Then I realized something. “Are you good at drawing?” I asked.
“Allow me to answer your question with another question. Does this guy look like he’s good at drawing?”
“Don’t refer to yourself in third person. It’s weird. Well?”
“I don’t even have the time to draw anything. But to answer your question, no, I don’t think I’m good at drawing.” He cocked his head.
Not that I trusted him, but I let him go. Yuusuke coughed, but instead of drinking water, he shoveled more fried rice into his mouth. At his feet, as usual, lay a baseball bat.
If he could draw images that attacked people, he wouldn’t need a bat.
“By the way,” I said, “What are you doing in this dump?”
“Now that’s just rude. The food here is great. They serve hefty portions, and it’s cheap.”
“That’s not what I meant. I thought you were going to live a clean and honest high school life.”
“Oh, that. I did too many part-time jobs so I’m definitely getting held back for a year. I’ll get it together next year. It’s nice being loaded, if I do say so myself. As long as I breathe, I’ll never starve to death. The world sure is weird.”
Yuusuke chuckled as he flipped through the menu to see if there was anything else he wanted. I regarded his bright face with a frown. I didn’t know how to deal with someone who was intentionally broken.
“Excuse me,” he said. “One fried rice and one order of gyoza.”
From the back of the restaurant, a tremendously low voice, probably the manager’s, answered.
Grinning, Yuusuke turned around. “Your presence here means things are gonna get interesting. If you provide me some details, I might be able to help you. Oh, and the gyoza here’s delicious, but it’s got lots of garlic. You okay with that?”
I ignored him and took my seat. I had no idea who he was associated with, so there was no way I would divulge any sort of information.
Hold up, though.
“Did you just order for me?”
“What, I shouldn’t have?” Yuusuke asked curiously.
I thought I felt my veins pop. I had no intention of getting that angry over food, but it was infuriating nonetheless.
Mayuzumi, and now this guy. Why are they so inconsiderate?
Before I could voice my complaint, Yuusuke’s face beamed with animalistic delight. He kicked the baseball bat at his feet and grabbed it as it spun. At the same time, a loud scream came from outside.
A man’s shriek ripped through the air.
It came from the alley I was in. Clicking my tongue, I stood up and hurried after Yuusuke. There was no hesitation in his steps, as if he knew the way, and he showed no signs of slowing down. His instincts were amazing; he only just heard the scream.
“Stop, Yuusuke! Stay out of it!”
“You really expect me to just say ‘okay’? How could I ignore something fun that’s happening right in front of—”
He cut off. Yuusuke stopped and quickly took a step back. The scream could no longer be heard. Instead, there was a different sound.
The sound of countless footsteps.
When I laid eyes on the scene, a shiver ran down my spine.
“What is this?” Yuusuke mumbled.
I’d like to know myself.
A black-and-white frog was hopping around, its legs producing wet sounds. Its body, made of diluted black ink, looked terribly unreal. Its throat swelled as it croaked. Uneasily, I lifted my gaze. A young man with flashy blond hair was crouched down on the street filled with countless frogs. He tried desperately to shake off the clinging animals. Suddenly, he fell backward. There was someone else standing beside him. Both of them were dressed similarly, but the young man standing had a bandana covering his mouth. He was a young boy, maybe fifteen years old.
In his hand was a brush. Its tip, wet with ink, slowly touched the wall. The next instant, his arm moved swiftly, and a word appeared.
The letters’ outlines rippled. Legs sprouted. Arms grew. As if evolving from a tadpole, the word changed into an image of a frog. Once the transformation was complete, it leapt.
From out of the wall and onto the alley.
“What the hell are you?” I muttered.
The boy noticed us. He quickly moved his brush, trying to draw something on the wall. A chill ran down my spine. Alarms rang in my mind, but I couldn’t react immediately.
Yuusuke, on the other hand, was quick.
He crushed the frogs with the sole of his sneaker and sprinted like a beast, leaving ink marks on the pavement that looked like bloodstains. Yuusuke closed in on the boy swiftly, without hesitation.
He slammed the baseball bat on the boy’s head.
“Odagiri-kun. I can do something with my power, but I think it would be better for you if you atone for your mistakes.”
“I didn’t do anything. It was Yuusuke.”
“Yeah, I know. Let’s just hope he’s not dead.”
“I think he’s still alive,” Yuusuke said. “I didn’t feel his skull crack.”
That’s good. But you don’t get to say anything.
