Something strange was taking place in the marketplace.
One of the robberies that controlled the marketplace had begun. A group of boys lined up brandishing sticks. Beating up anyone, taking anything, the younger children could do nothing to resist.
Watching this sad scene silently, biting her lip, was Yuuri.
Out of the blue, a stone hit her shoulder. When she turned, there were a group of boys with their hair dyed gold. They surrounded her.
“With no gun, you can’t do a thing...”
Vulgar laughter spread across the end-of-the-world marketplace.
One boy hit her. She fell without resisting.
“Until now you’ve been doing whatever you like, waving around a gun.”
When he moved to hit her again, Yuuri kicked up between his legs as hard as she could. Groaning, his eyes rolled. Yuuri ran away. At once the boys set off in pursuit.
In the moral-less Makuhara, the loss of one gun dropped the entire block into a deep confusion.
At the same time, Yamato stood frozen.
The storeroom that Yuuri had guarded the key to so preciously had been mercilessly vandalized, with no traces left of the things that had been there.
At that moment, Yamato noticed the figure of Mori hiding in the corner. His eye was swelling, and blood was smeared from his lip. The thieves had beaten him about as well, it seemed.
Yamato took him back to their tent.
“It’s better if we stay together, here.”
“What about Yuuri?” asked Mori, and Yamato answered gently.
“Don’t worry, we’ll go look for her.”
Mori looked at Takeru remorsefully. “The game you gave me... they took it. Sorry...”
“Don’t mind about that. Here, drink this.”
Takeru gave Mori some water. Yamato went outside the tent, and saw Yuuri hiding nearby. There were vestiges of having been beaten on her face.
Then, a group of out-of-breath pursuing boys arrived. Panicked, Yuuri cowered under cover.
“What do you want?”
Yamato blocked their way. But without paying attention they looked inside the tent. Frightened, Mori hid behind Yamato.
“What? You guys - ” Takeru glared at the boys.
Searching Yamato’s face, the yellow-haired boy that seemed to be the leader spoke in a threatening tone. “You’d better not be hiding anything.”
“Hey, wait a minute. How old are you guys?” Takeru interjected.
“Don’t know, didn’t go to school.”
“So that’s why the yellow hair? You’re delinquents. You’re younger than us, right? Careful what you say.”
“What we say?”
Suddenly, the boy grabbed Takeru’s shirt. But Takeru wouldn’t back down. He took a step forward, looking ready to fight back. This time it was Yamato’s turn to break in.
“Yuuri isn’t here. Go back home.”
“... I get it. Bring Mori.”
At the boss’s signal, the boys forcibly dragged Mori out of the tent. Takeru and Yamato tried to stop them. Finally, the fight began.
But they were greatly outnumbered. Before they know it, Takeru and Yamato became punching bags for the group of boys...
Watching the scene from under cover, an unspeakable sorrow echoed inside Yuuri.
Their faces swollen, Takeru and Yamato sat in the night breeze. Nearby Riki gulped down some milk.
“You look terrible,” Yamato said.
“Speak for yourself,” Takeru sighed. “But I’m glad we did that. I’d been feeling kind of restless.”
“Yeah, always being here in the same place, sometimes I think I can’t stand it anymore.”
“I see...” Yamato said, and went back into the tent. Takeru watched him go with a wistful expression.
Yuuri and Mori were inside the tent, both with bruised faces.
“You’re probably hungry,” Mori gave Yamato some bread and water.
Next Yuuri gave Yamato a can.
Yamato looked up from the food in front of his eyes when Yuuri asked him, “Why?”
“Why did you protect us?
“That friendship thing you hate,” he said, a little sarcastically. Mori opened his mouth.
“Yuuri doesn’t hate it.”
“Yuuri’s really kind.”
“What?” Yamato tried not to show his surprise.
“She’s not keeping the food for herself. She’s properly dividing it among everyone.”
“Shut up,” Yuuri told him flatly. Without listening Mori kept talking.
“The big boys take food away from the little kids immediately, so she hides food for the kids.”
“I said shut up!” Yuuri yelled, and turned her face away.
A look of surprise flashed across Yamato’s face. ...Yuuri, not hoarding the food, storing it for the sake of everyone else. If that was so...
Yuuri didn’t say anything else, but looked down sulkily. Looking at a Yuuri who could be gentle, Yamato said, “The announcement from before, it seems there has to be groups of more than five people and the leader will get the food... We’ve got five people now.”
The next day, in the gym. Kiichi and Yamato’s raft making had reached the exciting part.
“Tomorrow night we’ll go for it.”
Kiichi, finishing his own part of the work, raised his face. Yamato was attaching plastic bottles to the main body, and his hand stopped abruptly.
“What’s wrong?” asked Kiichi.
