The Zashiki Warashi of Intellectual Village:Volume1 Chapter 2
Chapter 2: Regarding Uchimaku Hayabusa
I’ll be blunt.
I don’t like rural areas that much. That is why I jumped at the chance to start living alone in the city while going to a college prep high school. It also has a lot to do with why I joined the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department. Unfortunately, I’m only in a low ranking, dead end position. I went as far as to use the old branch family system to alter the family register despite being unmarried in order to escape the confines of Intellectual Villages. No matter how bad for your health it’s supposed to be, I wanted to live in the city and die in the city.
The thing is…I hate Youkai.
I don’t know how things were in ancient Edo, but Youkai don’t appear among the asphalt and concrete of a city. The only exceptions are places that thoroughly prepare the scenery like Nara or Kyoto. That is why I had always longed to live in Tokyo.
But the funny thing is that Tokyo has rural areas too.
And when certain pain-in-the-ass incidents crop up, I have to head there.
“…So this is the third victim.”
Zashou Island was a lone island close to the Ogasawara Islands but just far enough away to not be considered a part of the World Heritage Site. And that is exactly why a lot of businesses wanting to use its abundant resources for business purposes financed the creation of one of the country’s leading Intellectual Villages even though the island technically fell inside the Tokyo metropolitan area.
At first glance, the blue sea looked like something out of a documentary, but a closer inspection showed something like buoys floating at fixed intervals. They used sunlight and buoyancy to generate enough power to constantly monitor the flow of the currents and the amount of oxygen and plankton in the seawater.
Apparently, fishermen these days moved their fingers smoothly across waterproofed and salt-proofed tablet computers when they fished.
I was standing on a small fishing pier that was (made to look) run down. On that pier that was held in place with concrete sat a metal drum you could just barely reach your arms around.
The outside of the drum was wet, so it had likely been floating in the ocean.
A police officer in a soaking wet navy blue uniform gave me a report in a bewildered tone. The officer had likely pulled the drum out of the sea with the help of a local fisherman.
“We tried to deal with this on our own at first, but this is the third in a week. To be honest, this has gotten to be more than we can manage. I know it is a bother, but we have been forced to leave this with your department.”
“Don’t worry about it. This is my job. But…this is a rather unpleasant corpse.”
“Is there such a thing as a pleasant corpse?”
“Well, no. But this one is off-the-charts levels of unpleasant. He wasn’t just killed. They didn’t end there. They gave it more thought. This gave the victim fear greater than that of a simple death and it gives the same sort of fear to anyone who sees it.”
I suppose I should thank them for saving me the trouble of laying a blue tarp over the body, I thought as I peered down into the drum.
Inside was a single adult man, dead.
He had likely died two or three days prior. Due to floating on the sea, he had no maggots or flies on him, so he was in a better state than a normal corpse would be after that long.
He certainly did not look like a decent Tokyo citizen though.
The thickness of his neck was much greater than normal and he had a very aggressive-looking face. Also, I could glimpse a tattoo through the collar of his shirt. Western tattoos had become pretty common, but this looked like the “real deal”.
The man’s arms and legs had been severed and blood covered the insides of the drum.
“The other two were the same,” said the uniformed police officer. “The limbs seem to have been forcibly severed with a dull blade such as a machete. Also, wires were tied around near the point of amputation, seemingly to prevent as much blood loss as possible.”
“So the cause of death was…?”
“You will need to ask the medical examiner for the details, but it does not seem it was due to blood loss. It was multiple organ failure due to dehydration. …In other words, it is highly likely he died of starvation.”
This was exactly the method used by the pirate mafia near Okinawa. I believe “exile” is the term used. The victim had his arms and legs chopped off, was put inside a barrel or a drum, and then set afloat in the sea. The poor victims would either flip over and drown or be dried up after days of direct sunlight. Rumor said a third fate of being pecked to death by seagulls also existed, but there was no saving you either way.
“What a pain.”
I had no idea if this was really a job for Department 1. If the pirate mafia was really involved, it seemed more like something for the anti-organized crime department or the PSIA. You didn’t often hear about people getting promoted by getting into turf wars, so it seemed I had gotten stuck with a horrible job once again.
“Just to make sure, he’s Japanese, right? He isn’t some foreigner who was involved with some pirates, is he?”
“He is most likely Japanese. His nationality may be hard to tell from his looks, but the implant in his front teeth seems to have been done in the Japanese style. And no matter how quickly the current might have been, he would have mummified if he had floated all the way from the open sea.”
“And he seems to have a tattoo. Maybe a large criminal organization is involved.”
“It could have been forcibly given to him before he died or even after he died.”
“True. But a tattoo is basically a type of injury. The medical examiner will be able to tell.”
I may have sounded a bit cold and uncaring, but that was my stance on things, so it couldn’t be helped. To be honest, I had no interest in corpses themselves. When there was a murder, I of course wanted to catch the criminal, but that was only for the sake of the victim’s family and to prevent the next crime. In other words, my desire to work was for the sake of living humans.
This did seem to have the possibility of future crimes, so I did have some motivation. Some.
There was one more annoyance I had to deal with.
I turned my gaze away from the gruesome drum and to the pier.
“Hey, mystery freak.”
“What?” said a girl in response.
However, the voice came from lower than you would normally expect. It came from about the height you would expect of someone wearing a swimsuit and lying on a beach chair placed on a pier.
Oh, that is no analogy.
A middle school girl with a mostly flat chest really was sunbathing in a yellow two-piece swimsuit.
“What are you doing here?”
“How rude. I was here before you were, detective. I’m simply trying to make the best of my summer break.”
“That’s not what I mean!! Look! See this tape!? You’re inside it!! You’re supposed to keep out of here!!”
“Give that a rest and just let yourself be enchanted by my lovely body.”
“Quit writhing around creepily like a snake shedding its skin and get out of here. Move, move.”
I picked up the entire beach chair and carried the kid named Enbi outside of the yellow tape.
Why didn’t someone else kick her out already?
“Oh, that’s because of my bold presence.”
“You may have the aura of a Dosojin, but you’re just a middle school girl. Nothing more than a middle school girl.”
Unlike me, she was interested in the corpses. Unless there was a murder, she had no interest in other people. As such, she had no discretion. However, this actually brought excess benefits along with it, so I suppose society was fairly well balanced.
It did seem she thoroughly hated the higher ranking police officers who were always focused on demarking their own turf, though.
After moving the beach chair away, I started to head back to the crime scene, but Enbi’s slender fingers grabbed at the collar of my suit.
She then whispered into my ear.
“…You don’t really think this was the work of the pirate mafia, do you?”
“Once you’re done here, I’ll tell you.”
The way she set that up was incredibly noncommittal.
That mystery freak then pulled out a leather memo pad hooked to her swimsuit bottom. No, it was actually a smartphone with a cover that made it look like a leather memo pad. While still lying on the beach chair, she moved her index finger smoothly across the screen to operate it. She seemed to have completely lost interest in me.
She was happily sunbathing next to the corpse from a bizarre murder. That middle school girl had held complete control of her conversation with a police detective from Department 1. For some reason, she had a way of destroying the boundaries of how things normally worked like that. There was certainly something wrong with her mind, but I was a bit jealous of how she could do that. That said, I had no interest in walking down the same path as Enbi.
Mine may have been a completely dead end job, but I had enough of an attachment to it that I was not willing to completely abandon it.
I did not have the guts to quit and open a ramen shop or something.
Of course, it was possible that lack of guts was exactly how I had ended up in this dead end anyway.
I reentered the taped off area and the uniformed police officer asked me a question.
“What should we do now?”
If the man had been both killed and stuffed into the drum on the island, we would only need to do a thorough search of the entire island. Unfortunately, he had floated here.
This was not the kind of crime scene where forensics could search for hair or fingerprints.
If the victim was from outside the island, turning over every stone on the island would not even turn up his identity.
Of course, the island would be investigated, but there was not much guarantee that anything would be found. Things you had to do but could not expect results from had a way of really eating away at your motivation.
This had been sent up to a larger investigation headquarters since it was a case of serial murders, but the detectives including myself, the forensics team, and the others who came only added up to about 20. This was because of how unlikely it was we would find anything on the island. The nearby islands also had to be investigated, the records of the ships that had passed by had to be checked, and the companies on the mainland related to the Intellectual Village known as Zashou Island had to be investigated. Since it was unknown where the actual crime took place, the area of investigation had to be spread wide. This had lowered the number of personnel working at each individual place.
“For now, we can go with the standard practice. Call in the islander who first discovered the drum and the one who helped you pull it out of the water so I can question them.”
“I can do that much. You’re a Department 1 detective from the mainland, so isn’t there anything a little…y’know…flashier you can do?”
The uniformed police officer made some kind of gesture on the word “flashier”, but I’m not quite sure what he was trying to get across. He was a surprisingly absurd person. It was possible he had gained a mistaken admiration for people in my position from watching too many police dramas. In reality, if a Department 1 detective went off on his own in a “flashy” way like on TV, he would only end up being shot by the killer he was trying to catch. The power of the police was the power of an organization. Going off on your own was the same as casting aside the power of that organization, so it was quite dangerous.
If you wanted that kind of thing, you would be better off going to that mystery freak.
