Etsusa Bridge

Volume 4, Chapter 5-B: Slow Case Files
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Volume 4, Chapter 5-B: Slow Case Files

Afternoon. In front of the ruined hotel in the Western District.

“Don’t even think about starting those toy engines of yours, damned kitten. You may be able to protect yourself, but the two behind you are another matter entirely.” Western District executive Lihuang Ei smirked, a dozen men under his command. The tattoo on his face added a twisted bent to his already terrifying grin.

Meanwhile, Jun held her weapons at the ready and replied defiantly.

“…Wh-what makes you think I can’t protect them?”

“That’s a bold claim, even for the captain of the Guard Team.”

“Yes. But it’s one I’m willing to back up.” Jun said, her eyes flashing as she tightened her hold on her chainsaws.

“I’m well aware that you’re no small fry. But…”

Lihuang snickered and turned his gaze to his sister, who stood further behind Jun and next to the caucasian siblings. He gave her a resounding command.

“Lilei. If the cat decides to turn on her chainsaws, choose one of the foreigners and crush their face.”

The girl nodded silently.

The siblings knew very well that Lihuang was talking about them. But—

“Charlotte? I think we’re in trouble.”

“Worry not, Sherlock Liverpool! Everything will be fine.”

“How?”

Charlotte didn’t seem cowed in the least. Sherlock did not share her optimism.

“There’s no way a girl this adorable could do something so horrifying! Remember—we don’t watch; we observe.”

Lilei’s gaze moved slightly. She looked straight into Charlotte’s eyes and mumbled, so quietly that only she could hear.

“…Adorable? I am adorable?”

“Hm? Yes.” Charlotte said without missing a beat. Lilei averted her gaze with a blush.

Sherlock, who did not hear the exchange, sighed.

“I’m more horrified by the fact that you think you can reason with a gloomy girl holding a rusted lead pipe.”

A second’s silence later, Lilei spoke loudly enough that Sherlock could hear as well.

“Crush your face. It is decided.”

“…Oh. Right…”

Turning her back to Sherlock, who reacted with exhaustion, Lilei moved away and began to draw something on the ground.

Charlotte watched her for a moment before clapping her hands together.

“Sherlock Liverpool… did you just provoke her on purpose? So that you would take on the brunt of her anger?”

“…No. What are you saying, Charlotte?”

“Then perhaps if I insult her, she won’t smash in your face!”

“Seriously. What are you going on about?”

Ignoring Sherlock’s question, Charlotte turned to Lilei.

“Umm… excuse me. I’d hate to say this, but I actually don’t think you’re ado-”

“I heard it. There is no meaning.”

Lilei cut her off. Charlotte could not continue. She turned to Sherlock in a plea for help, but he stared in silent disbelief.

As Charlotte gaped, Lilei gave her a word of consolation.

“You are good person. Not breaking. Be quiet. Listen.”

Meanwhile, tension ran thick in the air between Lihuang and Jun.

“…It’s not like a Western District executive to be taking hostages.”

“We simply show honor to those who deserve it.”

“But what if I decided to abandon those people and attack you anyway?”

“Fine by me. Although I suspect it will take a bit of effort.”

Lihuang snapped his fingers. The men around him drew their weapons.

Five of the men were holding guns, and the rest Chinese swords. One of them was carrying a Chinese broadsword with a long handle. But he threw it high into the air—

And the spinning blade flew into Lihuang’s hand like a falcon returning to its trainer.

“…I was expecting a submachine gun.”

“If I wanted to kill you, I would have issued the men assault rifles. Like I said, I have no intention of killing you here.”

“…That sword doesn’t seem to agree with you.”

“Ironic words coming from a woman armed with chainsaws.”

It seemed as though there would be no end to their banter.

Most of Jun’s awareness was focused on the siblings behind her. She didn’t care if she was hurt or captured, but she could not let bystanders be dragged into the mess.

“…Are you certain about fighting the Eastern District?”

“Do not take us for barbarians. We also strive for the security of the island.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Let me make this clear. I suspect you and the Guard Team are behind the rash of deaths among the ranks of my brethren. The suspicion extends to Yakumo Amagiri as well.” Lihuang said plainly. But Jun seemed to have been expecting his answer.

“Why do you think that? …The Eastern District has lost executives, too.”

