've never heard anything like this!
Akabayashi shook his index finger in front of the sweating young man.
“Well, either way, didya really think we were the kinda half-assed group that would let you off just for squealing 'I'll pay my taxes next time, I swear!', as soon as you got found out? Little old me and my people?”
“So, let's choose.”
The young man had noticed that his breathing had started to become rough.
He had no idea what the man in front of him was talking about, but he had realised that he had begun to not only fear the Awakusu Group, but the happily smiling man himself.
Remembering the knife in his breast pocket, the man thought.
Should he use it, or not?
Will it work? He's from the Yakuza. So, nope.
It's not like they know my face. As long as I kill him, I can run away.
Nope. I won't be able to run away from the Yakuza. But, maybe if they don't know...
Dammit! Why did this even happen!? I wasn't told about this!
Wait, in the first place, would it even work on this old guy? My knife...
He's probably carrying one himself, or maybe even a gun. Nope. No.
Dammit... Dammit!... Damn, damn, damn, damn, dammit!......
Within these various thoughts, there was not a trace of positivity.
“Well ya see, little old me, I'm quite the hypocrite. Of course it's all part of business you know, settling taxes from gambling parlours, managing liquor stores, brokering trades for crab from some suspicious sources. I do lotsa bad things, right? But drugs, you know, well, personally I just don't like 'em. Yeah, I guess I'm just fussy. So, you feel free to call little old me a 'hypocrite' as much as you like.”
Akabayashi took off his tinted glasses, and slowly moved his face closer and closer towards the young man's.
Seeing those eyes, the young man realised something was out of place.
Wait, one of his eyes... Is strange......
…... A fake eye?......
Of course, by the time he had realised it, that little fact didn't really mean anything to him.
“A long time ago, there was a broad I was in love with, and her husband, you see, he was into this kinda stuff. And because of him, she had some rough times. I really, really hate this stuff. This white crap. The reason little old me took up with the Awakusu Group, is really just because they were so damn accommodating towards my 'preferences'.”
'Hahaha', Akabayashi continued to laugh light-heartedly, but...
Suddenly he stopped laughing, and his smile became slightly less visible as he spoke lowly.
“...... So, I guess it's about time we talked about what you're gonna choose...... So, which do you prefer?”
“...... Would you prefer if we of the Awakusu, handed you over as a nice little present to the chief of police, or would you prefer if I smashed both of your arms to pieces right here, right now? Which will you choose?”
! ! !
The breath of the young man reach the peak of roughness, and a few seconds passed.
The man before him, was saying that he would use the young man as an item to trade with the police.
If he refused, both of his arms would be crushed.
Seeing what had happened to his companions beforehand, he knew it was no lie.
“St-.....st-...... s-...... wai-....... I'm sorry! I'm so sorry!”
As the young man scrubbed the floor with his head, and begged in a voice next to tears, Akabayashi shook his head with a bitter smile.
“A guy with enough guts to get a tattoo like that, really shouldn't be doing somethin' so shameful. You'll make your ink-pusher cry.”
“Th-this is just a decal! It's fake! I'm not that kinda guy! We're n-normal guys, w-we were just asked to do this, for like, a bit of cash! It wasn't me! I-I was just told to do this! So please, forgive me! Please, let me go!”
“A-hah-hah. Well if that's the case, you're making whoever made that decal cry...... Even so, this is tough one...”
Akabayashi smiled, started to stand, and snapped his fingers.
When he did, from the entrance of the toilet, appeared young men wearing suits.
“If there's someone pulling your strings, then we really need to hear about that.”
In front of the young man, Akabayashi waved his hand towards the suited men.
“So, we're gonna have to abduct you. I guess I'll just leave the rest to Kazamoto-kun.”
“Yup.” “Nice work, Akabayashi-san.”
As he hit the floor with a click-clack sound, Akabayashi spoke along with the rhythm, to the men wearing suits.
“Yeah, you guys know just how bad little old me is, at torture and the like.”
In the face of Akabayashi, who had used words like 'torture' much too lightly, the young man kneeling on the ground began to stand up in panic.
I have to run.
What would happen to him if he was taken to their place...
He may have only been the type of dealer that had to use a fake tattoo to intimidate customers, but even he could imagine what might happen to him.
He brought the knife out of his breast pocket, and while waving it about, began to run away.
“Ah, that little prick!” “Damn, stop!”
Akabayashi's black-suited subordinates yelled out to him, but of course the young man running away was not going to listen.
Seeing the reflection of the toilet's electric light reflecting off of the wildly flailing silver blade, the girls who had retreated to the corner of the room let out a scream.
“Get the hell outta my way! I'll really stab you, I swear!”
While his movements clearly said that he was going to stab somebody, the tattooed man seemed so confused that he didn't even know what he was saying.
Akabayashi let out a short breath.
Not a sigh.
Just for a second, he breathed inwards.
Without hesitating, the young man had tried to run from Akabayashi, who stood in the centre of the room.
The young man who had been running away, while waving his knife around, had received a small shock to his hand.
From the darkness, the blind-spot of the young man's vision, some kind of cylindrical object had sent knife flying.
By the time he had realised, it was already too late, and the tip of cane Akabayashi held had already left his field of vision.
With flowing movements, as if he was sliding along the floor, the tip of Akabayashi's cane appeared from and entirely different direction than the last attack.
It was held with both hands, like a spear, but there was not much length past Akabayashi's left hand, so the young man's instinct told him that it would not be able to reach his body from this distance.
Of course, thinking about it rationally, this couldn't be true... But the optical illusion that was created by the visual information he had received would prove to be his downfall.
He had pushed the other end of the cane with his right hand. This was all that he did, but with that movement, the tip of the cane seemed to suddenly stretch, in the eyes of the young man.
A surprised cry, and a moan from the impact both escaped his lips at almost the same time.
The tip of the cane hit the man's throat, and impacted his Adam's apple from above the skin.
In just moments, the young man's eyes shook violently before turning white, and he crumbled to the floor of the toilet like a puppet that had lost it's strings.
“Ok, take him away, take him away.”
Akabayashi smiled his usual smile as he gave orders to the men in black suits.
After confirming that the fainted young men had been taken away, Akabayashi turned his attention back to the depths of the toilet.
“So, about you girls...”
They may have been thirsting for drugs only moments ago, but with the scene in front of them and what had just happened, even these novice girls had probably realised exactly who the man in front of them was.
Their eyes had turned from those of desire, to those of fear, and they had gradually started to shake as they huddled up to each other.
“Awww, ya don't have to look so afraid. You see, little old me only just got here, from making a pretty little Russian girl cry, about an hour ago now. Right now, I'm just a little nervous, ok?”
Smiling lightly, he brought a handkerchief out of his breast pocket, and handed it to one of the girls.
“Actually, ya nose is bleeding right? From that elbow before? You ok, sweetie? Ya probably should get to the hospital.”
“Eh, ah, umm...... T-thank you very much.”
“You know, you should get to the hospital right now, really. Want us to take ya there? Either way, you're all lookin' pretty pale.”
“Eh, a........ N-no, thanks..... We'll be fine.”
The girls, not understanding where this was leading, turned their eyes away from him and continued to shake.
“P-please... Please let us go. We..... We'll do any-....... anything....... s-so!”
One of the shaking girls looked as if she was about to cry as she said this.
“Ahh. This is no good. Does little old me really look that scary to you?”
Akabayashi smiled as if mocking himself, as his cane tapped against the floor with a 'click-clack'.
“You little girls are pretty lucky, huh? If someone other than little old me was looking after this place, why, you'd already have been introduced to some no good shop, or some no good dispatch service, or some no good film studio, probably.”
Hearing him say all this so indifferently, as he continued to smile, the girls only shook more strongly than before.
“Ahh, no, no, I'm not trying to make you feel like you owe me, or anything. Little old me, I'm a bit of a hypocrite, remember? I won't do anything nasty to you young ladies, but I will have to meddle just a little bit, I think.”
Then, Akabayashi chose what would, in some ways, be perhaps the worst kind of 'meddling' for those girls.
“Oh, don't worry. All I'm gonna do is escort you young ladies home, and then I'll tell them all about what kind of medicine you've been taking. Your mothers and fathers, that is.”
“After that, it becomes a family matter, I spose. Either way, I reckon you might end up in hospital, no?”
“Ahh, also...... Well, depending on the circumstances, I guess my people might need to sit down and have a nice little chat with your families...”
Several minutes later, inside a taxi.
Akabayashi left the club, alone, after giving orders to his subordinates.
Inside the taxi, he relaxed his body, and said to himself.
“Making a girl cry really does leave a bad after-taste, huh?”
Hearing this monologue, the nosy taxi driver spoke back.
“Oh? Mister, did you have a fight with your girlfriend?
“Basically. Well, nobody threw any punches, but I guess I made some sad memories for her.”
As Akabayashi shook his head, seeming sad himself, the older taxi driver laughed and said.
“That's no good. You need to treat your girl nice.”
A few minutes had passed since then, when Akabayashi's phone started to ring.
His ringtone was the newest hit from the popular idol, Ruri Hijiribe.
“Ah, is that the girl you were talking about, mister?”
“A-hah-hah, you know, I wish.”
Laughing as he responded to the taxi driver, Akabayashi pressed the 'receive' button on his phone.
“Yes, hello. It's little old me.”
“Hey, it's me. Cut out the gross greetings.”
It was the voice of one of his co-workers... One of the Awakusu's top-dogs, Aozaki.
They had only a few hours ago done a job regarding a certain Russian duo, so Akabayashi thought the call may be related to that.
“Ah, it's just you Aozaki-san. Something up with our little Russian customers from before?”
“No, that's not it. Did you hear about what happened with our Princess?”
“Ahh, about how that Heiwajima laddy and the Black Rider saved her? Mikiya-san, being the way he is, is probably lecturing the little runaway Princess right now, even though he's feeling relieved, right?”