Yamato stammered, “Kiichi... I - ”
“You’re not going to say something like we can’t go together after all, are you?” Kiichi said, surprised.
Yamato lowered his eyes. “I’m at a loss as to how to say this, exactly.”
“At a loss? There’s nothing to be at a loss about. You want to see Suzuko and the others again, don’t you?”
“I want to, of course I want to see them.” Looking at Yamato who said this with such difficulty, Kiichi became irritated.
“Then why - “
“But if we leave here, the organism that we might be carrying will be spread around to the outside, right?”
“... I know that, I know but we’re eighteen years old. This is the time we should be studying for entrance exams and having fun, right? But we’re stuck in a place like this isntead, which is why we have to get out now. Don’t you think so?”
“So, stop worrying about it and making a fuss.”
Yamato had no words, and Kiichi told him in a stern tone, “I’ll be waiting for you. Tonight at three o’clock. I’ll be waiting on the pier.”
With heavy tread Yamato returned to the tent. He stopped breathing.
Both the tent and the bathtub had been overturned, and everything inside was gone.
A little ways away Takeru lay in the long grass. Yamato ran to him. He’d been horribly beaten.
“Are you all right?”
“...I feel sick,” Takeru said, touching his wounds.
“Was it those guys again?”
“No... It was Makoto and Akira. They attacked suddenly... They took Yuuri and Mori. We need to find them fast.”
Yamato tried to wipe his wounds with a handkerchief, when Takeru unexpectedly brushed his hand away.
“Leave me alone... I said don’t mind about me!”
“You’re going today, right? With Kiichi.”
Yamato’s face went white. Frowning, Takeru managed to raise his body.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m not annoyed about it. If you were being nervous, there was no need... It’s just, I thought we were friends but you didn’t even say a word to me... Well, I know you and Kiichi have been close friends from a long time ago, and you only got thrown together with me because of circumstances. But you sneaking around keeping it a secret, it made me lonely.”
“I kept thinking, when is he going to tell me? When is he going to say something?”
Yamato couldn’t say a word. Takeru gave him a lonely smile.
“So that’s it. I’m not telling you to stop. Anyone would get out of this place if they had the chance, and no one would have the right to stop them.”
Saying that, Takeru pressed Yamato’s shoulder firmly. “Go... Hurry up and go.”
“Don’t bother about me. We’re only together because of the circumstances, after all... Well, I’ll go do something about Yuuri and Mori.”
With that, Takeru walked away dragging his leg, and disappeared in direction of town. Unable to do a thing, Yamato watched his departing figure. Something at his feet in the grass caught his eye. It was a plastic bottle. He picked it up, and saw that in black marker Takeru’s messy handwriting was printed, “SHAMPOO FOR LEADER’S USE.”
Yuuri was hit again and again. Akira, then Makoto. Watching it all, trembling, was Mori.
“Without your gun, you’re not so tough anymore.”
There was the blunt sound of bone hitting bone, and bright red blood fell from Yuuri’s mouth. But she never made a sound.
Seeing their prey like this, Akira and Makoto continued senselessly hitting that lovely face. Her consciousness was fading, but Yuuri felt no hate for the boys attacking her. There was only an immeasurable, unbearable sorrow...
Takeru wandered through streets filled with night fog.
Where were Yuuri and Mori? Where...
Before his eyes a figure suddenly ran out - it was Mori!
But after Mori, from behind a warehouse, came Yamato with Yuuri, covered in wounds, draped over his shoulders.
“Yamato...” Takeru said, taken aback.
Yamato answered him decisively. “I’m not going.”
Yuuri lay on the sofa with Yamato, Takeru and Mori watching over her. Looking at her form, was literally covered in injuries, Takeru murmured in horror, “Makoto and Akira have gone too far.”
“The thing is, Yuuri’s gun had a part in stopping fights here. Now that it’s gone, those guys - and everyone else - are going to be doing whatever they want,” Yamato said as he dipped a handkerchief in a bucket of water, wrung it, and put it on Yuuri’s forehead.
Finally her eyes opened slightly.
“...Go,” it sounded as though she groaned.
“Huh?” Yamato answered in surprise.
“It’s tonight, right? Your promise with Kiichi.”
“It’s not. It’s better if you’re not in this place. It’s better if you run away.”
“I’m not going to leave you guys behind... I can’t get just myself out of here,” Yamato said decisively. At his words, a warm feeling spread through Takeru, Yuuri, and Mori’s hearts.
Suddenly, Mori stood up. “I’m sorry.”
“Yuuri’s gun, the one who stole it was me.”
The other three exchanged looks.
“I wanted Takeru and Yamato to get along with Yuuri. I like Yuuri, so I wanted them to like her a lot too. But you two, because she had a gun, you hated her, right? If there was no gun, you’d start to like Yuuri. If there was no gun, then everyone could get along with each other. That’s what I thought... I’m sorry.”