“We’ve seen none of the bodies. Not only can you not prove the murders happened, your leader also seemed to be intent on drawing Yakumo Amagiri to the Eastern District. So why would the Killer Ghoul murder your executives when they shouldn’t even be his enemies?”

Jun was silent.

“And let me tell you something not even that repugnant radio station knows. We lost an executive last night. One of our brethren. The death took place at almost exactly the same time as one of your people’s supposed deaths. Now… doesn’t that make Yakumo Amagiri a very busy man?”

Like a detective breaking a faulty alibi, Lihuang continued quietly.

“And last night, you came to visit the Western District. What have you been doing until now?”

“?!”

Jun froze. She had not expected that she herself would be under suspicion. Specifically, it had never occurred to her that the Western District would be keeping such close tabs on her.

“Talk. What have you been doing all night since you entered the hotel?”

“…I…”

“Clearly, you’ll claim you were with the two foreigners. Which is why they are coming with us.”

Jun bit her lip.

Lihuang must know everything—that Jun hadn’t taken a single step outside since coming to the hotel at night. That was why the Western District had acted now; because they found the perfect scapegoat.

Jun would not have minded so much if the Liverpool siblings had been left out of it.

The siblings in the distance probably heard Lihuang’s voice as well. She apologized inwardly, imagining how terrified they must be. But her guilt was confused by a completely oblivious deduction.

“Aha! I finally understand!”

Charlotte cried, clapping her hands.

And with an innocent voice that drained the world around them of hostility—

“From the evidence, I deduce that we are in trouble!”

“Please, Charlotte. You’re making this worse.” Sherlock groaned, shaking his head with a sigh.

“Is her head full of maggots? Or is she the type to stab her opponents in the eyes with a smile, like Mii from your Guard Team?”

“No, well…”

With a gentle grip on his sword Lihuang cast a glance at Charlotte and put on an icy grin.

“Hmph. No matter. Soon they will come to fear for their lives.”

It was just as Lihuang had said.

But it came much sooner than he expected.

Specifically, only a few seconds after his words, a corner of the hotel shone brightly—

? ??

The violence in the Western District was being observed.

In fact, it was observed by two different parties.

One was Spring-heeled Joplin. The cameras hidden around the hotel were giving their independent network a live feed of the action.

The other was enjoying the situation.

‘So it’s about time.’

The men led by Lihuang were surrounding Jun Sahara, a key figure in the Eastern District.

Murder was close at hand, but he smiled an invisible smile. At the same time, a complaint rose to his thoughts.

‘Why is he not here?’

This was the best chance he had to torment the man.

‘Then I just have to call him.

‘I’ll give him a motive. I’ll give you a motive you’ll never be able to ignore.

‘Suffer and dance in grief. Wolves, pigs, they will all die.

‘And you’ll rot in the midst of their corpses.

‘Sōji Kuzuhara.’

The man decided to act, and fingered the device in his pocket—

And at that moment, part of the hotel went up in a column of flames with a deafening roar.

? ??

“What’s going on here?!”

“?!”

Lihuang and Jun reflexively broke off their standoff at the sudden noise.

At the same time, an intense shockwave passed by them all. It instantly turned to a wave of heat, making the incident known to all—whether they liked it or not.

An explosion.

The windows in that corner of the hotel shattered at once, and the shards ballooned outwards as they flew everywhere.

Flames red and yellow licked the air between the windows, and the wind that came with the heat pushed glass and shrapnel in all directions.

Covering his eyes from the debris, Lihuang howled furiously.

“How?! Why here?!”

The serial bombings had been happening too often over the past two months.

They took place in random locations at random times. No one would be surprised at where or when they struck.

At least, that was what those absent from this place might think.

The timing of the explosion was impeccable. It left a palpable imprint of the culprit’s malice in the area.

Not debris, not flames, but pure malice. It rose far into the air in a pillar of black smoke.

“Wh-what?!”

“Charlotte!”

The moment she spotted the flames, Charlotte was shoved to the ground by Sherlock.

The heatwave passed over their heads and tiny pieces of debris scattered over Sherlock’s back. Lilei batted away the larger debris with her lead pipe.

“…What is this. It explodes. You did not say. Elder Brother?” She said, her tone unchanged, as she glanced at Lihuang.

But when Lilei saw the look on his face, she realized that he had been caught completely unawares.

As she wondered what to do, Lihuang—who had come to his senses earlier—clicked his tongue and gave new orders.