Or perhaps Enbi’s older sister.
At any rate, it was true there was one thing I had to do as a Department 1 detective.
“I guess I’ll go get our rooms at the inn.”
“I need to make sure we have a place to stay tonight. We’re a group, so that can be surprisingly difficult.”
The department chief yelled at me over the phone when I told him it would be 50,000 yen a night. When I argued that the price was quite reasonable for a high class Intellectual Village inn and asked if it would be good for the image of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department if we were sleeping out on the street, he gave approval amidst more angry shouting. It likely would not have been so easy had a director or official intervened.
It goes without saying that all the others cheered at my successful negotiation.
The value of tax money could become a bit unclear when it made its way to those who used it.
“…Why are you here, you damn mystery freak?”
“As I said before, I am trying to make the best of my summer break. I was here before you. Also, this inn is the only lodging facility on the island.”
The police could hardly reserve the entire inn, so there wasn’t much I could do about it. I decided I needed to speak in hushed voices when discussing the case with my coworkers.
For the present, I desperately searched for something else to complain about.
“By the way, what’s with that English gentleman-style pipe? You have guts to use that in front of a police officer, minor.”
“Non, non. This is just mint, detective. A little bit of deduction should have told you that. The people of Intellectual Villages practically deify the branding of ecology and health, so I could very well end up being ganged up on and beaten if I was puffing on an actual pipe and disposing of the ashes just anywhere.”
As she spoke, Enbi put the mint pipe in a long, narrow case and hooked it to the edge of her swimsuit. Her two-piece swimsuit had no pockets to store small objects, so she hooked things like her memo pad-style smartphone and her magnifying glass to her swimsuit bottom. (She did not have a wallet, but she likely used electronic money for everything.)
But with all that hanging there, the weight isn’t going to pull her swimsuit down, is it?
“I have it calculated out to ensure no accidents like that happen. …But if you’re hoping for one, I could always arrange one to happen.”
“Mh!? Cough cough!!”
Did she just read my mind!?
“Girls put a lot more effort into their looks than it looks. Should I tell you how much of a pain it is each and every day to maintain that impression of a ‘sweet-smelling girl’? I calculate everything out for my entire body.”
I did not like the direction that conversation was headed.
In an all-out attempt to change the topic, I focused in on Enbi’s items.
“…Is there ever any situation where you actually need to use that magnifying glass?”
“It’s more for setting the mood. It’s something like having empty cans that look like smoke grenades during a survival game. They might not be of any use, but they put you in the right state of mind. Of course, once they make electron microscopes small enough to carry around, most cases will probably be solved that way.”
“As a mystery freak, I would have thought you would lament the advancement of scientific investigation techniques.”
“I just think of it as the shortest course to solving the case. If it can be solved easily, nothing could be better. We have no duty to go along with the criminal’s gamble every single time.” Enbi’s tone then changed to a light one as if she were inviting me out for a walk. “Well, whatever. I have something I want to speak with you about, so will you join me?”
“I’m on duty.”
“You left the questioning to the local police and are just waiting for the results. Also, this is the third death, so the speed of the initial investigation is of little importance.”
Don’t act like you know what you’re talking about.
Even if you’re right.
Somewhere out there was a murderer who had killed several people in such a gruesome way. That meant we had to work hard to stop the next murder. However, each additional corpse meant an additional plaything for Enbi, so she was getting excited.
I left the inn with Enbi and we entered a small bamboo thicket. As I walked along a promenade that crossed the terrain that swelled up like a hill, the middle school girl next to me pulled out her smartphone that had a memo pad cover.
“You always have to ask for my help, you cute detective, so what questions do you have for me today?”
“Sorry, but it doesn’t seem to be related this time.”
Unlike the incompetent police detectives from mystery novels, I did not come crying to her because I did not know the answer.
There were problems in this world that you were not allowed to solve even if you knew the answer.
“And it doesn’t look like the investigation will reach a dead end due to diplomatic reasons either. So I also don’t need your help in creating the setting of ‘the police investigation is stalled due to international pressure but a certain civilian happens to solve the crime on her own’.”
“Even though this is a complicated situation where someone is continuing to murder people while pretending to be the pirate mafia?”
“…Pretending to be?”
“After all, they have no reason to do this.” Enbi lightly waved her index finger. “What were the common characteristics of the victims? You won’t have enough information on the third victim who was just found, but the other two will do.”
“Adult males. In good health. Japanese. From the mainland and with no connection to this or any other island. They had their arms and legs severed before being stuffed into a drum and set afloat in the sea.”
“And one other thing.” cut in the mystery freak. She operated her smartphone to bring up some kind of data on the investigation. “The victims had brand name rice seeds stored in a clear plastic bag.”
“A bunch of grapes from an Intellectual Village costs 30,000 yen. It isn’t unusual for people to try to sneak into the village to steal the brand name genetics.”
“So were the victims plant hunters who were trying to sell the seeds to the pirate mafia, but negotiations broke down so they were eliminated?”
“Um, hello? Don’t you think the pirate mafia would take the seeds for themselves before setting them afloat? If they took the time to stop the bleeding with wires after severing their arms and legs, I think they would at least check them for any possessions,” said Enbi. “Also, an Okinawan group would have no reason to want this brand name rice.”
“Why not? It’s from an Intellectual Village.”
“Mainland rice only tastes so good because it matches mainland cooking. The ingredients made in their land go best with their local cooking. Their primary customers are the Chinese but the Taiwanese Japanese food boom is fading, so I doubt it is something worth risking your life over. With fruits or other things you eat as is, things would be different. There are a lot of people that go to the effort of having those kinds of things shipped in by air to avoid using preservatives.”
“Are you saying we can eliminate the possibility of the pirate mafia being involved based on that alone?”
“I can’t make the police do anything, so feel free to waste all sorts of effort looking into that if you want.”
Damn, do I hate her.
“…If we do rule out the pirate mafia, are there any other possibilities left?”
“I can’t be absolutely sure, but I do have one guess.”
“The stage here is Zashou Island. Now, what is its primary industry? Yes, Uchimaku-kun.”
“Pearl and oyster cultivation. It’s a bit ironic that the cultivated ones are more valuable than the natural ones.”
“Technically, the term is mariculture. Instead of doing it in a completely isolated area, they leave the hatched fish in the ocean as they grow. A quite high-level smart system is used for this. Instead of just letting the fish grow and then taking them once they are grown, a large number of baby fish are used to interfere with the base of the food chain. That way, more of the rarer and expensive fish can be grown. The amount of certain fish and which there will be more or less of can all be predicted with a program.” Enbi operated her smartphone as she spoke, so she was likely looking this up as she spoke. “Mariculture is their primary industry and the inland areas grow things like dragon fruits and mangos. They use global warming to their advantage and make a killing off of tropical fruits.”
“And how does that tie into your guess?”
“Well,” said Enbi with a grin. “Where exactly did those plant hunters steal the brand name rice seeds they had?”
On the way back from our walk in the bamboo thicket, we chanced across a bizarre phenomenon.
I suddenly felt a weight on my back.
The weight felt as great as 3 or 4 pickling stones.
As I groaned at the burden of that weight on my back, two slender arms wrapped around my neck from behind. The arms felt rather damp and moist.
The Intellectual Village’s famous Youkai time has begun!!
“What is this!? A Konaki Jiji!? It feels a bit wet!”
“Hmm. From the looks of her, I’d say she’s a Nure Onna.”
“What kind of perverted name is that for a Youkai!?”
“Eh? She’s a Youkai that drags any men she takes a liking to down to the bottom of the river. She isn’t the type with a child, so she might suck your blood.”
That certainly sounds deadly! So does that mean I’m in the middle of getting killed by a Youkai right now!?
This danger came completely out of nowhere.
This is why I hate rural areas!!
“Since she’s on your back, you probably can’t tell, but…”
“She looks like a GAL of about 20. A GAL. That’s a pretty rare appearance for a Nure Onna. Detective, you’ll be a Youkai freak once you manage to consider yourself lucky in a situation like this due to the fact that she isn’t just a giant snake with a woman’s head!”
“I don’t want to be anything like that…!! It was because there were so many of these things around when I was growing up that I headed out to the city!!”
She hasn’t said a word!
I’d rather avoid having to deal with an overly familiar Zashiki Warashi, but this total silence is creepy!!
“Basically, you just need to not approach the river and make a dash across the land with your own strength, right?”
“So I have to waste all that energy and I get nothing in return? What did I do to deserve this!?”
“…Isn’t that basically the job description of a police officer?”
I knew there was no way I could make it back to the inn with that thing on my back.
I would definitely collapse partway there. And then I would be dragged back to the river.
Isn’t there anything I can do?
With that thought, I pulled out my cell phone. One advantage of Intellectual Villages was that their communications network was very thorough despite the area looking quite remote.
“Hello? Could you bring the car around!?”
“No fair!! You’re supposed to win out with your own strength!!”