The 'Princess' they were talking about, was the granddaughter of the Awakusu's boss, Dougen Awakusu, and daughter of their underboss, Mikiya Awakusu.
He had been informed that the young girl named Akane Awakusu had, in the last few days, run away from home, been kidnapped by the aforementioned Russian duo and gotten wrapped up in various types of trouble, before being returned safely that evening.
“Sort of...... About that, there seems to be something strange going on.”
“...... Well, I only heard this from someone else, so I don't really know the full details, and really, I kinda don't care to either, but... You've known the Princess since she was pretty small, right?”
“True. Ahh, well, I'll ask Mikiya-san about it tomorrow..... In any case, isn't it rare for you to be worried about somethin' like this? Aren't you supposed to be the guy that hates Mikiya-san?”
In response to Akabayashi's teasing, a low voice could be heard through the mobile phone.
“You shouldn't say stupid stuff like that, Akabayashi. Of course, I don't really approve of Mikiya-san, but Princess Akane is the boss' granddaughter, you know? If she hears something she shouldn't it might start a war. You need to watch your mouth.”
“Are ya sure you don't actually want that to happen? Aozaki-san.”
“...... I told you, don't say stupid stuff like that. You useless bastard.”
Clicking his tongue with a sneer, Aozaki cut off the phone call, from his side.
Akabayashi put away his phone while sighing to himself.
As he did, the taxi driver opened his mouth.
“Hey mister, is here fine?”
“Ah, yep. That corner there'll be ok.”
“Pleasure doin' business.”
Different from before, the taxi driver's smile was now somehow stiff.
It seemed from that phone called, he had gathered that Akabayashi's business was somehow 'not respectable'.
“Hey, sorry I didn't need to go too far. Here, ya can keep the change.”
“Ah, no way! I can't take 10,000 yen for just this!”
“It's fine, it's fine.”
Half-forcing the 10,000 yen note on the driver, Akabayashi slowly left the taxi behind.
As he cracked his neck, he looked up at the starry night sky, blurred by the neon lights of the city.
“But, man... This place has been strange recently.”
The Black Rider.
The revival of the Ripper Demon.
The newly found prosperity of the organisation called 'Dollars'.
The trouble with Ruri Hijiribe.
And most recently, this case involving Akane and the Russian duo.
“Well, I guess dangerous stories like that have happened in other cities too, since ages ago.”
While murmuring this to himself, Akabayashi walked towards the apartment where he was sleeping.
Even so, it's like... How to say it...
It's like, recently, the normal world and the underground are mixing together... or rather...
It's kinda like the people of the normal world aren't able to keep themselves there any more.
Thinking there was no point in him worrying about it, Akabayashi once again looked to the star filled sky.
The lights of the city and the darkness of the night mixed together, and in this blurred space, the light of the stars was almost lost.
Seeing that vague space in the sky, Akabayashi whispered to himself once more.
“...... Such an unpleasant night sky.”
“Make up your damn mind, are ya dark, or are ya light?”
6 years earlier.
Again, today the man stained in violence, was wounding somebody.
Every time he saw somebody with a scar, or injury that he had caused, the man went into a trance.
That scar. That is me.
Th blood that flows from them, the red colour of the flesh I force out of them, the sound of their bones breaking. Without a doubt, these are what make me the human that I am.
Rather than being his pride, or his beliefs, these thoughts were simply a kind of daydream, or delusion.
If he wasn't able to hurt people, he would break.
These delusions that he had created for himself, dyed his instincts in a colour of madness.
The scars he made in people, were scratches in the flesh of the city.
The young man was intoxicated with his own reputation, which increased every time he displayed his violence.
As if it was his objective in life, to never tire of it, and to never look back at his past in regret.
What eventually became the turning point in this man's life, was the time when he took on a certain job.
The owner of a certain shop had taken out a loan, and the organisation that the young man was a part of had decided to buy the debt he owed.
It was somewhat far from the central business district, but that didn't change the fact that it stood in the heart of the city.
It was an easy job. Shoulder their debt, then take over their plot of land.
However, everything didn't go as planned, as the shop owner had been supplied funds somehow, and managed to pay the debt off himself.
If that was all though, they could pass it off as bad luck on their part...
Perhaps he had gone crazy, but the shop owner had started telling the man's organisation to hand over money to him.
He threatened them, saying that he would take them to court for their illegal actions.
It seemed like the shop owner's thoughts were quite dishonest.
As the shop owner wouldn't respond to any discussion, a 'job' was passed on to the man.
Punish him appropriately.
A pure, simple job.
It seemed that the shop owner had a family, so if necessary, he was also allowed to lay his hands on them.
Also, it would all be for naught if it was found out that the deed was done by their organisation, so they had decided that the man was to hold back from killing them, and make it look like they had simply been mugged.
On the night of a new moon, the man put on a balaclava and set out for his destination, the shop.
An antiques shop, on the outskirts of Ikebukuro.
The name of this shop.... 'Sonohara Antiques'.
Present time, May 5th, morning, Mikiya Awakusu's residence.
The mansion owned by Mikiya Awakusu, underboss of the Awakusu Group.
It was on the outskirts of Ikebukuro, and at first glance, one would not be able to differentiate between it and any other mansion. People who didn't know any better, could only believe that it was the household of a normal person, living an honest life.
No, perhaps some suspicious people would believe that 'It's such a nice house that the guy living in it has got to be doing some sort of dirty work for that kind of money'. It was that sort of elegant mansion.
Taking a step inside of that house...
'Patter, patter' went cute the sound of small feet, as a young girl ran up to Akabayashi.
“Hey, little Princess. Long time no see.”
In fact, it actually had been a few years since the last time Akabayashi had shown his face here.
Years ago, he would show up to play every now and then, but since Akane Awakusu had entered her final years of primary school, and Mikiya had begun to worry about her knowing about the work that her family was doing, Akabayashi had begun to try to visit as little as possible.
However, it seemed that his attempts to be considerate had ended in failure, and Akane had ended up learning about their line of work.
He had heard that this was the reason she had tried to run away from home, but the most important thing was that she had returned safely.
“...... So, I hear you have something to tell little old me about?”
Akane energetically responded to Akabayashi's question.
The fact that she was overflowing with vitality the day after she had just been kidnapped was in itself, fairly strange.
At first, he had planned to leave after talking to the underboss, Mikiya, but...
Once Akabayashi had shown up to their group's workplace, Mikiya had said to him.
“...... It seems my daughter wants to speak with you. Will you come with me?”
“With me? Do you know why?”
“That's what I wanna know, but she wouldn't tell me.”
Now, that's certainly 'something strange'.
As he remembered last night's phone conversation with Aozaki, Akabayashi turn his head. In the end, he decided to put off his plans for that afternoon, instead choosing to meet up with Akane.
And now, Akane's eyes shone as she saw Akabayashi's face, and she started to pull him by his sleeve.
“I have something I wanna tell you Uncle Akabayashi, in private! Do you mind coming to my room?”
“Ahh, it's all good, boss. I don't mind at all.”
Waving to Mikiya, who had been trying to scold her, Akane ran towards her room, and Akabayashi tried his best to keep up.
However, his arm was grabbed again, this time by Mikiya.
“I shouldn't have to tell you this, but don't give her any stupid ideas.”
“I know that.”
“And don't you touch her, either.”
“...... Really, Mikiya-san, how old do you think your daughter is?”
Understandably amazed by what Mikiya was trying to say, Akabayashi turned his head with a wry smile.
“A-ah, I see, sorry. I was sure that you were into that sort of thing......”
“...... No, Mikiya-san. No, I am not 'into that sort of thing'.”
“No...... I'm sorry. You know, a few years ago, how you were looking after some little girl from somewhere, right? I thought that must be your particular preference...... No, I dunno what I was thinking. Sorry. I guess it doesn't really matter if you come into contact with a little kid like her.”
“Ahh, it's really no problem. It's not like I have a wife or lover or anything, there were even rumours that I was gay, at some point. Haha.”
Not looking particularly bothered, Akabayashi left Mikiya there, and started heading towards Akane's room.
As soon as he entered her room, Akane looked at Akabayashi with a serious face, and said in a low voice.
“Umm, what I wanna talk about, I want you to keep it a secret from father and mother...... Can you do that?”
“Yeah, yeah. I got it.”
As if to reassure the young girl, Akabayashi smiled, and bent over into a bow.
To this top-dog of the Awakusu Group...
“Errr, umm....... How......”
Akane said something unthinkable.
“How can I...... become better at killing people?”
Seeing the serious, innocent eyes of the girl, Akabayashi thought to himself.
Well, this is gonna be tough.
A rare cold sweat formed, as Akabayashi took a troubled breath.
The only thing that didn't change was his light smile.
This seems like..... It's gonna turn into something beyond 'something strange', huh.
30 minutes later, inside a vehicle.
“...... What were you guys talking about? The last thing Akane said was 'Cya later', you plannin' to meet her again today or somethin'?”
“Come on, we were just chatting. Though she did say I had to keep some of it a secret.”
In the back seat of a luxury vehicle, headed for the offices of the Awakusu Group.
Next to the young leader Mikiya, sat Akabayashi, with his usual flippant smile.
“Really, it was nothing special...... It seemed like she couldn't get what happened yesterday out of her mind. So she said she wanted to train her body. Well, a friend of mine runs a dojo, no, I guess it's just a sports gym, and he has a program where he even teaches self-defence to younger kids. I told her I could introduce her later on today.”
“...... Ahh, that was all, huh...... But, why did she ask you specifically?”
“Haha, that's kinda a funny story.”
As he said this, Akabayashi took out his phone, and started doing something with it.
“Oi, what are you......”
“Do you know exactly how the little Princess came to know about our work?”
“This is why.”
On the screen of the phone he was shown, there was the home page of a certain website.
