Dirty Hands



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The Novel- Chapter Three

chapters cast of characters author bios

Shounen Ou ("The Boy King") by Enokido Youji, Hasegawa Shin-ya
Chapter 3 (Newtype, December 1999)
translated by Mark Neidengard
version 0.1

commercial use of these translations is prohibited


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Mikoto is steadily falling into the hands of the target, in short, his enemy. A strange relationship where the two talk and live together develops. Then one night, Karin visits Mikoto's room - what is her real motive?

Chapter Three: Karin's Forest

Only in the forest are there no lies.

That morning, Mikoto awoke in a different room from the day before. He slid aside the glass pane of the bay window to see a thick fog enveloping the trees dotting the mountainside. This mansion, located halfway up the mountain, featured the same brick construction as the school buildings, with a beautiful Volize facade. It was the lunarium where Ryuugen and Karin lived.

The night before, a man claiming to be Ryuugen's steward had visited his room. "We have not received your reply, yet in accordance with my master's wishes I have come uninvited to pick you up."

Mikoto had nodded, and accompanied him right into his enemy's hands. It was a necessary step for the completion of his current job.

Upon passing through the mansion's door, he had found a young maid waiting for him, who showed him to his room. Ryuugen had said that he and Karin lived alone at the mansion, but evidently he hadn't included the servants. Mikoto had little in the way of luggage, and "moving in" meant little more than changing hotels while on a trip.

The room he was led to was in a corner of the third floor. It was luxuriantly appointed and well-lit, with a good view, but getting out through the window could be a tad troublesome.

According to the steward's explanation, the mansion was the property of the school's Chairman of the Board, and had been specially offered to Ryuugen for his off-campus stay.

Ryuugen and Karin hadn't shown themselves last night.

The maid had said, you must be tired tonight, so please rest, and that her master had indicated he would by all means wish to have breakfast with him on the morrow.

Mikoto had slept in his underwear, but out of tentative courtesy to his control device, he kept his "ring" on. Fluttery, his safety system, would watch over his sleep. But that was just a bluff: his paragrine hadn't yet moved after Ryuugen's gunshot. Coming back online required time. But he was in the enemy's camp; it was the only form of insurance he had.

*

"I'm sorry my invitation turned out so unpleasantly," Ryuugen said. "And allow me to thank you anew. Had Karin been bitten by that poisonous snake, I doubt she'd be here now."

The breakfast table was set with fragrant cooked bacon and walnut bread. Ryuugen offered Mikoto some hot coffee.

"There are idiots everywhere. But that's taken care of now. They won't try anything again soon."

"Is that so..." Mikoto answered casually, wondering how the hell anything had been "taken care of". He was reminded anew exactly how complicated the circumstances of this case were.

"Have you said thank you yet?" Ryuugen asked Karin. Karin continued eating her jam-filled waffle in silence, but with an expression of having no other choice made a gesture of thanks. "Hey, is that how you act to the person who saved your life?"

"It's alright. I don't think she likes me, and judging a world according to her likes and dislikes is a woman's privilege."

"Oh, I don't mind guys if they're cute," Karin said, obviously not meaning it. "But is there anybody who can survive only surrounded by the things they like? Doesn't everybody have to take the world as a whole? Even people who ignore people end up being with them by 'ignoring' them."

"You get pretty theoretical sometimes, you know?"

"Perhaps it's your influence." Ryuugen wore an expression of "oh, brother" as he looked up at the ceiling.

An outside observer would probably think we were just three friends sharing a meal together, Mikoto thought. It was the first time he had ever conversed this openly with a target he would have to kill.

When the order to act comes, will I really be able to kill this boy?

Once again, as though reading Mikoto's dilemma, Ryuugen said, "Why do you work as an agent? Money? Prestige? Or are they holding someone hostage?"

"Well..." Mikoto hesitated at such a direct question. His motive. It wasn't out of anything like a sense of obligation to the mission, much less loyalty to his king. It was a game, between himself and the world. He carried out his missions for no reason other than his own profit. But it was also clear that that "profit" was neither in money nor prestige. "I guess it's not because I chose the job, but because the job chose me," Mikoto answered.

"Yes, everyone has to take the world as a whole. And if they truly accept everything they see, they have to have some kind of job they can't run away from. I was quite impressed by how you handle a gun. If you're that good, you surely realize that that sort of job is waiting for you."

"I do wonder where you get that theoreticalness from." Ryuugen smiled slightly, and gazed off out the window. The light of the sun struck the fog that still clung to the trees on the mountainside in a brilliant dance. It was like being inside a boat traveling through a sea of glowing latex. "The promenade is quite pleasant in the morning," Ryuugen said while regarding the fog. "Since it's such a good opportunity, I'd like you to show Mikoto-kun the way. Alright?"