When the car arrived at the bamboo thicket, the Nure Onna suddenly let go of my back and left. Apparently, she was the type to quickly retreat when faced with a battle she could not win. As a police officer, a young woman lightly dressed in soaking wet clothes (and a closer examination showed those clothes had become transparent in various places) staggering off into the depths of a bamboo thicket was not something I could just overlook, but this was not a human. She was a Youkai, and a deadly one at that. Rather than protect her, I needed to keep away from her. Otherwise, my life could be in danger. Someone with a dead-end police detective job like me had a very minor role. Someone like that would soon find himself at eternal rest if he tried to act like a protagonist, so I had to be careful.
Our investigation produced no real results that day.
We worked until the sun set and returned to the inn once it did.
Even if we were investigators from Department 1 of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department, we could not resolve a case in 60 minutes like in a police drama. Since it was likely more victims would turn up, we had to solve the case as quickly as possible, but the police were hardly all powerful.
“The wind sure is blowing,” said Wajima-san, a forensics investigator who had come to Zashou Island with us.
We were gathered in the reception hall for dinner, but Wajima-san must have had even less to do than a detective like me. After all, there was nothing for him to do without a crime scene or any pieces of evidence.
“They say a typhoon is coming this way. It’s one of the one’s they were talking about before. We were right to fly the body out by helicopter as soon as we could.”
The maximum wind speed in the storm zone was 30 m/s. Apparently, Zashou Island was in its direct path, so it was likely no ships, helicopters, or airplanes would be usable in the area.
“We can’t leave the island for 2 weeks because of our job anyway. I’m sure the typhoon will be gone by then.”
“It still gives me a bad feeling to know all forms of transportation will be down.”
“Have you been watching those 2 hour suspense dramas?”
“I’m more worried about food and other goods we need.”
Intellectual Villages were well maintained, so there would likely be no issue with the water pipes or the electricity.
“If it comes to it, we might have nothing but the Umbrella Jizo to rely on.”
“That’s not a Youkai story. And it seems the only Youkai around here are Nure Onna.”
“I like the sound of that Youkai. And according to the local fishermen, Funa Yuurei come out at those times.”
“Hehh. That does seem to fit an Intellectual Village focused on fishing.”
“I grew up in the city, so this Youkai thing is still new to me.”
I had left my home town because I wanted to live somewhere like that, but it never seemed to work out. After chatting for a bit while eating our white rice, we switched over to talk of our work which was less fitting for a meal.
“This is just a thought I had, but this might not be a case of serial murders.”
“You too, Wajima-san?”
“Three bodies have washed up in drums, but at different times. However, that does not mean they were set afloat in the ocean in that order. And since they were still alive at the time, we can’t rely on the estimated time of death.”
“You’re saying they were set afloat all at once from a ship or another island and they merely washed up in this order?”
“Many different currents collide here, making this a complex area. But that raises another question.”
“Yes, was it just those three who were set afloat?”
“It might have been more. We haven’t heard of any washing up on any other islands, but they could have flipped over and sank into the ocean. It’s also possible some are still floating out there. As I said, the currents here are complex.”
“It also seems they are plant hunters.”
“Yes. All three of them had brand name seeds.”
“But…” I started, but the woman running the inn approached.
She offered us some sake, but I politely declined and asked for another bowl of white rice instead.
“Do you use special rice here?”
“No, we have a deal with Akita for that. They say local is best, but the subtropical environment of the island is not suitable for Japanese rice.”
“Thank you,” I said as I took the rice bowl and the woman walked off to another group. I then began speaking to Wajima-san in a low voice. “There you have it. The victims had this brand name rice, but where did they get it from and where were they taking it?”
“They don’t make rice on the island, so it likely was not stolen on the island so they could take it elsewhere. So was it brought in from outside so it could be cultivated on the island?”
“But she said the environment here is not suitable for Japanese rice. Otherwise, they would have started making brand name rice on their own. No matter how excellent the seeds they had, there is no point if they cannot cultivate it.”
“So it is unlikely they were taking it from here or bringing it in here. That means…”
After eating, I left the reception hall and entered my room. There, I called the chief of Department 1. He would have still received the information through a director or manager even if I had not, but he seemed to like to receive information directly from those on the scene. We exchanged information, but it indeed seemed unlikely we would uncover anything useful in the first few days.
Nothing suspicious had been found on other islands or ships.
It was unclear where the drums had come from.
After my call to the section chief, I called my nephew Shinobu. This of course had nothing to do with my job. I wanted to ask about the typhoon. It was just one of a few different typhoons, but it was making quite the parade through the islands. They had likely already received the typhoon’s baptism there.
“Cough, cough…Uncle? Did something happen?”
There was something odd about my nephew’s voice. It was not simply poor reception.
“Do you have a cold?”
“W-well, this Yuki Onna I met recently has been a bit overzealous, so…wait, no!! I don’t mind, so you don’t have to work so hard at making an ice pillow! No, wait…you idiot!! I didn’t mean you should crawl inside my futon to cool me down directly!!”
I heard sounds of a struggle on the other side of the phone.
“It seems Youkai are as fond of you as ever.”
“Don’t they tend to hate you, uncle?”
“I can’t stand Youkai. The law doesn’t apply to them. When they commit crimes through a Package, you can only arrest the human criminals behind it. There is no law with which to punish the Youkai. Even if someone dies, it’s treated the same as someone getting killed by some falling rocks. There’s no investigation or anything. Nothing could be worse for someone like me who works for the living more than the dead. If you think of it from a legal standpoint…”
“…Um, uncle. This Zashiki Warashi next to me is grinning and saying she used to avoid you because of the peculiar look in your eyes when you stared at the back of her neck as a teenager.”
Damn that indoor Youkai! She’s making things up again!! This is why I hated my home town so much!!
“It sounds like you have a bad cold, but if that’s the biggest news you have, there must not be anything too bad. I take it the typhoon didn’t blow the roof off the house or anything.”
“This isn’t the Three Little Pigs, so don’t worry. Things in an Intellectual Village may look old and run down, but it’s all artificial. Not to mention that I’ve heard this house has been quite durable for ages. It must be sturdy to have lasted hundreds of years. An apartment building made of reinforced concrete would probably have a harder time.”
“True. Well, that’s all I wanted to ask about.”
Old Japanese houses were so sturdy because the roof and walls were made to be easily repaired. The entire roof could be redone in a single day. With reinforced concrete, you just had to let it deteriorate.
“You watch out too, uncle. I’ve heard you don’t have to deal with Youkai once you leave these rural areas, but Youkai aren’t the only dangerous things in this world.”
“Yes, and I’m caught up in one of those things right now. But that comes with the job. It almost seems like dealing with a Nure Onna or Funa Yuurei would be more fun.”
“Oh, those Youkai that sink ships? I’ve always lived inland, so I’m not too familiar with those. Can those things sink an entire tanker?”
“Common ways of thinking don’t apply with them. If they can sink ships, they can sink any ship. It doesn’t matter if it’s a luxurious cruise liner or an aircraft carrier. But I’m sure you know how Youkai can twist the natural way of things more than I do. Say hi to your dad for me.”
With that, I ended the call.
Humans were the frightening ones.
I knew very well what my nephew Shinobu was talking about.
The question was, where was this frightening human?
I was awoken on the second day by the sound of pouring rain blowing against the window. The weather was so bad that the wind seemed strong enough to blow a small car away.
I honestly wanted to hole up in the inn for my own safety, but I was a police officer and a member of society. I could not take a day off from my job because of the weather.
I was in a dead end job!
I wanted to rise to inspector or some other position where I could shove any unwanted work on someone else.
However, the thought still left me feeling dejected since I knew inspector would be my limit however the system might work.
“…I should have dealt with more of this yesterday.”
My complaining wasn’t helping.
On my first day on the island, I had done nothing more than prepare the foundation for the investigation. Today, I had to start checking over the entire island and gather the information I needed from the residents.
The weather was bad enough that carrying an umbrella was hardly going to help, so I borrowed a raincoat from someone working at the inn and left. However, the raincoat left me feeling very hot and stuffy. It may have kept the rain out, but it left no way out for my sweat. I was sure my suit was soaking wet.
The other police detectives were likely headed to the village to question people there, but I decided to walk along the perimeter of the island as there was something I was curious about.
Zashou Island was a small island. A small mountain only 200 meters tall was located to the southeast and gently-sloping land spread out to the northwest. The village was located in that northwest area.
The primary natural plant on the island was bamboo. This created a clear contrast with the dragon fruit, mango, and such in the plantations. To be honest, it was kind of a creepy. The things here could be called “greenery”, but they could not be called “natural”. Human interests had blotted out the natural scenery. The island had surely once had its own unique “nature”, but that had been swallowed up by the stereotype of the “tropical island”.
“Hi there. What are you doing, detective? Stealing fruit?”
“What are you doing here, mystery freak?”
And why are you wearing a swimsuit in the middle of this storm?
“I don’t want to hear that from the person wearing a raincoat in this humid tropical weather. Is it some kind of diet?”
She read my mind again!?
“This wind would destroy an umbrella in 5 seconds and a raincoat is out of the question. So doesn’t heading out in a swimsuit seem the most efficient? It matches the environment.”
As always, she had her memo pad smartphone, magnifying glass, and such hanging from her swimsuit bottom.
…Has she made sure her smartphone will be fine in this rain?
“So why are you taking a walk down a mountain path in a swimsuit?”
“Since you didn’t just head straight to question the villagers, I assume my reason is the same as yours.”