“...... Ahh, this, huh.”
Displayed there, was an internet based dictionary.
It was an internet encyclopaedia, similar to Wikipedia, where normal people could gather information, which was currently accumulating quite a large database.
Of course, there were cases of misinformation, false information, and misunderstanding, but there were plenty of people who would work on amending these mistakes, whether they did it randomly, or because they were writing a page for something related at the time.
“The youngsters have corrected the dangerous bits considerably.”
With no regards to their public image, there was even an article on the Awakusu Group, including entries with details about their 'operations' and the names of their staff.
Seeing his own name come up on the display of the phone, Mikiya curved his mouth in annoyance.
“...... She saw this on her phone or something? This world is becoming harder and harder to live in peacefully.”
“It's your fault for not thinking, and giving her a phone that can so easily access the internet, isn't it? Well, the cat's out of the bag, we can't put it back in. It's really none of my business to be honest.”
Glaring at the ever-smiling Akabayashi, Mikiya continued to look at the article... And there he saw Akabayashi's name, also recorded.
Among the many profiles plainly listed there, one had written '… along with the aforementioned Aozaki, they form a violent duo with many stories about them. They also manage the martial arts section, and are known as 'The Red and Blue Demons of the Awakusu'.
“Man, they really make us sound scary, don't they? The little Princess saw this written about a guy she had been talking to so much since she was little, and, well I guess that's why she asked me to teach her some sorta self-defence.”
In contrast to the wryly smiling Akabayashi, a sour look stayed stuck to Mikiya's face.
“...... Well, I guess I'm glad she called you instead of Aozaki...... I still wish Akane had come to her mother or I for advice first.”
“Haha, she probably just didn't want to worry you any more than she already had, don't you think? Like the good little Princess that she is.”
“It actually makes me worry even more, when my own daughter is looking out for me like that...... So, this sports gym, or dojo or whatever, can they be trusted?”
“Yeah, they're pretty well-respected. It's that place, you know? The one next to the Zoushigaya Cemetery. Errm, you know that German martial artist, Traugott Geissendorfer? It's like a series of that old guy's dojos, almost like a global franchise.”
Inside the luxury car, this conversation continued.
At the time, Akabayashi was not completely lying.
But he certainly had left out an important piece of information.
Of course, it was also likely that Akane hadn't told Akabayashi everything in the first place. Even Akabayashi himself knew this.
He knew, but he didn't pull her up on it... But it was certain, that Akane had been 'broken' by somebody.
Sighing on the inside, Akabayashi thought to himself that what Akane needed right now, was to come into contact with modest, honest people, which was why he recommended the dojo of his acquaintance.
Well, there are a heap of younger girls at that place as well.
For now, Akabayashi wondered whether it would be best for him to ask for more details from Akane this afternoon, or to stay out of it, and watch from the sidelines. But...
Next to him, Mikiya lost all expression from his face, and broached a completely different subject.
“...... Last night, you closed off the business of some pusher kids, right?”
“Yeah, about that, I left the rest up to Kazamoto.”
“...... Something strange happened after that.”
Mikiya had only just been worrying about his daughter, but now, as if all that was a lie, he started speaking in an indifferent tone.
“Those guys, I thought they must have been backed by a group from somewhere...... but it seems they weren't. Turns out it was just some university's 'club activities'.”
“Those guys, they're students at Raira University..... And on the outside, they're just normal students, but... The guys you beat the crap out of, they all had the same sticker on their necks, right? The same design of tattoo.”
“Yeah, they did.”
Along with the details of the night before, Akabayashi had almost stopped bothering to remember the faces of the kids from the night before, but now he was recalling them.
They had seemed to have the same gaudy tattoo on the nape of their necks, though according to them, it seemed that they were only fake tattoos.
“Raira Uni, that place usually has pretty high standards, doesn't it? I guess there are idiots in any school.”
“That's right. That stuff they had, they actually cultivated and made it all themselves. Kids these days are pretty creative, don't you think?”
Akabayashi shook his head, with a bitter smile.
Mikiya knew that Akabayashi's eyes showed no sign of a smile, and looking over at the phone Akabayashi was holding, he began to talk.
“They were crafty, I'll give 'em that much. Those guys, they were only using phones to communicate. Looks like they would change their numbers periodically, so they were probably using stealth-phones.”
Stealth-phones, are mobile phones which would register under pseudonym when calling. It was a trick which involved forming phone contracts with many people as part of a reward, or credit. These contracts were then used to circumvent any observers.*
They required no fee, and while they would stop working as soon as the police started to notice them, many remittance fraud groups would use them, and simply change to a new phone whenever this happened.
Of course, Mikiya and his people had started to use these stealth-phones more and more often recently.
“Kazamoto managed to get the number of their stealth-phone dealer out of those guys, but whether or not our dealer will be able to find the centre of their operations from that, we don't really know yet. We're pretty certain that their leader is a uni student too.”
Expressionlessly, Mikiya clicked his tongue.
“Things are hard, these days. When little brats who look perfectly straight can use the internet or whatever, and easily get themselves mixed up in things like our business. Intelligence-gangs have been around for a while, I know, but these guys really just look like normal people, on the outside.”
“True, those guys from yesterday, apart from the fake tattoos, just looked like well-built crumbs.”
“..... By the way, you heard of those kids calling themselves 'Dollars'?”
“Well now, that's a bit out of the blue.”
Akabayashi answered without denial or affirmation upon hearing the name of the organisation that he himself had secretly signed up as a member to.
“Well..... The guy that Kazamoto 'talked' to last night, sounds like he went on and on about a whole lot of stuff...... But it seems like he'd heard something interesting from some of the top-dogs of his group, who he'd only ever spoken to over the phone.....”
“Apparently they took their inspiration from those 'Dollars' or whatever they call themselves. When they made their naughty little online pharmacy, that is.”
Same time, Awakusu Group Headquarters.
The Awakusu Group was commonly referred to as a 'violent gang'.
They were a large organisation, and as a branch the Medei Conglomerate, they were a key group amongst their equals.
The exact amount of members they had was not known to normal people, but even in Ikebukuro, they were recognised a being a symbol of 'power'.
Inside an office building, which was the headquarters of this organisation. A serious voice echoed through this space, that was almost devoid of people, but still felt strangely important.
“Ahh, about that. It's no problem.”
From his voice, one would think he was quite an old man.
However, in that voice was overflowing amounts of energy, and one could also feel the intimidating air of a rocky mountain, towering ruggedly above all.
“The way I see it, I don't really want our relationship with them going sour. However, we cannot clean this matter up with our own hands. At this time, when our deal with the Asuki Group is almost coming to a head, murder amongst comrades would only bring about unnecessary rumours. Whether or no he did something that stupid, they want their revenge now.”
It seemed he was on the phone, as there was no audible response to the man's voice.
“But..... I have promised that no matter how they go about it, we of the Awakusu Group will not interfere. As long as he dies from an 'accident', or simply 'disappears', this won't become a weakness that the Asuki Group can use against us.”
The owner of the voice with a polite expression, was neither abasing himself, nor looking down on the other party.
He simply continued to state his opinion in a businesslike voice that hid any emotion.
“...... But any movements they might make towards our group are entirely useless. I ask that you simply be prepared, in case they try to involve somebody other than 'him'. Whether it be someone from our group, or a relative.”
After speaking a few more words, it seemed the owner of this voice had finished his call... As a deeply wrinkled hand reached out to place the receiver back in its cradle.
He gave off an air of composition, as he completed the phone call without a single disturbance in his voice.
“These..... 'phone' things, no matter how long they've been around for, I can never get used to them.”
While breathing what seemed like a sigh, the mood of the man's voice changed completely.
The room was furnished with paper lanterns and a household shrine, and amongst the headquarters that had been disguised as some sort of broker's office, it had an atmosphere of 'the room of a chivalrous chief', in complete contrast to the other rooms in the building.
And in the depths of this room, the owner of the voice sat with a 'thud' into a cow-hide leather chair.
With this sound, the room suddenly felt as if it was relieved of some of the previous pressure it was under.
The man sat behind a beautifully grained, wooden study desk, and began to talk while showing his teeth in a smile.
“Most of my teeth've got crowns, you know? And I got bolts all over the bones in my back... I'm almost like, you know, what's it called... a cyborg? Or that Robocop guy, right? I can only think god made some sorta mistake when he made me so bad with machines...”
Then, while patting the receiver of the phone which was no longer in use, he said.
“How 'bout you, Aozaki? You like 'em? Phones, I mean.”
Those words were directed at the large man standing near the entrance to the room.
The only two people inside the room were the old man talking, and that large man.
The well-built man called Aozaki, bowed his head and spoke in a deep voice.
“If you told me to, I could easily break my own phone to pieces, boss.”
It may have sounded like a joke, but Aozaki's voice was the incarnation of sincerity.
The old man that he had called 'boss', Dougen Awakusu let out a laugh while shaking his head.
“Oi oi, you gotta start calling me 'chairman', else Mikiya and Shiki won't shut up about it.”
The older man looked as if he might be in his early-sixties.
His precise age was unknown, but the white beard that grew on his face gave the impression that he was well-seasoned.
But his pure-white beard was clearly well-kempt, and rather than a rough old wizard from a fairy tale, he gave off more of a 'Santa Claus' impression.
To this old man, the leader of martial arts management of the Awakusu Group, responded humbly.
“It's not like anyone can hear us. Anyway, boss, that phone call just now, was about something else?”
“Hm? Ahh, yeah. You mean somethin' other than what you were talking about?”
“Yeah, it surprises me that those damn leftovers are still after that guy. It also surprises me that they had the balls to call you directly, boss. You know, just say the word and I can crush them within a day.”
While he did use some rough vocabulary, his respect towards the old man was clear enough.