"Okay", Karin answered.

*

Only the chirping of small birds was audible. Deeply shrouded in fog, a path of groomed stones continued off among the trees on the hillside. Karin said nothing as she pressed deeper and deeper into the mists. Her appearance reminded Mikoto of stories of fairies who led travelers astray.

"You're a very good singer." Acutely aware of Karin's stifling silence, Mikoto blurted out the obvious. "I'm jealous that he's got a fiancee like you."

"Fiancee? Who told you that?"

"He said it himself."

Karin stopped walking, and for the first time looked Mikoto in the face. The pained expression and color of her eyes told Mikoto he had just said something wrong. The fog blanketed the area, and even Mikoto and Karin seemed to melt into whiteness. At length, Karin said she wanted to go into the forest.

"The forest?"

"Only in the forest are there no lies." She seemed to be speaking not to Mikoto, but herself. It wasn't clear what she meant, but it was clear that she cared deeply about Ryuugen. Suddenly, Karin turned to face a certain spot a bit off the path with a startled expression. She whispered one word into Mikoto's ear. "Monster."

Monster? Mikoto looked where Karin was staring. But he could see nothing except the blanket of fog, and the shadows of the verdant trees. "Is something there?"

"It's standing right there." So saying, Karin began walking towards the spot. Not understanding yet what was going on, Mikoto followed behind.

Once off the path, it was difficult going making their way among the lush summer trees. But Karin made her way forward quickly, like an animal accustomed to the underbrush. Desperately trying to keep up, Mikoto began to wonder suddenly if she really was trying to get him lost and leave him behind.

Just then, Karin came to a stop before an elm tree. A solitary girl in a school uniform lay among the roots. Leaning over her, Karin took hold of her wrist. "She's asleep." she said. "Forever."

Seeing her expression grow cold, Mikoto became fully aware of the girl's death. Counting that boy from yesterday, this was Mikoto's second. But how had Karin known about this spot? "Did you say 'monster' just now?"

"They're all over the place outside the forest."

"I didn't see anything."

"Of course you didn't, it's a monster", Karin said.

*

After class that day, Mikoto returned to the mansion to find the steward feeding a greyhound in the front garden. "Welcome back."

"That's a nice dog."

The greyhound had not barked at Mikoto's approach, but merely continued eating its meal in silence. However, Mikoto had no plans to go and pat its head. The slender dog's body was disciplined and sharp. Even though Ryuugen had left Mikoto on the loose, Mikoto didn't know what his subordinates thought of him. There was the constant danger that one of them would decide to attack on their own initiative.

When Mikoto returned to his room he found traces that someone had openly rifled through his luggage. That sense of danger grew immensely. There was no way Ryuugen would have ordered that. Mikoto had known from the outset that he was being watched. But for precisely that reason, his privacy should have been respected: his opponent should have known that there wasn't anything he didn't want found. And the ring that let him control Fluttery, his weapon, was openly hung around his neck. The other side of the open door appeared Karin.

"Hi. You weren't in class today, were you?" Mikoto asked.

"I was tied up reporting the corpse we found this morning to the Student Council. They kept asking all kinds of annoying questions."

"And here I got off just with Ryuugen's say-so when that happened to me..."

"I had to convince them about how I found the spot."

I bet, thought Mikoto. Although the spot where he had found the corpse wasn't exactly popular, it was the bank of a well-traveled river. Had he said he passed by there occasionally, they couldn't have disproved it. And in point of fact, it was a coincidence. But saying it was a coincidence finding the body this morning amidst fog and foliage just wasn't going to fly. "How did you convince them?"

"I told them I was walking the dog and it pulled me along to the spot," Karin said.

Of course, it was unlikely that the Student Council members actually bought that. But considering the balance of power between Ryuugen and the Council he had seen earlier, he doubted the authenticity of her story was a problem.

"Oh, it's the greyhound," Karin said, looking out the window.

There hadn't been a doghouse this morning, so Mikoto had assumed it was being kept elsewhere, but now he made the connection. Even though it was to cover up her lie, he had to admire how fast it had been arranged. "I bet you don't even know that dog's name, do you?"

Karin stood at the window for a while without answering, watching the dog in silence. The animosity he had felt from her since the beginning had lessened somewhat. Her hair smelled nice, swaying in the breeze.

Mikoto was somewhat perplexed. It seemed that every time the two of them met he found something newly attractive about her. She refused to look at Mikoto, but at the same time made no move to leave his room. She had said she hated Mikoto, so presumably she wouldn't be there without a reason. He interpreted her posture to mean that she had something she was finding difficult to say.

