Color Pages, Dramatis Personae, and Prologue
Chapter 3 (1/2)
Chapter 3 (2/2)
Chapter 5, Epilogue, and Afterword
Jake opened his eyes and welcomed the morning, bright eyed and bushy tailed, the chatter of the market outside his room in Charkuwan Street's Tochaina Hotel reaching him through the thin walls.
The hotel was little more than a rundown shack made of wood; the very thought of comparing it to the Sankan Palace Hotel at which he'd stayed when working for the redheaded woman was nothing less than preposterous. The hard, funky smelling mattress and the lukewarm shower water would normally have been hard for Jake to stand, but this morning, at least, things didn't seem so bad.
No matter how tempting the pay might be, a contract that wasn't what it seemed naturally carried with it a large amount of stress. Free from those stifling confines, Jake felt as though he'd been born again.
His days of being moved back and forth over the board by some unknown chessmaster were over. Starting today, Jake would once again live his life according to his own decisions and plans.
For starters, he needed to learn more about Roanapur. Only the Lagoon's crew knew what Jake looked like, so even if the Triad had put out a bounty on his head, all they'd have was a rough sketch of him at best. He just needed to pay a little attention to his appearance and he'd have little trouble walking the streets.
In places like Roanapur, where life was cheap, there were always gunmen who were willing to take cheap jobs, confident in the false knowledge that they'd live forever. With plenty of cannon fodder at his side, Jake would be more than prepared to take on Two Hand once more.
This time he would set up a more careful plan to hunt that hot pussy. He'd have to back her into a corner, so that she had no choice but to listen to him. Even then, though, he had his doubts as to whether she'd agree to negotiate.
In the worst case, he'd have to settle for a picture of her corpse as always. But if he wanted to satisfy his faithful fans after all the trouble he'd gone to to introduce Revy, he'd probably have to hire some sickos and record some kind of necrophilia event.
Now to see how his visitors had reacted to his post about Revy while he slept.
Jake absently shoveled his breakfast down and opened up his laptop, checking his blog. The top page loaded and he gave a low whistle in surprise, noting how much the access counter had leaped upward overnight. Far more than he'd expected.
He'd gotten more hits during the night than he had just after he updated, a strange occurrence. Maybe word of mouth had spread farther than he'd thought?
Suddenly, a strange sense of unease took hold of him.
The calendar on his blog said that his latest update had been made today. He thought for a second that it might be broken, but a quick glance at the newest post confirmed that it wasn't mistaken.
There was a new post, dated at two in the morning... a post that even Jake, the site's owner, had no memory of making.
"The hell is- what the fuck?!" Jake cried out loud as the post loaded, unable to hold in his surprise.
The first thing that caught his eye was the erotic picture that dominated his screen. A beautiful woman, scantily clad in black leather, gazed seductively at the camera, a sadistic grin on her face as she licked her lips, a whip clenched in her hands.
And lying on the ground beneath her, mercilessly transfixed by the pressure of her pinheel boots, was a grossly obese man who looked to be in his mid thirties, disgusting flabs of fat hanging loose all over his body.
The woman... was Revy. There was no doubt about it. Her natural wild beauty was at full bloom, accentuated even more by her finely done makeup. Everything about her, from the way she held her body to the look on her face, would have put a seasoned SM mistress to shame. This was simply her natural talent on display.
But who was the masochistic fatass under her?
He scrolled downward, and discovered there were more images. Mistress Revy was in her element, utilizing all the tools at her disposal, from a cat o' nine to a riding crop to candles to good old fashioned spanking. The fat man drooled helplessly, the ball gag in his mouth holding it open as he was bound by ropes, a pair of handcuffs, and even a leather harness. And he was holding something in his hands... a silver automatic pistol, plated with chrome. It looked almost exactly like the UC Custom that was holstered on Jake's shoulder.
That was when Jake finally noticed the text that had been inserted in between the images.
-Hello, it's me, Ultimate Cool J. I have something very important to tell you all today.
I've been looking for something ultimately cool to do all my life, and tonight, I finally found it.
What is it, you ask? It's being true to myself. I decided to show my fat ass to all of my visitors. My new mistress, the Two Hand Queen, showed me the way. Every time she insulted me, every time she stepped on me, every time she whipped me, I could feel a layer of the lies I'd piled on myself coming loose to reveal the real me. It felt so good...
I'm done with Ultimate and Cool now. UCJ's born again. From now on, I'm Ugly Coward J. Goodbye UCJ, hello UCJ. I'm going to revel in my life now by squealing like a pig every night, enjoying the humiliation and pain my mistress gives me.