“It’s a waste of time to just stand here. We can talk while we walk.”
We walked alongside a plantation filled with fruits covered in nets to prevent wind damage.
“Have you looked around the island yet?” she asked.
“There is a cave over at the mountain. I didn’t actually check inside it, though.”
“A wise decision.”
Someone from the city might imagine exploring a cave you run across, but people from rural areas would never do that. They were crawling with bugs like centipedes and spiders, and there was always a risk of collapse, a lack of oxygen, or volcanic gases. A limestone cave maintained for tourists was one thing, but exploring some small entrance you find was as dangerous as crawling into a pipe in a ditch that leads into the sewers.
“The only lodging facility here is the inn we’re staying at. The village has a simple sweets shop, a barber shop, and a few bars. There wasn’t much else you could spend money at.”
“That sounds like the stereotypical Intellectual Village. They purposefully make it look depopulated. It would be perfect for filming a nostalgic film.”
Enbi crouched down and picked up something half buried in the mud.
It was an empty cigarette carton.
“Then this makes no sense.”
“That alone isn’t enough to draw a conclusion from, but I suppose it is worth looking into.”
I sighed and then looked around.
It looked like I would have to walk all over the place in that blowing storm to find what I needed to strengthen my personal theory.
Once noon had passed, I was finally able to take a break from investigating.
Wajima-san from forensics was glad to have something to do, but I could not just do nothing simply because I had passed the baton off. Now that I had the information I needed, I had no choice but to use it.
It was time to interview people.
Having to go around to each individual person in the torrential rain was hardly fun, but that was my job. It couldn’t all be fun and games.
I was going to be asking dozens of people the exact same questions, but I thought it would be best to head to the most self-important person right off the bat.
I would do my best to keep it from happening, but the people I spoke to last would have the highest risk of telling a prepared story. It was best to head to the most suspicious people first.
“The president of the fishery cooperative would likely have something like that. Especially in a treasury of high-class goods like an Intellectual Village.”
And so I first headed to the home of the president of the fishery cooperative.
His name was Kurokawa Kai.
Intellectual Village homes were sold on being “like the old days”, but the fishing village homes were quite low key. The house had wooden walls and a tiled roof. Despite what my nephew may have said, it reminded me of one of the failed houses from the Three Little Pigs.
But the Intellectual Village influence could still be seen in the solar panels on the roof. Ecology had become quite fashionable of late, but that boom had caused an unneeded jump in the price of semiconductors, so it didn’t really seem appropriate to be happily grinning like in the ads.
I had hoped to deal with it all in front of the house, but the typhoon was blowing rain up under the eaves. I was forced to set foot within the front door at Kurokawa-san’s invitation.
“Oh, come on now. If I had something like that, I would be living in a much nicer house.”
He looked like a pleasant man just entering old age.
He had a bit of a bent back, but he had an atmosphere that made me think he could easily carry around weights that would cause a detective like me to cry out in pain. To put it bluntly, he looked like he had painful fists.
I asked him arbitrary questions about what people were doing when the drums had been discovered and what he had been doing up until the police had been notified. Just as he realized I was merely asking the standard questions and began to relax, I suddenly stabbed into the heart of the issue.
“Kurokawa-san. I have heard the primary industry here is the cultivation of oysters and pearls.”
“Yes, it is called mariculture. There is a line in quality we just cannot seem to cross when it comes to natural ones. If you want quality higher than that, it is much faster for people to interfere. Of course, an excellent natural environment is needed as a starting point.”
“But it is not just that, is it?” I readily asked. “You are just barely outside the bounds of the Ogasawara Islands. However, what lives in the ocean here is not that much different from around those islands. In other words, the protected species in the World Heritage Site that are often targets of poaching can be freely fished here. …Is it more popular for people to buy them as rare pets than for food?”
Zashou Island had received investments from many corporations planning to use its natural resources which were on the level of a World Heritage Site. However, most of that was in the name of investigating the territories of the marine life and therefore was based on a catch and release policy. If non-locals needed to fish there, they could only do so in authorized areas that were strictly enforced. They could not simply fill their fishing boats as much as they wanted.
“Detective, is that what you have come here to discuss with me? If so, you are wasting your time. Even if such things are happening, it would only be the cowardly poaching groups. That is not a business the fishery cooperative has anything to do with.”
His words came smoothly, but that was actually much scarier than otherwise.
People who suddenly had ridiculous suspicion cast on them by the police would normally be much more disturbed.
“Even if that is so, this island was originally a central point for such unsavory people.”
“And does that have anything to do with us?”
“It does. Those drums containing corpses washed up here. And the corpses had brand name rice seeds on them.”
“Zashou Island does not produce rice.”
“True. It was not heading from here to somewhere else. Also, this area is unsuitable to cultivate it, so it was not being brought in from somewhere else.”
“Then what are you trying to say?”
“This is a relay point.”
Without hesitation, I continued speaking while well aware this method would apply the most pressure to the man. It was important to keep up the illusion that I had seen through everything.
“A relay point between point A and point B. And brand name rice would not be the only thing passing through. Most likely, a large variety of things pass through here. These would be products that would be dangerous to send directly. Perhaps a large criminal organization is involved. There was some trouble in the process of distribution and someone had to be ‘punished’. I would say that is what is going on here.”
“If that were true, shouldn’t your main focus be outside of this island?”
“That depends on who these ‘punishments’ were directed at.”
Perhaps I should not have said “most likely”.
That may have created a hole in the illusion that I had seen through everything.
“If they were targeted at someone else and they just happened to wash up on this island, that is one thing. But if those drums were meant as a warning to the residents of this island, I can hardly say you are uninvolved.”
“I suppose I can see where you are coming from. That would make a good movie.”
“Stuffing living people in drums and setting them afloat in the sea obviously seems like a message, but so does the brand name rice seeds. That kind of hint would be found with a simple body search, so I doubt someone who went to the effort of severing the limbs and stopping the bleeding would overlook it. That simplifies matters. Those seeds were information intentionally left for someone to see.”
“And yet you are wrong,” said Kurokawa-san smoothly.
He seemed the type who would say things in meetings to serve his company even if it earned him the animosity of his colleagues.
“We have seen suspicious ships sailing in the seas around the island, but none have ever come to the island itself. At the very least, none have ever made contact with us.”
“Can you prove this?”
“You cannot prove they have, can you?”
“What if I told you I can?” When I said that with the same smoothness as Kurokawa-san, I saw his cheeks stiffen a bit. “There are cigarette cases littering the ground in places all across the island. Not to mention chuhai cans and brandy bottles. And they are all brands not sold on this island. And don’t try to say they washed up on the island. I found plenty of them in the middle of the island.”
“Ridiculous… That’s your proof? Detective, surely you know how Intellectual Villages work.” After a brief silence, Kurokawa-san was back on form. “The scenery is made to look intentionally run down to create the proper atmosphere. The vast majority of everyday items and luxury food items are bought using the communications network and internet shopping. The village is overflowing with products brought in from outside the island. That is not even enough for a false accusation.”
“Are you sure you want to use that as your explanation?”
“I’ll give you time to come up with a better counterargument if you wish, so I am simply asking if that is your final answer.”
I did not want to get caught in some annoying intellectual argument, so I was going to hurry up and deliver the finishing blow regardless.
“Kurokawa-san. Mass produced products have subtle differences within the exact same product depending on the factory and time in which and at which they were produced. Stamp collectors will get excited over differences in the concentration of ink. By looking into that kind of thing, you can easily check to see whether these things were bought online.”
“Also, records are left when you buy something online. Everyone has a purchase history. And this is not stored on your individual computers. It is stored on the company-side servers. Even if these are the same products by the same brands as people on this island bought, we can see if these are the exact same ones as you purchased. And we have started to check just that. So I ask again: is that your final answer?”
In an area where large numbers of foreigners came sightseeing all the time, this would be a hopeless plan. However, there was not that much data to go through for a solitary island with few people coming and going. And you mustn’t underestimate the power the police had as an organization. A check of the purchase histories of everyone on the island for the past year would be finished in just a few days.
This was another reason why I hated Intellectual Villages.
Everything was nicely said to be “smart” or whatever, but you never knew what kind of information was being stolen behind the scenes.
“Detective, if you are investigating that, you must see our innocence as a distinct possibility. So let me ask you something: is this your final answer? If this all turns out to be a false accusation, I might very well cause an uproar over you falsely accusing people.”
“True, I have no definitive proof. But I have my suspicions.”
You may be trying to threaten me, but it is not going to work, Kurokawa-san.
Unfortunately for you, I come from an Intellectual Village too. I know how things work around here better than most from the city.
“More importantly, you focus on the environment and quality of your products more than all else. You would not just throw cigarettes on the ground, now would you? And it does not particularly matter if this would actually have an effect on your crops. After all, the brands from an Intellectual Village gain their strength from maintaining the proper atmosphere.”
Kurokawa-san seemed unable to refute that point.
That was to be expected. Saying they did not care about pollution could directly affect his income.
“Kurokawa-san, my job is nothing more than to expose the truth of these murders. I have no interest in the dead. My only desire is to help the families of the deceased and to prevent another crime from occurring.”
I then upped the pressure so he would slip up.