At that moment, the paragrine flew in the open window, startling the girl. Deftly flapping its wings, it alighted atop Mikoto's chest. It looked like Karin was a bit afraid of it. Seen from inside the room, the paragrine looked surprisingly big. It was finally back online; Mikoto was greatly relieved.

"Looks like your precious toy got fixed."

"What an honor it is to be in the presence of a member of the noble families," Fluttery said in his artificial voice.

Upon hearing this, a fierce anger Mikoto hadn't seen before appeared in Karin's eyes as she glared at the paragrine, and at Mikoto as well. "You already know you can't beat Ryuugen with a chick like that. So just get the hell out of here! I get sick just having someone like you in this mansion." Leaving these words of disgust behind, Karin left the room.

One man and one bird were left in the room.

"You entirely back to normal?"

"Of course." The strongest team in the Institute was back.

"You already know you can't beat Ryuugen..." Certainly, Ryuugen's gun and his facility in using it were a fearsome threat in battle. But Mikoto still had a chance.

"I have no excuse for going berserk and ending up in such disgrace. Don't worry, if you 'use your head', I'm sure you can win." Fluttery anticipated Mikoto's admonition and spoke accordingly. The ring Mikoto wore as a necklace was originally supposed to be worn on the head. When Mikoto did so, the paragrine under his control would display combat ability orders of magnitude greater than Fluttery's current independent mode. Combat ability greater than even the Institute he worked for knew about. That was his chance of victory. Of course he had no plans let his mission end in failure.

Assuming, of course, that his opponent could be seen, Mikoto thought.

*

She had first found out about the monsters around the time she was finally able to reach the flowerbox in the garden. She had never seen anyone like it before in the castle. And apparently her personal tutor couldn't see it. "What are those people I see every so often?" Karin had asked.

"Did someone appear in your dreams?" her tutor queried.

"Uh-uh, they come out when I'm awake, laughing people with lots of shadows."

"My, how repulsive. You mustn't look at such monstrous things." Ah, so they're monsters, Karin had thought. The first one she saw was tall and dressed in women's clothing, but was obviously male and had a water buffalo's horns on its head. It had been smiling pleasantly. And it had two shadows. It had been a very sunny day, and Karin, the flowerbox, and the garden had all cast long shadows, but the monster had had two of them, and they didn't lie where they should have. It was like it wasn't the sun, but some other light source had been shining on it. And the monster's "sun" seemed very capricious and unstable, since its shadows kept getting changing length and wavering. After its first appearance, the monster showed itself many times every day. In the hall, in the dining room, in her bedroom - it popped up brazenly everywhere. And there wasn't just one of them, but many.

There were elderly ones in children's clothing, and women with mouse's whiskers, and more besides. The biggest thing they had in common was their mismatched appearance. They were always smiling pleasantly, despite a certain tiredness and deep sorrow in their eyes. Even on moonless nights, or in rooms without candles, they had many shadows. Before she knew it, there were as many monsters in the world as there was air. But to Karin, they were always an eerie sight she could never get used to.

There were other things that frightened her too. For example, her mother. Karin's mother was a person who always lived on the edge, like a stretched thread just before snapping. Yet she always kept a quiet smile on her face, and to Karin was every bit as frightening as the monsters. And apparently she was the only other person besides Karin who could see the those monsters. Sometimes when the two of them were together in a room and a monster appeared, a scowl of displeasure would knit her eyebrows.

Karin knew that whenever they had company and a monster appeared, her mother would pretend to completely ignore it. She seemed unwilling to talk about the monsters or even acknowledge their existence. "The pattern on the curtains is ugly today. It looks like a person's face." Her mother had often said that. But as far as Karin could tell the floral print of the curtains hadn't changed at all. Rather, a monster had appeared and was lingering in front of them.

Despite her age, Karin had realized that she ought not to talk about the monsters around her mother. And she realized that to her mother, she was the "child of a man she didn't love".

The merchants who came faithfully before her mother offered her rare jewels and bottles of perfume and lavished her with flattery. She always set aside their trinkets untouched, but Karin often heard her whisper that those jewels were her companions. "I came to this house because I was chosen like one of them." The merchants always, always delivered their flattery to her mother with pleasant smiles. Karin heard by coincidence from the merchants' gossip that her mother had been forced to marry into this house as a political marriage.