He looked down and bit his lip. Touched by his innocent intentions, the other three couldn’t say a word or look at each other.
Takeru broke the distressed silence. He looked into Mori’s face with his teasing expression.
“Was that it? Well, it’s all right. So, where did you hide the gun?”
“Be careful. Don’t look down!” Yamato yelled while looking far above him. Takeru was climbing up a tall, tall steel tower, and yelled back in utter desperation.
“Why am I the one who has to do all the hard stuff? I can’t handle it!”
“Don’t look down!” came Yamato’s voice again from the distant ground.
“Down, stop saying down! I might look by accident!” Takeru glanced down without thinking, and immediately became dizzy. This time Mori cheered for him.
“Do your best!”
“Do my best? Don’t tell me to do my best, you brat! Seriously! Why’d you have to hide it in a place like this? It’s scary!”
Yamato and Yuuri met eyes for an instant. Yuuri’s eyes held a tiny bit more gentleness than before.
“About the gun, you were right,” Yamato said awkwardly.
Yuuri replied bluntly, “Of course.” But a faint smile appeared on her face.
“Will you keep using it?”
“Of course,” Yuuri nodded firmly, and at that second from the direction of the ocean echoed the sound of a piercing siren. Off and on could also be heard... gunfire?!
Yamato whipped around. The sea? Kiichi was in trouble!
Running up to the pier, Yamato could see the raft lit up by a searchlight. Guards were mercilessly firing at a figure clinging to the mast.
Tension filled Yamato’s face. But, as he fixed his eyes on the figure, he realized it was not Kiichi at all.
That was... Makoto and Akira!
Yamato ran to where Kiichi had fallen on the pier.
“Yamato! I thought I wouldn’t go after all. I couldn’t leave you. But then those two came up and said they were taking it. I told them they’d definitely get seen...”
“Help us!” Makoto and Akira yelled from on top of the raft.
“Jump off! Jump into the ocean!”
At Yamato’s voice, the panicked boys leaped into the ocean. The gunfire continued to rain down mercilessly on the two. Desperately they swam towards shore, but they ran out of energy before long and start to sink.
Abruptly, Yamato dove into the ocean. He hauled the two out of the continuous hail of bullets and onto the pier.
“It’s dangerous here!”
Calling up the last of their strength the four boys ran up the pier. Unbelievably, the firing stopped just then. From the speaker came a guard’s voice, cold and mechanical.
“This warning is a reminder. Those who try to escape will be shot without mercy. I repeat, those who try to escape will be executed.”
Makoto and Akira were shivering.
“That’s why I told you not to go!”
At Kiichi’s words, Makoto spat, “Don’t talk so big.”
“You bastard, you were going to run away by yourself.”
As soon as Akira spoke, there was a click sound above his head.
Before their eyes stood Yuuri. In her hand was the gun, the dully shining muzzle aimed at the two of them. Makoto and Akira turned white as sheets.
“Don’t shoot... Sorry we hit you.”
“Don’t shoot us, please.”
But Yuuri’s expression didn’t change at all. She pulled the trigger.
The dry sound of gunfire echoed into the night sky. Shot after shot, Yuuri aimed into the air. Finally all of the bullets were gone.
“...The bullets are gone, so it’s over,” Yuuri muttered, and with all her strength hurled the gun into the ocean. This time, the gun was gone from the city for good.
As though relieved, Yuuri started to walk away alone. Her figure didn’t look quite as lonely as before.
Dripping wet, Yamato returned to the tent and wrapped himself in a blanket.
“Is it all right?” Takeru asked, looking over at his profile.
“I told you, right? I’m not going to leave you guys.”
“And why would that be?” Takeru teased the serious Yamato.
“If I left, you’d be lonely,” Yamato answered with a smile.
Takeru’s tone sharpened. “Don’t say stupid things.”
“And why would that be?”
Their eyes met at the same instant. Shyly, Takeru changed the subject.
“Yuuri really threw it away? The gun.”
“There were no more bullets, so it wasn’t any good.”
“But no matter how much time passes, will you still not be able to trust Yuuri?”
“What do you mean by that?”
“You don’t get it?”
Asked in return, Yamato didn’t know how to respond. He looked up as though to say, what an idiot.
“Are you just going to say weird things?”
“And why would that be?” Takeru obliged.
Yamato burst out, “I can’t be the leader.”
“Don’t say you can’t, I have the utmost respect for you.”
Yamato smiled, and Takeru grinned back. The places he’d been hit still throbbed, but for some reason Yamato felt cheerful inside his heart.
The moon had come out. Tomorrow will be sunny, Yamato thought.
End of Chapter Three