“And if I must dig down into some larger plot to do so, I will dig down to the very bottom. I am a professional. I may dig up something even more grotesque, but I am prepared for that.”
I felt a small gust of air.
Kurokawa-san had let out a small sigh.
“Well, I am well aware that I have no authority to stop you,” he said. “By the way, do you have any plans to leave soon?”
“You really should not threaten members of an agency that keeps the peace. And even if that is not your intention, we can still take action as long as we perceive it that way.”
“Now, now. We are not that stupid. I am saying this in spite of the risks. I feel no need to get any more involved if there is no need.” Kurokawa-san sounded more like he was reading a bedtime story to a child than he was threatening someone. “Detective, you seem to be mistaken about something. We do not have any issues with outsiders. If we did, we would never have built an inn on the island. After all, Intellectual Villages are constructed so they can fully function without any external support.”
Was he simply referring to me? Or was he referring to a large criminal organization?
The way he had changed the way he was speaking like a car changing gears seemed to be asking me to be careful how I answered.
“…Whatever the case may be, we can’t exactly leave until the typhoon passes, right?”
“I suppose not.”
Immediately after saying that, Kurokawa-san’s expression clearly changed.
It was like a balloon deflating.
This was not hatred, disgust, or hostility.
His expression was one of pure regret.
“I guess that’s that then,” he said.
I then asked the same questions to every influential person on the island and then everyone with some connection to those influential people.
They all reacted similarly.
I did not know what was hidden on Zashou Island, but the day was nearing when I would find out.
And once I had a handle on that invisible system, I would surely be able to see where the murders fit into it all.
To put it bluntly, I felt like I was winning.
I had found the route to solving the case and I thought I had everything under control.
I was naïve.
I still did not fully understand what an Intellectual Village was.
Dinnertime had come and the storm had still not let up.
It might last for days.
And then a problem arose.
“…I can’t get through.”
I had tried to call my nephew Shinobu, but my cell phone was not getting much of a signal.
Is this because of the typhoon?
My colleagues were gathering in the reception hall, but I changed directions in search of somewhere I might get a better signal.
“What are you doing, detective?”
“Shut up, mystery freak. I can’t get a signal for my cell phone.”
“You too? What carrier do you use?”
“JBP. So you’re having trouble, too?”
The mystery freak was using a foreign smartphone known as a Grape Phone, but it seemed she could not get a signal either.
It seemed to be a weather issue rather than an issue with the service provider. We tried for a bit longer, but could not get a call through.
Enbi tugged on my clothes and said, “This is perfect timing. Let’s have a chat.”
“I’d like to eat. Wait, where are we?”
“The first floor corridor. You got lost because you were walking around while staring at your cell phone.”
“Oh, I made it that far?”
I don’t remember heading down the stairs…
Just as I looked up at the ceiling with that thought, I heard the sound of a hunting rifle being fired from directly above.
I did not understand what was going on.
And the situation continued before my understanding could catch up.
The shots continued. Ten shots… Twenty shots… They just kept coming. It got to the point that my ears grew used to the loud explosive noises. I could hear thundering footsteps and screams mixed in, but the gunshots were loud enough to drown it all out. It was so much that I could not tell how many shots were fired or from what direction.
“This is bad…” said Enbi the mystery freak as she tugged on my clothes while I stood frozen in place. “It’s begun!! Those who didn’t want the police sniffing around have struck first!!”
“…You mean the police are being shot by criminals? But this is Japan.”
“Surely you’ve heard that in rural areas like Intellectual Villages no one is surprised to hear hunting rifles being fired.”
“But this isn’t getting rid of some lone sightseer who wandered here! We’re the police. This would wipe out 20 officers all at once!! Something like that would lead to a riot squad or even the JSDF being sent in. No one would be stupid enough to…!!”
I trailed off because I saw something very unpleasant.
A stain was appearing on the ceiling. This was not caused by a leaky roof. The stain was much too dark and red for that.
I had no idea what kind of construction had been used for that inn.
But how much liquid would there have to be to create a stain on the ceiling of the floor below?
Something was happening.
My fellow detectives and Wajima-san from forensics had been swallowed up by it.
“There’s some over here, too!!” someone shouted.
My heart skipped a beat.
We did not have time to check and see who had said that.
Enbi the mystery freak and I broke the window and jumped out.
We jumped out into the wet darkness of that stormy night.
We had finally caught a glimpse of the true face of the Intellectual Village known as Zashou Island.
The island was only so big.
We obviously could not head to the village. The plantations and orchards may have looked natural at first glance, but they were actually protected by various cameras and sensors. The mountain apparently had caves, but those would likely end in our own destruction after falling into a natural trap.
As such, the process of elimination left us with only the option of fleeing into a naturally growing bamboo thicket that had zero commercial value.
To be honest, it did not feel safe in the slightest. We were simply buying time. If they searched the island, they would eventually find us and I could feel my body heat leaving me the longer I exposed my body to the torrential rain.
The mystery freak looked down at her smartphone, and then clicked her tongue. The signal must still have been blocked. I doubted it was just a coincidence given the timing.
“Detective, do you have a handgun?”
“I had no plans to leave the island for a while, so yes. I only have 5 bullets, though. If they have gathered all of the hunting rifles from around the island, we’re done for.”
“And they may have stolen the guns from the police they already attacked.”
She did not say “killed”, but that may have been out of consideration for me. However, I was not taking action for the sake of my colleagues. I doubted they were still among the living.
That may sound coldhearted, but I had something more pressing to ask.
“Why would they take such a desperate measure? Killing 20 police officers is essentially adding the period to the end of their lives.”
“It was in this bamboo thicket that you ran across that Nure Onna, right?”
“What about it?”
“There was talk of Funa Yuurei at the docks. Do you know what the connection between those two is?”
“…There isn’t one. One’s an ocean Youkai and the other’s a river Youkai.”
The mystery freak brought her hand to her forehead at my immediate response.
“A Funa Yuurei is a scary Youkai that sinks ships if a set process is not carried out. A Nure Onna is a Youkai that drags people into the river if they meet certain conditions.”
“So you’re saying they’re both deadly?”
“They are both Youkai that make people go missing.”
I gasped when she said that.
It can’t be…
“I was looking around Zashou Island based on suspicions that a large criminal organization is involved. In other words, I was assuming this was a testing ground for assembling a Package.”
“And that’s what the Nure Onna and Funa Yuurei are for?”
“No. The Funa Yuurei is probably the main one. Maybe they failed with the Nure Onna and switched over the Funa Yuurei or maybe they got the Funa Yuurei version working and then started trying a different variation. I don’t know.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“Just look at the name ‘Zashou Island’. This area originally had a lot of shipwrecks. At some point, an extra bit was mixed into the story. Rumors began to spread that some of those shipwrecks were faked in order to fake people’s deaths and let them get a fresh start on life.”
“I see,” I groaned.
Normally, it took years before a missing person was legally considered dead. However, shipwrecks were an exception. Someone missing after an accident at sea was legally considered dead after only a few months.
That was convenient for people who wanted to be “dead” as soon as possible due to debts or some other reason.
“So Zashou Island runs a side business of counterfeiting documents to erase all traces of the identities of people who have messed up their lives beyond repair?”
If so, there was indeed a possibility that a large criminal organization was involved, but…
“…It goes beyond that.”
“I viewed this Intellectual Village too lightly. That is not the true identity of Zashou Island. I only half believed it, but that attack clinched it. Their Package is much simpler.”
Then what is it?
Can it get any darker than that?
As I thought that, Enbi the mystery freak continued.
“The Package created on Zashou Island is most likely one that simply erases people.”
I understood what she meant.
I felt a chill run down my spine, but Enbi continued just to make sure.
“It doesn’t matter if the person is tossed into the sea or abandoned in the mountain. Their Package simply makes sure that the people are never found.”
That was something that a large criminal organization would love to get its hands on.
It was a standard concept in movies and dramas, but even a police officer like myself had no idea if it was possible. But if there was some island where a body could be buried or sunk and never found again, it would be incredibly valuable for certain types of people.
“So the people of this island really do have a connection to a large criminal organization!?”
“It would be more accurate to say they may have had a connection.”
“Why put it in the past tense?”
“What proof do you have that led you to use the present tense?” The mystery freak looked up at my face amid the pouring rain. “I have seen hints of a large criminal organization’s involvement, but I have yet to figure out what specific organization it might be. The same goes for you, right, detective?”
“Then I have a thought. What if the large criminal organization was already eliminated in the same way your 20 odd colleagues were?”
“It couldn’t be…” I groaned.
I couldn’t believe it.
The scope was simply too great.
We with the police would not allow any kind of criminal activity, so why had we not smashed those types of groups? The reason was simple. Those large criminal organizations were simply too large for us to do anything about.
If we crushed one piece of it, that piece would simply be replaced, and they would get revenge for the piece that was crushed.
At first glance, they seemed to be a disorderly collection of violence, but they were actually strictly managed in ways calculated to work to their interests.
Even the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department would only get burned by them if it seriously tried to attack them. There was no way some amateur islanders could deal with that kind of professional violence.
“Do you know how many people make up that type of large criminal organization?” I asked.
“An independent group may have a few hundred people. The entire organization is probably in the tens of thousands. We don’t actually know what size of group the islanders dealt with.”