While he was usually overbearing towards anybody else, and even slighted the young underboss Mikiya, Aozaki had nothing but pure devotion to the 'boss' in front of him.
“Haha, I'm sure it would be possible for you. If the Blue Demon of the Awakusu actually tried.”
“Please don't call me that. People will start to think I'm buddies with that other 'Red Demon'.”
“Is that such a problem? Even you recognise Akabayashi's skill, don't you?”
“Yeah, the man can fight, I'll give him that. But in front of a whole organisation, that means nothin'. Yeah he might have a few little gangs of protégés, but in the first place, that guy isn't suited for something like an organisation.”
Aozaki stopped talking for a moment, and narrowed his eyes as he looked towards the ceiling.
“So, it might turn out exactly the same as last time.”
Awakusu Dougen laughed before responding to Aozaki's murmur.
“Maybe. From the eyes of those idiot leftovers, they just need to whack Akabayashi and everything will be fine.”
“Which group are those guys hiding under the wings of at the moment?”
“Oi, you didn't even know that much when you said you'll 'crush them within a day'?...... Well, I guess that's just like you, huh.”
Dougen leaned forward in his chair, and placed both elbows on top of the desk.
Then, while he tapped the desk with the index finger of his right hand, a cruel smile rose to his face.
“I just heard that some of the guys who left have banded together and formed their own, new group. And their facade seems to be a small real estate agency.”
“Yeah, well we can't really do anything about that. Those guys still probably have their suspicions.”
Dougen, looking as if he was enjoying himself somewhat, stroke his beard and continued.
“About whether or not the one who burnt your old boss, was Akabayashi, I mean.”
There was a certain rumour about Akabayashi.
Although he was now a higher up of the Awakusu, he had not always been one of their members.
Once, there had been an organisation in Ikebukuro that was at odds with the Awakusu Group. Akabayashi had been one of their hitmen.
In actual fact, he was only a hitman in name, and was closer to some sort of 'all-purpose weapon'.
The story went, that he had been completely indispensable to their operations, in many ways.
Currently, that group no longer exists.
Because the boss of that group had been killed by someone.
At the same time, it was confirmed that the group had been running a large-scale drug smuggling business. Most of their members were arrested, and the group was fully disbanded.
However, the man who was famous even within that organisation, Akabayashi did not get caught up in these arrests.
Furthermore, at the time of his death, the person who had been guarding the boss of that group, was Akabayashi.
This fact brought about a certain suspicion in the minds of the ones who had been arrested.
The suspicion that the one who had killed their leader, and the one who had leaked information about the drugs, was Akabayashi.
They had their doubts, but there was no proof.
And now, Akabayashi was a top-dog of the organisation that had once been his enemy.
This was enough to earn the hate of his former colleagues, whether or not he had been the one to kill their boss.
However, the Awakusu Group had officially become a branch of the Medei Conglomerate, and with their organisation in pieces, they were no longer able to contend with their might.
Although he had now been given the nickname 'Awakusu's Red Demon', mostly in praise of his past achievements, and even become an important part of their arsenal, most of the soldiers saw him as a relatively gentle personality.
But there were some, like Shiki, who saw this vagrant attitude as a method to hide his true thoughts, and remained wary of the man.
“Well, most of the guys who were involved with the junk are still in the can, but if some of the ones who recently got out have heard about Akabayashi becoming one of our top men... Well it pretty much confirms those suspicions, doesn't it.”
“In this world, somebody who kills their own boss doesn't get away with it. Even just the rumours make it pretty hard to be around that guy...... But you still brought someone like that into our group, boss.”
“Who cares. In this world, I'm seen as being a despicable person too. I don't exactly have the freedom to decline a money tree, just because he would be hard to get along with. That guy, he's strangely well connected amongst young people these days, you know?”
The old boss laughed at Aozaki's words.
In response, Aozaki stated a doubt of his own to Dougen.
“But boss, in that last phone call... You just cut down that money tree with your own hands.”
“I guess I did.”
“We want to pay our 'debt' to Akabayashi.”
This was the proposal offered to him moments ago, by the 'Emergent Organisation'.
A proposal from their former enemies, who had been released from prison.
Usually he would reject such an offer instantly, but from their manner of speaking, it was as if they were ready to throw away their lives for this.
“At this point, I have no intention of scheming with you people. However, I know that you won't stop until you've taken revenge for your boss. If we were to protect that guy, we would have to prepare ourselves for an honourable defeat.”
Then, in the end Dougen had given them that answer.
“If it happens as an 'accident', or if he simply 'disappears', something that won't hurt our group in any way, we won't interfere.”
However, he did not say this out of some sense of honour, or sympathy.
He wasn't thinking about their desires for revenge at all.
All Dougen had taken into account, was that he couldn't besmirch the name of the Medei Conglomerate by starting an unnecessary war, and that he couldn't show any weaknesses to the Asuki Group, who they were currently in deals with.
On top of that, it was safe to assume that every one of the men who had been released from prison, had been marked by the police.
To stir up trouble with a group who was set on taking revenge even when they likely knew that themselves, even if they 'crushed them within a day' as Aozaki had said... It would be a dangerous bridge to try and cross.
Their new organisation, was not lenient.
In the end... Even they were an existence created from the darkness of this city.
“You know, I could never betray my subordinates...... But I can watch them burn.”
6 years earlier, somewhere in the city, in the vicinity of Sonohara Antiques.
For that man, this was supposed to be a night not unlike any other.
Pretend to be a mugger, and shake up the shop owner.
That was all. A simple job.
His heart had been closed off since long ago.
He didn't even think about things like guilt.
He didn't believe it was worth it to be overly cautious about a simple antique furniture store owner.
He took pride in the fact that he was a symbol of violence.
He had no real interest in money, or women.
Of course, this didn't mean he had no need for money, and he certainly wasn't a homosexual.
He simply, and purely loved exhibiting violence.
'If necessary, you can do something about the wife and child as well.'
This was what he had been told, but he didn't really care, he thought it would be enough to shake up the owner himself.
It would be correct to say that he had never used his violence on women and children, but that was not out of kindness or chivalry. He simply had no interest in violence towards women and children, because he felt no pride in breaking something so weak.
It was unknown where and how he had begun to learn his violent techniques.
The only certain thing was, that he had been training his body through live combat, time and time again.
In the first place, he had no real interest in his own, human body.
He understood that he had to become stronger in order to better use his violence, and that was all.
And so today, he would again clench his fists, in order show his power, and carve out his own existence as a scar in his opponent.
However, as he began to be able to see the Sonohara's shop, he realised he could see the figure of a person standing on the road.
In the darkness of the new moon, the street light which was shining on this figure was repeatedly flickering.
Because of this, the man could not quite see the face of the person.
“Oi, who are you?”
He couldn't just ignore them and keep moving.
The reason was, gripped in the hand of this figure was a long, silver, Japanese blade.
“...... You came out her to kill me? If you think you can take my life with just a blade like that, it's gonna cost ya.”
Cracking his neck, the man walked toward the figure.
Normally, he wouldn't even talk to his opponent, and try to take the first move by throwing something at him, but for some reason today, he didn't. There was something strangely ominous about the figure, and it had chilled the man's heart.
Then, as he began to close the already short distance between himself and the figure holding the blade...
The blade held by the figure began to waver, as if caught in a summer's heat haze.
In the darkness of night, the distance between the two seemed to become indistinct. It felt as if, in the time it took for the street lights to flicker just once, the figure had approached him by 5 more steps.
No... In actual fact, there was something which had truly decreased their distance.
That blade....... it extended......
It started at around the length of a normal Japanese blade, but it had transformed in that instant, and was now close to two times its original length.
There were certain blade techniques which used optical illusions like that, to confuse the opponent.
The man had enough experience to understand that this was not one of those techniques.
What he didn't understand, was the inescapable truth that the blade had, in fact, extended.
The next moment, the street light flickered once more, and the man was finally able to clearly see the face of the figure.
The true identity of the figure, was a girl wearing pyjamas... Her eyes shone a fiery red, reminiscent of the red light on a police car.
Could this be... Those rumours!......
It was as if she had two red moons in place of her eyes.
The next moment that the street lights flickered, the man's thoughts were engulfed in even more confusion.
Not only from her hands, but from both shoulders, appeared blades similar to the first, the tips of which were approaching the man as if they desired to sink into him.
The man quickly dove sideways, and rolled, escaping the two approaching blades by a hair's breadth.
But as he returned his line of sight to the girl, thinking to begin a counter-attack, his whole body became stiff.
What am I seeing right now?
Not only from her shoulders.
What the hell is this.
From her hands, her feet, back, abdomen, even from the tips of her long hair. She was hidden in blades.
They were not springing up randomly and inexhaustibly like a mushroom colony. There were even blades appearing on moving parts, like the tips of her elbows, like they were part of some sort of armour.
What. Am. I. Seeing.
It had to be some sort of mechanical doll, filled with blades.
Surely, the red glow in her eyes was just because her eyeballs were made from some red light-bulb.
An 'abnormality' so absurd that it could give people such nonsensical ideas, was right before this man's eyes.
Is this... Even real?.....
In every sense of the word, this Ripper Demon, was a 'Monster'.
Japanese blades growing from every part of its body, superhuman movements, red-eyed. Monster.
The man did not know the name of this monster.
The name of the human-loving demon sword, 'Saika'.
“You, what the hell are you!?! Dammiiitt!”
Without answering the screams of the man.
The 'Monster' held by the red-eyed human, made its owner jump towards the stiffened man, and swoop down on him in a straight line.
Like the heroine of a manga, seeing her lover for the first time in many days, and jumping into the chest of that man with the full force of her love.
But this blade would not kiss the man on his lips, or his cheek...
The man, having somehow broken free of the shock of this abnormal situation, tried to move his body.
But the tip of the blade stretched, once more...
And without any hesitation, split the man's right eye open.
