Let Us Lead Pure, Honest Lives
Something is not right.
How did it turn out like this?
I wiped out the scum.
I did a good thing.
Why is Dark Owl still the bad guy?
How did scum like him become the victim?
Dusk, Raira General Hospital, private room
Horada woke up with his body still squeaking with pain in places.
It had been several days since he had been sent here after falling victim to the attacker on passers-by.
His skull had been cracked, but the meninges and other things inside it had remained miraculously intact.
In fact, it appeared that he had received a good kicking after losing his consciousness. He sustained bone fractures in places like the ribs, the clavicle and the wrists, and remembered being diagnosed as requiring several months to recover.
"Ouch...that hurts...shit. Are those painkillers working at all? Dammit."
Although he was supposed to be questioned by the police as soon as he came to, Horada had evaded questioning by claiming that his consciousness was still dim.
The reason was simple: his head still hadn't cooled down completely. If he let the police question him now, he felt like he might start saying things that he shouldn't say.
Perhaps because they knew that the attacker on passers-by was not the kind to persistently target just one individual, the police hadn't sent anyone to keep watch over him. Even if they had, he would probably have refused saying that they "would only distract him".
Still, how should I explain all of this to the cops?
True, it was two against one, but if I let slip that I attacked back, too, wouldn't it make me look bad?
Gotta think about how to word my testimony to make it sound like 100% legit self-defense...
Actually, it'd sound awfully lame if someone as great as me was taken out by the attacker on passers-by...I might as well just tell them that it was like 10 people against one...
Never mind that there could have been other witnesses, and his false testimony could throw the police off track in their investigations – Horada had nothing but pure self-interest on his mind.
"Speaking of which, if I ever run into that attacker bastard again, I'm gonna fuck him up...ouch ouch ouch!"
As he grumbled to himself, the bones in his body creaked.
He tried to lie still and think about what to do next. The next moment –
from the corner of his eye, he saw something move.
Thought Horada as he slowly moved his aching head.
As he did so, he saw someone sitting on the visitor's stool in the corner of the room. It was a man in sunglasses, with recognizable burn scars on his face.
The man smirked and stood up, closing the adult magazine in his hand.
"Heard your head was still fucked up, so I thought I was wasting my time coming here...but looks like you're alive and kicking, aren't ya?"
Horada shook uncontrollably despite his creaking bones. Through clattering teeth, he uttered the man's name:
A few years ago, he was the leader of Blue Square, the gang Horada was in.
He was jailed due to a certain incident, but was apparently released while Horada was serving time in prison; rumor had it that he was now working as a junior Awakusu-kai member.
"Bad luck, hmm? I heard about it...so I'm here to pay ya a visit, yo."
"A-A-Are you? Thank you!"
Horada hastened to reply in a humble voice.
Horada had met Izumii once before when the latter had paid him a visit while he was still in jail. To be honest, he had not wanted to see Izumii's face again.
Back in the day, Izumii was already deranged enough that he broke the legs of a girl he had just kidnapped. After several gang members betrayed him and set him on fire with Molotov cocktails, he was sent to prison. He got out of it with apparently more screws loose in his head than ever.
"B-But Izumii-san, you really lost a lot of weight! You look like a different person altogether!"
Horada, who was panicking at the sudden turn of events, decided to try to suck up to Izumii first.
His bones still ached throughout his body as he spoke, but the pain was dwarfed by his fear for this man in front of him. He bit back the pain and forced a smile.
"Do I? I got an easy way to lose weight for you if you like."
Shrugging, Izumii took something out of his inside breast pocket.
It was a small hammer made of hard rubber.
“If I break your jaw, you'll lose weight because you can't eat."
Izumii fiddled with his hammer in the palm of his hand.
Horada's head was overwhelmed with both his fear for Izumii and his memory of the weapon that was used to attack him a few days earlier. Had there been white bandages on Izumii's hammer, Horada would probably have screamed.
"T-That is not very funny, Izumii-san."