“But that’s still at least a few hundred. A group that size could overpower the people on the island with numbers alone!”
“If they all came at once. What if, instead, a ship of a dozen or so would come to the island and those people would be eliminated? Then when the first group did not return, the next group of a dozen or so would go…and then it all repeats. That changes things, doesn’t it?”
I could not believe what the mystery freak was saying.
“The large criminal organization would not know why the first group never returned from the island. That is the power of the Package at work. They may have only viewed it as some personnel missing, so they had to send someone else in their place. It would not be difficult to wipe out people who are not even remotely suspicious.” The girl spoke while wrapping her arms around her own body that was soaking wet from the rain. “The core of this incident is not the large criminal organization; it is Zashou Island itself.”
“But at what stage? They eliminate people, catch tropical fish, and act as a relay point for plant hunters with brand name rice. They only get anything from that by having the large criminal organization involved, right? Zashou Island cannot complete the business on their own.”
“That is why I was primarily investigating the large criminal organization and let my guard down about the residents of Zashou Island. But I think you are wrong about this, detective. Those types of crimes that lead to obvious profit likely began after the large criminal organization came to Zashou Island. However, Zashou Island likely went bad much, much earlier than that.”
“If the people of Zashou Island do have a Package that can completely erase any traces of a murder, they would have no reason to wait until now,” said the mystery freak quietly. The pouring rain made it difficult to hear her, but that just made it all the more creepy. “They could have just done it the instant the police arrived on the island. Nothing was stopping them from simply waiting at the dock with hunting rifles in hand. And yet they waited for today. They did not come to silence you in fear of your investigation. I think it was some other trigger that set off the annihilation of the police here.”
“Some other trigger?”
“Something in this small society known as Zashou Island that rivals the law. Perhaps some custom or tradition that has continued on since before modern laws were created.”
Something bothered me about what the mystery freak had just said. I felt like I had come across some kind of hint that filled a hole in her reasoning.
“…It was Kurokawa,” I realized.
“After I stopped by his house and asked him some questions, he asked me if I was planning to leave. When I said no, he muttered something about ‘I guess that’s that then’. Do you think that could have been the trigger?”
“He wanted you to leave?”
“Do you think there is some deeper meaning?”
“No, I think we can take this quite literally. He was basically saying things did not have to grow more serious if you had left then. But that just leads me back to the fact that they could simply have killed everyone the instant they stepped off of the boat. Maybe there is some meaning in remaining on the island for a certain amount of time.”
“What do you mean? We still don’t know exactly how they are related to this incident, but I doubt they wanted us looking around.”
Even the vast majority of completely innocent people looked less than pleased when they saw a police badge when answering the door. No one wanted to be caught up in some kind of trouble. That was a completely normal reaction.
“Is that really so?” The mystery freak seemed to have a different idea. “I am not talking about these recent murders. I am talking about the entire history of Zashou Island that spans hundreds of years.”
“It has a small population. It has few resources. It is a small world cut off from the flow of time. …If the people of Zashou Island disliked feeling left behind by the rest of the world, what could they do to remedy that?”
“Well, they could let in the more advanced culture so that…”
Did I just say something important without realizing it?
“Exactly. In order to speed up the flow of culture on Zashou Island, it would be quickest to invite in people from outside. Just like how guns were introduced in Tanegashima. …And remember this island’s name? It seems clear they have had unfortunate guests washing in for ages.”
“So the residents of the island see you and me as targets carrying the things they want?”
“The same could be said for the large criminal organization,” added the mystery freak.
“That reasoning only works if you assume the people of Zashou Island wanted to modernize rather than retain a more leisurely flow of time. It doesn’t work if they wanted to live a leisurely life cut off from the flow of the ages.”
“That clearly is not the case.”
“How can you be sure?”
“An Intellectual Village that felt that way would not let in anything from outside.”
Come to think of it, Kurokawa did say they wouldn’t have an inn if they hated outsiders.
“Zashou Island would show hospitality to outsiders to acquire their technological information, but that would not tie up all the loose ends. Just as the gun destroyed the society of the sword, some kinds of new technology are sure to destroy the order of the island. They needed a countermeasure for that.”
“And that is why Kurokawa wanted us to leave…?”
“It may not have been quite so dangerous a thing at first. They would only allow people a short stay and not let them participate in their government. As long as outsiders left, the order of the island could be preserved. But if someone stubbornly refused to leave and tried to gain a position of power on the island…”
“They would go as far as to kill them to get them on the boat home.”
Disturbing the order of Zashou Island.
Staying too long and employing a power that could destroy the chain of command on the island.
I gritted my teeth because I could think of too many things that fit that.
It made sense.
And not just for the police, but for the large criminal organization as well.
If the people of Zashou Island really were acting on that reasoning, they would have seen both organizations as targets that they had to “force to leave”.
“So would that make this something similar to Rokubu Goroshi…?”
But if we were going to act on this theory, there was one thing that bothered me.
“What about those drums?” I asked. “If the people of Zashou Island use a Package to make incidents and bodies disappear, would they really make such a fuss over those?”
“When the local police officer told you the incident had gotten too big to handle locally once a third drum was found, he was likely lying. He was likely one of the ones doing the killing on the island.”
The way she added that last sentence so casually made me feel a bit dizzy.
But it got worse.
“Those drums may have been an SOS sent out by the large criminal organization that got wrapped up in the attacks.”
“You mean they did that themselves?”
“It may be directly linked to a weakness in the Package or the scale of the incident may have grown so large it could no longer be completely hidden by the Package.”
By this point, simply saying I had decided to leave after all would not stop the people of Zashou Island from killing me.
I had already pulled the “trigger” the mystery freak had mentioned.
The people of Zashou Island had already killed hundreds of people, so 20 or so police officers were nothing to them. In fact, they might not even feel any guilt over shooting people with their hunting rifles. They may have come to kill us with the same feeling as preparing a futon for a guest who was spending the night.
They would not stop.
If we did nothing, we would end up being cornered.
“But this incident made it to the surface and we were called in,” I said. “That means the Funa Yuurei Package is not perfect. It has a hole somewhere.”
“Yes. But it is also possible you were not the first police officers to come to Zashou Island.”
It was possible that the police were doing the same thing as the large criminal organization. Groups of police may have come to the island a few times before and been slaughtered only for the entire process to repeat. I needed to find out as soon as possible what had happened at the police stations on the surrounding islands.
Some horrible images came to my mind, but running from reality would not solve the problem.
“If they don’t hear anything from us in three days, they will send a helicopter out.”
“But as long as the Funa Yuurei Package is functioning, you will have merely ‘disappeared’ and those outside the island will see no reason to fear. If anyone does happen to come here, they will be shot while they have their guard down.”
“Then we have to do something about that Package.”
I turned to face the largest problem.
A police officer relied on the power of an organization, so you could not expect one to act like a protagonist.
However, I was the kind of person that worked for the sake of the living rather than the dead. And even if every single resident of the Intellectual Village known as Zashou Village was guilty, I still knew one living person I could save.
Enbi the mystery freak.
She was a horrible brat who had a way of preventing any kind of common knowledge from working in regards to her, but she was still a civilian and therefore someone I had to protect.
And to do that, I had no choice but to do something that was quite unlike me.
“If the Funa Yuurei Package is complete, there is likely no way we can win. However, if we can do something about that Package, we may be able to receive standard assistance from the outside and survive this.”
A number of powerful lights danced about, cutting through the darkness as they went.
We were of course not the ones using flashlights. It was the islanders holding them. The mystery freak and I held our breath amid the pouring rain and waited for them to leave.
The bamboo thicket rustling above us was quite unnerving.
The inescapable darkness squeezed at my heart.
I was soaked down to my underwear and the feeling of the cold cloth sticking to my skin made it all the more uncomfortable.
They did not seem to have found us yet, but those powerful lights were intimidating enough regardless. If we entered that ring of light, we were dead. That clear truth relentlessly bound all of our physical abilities as human beings.
Nevertheless Enbi grabbed at my clothes and whispered.
“Let’s run away.”
“We can’t move now. They would notice.”
“They won’t see the movement in this darkness and the sound of the typhoon will drown out any rustling of underbrush. …If we end up in that light, we’re goners, so at least we need to move someway”
What we needed was not to put physical distance between ourselves and our pursuers.
As long as the light did not catch us, we would survive even if we were back to back with the pursuers. That was the kind of safety we needed. The bamboo thicket sloped up toward the mountain, but the ground had smaller hills, too. We hid behind a small protrusion of ground.
I did not particularly care how, but I wanted some time to think.
The island was less than 10 kilometers across and there were…400 or 500 islanders. I had no idea how many of those were actually out searching, but they would eventually find us if they continued a thorough search.
We had to come up with a plan before that happened.
We needed some method of escaping Zashou Island.
“Luckily, this isn’t Hawaii or Guam. If we can borrow a small fishing boat…well, we might not be able to make it to the mainland, but we should be able to reach a larger island with an airport.”
“Even though this really looks like a Funa Yuurei Package? Seems to me that would be charging right into the enemy’s turf.”
“Funa Yuurei, hm?”