I'm showing you what I look like as a present to celebrate my new birthday. I hope I can make lots of new friends here. Your internet idol, UCJ.
The post finished with one last picture of Revy giving the camera a sunny smile as she shoved the UC Custom's barrel deep into the fat man's asshole.
Jake could only sit and stare, pressing the refresh button on his browser over and over, hoping beyond hope that his website would go back to normal.
But no matter how many times he pressed F5, the contents of the new Deadly Biz stared him coldly in the face. It took Jake a while to dredge up some measure of calm, and only then did he realize that someone must have taken control of his site.
"How the hell..."
Rage and terror looped through Jake's head in equal measure, only serving to confuse him even more. This was clearly cyber terror. The work of some terrible hacker, a trap set by someone who had surely grown envious of Jake's popularity.
He hastily turned on his FTP software to delete the offensive post, but the words ACCESS DENIED blocked his way. Another error message swiftly followed. INCORRECT PASSWORD.
He'd been locked out. Jake no longer had any power over his own site. If he didn't do something fast, his reputation would be destroyed by some malicious, unknown third party.
He had to warn his faithful fans. He had to tell them not to be deceived, to see the truth. He clicked the link to the guestbook, intending to log in there and explain the situation.
...Sure enough, the guestbook was already swarming with new replies.
>Techichi: holy shit DUDE is that fatass really UCJ i think I threw up in my mouth a little
>Savage-X: Probably. See, he's even holding the UC Custom. I don't know what to say. And yeah, I feel a bit sick too thinking about how I was fooled by this fat fuck.
>Zastava: I cnat beleiv he called himself ultimit and cool rofl!! Man I feel sorry 4 teh guys who were killd bye him
>Sgt.Frog: I just threw away all the shit I bought from this site. How the hell am I supposed to show my face at the firing range now?
Shit. His fans were being totally hoodwinked. It was clear that appearing now as UCJ would only fan the flames.
Chomping on his nails in anxiety, Jake decided that he had no choice but to leave a post pretending to be someone else. Sockpuppeting was all he could do to try and salvage the situation.
>IloveJ: Holy shit you guys are dumb. Can't you see this is just a troll? It's obviously someone trying to frame J. You have to believe in him now more than ever. You call yourselves fans?
Jake clicked submit, hoping to turn the tide in his favor with the relatively benign post. But just minutes after the post went up, a tsunami of other posts appeared in reply.
>Madidi: herp derp trollolol
>bigdoop: fan? lol wut
>Electric-Com: typical Jtard, you can tell he has a model UC Custom himself at home and he's trying to save face on an anonymous message board
But he couldn't back down. If he turned tail here, there'd be no going back. Jake threw up another post, heavy droplets of sweat beading his forehead.
>IloveJ: This is some sort of conspiracy. You can even tell it's not him, the writing style is totally different. You guys are all getting trolled.
>Wzombie: a conspiracy??? ROFL i bet u think rosavelt knew pearl harbor was gunna b bommed and teh apoloo 13 never went 2 the moon ROFL
>FKKmaster: I dunno, I think J's pretty damn sexy. I'm looking forward to how this blog is gonna develop from now on. I mean, it's gonna be pretty hard to top that.
>Jason13: a fatass is fine too
>spookydog: lets fuck ucj ill b waiting 4 u at teh nice guy club at tifanas 2nite lets see who the real ugly coward is
>Swaggar: Two Hand Queen is mai waifu :3
>masamichi: nude shoop up on the uploader bros
>xXsteelCommanderXx: FUCK YEAH MASAMICHI
The conversation continued on a completely different track, heedless of J's desperate pleas. Every time he refreshed, more text appeared, filling up the browser window.
Every single post from back when Jake's blog was still his had already been pushed off the guestbook's front page; one would have to go searching through the backlog to find them.
Jake sat with his hands still on the keyboard, unable to move, unable to type. People were accessing his site from all over the world. Posts were flying in, one after another, each one with a new insult. Everything he could see was made to ridicule, to hate, to make fun of UCJ.
To these people, the man known as J was that masochistic sweaty fatass. The character that J had so painstakingly cultivated had been utterly destroyed in a single night's work.
"I..." Jake said numbly, still pressing the refresh button. He couldn't think of anything else to do.
Some time passed, the page reloading again and again. The top post had been changed again, to show an animated .gif of the fat man. He waved his ponderous behind from side to side, his mouth opening and closing in silent squeals.