As Horada kept up his forced smile, Izumii changed the topic with a vicious smirk.
"Speaking of which, this was where they sent that girl after I broke her legs, wasn't it? You remember? That Yellow Scarves kid Kida's girlfriend? You were the one who caught her."
"Eh? O-Oh, yeah."
"She could have been in this exact room. If so, it wouldn't be so strange if your legs were to break because of her lingering curse, would it?"
The rhythmical sound of the hammer being played with in Izumii's hand was now synchronized with the beat of Horada's heart.
He didn't know what Izumii was trying to do, but he had to find out soon, or that hammer could be swung down at him any moment.
As Horada swallowed hard, Izumii said:
It was less a reply and more mere air escaping his lungs. Izumii lowered his face to Horada's level.
"You know you'll need to clean up this shit, don't you?"
"Of course. My weapon of choice is also a hammer, right? So my colleagues have been saying dumb shit like it was actually me punishing you for being a retard. I usually wouldn't have given a fuck what they said, but there would be trouble if the higher-up folks like Aozaki-san or Akabayashi-san heard about it, wouldn't it?"
Izumii tightened his grip on the hammer, pressing its tip hard against Horada's nose.
Horada broke out in a cold sweat as he tried to express the pain his nose was feeling. Izumii ignored him and continued:
"I don't want rumors going around that I had to dress up in some costume and bother with some bullshit ambush to get at a clown like you. You get it, Horada-kun?"
"I heard that you're hanging around with your old crowd again, sending them out to the city and stuff? Get them to do the work. Do whatever you need to do. Just find that attacker bastard before the police does, and bring him to me. Understood?"
Horada knew that he had gotten an impossible order, but he was under too much pressure from the man to object.
Racking his hardly awake brain, he tried to think of a way to implement it.
Before the police does?!
Should I not tell him that there were two attackers, then?
Speaking of which, I need more men...
An idea occured to Horada, and he gingerly proposed it to Izumii.
"U-Um, can I, er, borrow the current Blue Square guys, too?"
"Huh? Use them if you like."
Izumii looked as if he barely remembered that Blue Square existed. Horada continued:
"B-But, since your brother is one of them, we'd need to make sure that he doesn't get hurt, wouldn't we...urghhh!?"
As soon as the word "brother" came out of his mouth, the hammer was again pressed against Horada's nose.
"And why, tell me, should I worry about every fucking thing that little shit Aoba does? Hmm? Should I also count his calories and watch his nutrition for him at every fucking meal he eats? Do I also have to cook well-fucking-balanced meals for him? Well?"
Faced with a completely irrational outburst of anger, Horada nevertheless pleaded with teary eyes in order to escape the man's bloodthirst.
"Good. Just make sure you understand. You're a retired former captain of Blue Square, Aoba's a current member and your kouhai. That's nothing else to it, is there?"
Izumii cocked his head with a grinding sound and said to Horada:
"I don't give a shit if you break him. ...Use him up all you want."
It was almost as if he was looking forward to seeing his brother broken.
The next day, somewhere in Ikebukuro, a bowling place
"So I was gonna ask, would you be interested in helping us look for the attacker on passers-by?"
Yahiro cocked his head at Kuronuma Aoba's words. With the ball still in his hand, he fell into deep thought.
"Nothing...I was just thinking, 'what a coincidence.'"
Kuronuma Aoba's invitation to Yahiro had come in the middle of the Golden Week holidays.
When Yahiro arrived at the bowling place, he was greeted by Aoba and, for the first time, Aoba's somewhat sketchy-looking companions.
No one was in their school uniform; Yahiro himself wore the clothes he bought in the city the other day.
They started out simply enjoying themselves bowling. In the middle of the third game, however, Aoba, who shared a lane with him, suddenly told him something.
Horada, his sempai in Blue Square, had fallen victim to the attacker on passers-by. To get his revenge, he had ordered Aoba to search for his attacker.
Although Horada was still in hospital, his life did not seem to be in danger.