My specialty was crimes in which people were killed by other people. To be honest, I did not know that much about those who did not fall under the rule of the law. My nephew Shinobu probably knew more about Youkai.
What I knew with that amateur level of knowledge was…
“They’re Youkai that sink ships, right? Fishermen will get on a ship and head to sea. Then…wait, how do they appear?”
“That is actually rather vague. The standard theory is that small hands appear on the ocean surface at some point, but there are few writings explaining exactly ‘where’ they come from.”
“It sounds like they can target you no matter where on the ocean you are.”
Youkai, especially the deadly ones, had a tendency to be ridiculously overpowered.
“So what is it that makes them kill you? If I recall, you give them a water ladle and they sink the ship.”
“That’s skipping a step. The water ladle is like a protective charm. You will be killed because the Funa Yuurei have come to your ship, so you give them the water ladle to avoid that.”
“So they sink the ship if you do nothing?”
“The actual method of killing is not well defined. Since the story has a bunch of hands on the ocean surface, it’s possible those hands grab the ship and capsize it.”
The bright light of a flashlight cut by above our heads.
I was so nervous I felt a pain in my chest, but we remained in the shadows because of the protrusion in the ground.
“So Funa Yuurei are a deadly Youkai that kill people without question upon meeting them? And even when you give them the ‘protective charm’ that is the sole way of avoiding it, they kill you if you do it wrong?”
“The right way is to give them a water ladle with no bottom,” said Enbi. “It is impossible to defeat or obstruct a deadly Youkai using normal means. The most you can do is ensure their process of killing amounts to nothing so you can escape any danger.”
But there was one thing I found odd.
The Package the people of Zashou Island had created was constructed to make any inconvenient corpses completely disappear.
“Throwing a body in the ocean does not completely eliminate all evidence of a crime. Even if the body is not found, it can still be deemed a murder. If everything needed to objectively prove a murder took place is gathered, a judgment can be made.”
For example, a large blood stain could be found.
Or a metal drum could be found with evidence a human body had been completely burned within it.
A single piece of evidence was enough, so the Funa Yuurei was not enough for the Package.
“If they shoot us with hunting rifles here, at the very least, blood and pieces of flesh would be sent everywhere. There’s no way they can clean it all up. I don’t see how this method could cause a murder to ‘disappear’.”
“We are not dealing with an Edo period Youkai here.” The mystery freak gave a small sigh. “If the Funa Yuurei are being used for modern crime in a Package, I doubt they are no more than an existence that sinks ships with a water ladle. The symbols will have been broken down and rearranged into objects and conditions that suit the people of Zashou Island.”
“Come to think of it, my nephew Shinobu said he ran into a Yuki Onna whose conditions had been combined with some facility’s usage agreement.”
“My sister would know more about that kind of thing than me.”
“…I’d say she’s practically a Youkai herself.”
Don’t bring up a woman of whom the PSIA are too afraid to keep tabs on. Thinking about power that you don’t currently have is a sign that you’ve stopped thinking of an actual solution.
“So the modern arrangement of the Funa Yuurei involves those insane islanders who each have a hunting rifle.”
As I spoke, I pulled out my handgun.
It was a small model provided by the police. It was meant more as a threat than an actual means of injuring or killing others. The cylinder held 6 shots, but I only had 5 loaded.
Even so, it was the last weapon I had available.
Whether I was actually going to fire it or not, the mere act of pulling it out wore on the nerves of a policeman in the kind of dead-end position I had.
“…At any rate, we can’t escape without stealing one of their fishing boats.”
“The fishing harbor is basically the headquarters for the people of Zashou Island, right? Also…”
“You want to know if we would be fine heading out in a ship in the middle of this storm, right? To be honest, I doubt it. But it might be better than staying here on this insane island.”
Suddenly, I stopped talking.
This was because of the soft feeling I felt under my feet. Also, I caught a whiff of a sour, irritating odor that was a bit different from iron and stabbed at my nose.
I felt a powerful urge to not look down.
I felt like I had made some kind of misunderstanding.
It was a similar feeling to finding out what some food you ate truly was after praising it for being delicious.
The mystery freak started saying something, but stopped.
She was swallowed up.
That was how it felt to me. Enbi who was just a step away from me had been swallowed up by something. And in a few seconds, the same would happen to me. The one who had already been swallowed up and the one who was about to be swallowed up. That was the only difference between us.
And then I looked down.
I learned what it was I had stepped on.
I had found them.
This was not something as cheap as a single corpse.
These human corpses were thoroughly decomposed, discolored, and had lost all semblance of their original shape.
They were all mixed together to the point that it was impossible to tell how many people it had originally been.
I ignored the overall situation I was in and let out a scream. I tried to scrape the sticky, mud-like substance off of my foot, but I soon realized that was impossible. I had nowhere else to stand. A feeling like stepping through the bottom of a soaking wet cardboard box was all it took to tell me that.
I was surrounded by corpses.
I could not believe that I had not seen them until then.
Or perhaps they had been rendered invisible.
Perhaps we could only see them now because we were now the ones to be killed.
“Funa Yuurei are said to sink the ship and kill everyone aboard, but that is actually rather vague as well,” said the mystery freak with a pale face. “To be more accurate, the people ‘go missing’ while ‘on the boat’. It is only because they are never found again that they are deemed drowned and dead.”
They had not hidden the bodies.
They had made them invisible.
While on the island.
While on Zashou Island.
If what the mystery freak said was correct…
“This is…the boat?”
I was completely dumbfounded, but I frantically moved my lips. I knew I could not let myself stop thinking, but I could feel my thoughts being ripped from my head.
“Did they have Zashou Island itself correspond to the Funa Yuurei boat!?”
Youkai that made people disappear from the boat.
If Zashou Island corresponded to that boat, they could almost automatically cause any murder that took place on the island to disappear.
That was it.
“The Funa Yuurei are a large number of hands. That’s exactly what the islanders pursuing us are! And Funa Yuurei kill using a water ladle. They don’t do it unarmed. Since they use a tool made by humans…”
“Not good…Their hunting rifles!!”
Some unpleasant symbols were fitting together too well.
The light from multiple flashlights headed our way.
The sound of footsteps on the undergrowth could be heard clearly even through the torrential rain.
I wanted to run, but my legs refused to move.
We were surrounded.
It was just like we were surrounded by countless hands while on a tiny fishing boat in the dark sea.
As long as we were on the “boat” that was Zashou Island, we could not escape those people who corresponded to the Funa Yuurei.
I immediately moved my hand to operate my handgun.
That was all I could do.
In the next instant, the deep gunshot of a hunting rifle rang out.
Part 11 (3rd person)
The gunshot was accompanied by powerful recoil to the shoulder.
When the hunting rifle shot struck the detective in the thigh, he fell to the wet ground as if his feet had been swept out from under him. The man cried out as he collapsed on top of the rotting corpses that had turned green and gray.
Kurokawa, the president of the fishery cooperative and the man who led the islanders from the Intellectual Village of Zashou Island, had not shown mercy. He had seen that the detective was messing with his handgun, so he had immediately pulled the trigger. Instead of aiming for the man’s vitals, he had just tried to hit him wherever he could.
This had had the desired effect. The detective had dropped his handgun. The shot shell was meant for birds, so it had not torn his limb off even from that close range.
A group of about 15 gathered in the bamboo thicket with Kurokawa at their center.
“Contact Tasaki and Inoue’s groups. We don’t need to scatter ourselves any further.”
On Kurokawa’s instructions, two younger men spoke into their radios.
Kurokawa and the others had switched off the normal network for cell phones and the like.
Kurokawa heard someone’s breath whistling.
It was coming from the detective who had been shot.
The girl next to him was unharmed, but she seemed to have fallen into a state of shock at the fact that the detective had been shot. Also, if she charged at them, she would merely be forced back with the hunting rifles.
One of the young men speaking with their fellow islanders over the radio asked Kurokawa a question.
“What do we do now?”
“Just to be safe, we need to make sure there are no others left. Well, even if there are, I doubt they can leave the island. Still, we need to know exactly how many people we need to have leave.” Kurokawa looked around. “We only need one of them to ask about the situation. We need to get detailed information out of them, and this one already seems too weak for that. We will head back with just the one we need.”
Who was it that would be saved?
Who would be shot to death by dozens of bullets while surrounded by rotting corpses?
Who would be dragged off to some strange place and have their body torn apart while still alive until they satisfied the islanders with their answers?
While still collapsed on the ground, the detective’s right arm moved.
Kurokawa pulled the trigger without hesitation.
The shot stabbed into the area between the man’s wrist and elbow. Blood sprayed into the air.
Even as he screamed and writhed in pain, the detective continued crawling through the rotting flesh and toward his handgun. Kurokawa frowned. Normally, people would raise their hands in surrender at that point. Even with certain death approaching, human beings would give in as long as you gave them enough clear pain.
There was something more there.
The man’s movements were dull. With his leg shot, he could no longer run away from the hunting rifle’s barrel. Kurokawa could take his time and aim for the man’s head or chest.
The detective’s hand reached the handgun.
However, Kurokawa already had his hunting rifle aimed, so he was able to take action faster than the detective who was crawling along the ground and had only just grabbed his gun.
Kurokawa could kill him.
Just as he brought his finger to the trigger, something strange happened.