Karin had started visiting the forest around the time she began to mature into a proper little girl. While it wasn't any kind of sacrosanct holy ground, nobody but Karin ever went there. It was said to be a dangerous place that one could never return from if they ventured too deep, and except to pick the tree's fruit or mushrooms nobody from the area would go anywhere near the forest's heart. Terrible monsters dwelled in the forest, monsters that no gun could kill, said the adults. But that forest had a special meaning for Karin, and unbeknownst to the adults she often made here own way there. It was because there were no monsters in the forest.

Those creepy, gloomy monsters- Karin first realized in the forest how wonderful it was to have time and space without them showing up. In fairy tales, monsters and witches always lived in the woods, but that was a lie. The real forest was the only place the monsters _weren't_. Only real-life dangers were there.

Karin felt that the forest with its dangers was a much realer world than her monster-infested home. And in that forest where she could feel the real world, she spent countless hours. There was something wrong with any place where monsters appeared. But there was nothing abnormal about herself for being able to see them. Instead, the abnormal ones were the adults, who couldn't see the monsters appearing as proof that something was wrong with those places, or her mother who could see them but refused to accept them. That's what Karin thought. That she was all alone in the world. That the forest was the only place that was right.

Only in the forest were there no lies.

And it was in the forest where Karin finally met Ryuugen. One day, Karin was attacked by a large snake while gazing at a beautiful pond. The snake had glided across the surface of the water toward her as she moistened her throat unawares with the pond's water. But it had been blown apart in time with a gunshot.

Karin was startled, but quickly figured out what had happened and caught sight of the person who saved her life tarrying in the nearby brush. "What were you doing here," Karin asked.

"Hunting", answered the boy who seemed about her age. "I sleep in the branches of big trees at night, and when the sun comes up I kill beasts and eat them, while traveling. I didn't think there was anyone in this forest", he said.

"No one comes near this forest. They say its beasts can't be killed with a gun."

"This is a special gun", said the boy. The brilliant emeralds on the silver weapon's handle sparkled.

"Isn't that mean to the beasts to kill and eat them?"

"But they're really tasty", the boy with the silver gun laughed. "This is a pretty cozy forest."

"Well, that is...that's cause there aren't any monsters here."

"What are monsters?", the boy asked.

Karin was slightly disappointed then, realizing that it really was only her and her mother who could see them. Even though she had met her Prince, there was still a loneliness that couldn't be healed. But the boy believed Karin's story about the monsters right away. "Yes, those are definitely monsters, and you can see them", he said. "But, now that you're here, maybe the monsters will come here too."

Karin had figured out by then that the monsters appeared in direct proportion the the number of people around. Until now, this had been her forest alone, so no monsters had shown up.

"Well", the boy said. "If these monster things do show up, I'll get them with my gun."

This boy might actually be able to slay the monsters, Karin thought. There was something mysterious about him.

"I want to be with you," Karin said.

*

Mikoto lay on the bed in his appointed room, gazing at the moon through the window. The crescent moon floated above the treetops. The lights were off and the moonlight shadows bathed the interior of the room in shades of blue.

Mikoto hadn't locked his door, and as though discerning that, and without any knock on the door, someone suddenly turned the handle. Mikoto swiftly sat upright. The door opened with a faint grating sound. On the other side stood Karin.

"What is it?"

It wasn't yet dawn. Without answering, she walked over to the bed and sat down on one corner.

"What?" Mikoto had his hand on the bedside lightswitch, but hesitated to flip it. He fancied that the girl before him might vanish along with the darkness. In the moonlight, the girl he saw seemed almost doll-like, devoid of volition: almost a different person from during the day. Still saying nothing, she began undoing the buttons on her clothing. She slipped off her shirt. She wore no bra over her chest. Her pale skin seemed to loom out of the darkness of the room, captivating like a firefly larva he had scooped up beside a small stream long ago.

Mikoto took his hand away from the lightswitch and very naturally put his arm around her slender hips. Her body was cold, but it was no doll's. Inside her breast came the sound of her quiet breathing. As though to show the two of them to the control device, she pressed her lips to it.

"Say..." she sighed into his face. For some reason, it seemed strange to Mikoto to hear her speak. "Did he really say I was his fiancee?"

It seemed the thing she had been unable to say by daylight had finally found its way into words. She had been tight-lipped all the way through dinner too.

"Yeah," Mikoto answered. "He told me if I wanted to get you I had no choice but to kill him."

"..." Suddenly, Karin jerked herself out of his arms, and as though regaining herself pushed Mikoto away. And still bare-chested, she left the room. It seemed exactly like something in a dream, but her forgotten shirt still lay atop the bed.

Maybe a monster just appeared in my room...

Where on earth was her forest? Mikoto wondered.


to be continued next issue

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