Not realizing that Yahiro happened to also be looking for the perpetrator by other means, Aoba went on talking about his own gang in a matter-of-fact voice:
"You realize that we're not just a bunch of good buddies hanging out, right? ...You can probably tell from that incident the other day.*"
* Referring to the fake kidnappings.
"Yes, I have heard about Blue Square from other people."
"You have? What did they say?"
"They didn't think very highly of you."
Aoba burst out laughing at Yahiro's truthful answer.
"Yahiro-kun, aren't you a little too honest for your own good?"
"Not really. I'm just scared that if I tell a lie, people would find out."
To Yahiro, those were words spoken from the bottom of his heart. It was hard to tell whether Aoba recognized them as such, though; he chuckled and carried on the conversation.
"You're right, people don't think very highly of us. Still, a sempai is a sempai, even if he's got a worse reputation, and even if you don't like him, you gotta keep up the appearances."
With an expression totally different from the model student face he usually wore at school, Aoba said:
"That's why I wanted as many helping hands as possible, and thought I might ask you, too, Yahiro-kun."
"...That was fast. I thought you were going to turn me down."
Yahiro cocked his head. Aoba proceeded to bring up the name of someone who was not there with them:
"I also asked Kuon. He said he was busy with his new business, so I just assumed that you were involved in it, too."
"Yeah, I am."
"And you just straight out tell me that?!"
Aoba, who probably thought he had asked a very leading question, looked disappointed at the overly straightforward reply.
"Aren't you supposed to keep things like that quiet from me?"
As Yahiro's head remained cocked in confusion, Aoba mimicked him by rotating his own head round and round, and said jokingly.
He kept the conversation going to extract information about Kuon –
"So, what kind of business are you guys doing?"
"Oh, it's a secret."
"Sorry. It's not because it's you, Aoba-sempai. I was just told not to tell anyone else too much about what we're doing. If you really need to know, I think it's better to ask Kuon-kun directly."
A flat refusal.
One could sense no hatred toward Aoba in those words.
To be fair, Yahiro was always a little wary of Aoba, but that was due to his own paranoid personality. If everyone in this place were to be suddenly put under hypnosis and made to charge at me with metal bats, what should I do? That was the kind of near-fantasy that he was mentally preparing himself against.
Aoba also understood that Yahiro was simply being Yahiro, in a way.
Having judged that there was no way Yahiro would tell him what he wanted to know, Aoba turned the conversation back to its main topic.
"That's fine. I'll ask Kuon if he'd let me in on the business, too."
"So, about the attacker on passers-by...you owe Horada-sempai a favor, so you'd better take avenging him seriously, okay?"
"I owe him...a favor?"
As Yahiro drew a blank, Aoba said:
"Yeah. Remember those fake kidnappings?"
"Your friend, er...was it Tatsugami-san? It was that sempai named Horada-san who found out back then where she was taken to."
Yahiro's eyes widened.
He had forgotten about it amidst the chaos at that time, but now that he thought about it, Aoba did say that they had gotten the information on the hostages' whereabouts "from a sempai".
If that sempai was this Horada guy, then Yahiro did indeed owe him a favor.
"I see...I'd have to help, then."
"Exactly. If you find the perp, just let us snatch him up before you hand him to the police, alright?"
Snatch him up.
Upon hearing these words, Yahiro thought about them for a moment.
"Oh, don't worry, I didn't mean that we were going to lynch him or anything."
"Either way, it's illegal even to just 'snatch him up', isn't it?"
"Perhaps. But if we are to get technical, wasn't what you did back at that villa* also illegal? Excessive self-defense, was it?"
* Shijima's family villa, the site where the hostages were kept in SHx2.
As they discussed such matters, Aoba's turn to bowl came up.
"Oops, my turn."
Aoba went to throw his ball. Yahiro used this time to think.
Hmm. What should I do?
I think it's better not to lynch people.
But an eye for an eye is basically what I've been doing myself all along.
I can't just tell them that they can't do it...