Present day, somewhere in the city, in front of a vacant lot.
The shop had a somehow unusual atmosphere about it.
The location was quite far from the business district and train station. This old, vacant building served as both a home and a store-front, and was placed in amongst normal residential buildings.
There was a sign hanging from the front of the store which had written 'Sonohara Antiques', but the letters had begun to fade, and it was mostly unreadable.
While the exterior continued to look like an antique furniture shop, all that could be seen of the showcase inside, was a thick layer of dust.
The shop had absolutely no signs of life, so it was obvious that it was abandoned, but the empty showcase and strangely designed supports gave the building an ominous presence which went beyond mere strangeness.
At the face of this building, stood a man who seemed unaffected by this feeling. With a somehow serious voice, he said to himself.
“It's already been more than 5 years, and this place still hasn't sold... As I thought.”
After showing Akane to the gym owned by his acquaintance, Akabayashi had come to this abandoned shop by himself.
He had not planned to do anything, and was only absent-mindedly looking at the shop from afar, but...
“...... Akabayashi-san...... Is that you?”
Suddenly, a quiet voiced reached him from behind.
When he turned, he saw a single girl standing before him.
She was a meek looking girl with glasses, who wore the uniform of Raira Academy.
Seeing the girl who seemed to be timidly waiting for him to continue, Akabayashi's face unintentionally broke into a smile.
“...... Ohh! It's Anri-chan! You've grown, huh. What's it been, 2 years?”
“Yes, it has been a while....... Did you come to visit?”
The girl named Anri was keeping her head down shyly, but it didn't seem that she was scared of Akabayashi.
“Nah, I just happened to be passing by. Anri-chan, aren't you supposed to be on holidays?”
“I had a few jobs today as the president of the school committee...... I'm just on my way back from that.”
“I see, I see. Even on you long-awaited holidays, the student's life is a tough one, huh?”
As Akabayashi spoke with a smile, Anri once again lowered her head.
“Umm...... Thanks for everything you did back then, really.”
“Ahh, you say something like that every time I see you, really, don't mention it. The lady...... Your mother had done a lot for me, you know.”
“But...... If you hadn't helped me find an apartment and such back then, Akabayashi, I don't know what I would have done...... With my father and mother gone, and having to let go of the house …...”
Along with her genuine words of gratitude, a rare, soft smile formed on Anri's face.
A long time ago, Anri Sonohara lost her parents in a certain incident.
After that, Anri was passed around between different relatives for a time, but eventually, the remaining stock of Sonohara Antiques was sold off, and Anri inherited seemingly enough funds to see her through to adulthood.
At her parents' funeral, she met the one who had dealt with the shop's assets, Akabayashi.
When Anri was still being looked after by relatives, Akabayashi had also been the one to help her find a new apartment, where she could live by herself. Although he said it was because he was indebted to her parents, towards Akabayashi who did so much for her free-of-charge, Anri seemed to feel such a strong debt of gratitude that no matter how much she thanked him, it would not be enough.
As Anri continued to bow her head to him, Akabayashi scratched his head, and changed the topic.
“Ahh, that's Raira's uniform, isn't it? That's right, you're in high school already, aren't you Anri-chan. Hm, what would you be now, second year?”
“Yes, thanks to your support......”
Akabayashi showed a wry smile, and scratched his cheek in exasperation as Anri began to bow her head again.
Then, he suddenly remembered.
He remembered what Mikiya had talked to him about in the car, earlier that day.
“In any case, I dunno if it's their 'game-sense' or what, but I hear that the leaders of that 'circle' are pretty dangerous guys. And they're pretty confident if they think they won't be caught by professionals like us...... I've heard they even attacked another group that they had a beef with.”
“You should be careful too. Don't hang around Akane too much, either. We'll get some other guys to pick her up from that dojo, from tonight on.”
“Either way, after what happened yesterday, we've started putting hidden bodyguards on Akane. We don't have the freedom to put any on you though, so your life is in your own hands.”
As Mikiya's words floated across his mind, something started to bother Akabayashi, and he decided to ask Anri.
“Hey, Anri-chan, I need to ask you something, about the 'fads' at your school...”
“O-ok..... Umm...... Not that I really know all that much about that sort of thing......”
“No, it's fine if you've just heard of it or something. So......”
Thinking that she would probably have no idea, Akabayashi casually used that word.
“Anri-chan, at your school, have you heard the name 'Dollars' pop up anywhere?”
Her breath caught slightly.
Noticing this, Akabayashi asked in a slightly more serious tone.
“...... So, you know something?”
“N-no...... It's just, I've heard some friends talking about it before, that's all...... I don't really know any details.”
It was instantly apparent that she was lying.
He had no intention of pulling her up on it, but there was no way he couldn't ignore it, either.
Akabayashi simply said 'I see', smiled, and patted Anri on her shoulder.
“Seems like they're a pretty dangerous bunch, so you shouldn't get involved with them, ok? If anything happens, come straight to little old me.”
“I couldn't...... I can't bother you more than I have already......”
“It's fine, it's fine, look, you know how many friends I have, right? So, well, it doesn't matter what kind, if you get into any trouble, just give that phone number I gave you a while ago a ring..... But, well... I know that no matter how many friends as I might have, I have about as many enemies. So, if you happen to see little old me when you're walking around town, and you don't need my help for anything, I don't mind if you have to ignore me.”
Perhaps the girl was unaware of Akabayashi's particular line of work, as she seemed to think that he had said something quite strange.
In response to the girl who was looking at him confused, Akabayashi smiled lightly, and started to open his mouth to speak, but...
Those words stopped before they had begun, as a third party spoke.
“Oh, is that you, Sonohara?”
Turning around to face the voice, there stood a young man.
It was the boyfriend of Anri's closest friend Mika Harima – Seiji Yagiri.
After confirming that it was Anri, Seiji began to look around his surroundings.
“Eh, huh?..... Have you already finished your stuff with Mika?”
With Anri looking confused, the young man looked curious.
Seeing that the two seemed to know each other, Akabayashi waved to Anri, and turned away.
“Okey doke, little old me will pardon myself here. Well, stay cheery, ok?”
“Ah..... O-Ok! Thank you very much!”
With that, Akabayashi disappeared from the front of Sonohara Antiques, with Anri seeing him off the whole way.
“...... Who was that guy?”
Anri quietly replied with a smile to Seiji's question.
“His name is Akabayashi, he was a good friend to my mother...... He helped me out a lot, some time ago.”
“What does he do?”
“Umm...... He told me that he does a lot of different things...... Like delivering crabs, and managing cafes and stuff.”
“I see...... He had a strange feeling about him......”
Seiji seemed to have something on his mind about Akabayashi, but then, as if suddenly remembering something, he asked Anri a question.
“Oh, right, more importantly... Could it be that the one who called Mika before wasn't you, Sonohara?”
A few minutes later, Seiji would learn something, and would end up proceeding towards the warehouse of a certain pharmaceutical company.
But that's a different story.
6 years earlier.
An impact had run straight through his right eye.
The man understood this much.
However, he could not understand what began to happen after that.
'I love you.'
A simply overwhelming 'voice' had taken control of the man's brain.
The voiced seemed to be coming from where his eye had been impacted.
Ahh, I see.
From this, he understood.
That blade..... My right eye.....
It was as if the eye itself was screaming in pain.
The voice was spreading out from his right eye, shredding apart his nerves, his bones, his muscles, and his brain.
The words made him feel as if he might lose his very self.
It felt as if the words had taken form, and were rampaging about his body, as heavy as lead.
As he felt as if his mind and flesh were being eaten at from the inside, the man felt fear for the very first time in his life.
This voice, preaching its 'love', may erase me completely.
It might turn me into something completely different.
This strange type of fear, was taking control of the man who had lived his life through only violence.
Aside from fear, a different impulse was rising up inside the man's body.
It was another overpowering impulse that the man had never felt in his life.
What the hell am I thinking?
However, completely ignoring the impulses of this man, the voice continued to gradually apply pressure.
Eventually gaining significance, the voice spoke 'words of love' to
so, you c
l, love, L
Love them] [Soo muc
love all Humans] [Don't ask stupid q
[Don't ask a sad question, like who do I lov
g, you're WRONG! I love humans, ALLALLALLALLAL-
Shut up for a sec.
ove, you ask? Don't ask stupid questions! Everything.
ve their blood] [love their bones] [Pure love] [So soft, I lov
k, I'll forgive you] [So, can't you all forgive me?] [NEVER FORGI
go so far] [Ah] [Cutting into their flesh, just as they clima
love stringy muscles, so soft, yet so hard, split so easily] [Oh, and
ove bones too! So supple, yet brittle, sharp, rough] [love islove is
shaking so softly, silky, sloppy, coil it around, coil it around, coil it arou
when you touch them, they chirp on and on about love, right? I'm so jealous
but there aren't enough words for this love so I want you to love me and only me but really there
really want to but you know and ummm I love you but Im really jealous of you and even death is
form of love and even lust is a fine form of love oh you shouldnt say you want me to define love something like that is an insult against my nature it needs no definition you just need that one word I love y
I lov.......e........? …....ve? …...I lov......lov........lov......love?
“I told you to shut the hell up!! Damn eye!”
The words of love echoing around the man's head seemed to pause with a 'pop' sound.
At the same time, a similar popping noise came from around his right eye.
However, the latter was a real sound, which reverberated in the man's eardrum.
Seeing the state of the man, the 'Ripper Demon' was the one to be surprised.
The reason was, that the man had ripped out his own right eyeball.
The man crushed the eye held in his hand, then stood to face the Ripper Demon again.
With the fear he held until now gone somewhere, the man glared fiercely at the Ripper Demon with his remaining left eye, under the street light which had stabilised somewhat.
If it were a normal person, they probably would have raised a scream just upon seeing that glare.
But instead, the Ripper Demon started to speak to the man.