“Damn it… Are they planning to get in our way? …Lilei! Take those two to the Pits! Search them and make sure they are not carrying anything suspicious. We can’t be certain that they’re not the ones behind this explosion.”

“…Yes.”

Noting his sister’s answer, Lihuang directed the other men.

A man holding a gun and a man holding a sword walked over to the siblings.

“Stop! Keep your hands off my sister!” Sherlock roared, shooting the men a murderous glare as they came over to search them. The men tried to push him away, but Lihuang was the one to stop them.

“Hmph. Fine. You take the woman, Lilei.”

He chose to speed up the process rather than cause disruptions.

Lilei nodded, and with the lead pipe still in one hand, patted down Charlotte and searched her pockets. She had no bags on her, so her search should have been over quickly—save for one thing.

Lilei froze when she saw the photograph she found in Charlotte’s pocket.

“Oh. It is him.”

“Pardon?”

Charlotte’s gaze was instantly drawn to the photograph.

It was the picture of their current target. Takehito Isegawa, as he looked five years ago.

“It is him. He is sleeping. Sleeping on roof.”

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“Wh-wh-where?! Where can I find—” Charlotte began, thrilled at the new lead. But she was interrupted.

“Go, Lilei.”

“Yes. Elder Brother. I am sorry. We talk later.”

The conversation came to an abrupt end and the Liverpool siblings were forced into a nearby car.

Deciding that there was no point to resisting, Sherlock boarded without a fuss. The car slowly made its way down the fire-lit road.

The moment the car departed, Lihuang and Jun both breathed a sigh of relief.

“…?”

Herself aside, Jun wondered why Lihuang seemed to relieved.

It was almost as though he had prioritized sending them away.

Noting her curiosity, Lihuang held his sword crooked and put on a wry grin.

“Hmph. It would be difficult to talk him down if there were civilians around. I would prefer if you made no fuss as well.”

‘Who?’

Jun’s confusion lasted but a moment, for the answer soon became clear.

She heard a strange noise.

It was a siren, like a police car, an ambulance, and a fire truck were combined into one. A noise that was nothing but annoying at this point.

Then, a van appeared out of the corner of her eye.

It was the most famous vehicle on the island, painted the same color as the sky. The moving studio of the pirate radio station, Sōsei Airwaves.

She heard Lihuang click his tongue.

When he raised a hand, the men with guns immediately put away their weapons. But those with blades did not move.

When Jun realized the implications behind their actions, everything fell into place.

She knew who Lihuang was talking about—who was on that van.

The radio station made a wide, screeching turn and stopped right in front of Lihuang and the others.

The siren ceased, and at the same time emerged one of the island’s most prominent celebrities. A man who was, in a way, much more famous than Lihuang or Jun and had the trust of the islanders to back up his fame.

With a tired look, the man scanned the area.

His eyes were on neither Lihuang nor Jun nor the flames that continued to burn.

But on the man who plunged the island into chaos, standing somewhere beyond the flames.

Or perhaps he was glaring at his old self, who had let the man get away.

All Sōji Kuzuhara could do was whisper the name of his nemesis.

“Ginga… Kanashima…!”

-----

I didn’t notice a thing when all those things were happening with big bro.

I just listened to Nejiro’s friends talking over what looked like cell phones and pieced things together.

“It’s Kuzuhara.”

“He came.”

“He made it.”

“What’s happening?”

“What’s happening?”

“An explosion.”

“Another one.”

“At the hotel.”

“The three-story one in central district 3?”

“Yeah.”

“I see.”

“I’m the one who put the bomb there.”

“Yeah.”

“So?”

“Was it amazing?”

“Was it?”

“Not really.”

“Right.”

“Right.”

I still can’t get used to the way the Rats talk to each other. It almost sounds like they’re one person, and it’s very hard to join the conversation.

And how could they be so indifferent about setting up the bombs? Maybe I’m just not used to their voices and they’re actually very scared. But I do not know the truth.

Before, I would have passed it off as a joke.

But things are different now.

Because now… I know.

That the ones who set up most of the bombs that exploded on the island were these kids.

I realized this only a few days ago.

After I showed Nejiro the picture two months ago, he began to act strangely. Or maybe the picture didn’t have anything to do with it at all.

So… though I was focused on Nejiro all that time, I recently ended up seeing something.