The detective did not try to shoot the handgun. He weakly tossed the mass of steel at Kurokawa.
At the same moment, Kurokawa wordlessly fired his hunting rifle.
With a tremendous blast, the shot struck the detective in the face.
“…What was that?” Kurokawa muttered as he looked down at the detective who had rolled over from the blast and finally stopped moving.
He seemed to have been attempting something, but it had ended in failure.
At any rate, the detective was dead.
Just as Kurokawa was about to order his comrades to bring the girl back with them, he realized something.
Something was odd.
Something was strange.
Something was missing.
He looked down at the girl whose arm he was grabbing.
That was it.
“Why are you not screaming?” he asked. “You fell into shock when that detective was only shot in the leg. He was just shot in the face. That completely settles this. So why do you seem calmer now!?”
It was not that the shock had been so great that her emotions had disappeared altogether.
The girl looking up at him had clear calm in her expression.
It was so eerie that Kurokawa was overcome with unease.
The girl’s pale lips opened to speak.
“Because he made it in time.”
Kurokawa was not able to ask what she meant.
The detective who Kurokawa had supposedly shot to death stood up from amid the pile of rotting corpses.
For an instant, Kurokawa’s emotions were overwhelmed by an extraordinary blankness. His mind could not keep up. It was not right for a man whose face had been utterly smashed to be getting up. And yet the detective’s face no longer had a scratch on it. It was not a simple case of having missed. Kurokawa had clearly seen the shot he fired strike the detective in the face. And yet…
“…That was close,” spat out the detective as he grimaced at the unpleasant stains covering his suit. “It wasn’t enough to have it simply leave my grasp. If I did not do so by my own volition, it wouldn’t have had the desired effect.”
“Wh-what…? What are you talking about!?”
“I am talking about the Funa Yuurei,” replied the detective.
However, Kurokawa had not actually been seeking an answer. The calm smile on the man’s face was so frightening, that Kurokawa pulled the trigger on his hunting rifle once more.
Something odd happened once more.
The gun should have had bullets remaining, but nothing happened when he pulled the trigger.
“Zashou Island corresponds to the boat, the islander to the Funa Yuurei, and the hunting rifles to the water ladle, right? With that much preparation, there was no way to win by any normal means. After all, you had already easily destroyed a large criminal organization and a group of police.”
“Fire, fire!! What are you doing!? Don’t let him talk!!”
Kurokawa shouted at his comrades, but he received no reply. Kurokawa was able to guess why that was. Most likely, the same change had occurred in their guns.
They would not fire.
It was such a simple yet effective change.
“But there is a way out.” The detective continued while ignoring Kurokawa who was shouting as if keeping the detective from speaking would stop what was happening. “According to the stories, you will be saved if you give a bottomless water ladle to the Funa Yuurei. On Zashou Island, the hunting rifles take the place of the water ladle, right? In that case, you can do this to take the place of that protective charm!!”
The detective reached into his suit pocket and pulled out the brass cartridges for his handgun.
He had five shots in his hand.
Kurokawa had no way of knowing, but that was every bullet that had been in his revolver.
“An empty handgun. A water ladle that cannot carry out its proper role. Giving one of those to the Funa Yuurei will save those aboard the boat!!”
That was why the islanders’ hunting rifles were no longer working.
Kurokawa cast aside his “water ladle”.
He did not care if he was unable to use any tools. As if to say he was going to settle things in a more primitive manner, he tried to grab at the detective who had been shot in two places.
But he could not.
Kurokawa was knocked back partway to the detective as if there was an invisible wall in the way. He was knocked down to the rotting ground.
“You can’t do that,” said the girl quietly. “It would be one thing if you had tried to sink the boat with your bare hands from the beginning. However, we have already handed you the ‘bottomless water ladle’. Now that we have given you the ‘protective charm’ in the proper fashion, the lives of those aboard the boat are saved. That means we cannot be killed regardless of the presence of a power that can harm us. …Once they have been handed the ‘bottomless water ladle’, the Funa Yuurei will forget that they have the power to sink the boat with their bare hands.”
The gamble for the detective and the girl had been whether they could give the handgun to Kurokawa and the others of their own volition.
And they had succeeded in that.
Now, the Funa Yuurei were nothing but shackles for the islanders.
But even knowing that, the islanders were unable to get rid of the Package.
Youkai were not tools.
Putting together a Package was nothing more than intentionally causing the power of the Youkai to work towards your own ends. The Funa Yuurei were not obedient to the islanders.
The islanders had prepared Funa Yuurei in a way that led to their own gain, but the detective and the girl had altered that.
It was the same as how an advantageous position in chess could be completely overturned in a single turn. But the islanders were unable to flip over the chess board in a fit of anger.
As he leaned on the girl’s shoulder, the detective whispered to her.
“…How about we escape?”
“I only have so many handcuffs and I have no idea where to find rope or anything else to tie them up with. But the next time we come here, we’ll have a Package countermeasure and a warrant. Maybe a riot squad as well. We’ll have to swipe one of their fishing boats, but it’s better than staying on this island filled with rotting corpses.”
They could not be stopped.
They could not be stopped.
They could not be stopped.
A single order from Kurokawa was supposed to bring 400 to 500 people down on any enemy, but they could not stop just two people.
If those two left, all of the islanders’ ill deeds would come to light and only ruin would await them.
And yet “getting them to leave” had been their goal the entire time.
Part 12 (3rd person)
And so the outsiders left.
Kurokawa and the others left behind had something they had to do. They could not allow themselves to be arrested. There was no saving them once that happened. After killing enough people to have bodies scattered all over the island, there was no way they would survive being judged in a court of law. They would not escape the death penalty.
That left them few choices to protect themselves.
A large number of people would soon be coming to Zashou Island.
The order of the island would be destroyed on a level never before seen. It would all be swept away. They could predict that much. A wave was coming large enough to eliminate not just the society of Zashou Island but the village itself.
In that case, Kurokawa and the others had no choice but to “have them all leave”.
This time, they would use everything available to them.
“Th-the Package! We need to reassemble the Package!! We need to make it stronger!!” Kurokawa shouted instructions to the islanders. “Whether it’s a large criminal organization or the police, they need to come to the island to attack us. In that case, we just have to destroy them the instant they set foot on the island. It doesn’t matter if we have to kill hundreds or even thousands!! We will crush all those who would get in our way!! That is the only way for Zashou Island to survive!!”
Most items used for everyday life in the Intellectual Village were ordered via the communications network and the internet, so the mainland would be able to apply external pressure to Zashou Island if it wanted to crush the island. However, Kurokawa and the others were so focused on the imminent threat that such thoughts did not enter their minds.
And something else did not enter their minds.
Namely, the possibility that something even more frightening awaited them before that “imminent threat” could arrive.
“Hello,” said a female voice.
The details of her appearance were unclear. Kurokawa could not even determine the exact shape of her face.
This was simply due to the fact that she was much too close to him. He was just barely able to tell it was a woman who was so close their noses were almost touching.
Kurokawa could not even imagine when she could have gotten that close to him.
The next thing he noticed was the utter silence.
The other islanders had been running around making plenty of noise just a moment before. He had been giving them instructions on how to reassemble the Funa Yuurei Package. All of that had disappeared. All that remained was a painful ringing in his ears.
If he just moved his head slightly to the side, he would be able to tell what was happening.
But he could not.
It was impossible.
He could not even attempt it.
He had no idea what horrible thing would happen if he let that woman out of his sight for even an instant. And so Kurokawa was unable to move a single eyeball, much less his head. It was as if he had been overcome with sleep paralysis.
“Maybe I went a little overboard here. Well, if this was an incident that the law could deal with, the penalties handed out by the law would have been enough. However, you went beyond that. So naturally the penalty must also go beyond what the law can provide.”
“Wh-what…?” Kurokawa felt his throat rapidly grow dry. “You’re not from the police… So are you from the large criminal-…?”
“Don’t put me on the same level as them.”
Her voice was neither especially loud nor especially high-pitched. Her words came gently and smoothly. Nevertheless, there was something to the woman’s voice that silenced Kurokawa in an instant.
“And to be honest it really doesn’t matter who I am. But if you want to waste your precious question time on that, that’s fine with me.”
The woman held up a slender index finger.
“Hint 1: I am someone who does not want the likes of you to increase in number. However, I am not completely opposed to Youkai powers.”
She raised her middle finger.
“Hint 2: There are some Youkai that are so dangerous you will die just from meeting them.”
She raised her ring finger.
“Hint 3: Have you ever heard of the Hyakki Yakou?”
A week later when the typhoon had passed by Zashou Island, members of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department arrived at the island along with a riot squad. They found innumerable rotting corpses, but they were unable to find the perpetrators.
They would have assumed they had fled, but the islanders’ fishing boats were still in the harbor.
There was one thing the investigators could not know since the number of corpses was so great it would likely take months to identify them all.
It was entirely possible the rotting flesh of the islanders was mixed in with all the other corpses.
- While the term usually refers to exile, it can also be interpreted to mean something along the lines of "floating punishment".
- Nure Onna literally means “wet woman”.
- Zashou refers to a ship running aground.
|Back to Chapter 1||Return to Main Page||Forward to Chapter 3|