“...... You're pretty amazing, huh.”
“This is the first time I've seen someone escape from this girl's voice. That Saika... looks like she hid deeper inside me after you surprised her like that. I wonder if it's the same kind of shock as being dumped.”
The woman's voice was calm, and almost seemed to be relieved, somehow.
With a voice that didn't seem at all like that of a 'Ripper Demon', she slowly approached the man.
At some point, the countless blades coming from her body had disappeared, and the only one she had left was the normal sized Japanese blade in her hand.
“Thank goodness...... I thought there was nobody who would be able to stop her.....”
From the woman's glowing, red eyes, a large tear drop formed, and fell.
Reflecting the light of her eyes, the tears dyed her cheeks red like tears of blood.
“Will you...... Bring me to my end?”
In front of the Ripper Demon, whose words told that she desired death, Akabayashi silently shook his head.
“Nah...... Sorry, but I have absolutely no idea what yer talkin' about.”
Then, without any fear of the blade in the woman's hands, the man walked energetically up to her.
“I...... I just had somethin' I needed to tell ya. So I made you shut up. That's all.”
The man had already stepped within range of the blade.
But the woman did no try to cut him.
“What's ya name?”
“Nah, don't worry. Ya name doesn't matter.”
At last when he was within arm's reach of the woman, he stopped.
Then, before the woman who had turned her head slightly, the man began to speak.
In order to clearly convey the impulse which had been rising up within him for the first time in his life.
“...... I love you.”
The three words the man had spoken, had left the Ripper Demon's red eyes staring in wonder.
In front of the Ripper Demon, the man had said the words which he had put his life on the line to say.
He had created himself by piling up the scars that he had left on others. He spoke now with such vigour, it was as if he was spitting up all of those dark-red pieces of himself.
“It's the first time in my life that I’ve thought a girl looked beautiful. The first time I've wanted to hold one in my arms.”
“I dunno if you're human, or if you're a monster, no, that's got nothin' to do with it. Whether you're human or not, I've fallen for you, the woman.”
Although he was trying to maintain a calm composure, the man couldn't seem to hide his excitement, as his words began to get faster and faster.
“I only just met ya, and you just chopped out my eyeball, so I realise you think it's stupid for me to be saying this stuff, but that doesn't matter now. Please, marry me!”
It had only been a few minutes since they had met.
Moreover, she had just sliced his eye open, and it was likely that he wouldn't be getting it back now.
Anybody would think that this man was insane.
However, even while bearing with the pain and loss of losing his right eye, the man's mind was exceedingly close to its normal state.
It was a while after this that the man would realise that this was because of 'love at first sight'.
The man she had only intended to cut open, the man she had thought was weak, was now standing in front of the woman, as an 'equal existence', able to kill her.
The suspicion in her red glowing eyes, her feminine outline, her hair fluttering as if trying to hide itself in the darkness of night... All of it became an attraction to him, and put pressure on the man's heart.
It was the first time he had experienced confessing.
The naïve passion of falling in love for the first, time experienced by men and women of all ages, had sent the 'pride' called 'violence' which the man had clad himself in, flying somewhere far away.
His first confession ended in honourable defeat.
“...... Thank you. Thank you for saying you love me even when I've become like this.”
The woman giggled happily... But there was a touched of sadness mixed within her smile.
“But, I'm sorry.”
As she shook her head, the words that the woman spoke next, in some ways, stabbed the man deeper than the blade had before.
“I'm al ready married.”
“I have a husband and a daughter, both of which I still love. And so, I can't reciprocate your feelings.”
Faced with the decisive truth, the man knew that his knees had started to shake.
It may have been sadness, anger, embarrassment, or perhaps he even found beauty in the words of rejection she had spoken to him.
The man smacked his own cheeks with both hands, as if to wake himself from a trance. As he did, the blood running from the right side dyed his hand red, and a raging pain rushed into his face.
However, the man did not raise a scream, instead mustering up all of his willpower, and putting a stop to the shaking in his knees.
“Is that right...... That's a damn shame...... Actually, do ya mind telling me your name?”
“Don't worry. I ain't askin' so I can do something about your husband and daughter.”
The woman hesitated for a little while, but seeing the man's eye seemed to make her think about something.
Finding some kind of resolve, the woman slowly opened her mouth.
“...... If you do happen to lay your hands on my daughter or husband, I'll slice you up with all of my power.”
“Yeah...... I don't mind.”
“My name is...... Sayaka Sonohara.”
Hearing that name, the man flinched.
It was the name of the store-owner he was on his way to beat up.
“...... This must be fate or somethin'. Lady, you just saved your husband's life.”
“Nah, it's nothin'.”
With a bitter smile, the man turned his back to the 'Ripper Demon', and slowly left the scene.
“The name's Akabayashi. Well, if ya get sick of your husband, be sure to look me up.”
“I've got enough goin' for me to look after that precious daughter of yours too.”
Present day, Ikebukuro, inside a taxi.
Picking up the phone which had rung while he was in transport, Akabayashi heard a familiar voice.
“If it isn't Aozaki-san. You really do love calling me while I'm taking the taxi, don't you.”
“Like I care about your circumstances.”
“So, what's up, Aozaki-san? If it's about the Princess, everything is settled, for now.”
“Nah, I just thought I should call to say my farewells to you.”
A deep laughing sound leaked through from the other side of the phone.
“Ehh? You've finally decided to kill me, huh? Or did you maybe commit some treason, and have to leave the Awakusu Group?”
“Idiot. You know doing something like that wouldn't get me anything”
“That is true. If you're good at anything, it's being in the boss' good-books.”
“Shut up and listen.”
His words mixed with a tint of anger, Aozaki began to calmly speak.
“You really went wild, huh. Too wild.”
“For those ghosts from 5 years ago to come back to haunt you.”
May 5th, night, unknown abandoned building.
A single building, considerably distant from the city centre.
Due to certain circumstances, the construction on the building which had been in the middle of remodelling, had been halted.
Till the second floor, the building seemed quite normal, but the floors beyond that had been those under construction. Above these floors, bare steel frames stretched out oddly into the night sky.
Here... 'They' stood, calmly surrounding the building.
“Is it him?”
“Yeah, no doubt.”
Figures of men in parka coats, with bandanas and the like wrapped around their heads. Peeking out from under their sleeves and collars, they all had the same tattoo seal stuck on.
In their hands, they each held various weapons, like steel pipes, knives, or planks of timber with nails hammered into them. Rather than a group of kids on a dare, who believed a monster lived within the abandoned building, they looked closer to monsters themselves.
“They really gonna give us 20,000 yen just ta beat the life outta this old man?”
“That ain't all. They said we can split the goods however we wanna.”
“I heard they're just gonna up the ratio we get when they sell it.”
Among the mess of varying information they all seemed to have heard, the men wearing tattoo seals all had one truth in common.
Their job right now, was to kill the man who had entered the abandoned building a moment ago, Akabayashi.
Most of them had no idea that the man they were after, was on of the top-dogs of the Awakusu Group.
Furthermore, most of them likely didn't even know of the existence of such an organisation.
*However, they were part of a drug trading crew, and had come on board this operation after hearing that they would be rewarded simply for killing a man. In all likelihood, even if they had known of the Awakusu Group's involvement, they would have thought 'We'll be fine if they don't find out', and come to this place anyway.
Put simply, amongst their drug trading group, these men were considered disposable.
In the end, they had managed to track down their target, Akabayashi.
“Man, that 'Dollars' crap is so handy.”
One of the men was looking at the screen of his phone.
Earlier that evening, this man had posted a message on the Dollars bulletin board, saying, 'I've been searching for this man, my benefactor, but I can't find him! If anybody sees him, please tell me!', along with a photo of Akabayashi which they had been given by their superiors.
Then, soon after, he had received information about the location he had been staying at. This abandoned building.
“Man, this was already weird enough, turns out he's a homeless guy now?”
“But, I heard he's pretty damn strong.”
“Quit yer whinin'.”
As one man sounded doubtful, the other brought his attention to the thing he had been holding.
It was a home-made Molotov cocktail.
“We got heaps'a these things, let's just burn this place to the ground.”
The man had no hesitation in his voice, and the other young men around him all smiled as if they agreed with his plan.
Many of them were more heavily involved in drugs than just dealing, and they looked around with unfocused eyes as they picked up their cocktails.
“So, once he starts runnin' we just need to grab 'im and take 'im up to some mountain...... Then we're done, yeah?”
“Let's fire it up!”
The young men all began to cackle laughter, including those with normal eyes.
*In some ways, this could be taken to mean that at the time they put those tattoo seals on themselves, they were not without hesitation.
Same time, inside the abandoned building.
“...... You almost look happy to be here, Akabayashi.”
An aggressive looking man spoke as he sat inside the abandoned building, on a drum turned on its side.
Around him there were about ten other men, none of whom could be regarded as respectable looking people.
Facing them, looking the same as always, with his cane in hand, was Akabayashi, alone.
In response to them men who were looking at him with eyes full of hatred, Akabayashi spoke with an aloof attitude.
“Hey, when my favourite old seniors call me out, there's no way I can't come, right?”
“...... The way you talk really has changed a lot, huh. Back in those days, were you acting around us to deceive us? Or are you acting all obedient now so you can do the same to the Awakusu as you did to us?”
“You got it all wrong, humans, you know, they grow up. Although I did always think that after I turned 20 my personality would stop changing. But I guess shocking experiences can change a guy, you know?”
Tapping his cane on the floor, Akabayashi continued to speak indifferently.
“Stuff like getting attacked by a Ripper Demon, or falling in love at first sight, for the first time in your life.”
“We don't wanna hear this crap.......”
“By the way, you said you'd like to talk one-on-one, so am I just imagining all those other guys standing around you? Or am I having delusions of something?”
As Akabayashi cracked his neck and looked around the room, the tough looking man slowly began to speak.