I was wandering around an abandoned building in the Eastern District when I saw some of the kids who often hang out with Nejiro. They were putting something strange by an old vent. When I asked them what it was…

“What do you mean?”

“It’s a bomb.”

“A bomb.”

“Oh.”

“She caught us.”

“She did.”

“What do we do?”

“Do we kill her?”

“Kill her.”

“Oh.”

“What’s wrong?”

“She’s Nejiro’s friend.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“I see.”

“Then maybe we shouldn’t kill her.”

“Yeah.”

“Then let’s bring her with us.”

“Yeah. Let’s ask Nejiro what to do.”

“Yeah.”

“Nejiro always knows what to do.”

Right now, I’m with Nejiro.

He won’t tell me any details.

“It has nothing to do with you, Yua. You could tell people about it, but… then the person who made us do this might set off all the bombs at once. And… there’s more bombs out there than the ones we set. Damn it… he doesn’t trust us after all. I guess I should have expected that.”

He sounded so very sad. But I couldn’t forget that sound. So I was too scared to tell anyone. Scared that the moment I confessed, the bombs would explode all at once. That… that these kids would all die.

After that, I’ve been coming to see Nejiro all the time.

I think the kids have started acting this way because of the adult beside Nejiro, who’s telling him things all the time.

I don’t know who this person is. Nejiro won’t tell me the details. But… something about this person scares me. It’s like standing in a room with someone who’s killed many people.

Once, when we were alone, Nejiro said this to me.

“…Yua. If you have any relatives on the mainland, I think it’d be best if you left the island.”

I shook my head, then.

“I see… So you have loved ones here. Then you should run away with them if you can. I’m sure you have your reasons for staying until now, even after all the explosions. But still…”

I shook my head again.

There are so many people I love on this island.

The people at Iizuka’s restaurant, big bro, and Kelly. I love them all so much.

But even if they all left the island… I think I would stay.

I nodded to myself and told Nejiro that I had to make maps.

“No matter how much I catch up, the paths keep changing in a matter of days. So… this island is alive. I love my friends, but I can’t leave this place.”

There was a shadow over his face as he looked away.

“This island isn’t alive, Yua. It’s been dead from the beginning. But it keeps on squirming. Just like us. You’re willing to die for that?”

I nodded immediately.

I told him that, if I stopped making maps, I would feel like I would lose my reason to live—and deny my father’s life, too.

Nejiro said, “Your dad wouldn’t want you to get hurt”. But I replied, “I know. This is something I want to do. Whatever my dad says, I won’t stop making maps. And he’s already gone, you know? So he can’t stop me”.

“And you know…” I said, “the explosions are making new paths, too, so I need to record them.”

Nejiro looked so sad.

“You’ve lost your mind, too.

“I thought you were still normal. I thought you wouldn’t end up like us.

“Why? Why…? Why does this island have to drive someone like you crazy, too? I just don’t get it…

“Damn it… This island is full of insects. It’s sickening. It’s completely lost its mind. Damn it… Damn it!”

Nejiro slammed his hand against the wheel of his wheelchair with tears in his eyes, calling me crazy.

Maybe he’s right.

I didn’t feel angry, and I wasn’t surprised.

So I think maybe I am a little out of my mind.

I’m sure people would think I was very strange if they could see me now, talking to a cat with a speaker strapped to its back.

Tell me, Spring-heeled Joplin.

This island is alive. That’s what I believe.

But if it is, is it out of its mind?

I just don’t know.

So please. Please tell me, Spring-heeled Joplin.

Even if this island—we—are out of our minds… can we find happiness?

-----

This is Spring-heeled Joplin.

Allow me to answer your question, Spring-heeled—oh, ahem. Excuse me. Not yet, I suppose.

Allow me to answer your question, Miss Yua Kirino, the one who walks the line between fairy tales and reality.

This island has lost its mind.

Which is why it is allowed to exist.

After all, it was never supposed to exist to begin with.

I can’t tell you if you have gone crazy or not. If you think you are, then the problem becomes what things around you you assume are normal.

If you wish for a standard of normalcy on the island, then you’ve never been out of your mind to begin with.

It’s the same with happiness. It all depends on what you see as the standard.

I apologize for the cliched answer, but not even Spring-heeled Joplin is omnipotent.

Now, think it over once more.

If you choose to become Spring-heeled Joplin, we will welcome you.

…Probably.

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