Yuusuke and Mayuzumi looked at each other. When we carried the guy back to the apartment, Mayuzumi did not look surprised, but she didn’t hide her displeasure either. She probably found the whole matter troublesome. It goes without saying that I paid the cab fare out of my own pocket. The boy was unconscious and motionless. The youngster passed out beside him was probably a gang member. Since he had no life-threatening injuries, we laid him down on the side of the road. I had no idea know what happened between them, but I could easily guess.
I thought back to the story Mayuzumi told me.
The boy being chased reached a dead-end and turned around. Footsteps were coming closer, intent on teaching the disrespectful newcomer a lesson. Then, something strange happened.
The street art moved and attacked.
I peered into the boy’s face again. He showed no sign of waking up, but his breathing was stable. I just hoped his life was not in any danger. We had placed an ice pillow on his head. I thought about calling a doctor, but I didn’t want to get charged with attempted murder.
I removed the bandana covering his face to make it easier for him to breathe. He looked surprisingly young. His dark, thin eyebrows and Japanese features contrasted with his light-brown hair.
His eyes snapped open.
There was no time for relief at the fact that he was alive. The boy, his face stiff, touched his mouth and bolted upright. He snatched the bandana from me and jumped behind the sofa. Warily, he hid himself from sight.
He was probably confused. But the reaction seemed too unusual.
“You think he has anthrophobia or something?” Yuusuke said. “No need to be scared. I’m harmless.”
He wasn’t convincing anyone a bit. The boy was silent. It looked like he wanted to say something. Mayuzumi nodded to herself and picked up a white folding fan. I wondered where she got it, and apparently it was stuck to the boy’s waist. He quickly took it and began writing something on it.
I shuddered. I thought he was up to something, but there was only normal letters on the fan.
“Who are you? What do you want?”
“Before asking people who they are, you should introduce yourself first,” Mayuzumi said. “It’s called manners. Besides, one look at me and you should know who I am.”
Mayuzumi jerked her chin at the red parasol propped up on the wall. The boy’s eyes widened. He waved his fan, and the words vanished. He scribbled something again.
“The current Mayuzumi Azaka?”
“Correct. Our meeting her like this must be fate at work. Can you tell me why you’re doing this, Minase boy?” Mayuzumi’s smile widened.
My brows furrowed. Minase?
“I have nothing to tell you.”
“Well, if you want to keep it a secret, fine. It’s no skin off my back. I’m sure I’ll hear from them soon. This might sound strange coming from me, but your clan’s messenger is incredibly quick to act.” Her smile looked as if she was taunting her prey.
The boy scribbled something on his fan again. He unfolded it in front of his mouth.
“Do not speak of my clan, minx.”
“Wha—” Before I could snap at him for going too far, Yuusuke reached for the fan and folded it shut.
“Can you stop doing that?” he said. “It’s so annoying.”
The air froze. The boy forced the folded fan open and tried to write something on it. Yuusuke folded it again. Tears formed in the boy’s eyes.
“What are you doing?!” I roared.
“It’s all good. It’s not like he can’t speak. He was pissing me off, and reading is a pain. I’m a modern kid.”
“That’s not the point!”
I looked at the boy. He was quivering. The condescending attitude he had displayed earlier was gone. His gaze flitted around like he was some cornered little critter.
Yuusuke grabbed him by the shoulders. “Now breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out. Healthy communication starts with dialogue, don’t you agree?” He gave a toothy smile. It reminded me of skulls.
Realizing that he couldn’t escape, the boy opened his mouth. “I… I…”
“Go on. What is it?”
Sweat trickled down the boy’s face like a waterfall. Since they were almost the same age, it looked like an upperclassman bullying his junior. As I let out a sigh, there came a dignified and resonant voice.
I turned around. The door to the apartment opened without a sound, revealing people wearing black-and-white kimono as if in mourning. Their clothes had ink drawings on them. On the woman’s sleeve was a gray bird with its wings spread open.
The woman, accompanied by a retainer whose mouth was covered with a cloth, slowly bowed.
“It has been a long time, Lady Mayuzumi Azaka.”
“Yeah, long time no see, Minase lady. You sure took your time. I was worried that your intelligence network had gone inadequate. I’m glad to see you’re fine.”
The woman arched her eyebrow slightly, but Mayuzumi wasn’t being sarcastic at all. Regarding her innocent smile, the woman once again bowed deeply.
“I apologize for the inconvenience caused by a member of our clan. We will take him home right away. And one more thing.” The woman lifted her head. “We need you to come with us, Lady Mayuzumi Azaka.”
Mayuzumi said nothing. She simply grinned like a cat.