If I do find the perp and catch him, whom should I take him to first? Karisawa-san and Yumasaki-san? Or that sempai called Horada-san?
Karisawa-san and Yumasaki-san said they just wanted to talk to him...so maybe Karisawa-san can go first. When they're done talking I can take him to Horada-san. If Horada-san looks like he's going to do anything extreme, I'll get the police to stop him.
Yeah. Still, it would be better to stop them from lynching him altogether, wouldn't it?
But I'm not really in a position to do that...
Cheers and jeers came from Aoba's companions in the lanes next to them; Aoba had apparently made his spare in the meantime.
It was now Yahiro's turn. Ball in hand, he walked up to take the position left by Aoba, who was returning to his seat.
As they passed each other, he said to Aoba:
"I still think it's better to give up on retaliation."
Yahiro did not answer immediately; instead, he threw the ball first.
Having thrown it with great force, he turned around to face Aoba, not bothering to look where the ball was going.
In his head, he saw images from his past.
He had seen scenes like those too many times in the countryside: his own bloodied hands, and the horrible way his attackers looked as they lay around him.
"An eye for an eye...is quite a bitter principle to keep, you know?"
At that same moment, the monitor above the lane flashed and beeped to indicate a strike.
He was probably expecting the ball to end up in the gutters as he hadn't made much of an effort throwing it.
Yahiro's eyes widened. Certain that he would need a second throw, he had been waiting for the machine to return the ball. Aoba pat him on his shoulder, smiling.
"You don't need to tell me that. I already know."
Smiling faintly still, Aoba showed Yahiro a face that he did not usually wore.
"But Yahiro-kun, here's what. ...To us, even the bitterness is part of the pleasure."
Early evening, Ikebukuro West Gate Park
"So that was what happened. What do you think I should do?"
The sun had retreated to the shadows of the buildings.
Sitting on a metal tube bench, Yahiro asked Himeka, who was seated next to him.
"If I were you, I'd worry more about the fact that you're openly asking me this."
Himeka sounded shocked, yet her expression remained largely unchanged.
After saying goodbye to Aoba and his gang, Yahiro soon phoned Himeka to ask for advice.
It turned out that she happened to be near Ikebukuro station, so they agreed to meet at the park, where they were now.
As Himeka had also technically been recruited as a member of "Snake Hands", Yahiro didn't hesitate to spill the beans about the search Kuon had asked him to do.
To his surprise, Himeka already knew about it.
"I told Kuon-kun that I'd help if there's anything I could do," she said, "so I got this call from Nozomi-san a couple of days later." That was apparently how she got all the details about the attacker on passers-by.
"...So did you agree to work for them, too, Himeka-chan?"
"I guess I did."
"But isn't it dangerous to get involved with the attacker on passers-by...?"
Himeka replied matter-of-factly to Yahiro's completely legitimate concerns:
"I hardly think you're in any position to say that, Yahiro-kun, seeing as how you went after the Headless Rider when she was still a rumored kidnapper."
"You have a point."
Yahiro nodded readily in agreement. Himeka sighed lightly.
"Well, not that I'm planning to do anything dangerous. Even if I do nothing, Kuon-kun and Nozomi-san will probably figure out something on their own, so I might as well sit around..."
"Ah, that's quite true."
Thinking that Himeka's thoughts mirrored his own, Yahiro ventured to ask:
"Either way, I do wish we didn't have this attacker on passers-by mess to deal with in the first place. But now there are two groups of people asking that I bring the perp to them before taking him to the police. Say, if I happen to run into him when he's been knocked unconscious, and if I'm lucky enough that day to just capture him like that, whom should I take him to first?"
"It's a difficult question. Can I ask something first?"
"Why would he be knocked unconscious in the first place?"
Yahiro answered her question in response to his question:
"For example, if that guy tries to attack Heiwajima-san and he fights back..."
"...I see, that's very persuasive."
Himeka remained expressionless, but turned her upper body to stare into Yahiro's face.