“Yeah, I'll be the only one speaking. I didn't say anything about things other than speaking.”
“I see, I see. Also, I didn't see any cars around the building, did you guys walk all the way here?”
Akabayashi paid no heed to the dangerous situation he was in, and maintained his composed smile.
While he was suspicious about Akabayashi's attitude, the man responded to him.
“......Nah, we didn't want you getting scared and running off. We left them somewhere else. Honestly, we didn't think you'd actually come. Well, if we had to, we'd planned to find one of your buddies, and snatch 'em.”
“I came because I didn't want you doing that. Well, anyway, I'm glad you didn't bring any cars.”
As Akabayashi scratched his cheek, his smile darkened slightly.
“Ah, it's just, if there were a lot of cars, I thought they might get scared and run off.”
“What...... are you talking about?”
“I had the same thought as you. I didn't mind talking one-on-one, but when it comes to killing, I ain't gonna pretend I'm some hero and take you all on by myself.”
Tension rushed into the faces of the men.
What, have the Awakusu betrayed us?
His body had stiffened upon thinking of the possibility, but trying to probe out the true meaning of his words, the man asked Akabayashi a question.
“...... Huh, it looks like you haven't realised that the Awakusu have thrown you away.”
“...... Ahh, by any chance, have you already talked to my boss about this?”
With Akabayashi's question, the man only became more confused.
“He said that the Awakusu Group will absolutely not interfere in our little chat. You might have called for help or something, but you ain't got nobod–”
The man had been trying to shake up the opposition, but, as if to put a stop to it, Akabayashi tapped loudly on the floor of the building with his cane.
“A-hah-hah. I never said anything about the Awakusu, did I?”
“Did you really think...... that I had no connections, outside of the Awakusu?”
“You can't have!.....”
Their boss' killer.
They knew this when they called him out to this place.
But now, finally realising what it meant, a cold sweat began to run down their backs.
He can't have... teamed up with another group?......
“...... You're bluffing.”
“If you think so, why don't ya take a peek out that window?”
Hearing this from Akabayashi, the man signalled one of his comrades to do so.
The skinhead who had been told to look out the window held his breath and headed towards it.
He was probably being cautious of snipers, as he hid his body from view while moving towards the glass-less window, but...
The sound of glass breaking could be heard inside the room.
Because of construction, there was no glass in that window yet.
But there was no real need to wonder where the sound had come from.
Without even time to scream, the skinhead had been engulfed in raging flames.
At the same time, some sort of liquid had dispersed across the floor, and burst into flames soon after the man had.
It didn't take long to realise it had been a Molotov cocktail.
But, before being able to move based on this understanding...
Bottles carrying red flames appeared from the window, one by one, and the sound of glass shattering echoed throughout the room, almost rhythmically.
“Outside! There's a heap of 'em outside!”
The skinhead was rolling around on the ground, and had almost managed to put out the fire burning away his face.
Right before the cocktail had hit, he was able to confirm the existence of many people surrounding the building.
Hearing his information, some of the men retreated further into the room, while some of them rushed over towards the window.
While hiding himself with the wall, one of the men peeked through the window... and started pulling a gun out from his front pocket.
Then, without hesitating, he began to open fire on the men surrounding the building.
Hearing the loud 'bang' sound from outside the building, the drug pushers thought some sort of explosion must have occurred inside.
However, they soon realised this was not true... As one of their number fell, trembling, to the ground.
“M-my leg... It h-hurts......”
Looking at him, they could see a small hole opened up in the leg of his jeans, and a red stain which had begun spreading around it.
At around the same time that they realised this was a bullet hole, they heard the same exploding sound two more times.
“Crap! It's a gun! That bastard! He's carryin' heat!”
At the time, they still foolishly believed that they were only facing one man.
If they were the type of experts who were used to this kind of attack, they would have at the very least confirmed the number of their opponents, and done some scouting before they arrived. On top of all being amateurs, half of them couldn't think properly through the drugs they had taken, so they weren't in a state where they were able to take such obvious actions.
The young men among them who could still think straight started to run away, but most of them who were overcome with excitement rushed towards the building to exact their revenge.
At this time, a small dispute broke out.
Inside a building away from the city centre...
Certain factions fought each other, without even knowing each other's true identities.
Inside the building, in a state of confusion, the men who had come to meet Akabayashi shouted from across the flame-filled room.
“Akabayashiiiii!! You bastard! You set us up!!”
He searched through the flames, but couldn't spot Akabayashi's figure anywhere.
To put it more accurately, when the first skinhead had caught on fire, while the rest of them had their vision focused on that one point, Akabayashi had hidden himself somewhere.
“So it really was you that killed our boss, huh! Akabayashiii!”
Hearing that scream, so loud it seemed as if the man was trying to cough up blood, Akabayashi whispered to himself.
“I didn't kill our boss...”
Akabayashi had walked out the back door of the building, as if nothing had happened.
“All I did was let him die.”
At his feet were the two tattooed men who had been assigned to watch the back door.
After he was somewhat distant from the building, he was passed by several patrol cars.
“Oh, here they are, perfect timing. I'm glad I reported this beforehand.”
Akabayashi decided to hide in the shadows while the patrol cars passed him, then continue to distance himself from the scene.
Inside one of the cars, he could see a policeman holding a wireless receiver, perhaps confirming the burning building and the gunshots.
Turning his back to the patrol cars, Akabayashi took out his phone.
He opened the Dollars home page, and started to press the button to delete one of his own posts.
'That guy is staying in this abandoned building, it's on the map I just linked.'
After deleting this post, which was accompanied with a picture of the building, Akabayashi put his own stealth-phone back into his pocket.
Then, he looked towards the night sky, and spoke to himself, with his usual aloof smile.
“Dollars may be pretty handy, but really, they can be a scary bunch sometimes.”
May 6th, morning, Awakusu Group Headquarters.
'A dispute has broken out between a violent gang, and a group of young men! Sixteen killed or wounded! A shocking, dramatic, late-night arrest!'
Seeing this headline on a sporting newspaper, an aged man murmured.
“Oi, look at this, Aozaki. It says they're putting out a photo-album of Ruri Hijiribe.”
Looking at a completely different column than the headline, the aged man laughed dryly.
“Says they're only gonna print out 3000 copies, this is premium stuff. Don't you think we could make a killin' if we bought 'em all up, then sold them off on Ebay or something!?”
“Who knows...... You'd have to ask Shiki or Kazamoto. I'm not really......”
“I see...... Well, could you tell one of the young guys to buy three copies for me, at least?”
“Please, think of your position, boss. What will the young guys think of you, asking them that.....”
Shaking his head silently, Aozaki looked towards the headline of the newspaper the older man had been looking at, and spoke lowly.
“...... So, boss, did you know that it would turn out like this?”
Of course, he was talking about the conclusion of the two incidents Akabayashi had found himself entangled in.
In the end, the men who shared their line of work, and who had only just been released from jail, were charged with various offences and arrested. The young men wearing tattoo seals had also been arrested, and were likely being thoroughly interrogated about their university organisation, which had been unknown to both the police and the media.
As for the Awakusu Group, though they could not be counted as true enemies, two annoying organisations had been disposed of in one fell swoop, and as an added bonus, the eyes of the police would be away from them for a time.
Dougen Awakusu continued to look at the newspaper as he responded to Aozaki's question.
“Well, maybe half of it. I knew Akabayashi could at least wipe his own ass... But it seems like somebody may have helped him out somewhere along the line.”
“...... What do you mean?”
“I mean, I think somebody told him he was being targeted. If not, I don't think he would have been able to plan ahead so well.”
After looking over the whole newspaper, his eyes turned towards Aozaki.
“...... I dunno who it could have been, but I'm sure they just told him some things, and didn't physcially help him.”
“Ahh. I didn't think you were that good at jokes, Aozaki. So, you really wanted to settle your score with Akabayashi on your own, huh?”
“Now you're the one telling jokes, boss.”
Aozaki shook his head and laughed, in response to Dougen's question.
“If it were the old him, then maybe. But it wouldn't be worth my time, killing him now that he's gone all soft.”
“'Soft' can be a good thing... Soft things can be easily moulded...... Ah.”
In the middle of their conversation, the phone sitting on his desk began to ring.
Dougen rushed to pick up the receiver, and brought it to his ear while clearing his throat.
For some reason, a shout mixed with sorrow could be heard through the receiver.
It seemed to be a call for help from the members of the Emergent Organisation, who had been arrested the day before.
Then, with a completely different tone from that he had been using till now, Dougen spoke with a cold voice.
“This is a problem. We did say that we would absolutely not interfere with your actions, did we not? It is no problem of ours if you picked a fight with Akabayashi, and ended up getting burnt.”
Their organisation was not a lenient one.
In the end... They were, as always, an existence created from the darkness of this city.
After putting down the phone, Dougen began reading the newspaper once again... And he spoke to Aozaki, with a cold-hearted smile on his face.
“You know, we could never betray someone we've made a deal with..... But we can watch as they burn.”
Five years ago.
After he met the Ripper Demon, the man changed.
He had reported that he had 'been got by the Ripper Demon', but he also told a straight-out lie, that it had been 'an old man, with white hair, over two meters tall'. He was actually describing something from a comic book he had been reading at the time, but nobody noticed that. They all simply laughed, and said 'Wow, so even that guy is only human', and he was allowed to remain in their group.
Because of his injury, the work relating to Sonohara Antiques was put on hold.
This was a job he had taken on by himself, so he would finish it himself.
Though he told them this, and began to investigate the Sonohara family, really he was trying to find some way to help that family, to help that beautiful 'Ripper Demon', but...
One day, he found out that the parents of that shop had been killed, by the Ripper Demon.
The husband's head had been cleanly cut off at the neck, and the wife had been stabbed through the stomach, as if performing ritual suicide.
He had not heard if the remaining daughter was still in a state of shock or not.
When he first heard about this, he couldn't believe it.
His body was wrapped up in an unshakable feeling of loss and grief.
He fell into a mood of despair, much, much deeper than that which he felt when he lost his right eye.
But at the same time... he realised something.
The wife... Sayaka Sonohara had committed suicide.
In any case, she was the Ripper Demon. He didn't know what had happened, but it seemed she had decapitated her husband, who she had said she loved, and then cut open her own stomach.
But, why would she do such a thing.
Did she not value her daughter on the same level as her husband?
Exactly what was going on in her head that made her murder her own husband, and herself, while leaving her daughter behind...
While he continued to worry about this, he was told something bv the man who was the boss of his organisation at the time, in the city at night.
“Hey, Akabayashi. About that Sonohara shop, you can stop worrying.”
The man... Akabayashi was being used as a bodyguard for that boss more and more often recently.
Today, he was ignoring all of his group's members, and was heading towards the house of his favourite mistress, but...
“The owner and his wife went and died. With that, we didn't even have to do anything to get that plot of land in our hands. All thanks to our saviour, the Ripper Demon!”
“Oops, guess I shouldn't say stuff like that to you, when it was that demon that took your eye.”
With a vulgar smile on his face, the boss continued to speak.
“Well in the first place, that shop was gonna go under, even if that didn't happen.”
“That owner, he had been trying out some of our special medicine.”
It was immediately obvious what he had meant by 'medicine'.
As a person who lived for violence, Akabayashi had always hated narcotics and the like, saying 'Like I wanna take something that'll just make my bones weaker'... However, he had never tried to stop the large-scale drug business that their organisation was a part of. He didn't let it concern him, either.
But, as a result, he was having this conversation now, with his boss and his disgusting smile.
“He was already in enough debt to us to pay for the land. I thought I might be able to wring some more outta him though...... so I proposed an idea to him. 'Why not get some insurance payouts from your family, make a little money?', I said.”
“Well, from what I heard, he'd been beating up his family for a while before that. And after he started drugs, it only got worse. About as much as his head did, I guess.”
Perhaps he had been drinking, as he was reciting the details of the incident to his bodyguard, with some kind of pride in his words.
“This probably won't make the news, but I heard that the brat they left behind had choke-marks around her neck. The police said somethin' about the Ripper Demon, but I've been thinkin', maybe not on that day, but some other time, the old dude might've tried to strangle his own daughter to death! All so he could make enough money to buy our medicine!”
“See, see? Wasn't he an idiot? As if he'd get a payout for killing his own daughter! Or did he think he wouldn't get found out? Either way, it's pretty damn hilarious.”
The boss seemed to be so engrossed in his own story that he was not even aware of his surroundings.
“Also, that daughter of theirs, she looks like she might grow up to be a real fine woman! We might even be able to use her, if we make up some fake IOU note! Or maybe, maybe I could even have a go at her? Though, she's only like 12, I've never experienced doin' it with a brat like her yet! Gahaha!”
Because of this, there were a few things he didn't notice. Things he completely overlooked.
Firstly, the fact that the atmosphere around the bodyguard at his side, was rapidly becoming colder.
Second, the fact that their current location was a back alley, without any signs of people.
Third... The fact that before them, stood a man holding a large kitchen knife, drawing closer to them with intent to kill.
Of course, it wasn't long before he came to realise that last fact.
The man holding the knife was glaring at the boss, with eyes filled with strong hatred.
“Who the hell are you! Which group are you from!?”
In response to the threatening voice of the boss, the young man holding the knife spoke, with tears in his eyes.
“You...... You did that...... To my big sis......”
“Huh?...... Ahh, I see, you, you're the little brother of that girl from before. Right, I remember seeing you in that family photo she had.”
“You...... you gave those drugs to her!...... It's all your fault!...... My sister...... She'll probably never wake up again now!......”
Somehow, it seemed the young man despised the boss because of something to do with narcotics.
“Haa. Well, in the end, those drugs let her see heaven, so really I'd expect a bit of gratitude. Hey, Akabayashi, you got a job to do. Take this ungrateful little prick and............ an........ d...... d.......”
He had turned his head to look at Akabayashi as he gave his orders, but...
As he did so, his entire body froze.
It almost looked like he had seen a spider on Akabayashi's shoulder...
But the way Akabayashi was looking at his boss, it was as if he was the one who had seen a spider, and had proceeded to crush it under his foot. They were eyes filled with strong contempt, and anger.
The way he was looking down on his boss, it felt as if his gaze was physically pushing down on the boss' shoulders.
Even from his fake right eye, a strong, strong, overwhelming pressure could be felt.
“Y-you, what...... What's with...... that look....... huh......”
As he was being overpowered by Akabayashi, the boss was trying to speak, without thinking... But under the intense pressure of Akabayashi's glare, he forgot about one very important thing.
He forgot that right now, he couldn't really afford to be looking behind him.
A few minutes later.
On the ground, was the boss, lying face down, convulsing slightly. A pool of red liquid was spreading out from the centre of his upper body.
In a different place, not too far away, a shaking young man was holding a kitchen knife, which had blood dripping from it.
Akabayashi took a step towards the young man, and in response, he raised his knife.
But, seeing the atmosphere surrounding Akabayashi, the young man thought 'I have no chance', and instead of fighting, flopped to the ground.
“Kill me...... Just kill me! I don't... I don't care any more...... gah.”
Slapping the young man, Akabayashi spoke.
“If you die, who the hell is gonna look after your sister? Huh?”
“.....! ......? ...... Eh?”
Not understanding what Akabayashi was saying, the young man looked up at him, and continued shaking.
“...... Scram. Hide your knife somewhere and go. If you're lucky, they might say it was the Ripper Demon.”
“......!? Ah... Ahh, th...... Thank...... Thank you so much!”
The young man rushed to his feet, hid the knife in his front pocket, and proceeded to run from the scene.
There was no way he could have understood why he had been allowed to leave.
However, confused as he had been, hearing the word 'sister' brought back some of his reason, and he broke into a run, to escape from the scene.
“'Thank you so much', he says.”
Akabayashi looked down on the corpse of his boss, and spoke as if he was spitting out his words.
“You shouldn't be thankin' me, kid...... You should hate me.”
“I...... Just let you become a murderer......”
Present day, in the vicinity of an unknown station on the Yamanote line, a back alley of the shopping district.
“Oh, Ruri-chan is putting out a photo-album, huh? I'm gonna have to order me one of those.”
Reading the same sports newspaper that Dougen had been, Akabayashi strolled down the back alley.
Then, his eyes stopped on a certain word in the article.
“Ahh, that's right, she's with a new producer now, huh. They still haven't found that Yodogiri guy, either. Mister Shiki sure does have it tough, huh.”
The word he saw, was the name of the new entertainment production office that Ruri Hijiribe was now employed under.
Seeing the unique name of the office, a somehow self-deriding smile formed on Akabayashi's lips.
Yeah, that's me.
A 'Jack-o'-lantern' was a type of spirit, with a face made out of a pumpkin, used for things like Halloween.
A legend originating in Ireland, it was something like a ghost, who had committed crimes in their life, and couldn't go to the land of the dead, but who had also deceived the Devil, and so was not allowed in Hell either. They were therefore forced to wander the earth for eternity, holding a lantern made out of a vegetable.
In a world of chivalry, he had committed the taboo of letting his boss die.
He hadn't killed him directly, but the inescapable truth was that he had watched as the man died.
So, it was obvious he would not be going to Heaven any time soon.
He was like a ghost, forced to wander aimlessly about the normal world, and the underground of this city.
Well, calling myself a Jack-o'-lantern might be a bit try-hard .
As he thought about these things, a small figure approached Akabayashi from behind.
In the hand of this figure, they held a sharp knife.
It was unclear exactly when he had noticed them... But as he turned around, he grabbed the person's hand, and skilfully took their knife from them.
Doing so, he could see that the person was actually a young boy, who looked to be around 15 years old.
“Come now, kids should act like kids, not go about wavin' toys like this around. Shut yourself up in your room and play some video games or something. Somethin' that won't end up hurting anyone.”
The boy immediately ran away.
Choosing not to run after the boy, Akabayashi put the knife into his pocket.
“...... Small knives, I wonder do they count as non-burnable trash? Or maybe steel-ware?”
While he said this, he thought about the young boy.
He had seen a tattoo seal stuck to his neck, so he was probably a remnant of the group from yesterday.
Or he may have been told that they would make him a member, if he stabbed Akabayashi.
How very distasteful. If he didn't have that seal, I wouldn't be able to tell him apart from a normal kid.
At the same time, he thought about Dollars, and Anri's reaction to that word the day before, and he couldn't help but feel that a strange atmosphere had begun drifting around the city.
Really, are kids these days so confused that they can't even tell day from night?
Well, I spose a pumpkin monster like me can't talk.
Thinking this, he murmured to himself.
“Well, I can at least pray for their safety.”
If possible, I'd like to keep Miss Anri and Princess Akane out of any stupid trouble, and at least let them know the border between night and day.
He remembered the face of his first love.
Every time he saw the young girl who had grown to be so much like her mother, he remembered the face of that 'Ripper Demon'.
If, like a Jack-o'-lantern, he was unable to go to hell, and was forced to wander the 'horizon' without ever redeeming himself, maybe someday, would he be able to meet with that Ripper Demon once more?
I've been reading too much manga.
Once again smiling in self-derision, Akabayashi tapped his cane on the ground, and started to walk away from that place.
“Well, if those girls were to say 'But we like the night'...... Little old me and my friends would have no way to stop them.”
He continued to walk.
I that night city, he walked the underside of the boundary between the normal world, and the underground.
With the shock he felt upon first falling in love reflected in his missing right eye...
With his usual light smile, the man vanished into the depths of the city once more.