"But Mizuchi-kun, surely you can take out the attacker on passers-by if you bump into him."
"The idea of fighting the attacker on passers-by scares me."
"Yet you knocked down all those bousouzoku and yakuza like it was nothing..."
"I was scared shitless back then, too. But it would have been even scarier if I did nothing. That was all."
A look of unease crept into Yahiro's eyes as he continued:
"All I ever did was fight. When it comes to people, and how to deal with them, I'm just so not used to it...I have no idea what is the right thing to do."
"Then make mistakes. It's the better way to learn."
"I'm too scared to."
"Every time I hear the word 'scared' from you, I feel a little mystified."
Himeka said, expressionless as ever. She then began to comment on the attacker on passers-by:
"...See, you had a reason to use force. I wonder what reason the attacker on passers-by has for doing what he does."
"Now that you mention it..."
The idea of looking for the culprit's motive had completely slipped Yahiro's mind.
He had pictured the attacker on passers-by the same way he had pictured those serial killers in movies; he vaguely felt that they were just part of the stage setting whose job was to charge at people for no reason.
Still – as reluctant as he was to think about it, for fear of it sounding like a mere excuse – he had a reason to engage in violence, even though he was called a monster for it.
There were people out there who would kill just because the sky was blue;* he didn't much like to think about the possibility of such a person strolling down a city street.
* A reference to Amagiri Yakumo of the Etsusa Bridge series, famous for this monologue: "It occured to me that the sky was blue. That was why I killed people."
Too paranoid to dismiss the possibility that the attacker on passers-by was born that way, Yahiro decided to shelve that idea and continue thinking:
"The attacker...why would he do it? Why would he knock people unconscious? True, I've been hit with a hammer from behind many times myself... Speaking of which, those guys would often say to me, 'I'm gonna kill you!" But what exactly did they want to do once they've killed me?"
Himeka, who looked like she was used to hearing disturbing words like those from Yahiro, joined him in looking for an answer:
"This is just my amateur thinking, but I'd say either they have strange sexual inclinations and actually get off on hitting and injuring people, or they could be trapped in paranoia that they would die if they don't hit others first...it could also simply be that they are not indiscriminate attackers after all."
"Not indiscriminate attackers?"
"Which would mean that the victims have something in common. Even if the attacks appear indiscriminate, it could be that the victims are hand-picked according to some well-defined criterion that only the perp knows. Finding a motive would become especially important in that case."
"Something in common...never thought about that before."
He had heard the incidents summarized on radio. The victims, however, had been of all ages and genders, and the first ones were supposed to be a couple or something, if he recalled correctly.
What did the couple have in common with Horada-sempai?
Yahiro sighed lightly as he realized that he knew neither Horada nor the couple well enough to even begin to hazard a guess.
"Either way, I don't think I'm capable of putting myself in the perp's shoes. Have you thought of anything, Himeka-chan?"
Himeka thought about Yahiro's question for a moment.
"Hmm...this is just something that I heard from Sis's reporter friend...but it seems that the attacker targets thugs quite a lot."
"Yeah, almost half of the victims are said to be bousouzoku or something like that. That's why apparently more and more people are thinking that it might be linked to the Slasher incidents a couple of years ago."
The word, which they had also heard in the restaurant the other day, elicited some reaction from Yahiro.
"The Slasher...are you familiar with those incidents, Himeka-chan?"
"I was still in middle school back then, so I didn't even go out very often at night...but everyone at school was on high alert. Apparently some girl from our high school was also one of the victims..."
"I see. So they haven't caught the perp yet..."
Perhaps I should begin by looking into how the two incidents might be related. As Yahiro thought about it, Himeka provided him with more information:
"Have I mentioned Dollars before? Apparently some people suspect that they were behind the Slasher incidents...but Kuronuma-sempai and his people would probably know much more about it, wouldn't they?"
TO BE CONTINUED IN PART II
- DURARARA!! SHx3 Chapter 2, Part I