Whoever had taken away his access privileges was still updating the site. The guestbook, presented with fresh meat, immediately flared up into an even greater flurry of activity, and Deadly Biz's hit counter kept rising and rising.
Jake rose shakily, staggered over to the bathroom sink, and stared at his reflection in the mirror.
Von Zipper Brooklyn shades sat atop the New Era BB cap he wore, and thick silver earrings decorated his ears. All of the trinkets had been purchased to keep up with the latest trends, the hottest fashions. He'd needed them to keep up his persona, the character of Ultimate Cool J. But now J didn't exist anymore. His existence had been twisted by some unseen menace, transformed into an ugly, cowardly J. His site had been taken over, but the crime wasn't theft. It was murder. A piece of fiction had come along and killed someone whose body was made of text, whose soul was made of online reputation.
Jake took off the sunglasses and the cap that were now just the belongings of a dead man, and looked again into the mirror.
Who was the man staring back? Jake himself couldn't say for certain. All the Ultimate Cool J fans of the world would have not the slightest idea who the man in the mirror was. All they knew was the ugly, cowardly J. If he wanted to close the gap between the fiction they knew and the reality before him, he would have to fit himself with a ball gag and a blindfold and start crawling on his hands and knees.
The sounds of Charkuwan Street outside the window sounded like they were coming from another planet. Even the mirror seemed like it was miles away, as did his laptop and the walls around him. Jake realized that there was no place for him there anymore.
"No way... I'm... a lie...?"
Jake staggered out of his room, his eyes focused on nothing as he muttered strangely to himself. He couldn't stay in this empty place any longer. He needed to find someplace crowded, someplace louder. He needed sound. He needed sights. He needed something to wrap around himself so that he could feel.
He walked aimlessly through the market, the hot sun burning his skin.
Countless faces passed him by. Faces. Faces... But none of them turned to look at Jake. None of them knew who he was. All of them were too busy living their own lives to give Jake a second glance, though he was standing right in front of them.
They only saw him as a nuisance who was in the way, and accordingly they walked around him without looking him in the eyes. As though he were a stray dog. No, worse, a stone in the middle of the street.
Maybe if he shouted, "I'm UCJ!" then they would turn around to look at him.
They would look at him with scornful, condemning eyes. They would whisper amongst themselves that he was that infamous ugly, cowardly, masochistic fatass.
What the hell have I been doing till now?
What am I doing here?
He took another step forward, hoping that doing so would reveal some sort of answer, and then took another, and another. He didn't look to see where he was going, his gaze firmly fixed on his own shoes as he searched for an answer that didn't exist.
The sun burned his back. The sweat felt greasy on his skin. But even those felt like they were someone else's problems. Did he really exist here? How could he be sure? Nobody would vouch for his existence. Nobody would tell him where to go now that his self had been taken away.
Jake was so lost in his own thoughts that he soon forgot to look where he was going. Suddenly realizing that the sound of busy city life had faded away into unnerving silence, Jake looked up and realized he was utterly alone.
He must have trudged out of downtown, past the slums, all the way out of the city. He was standing in a place where no human being had stood for a long time.
Crosses and tombstones surrounded him.
The cemetery was rundown and overgrown with weeds, making it clear that it had been abandoned quite some time ago. Every name on every grave had been eroded away by harsh nature, leaving them looking forlorn, like unmarked tombs.
"Heh. I gotta say you've got a knack for choosin' places."
The voice that came from behind him made Jake jump and turn around.
She stood in a ray of sunlight, her black shadow stark against the ground as though she were a fragment of reality itself, come to tear apart the nightmare he'd found himself in.
"Yup, this is just the sorta place to have a good showdown. Ya finally live up to yer name, eh, Ultimate Cool?"
At first, Jake himself couldn't understand why she was standing there.
She must have seen him walking through the streets and followed him until he stopped. But that wasn't what concerned him.
What he honestly couldn't understand was why she had followed him when the person once known as UCJ no longer existed.
But even his confused thoughts finally came to a conclusion, one that was utterly natural to him. To Revy, Jake was still the same person he had been yesterday. An enemy to be fought, for the sake of her pride. The sort of archenemy with whom communication could only be achieved in the form of hot lead.
That can't be. But Jake had no way to express that thought to Revy. Any attempt to explain that the gunslinger who had had a shootout with her just yesterday was dead would be met with an utter lack of comprehension. Words no longer had any meaning... In that sense, the woman standing before him was no different from a shark or a great hunting cat.
To Jake, Revy's pitch black shadow looked like a bottomless pit leading straight to Hell. That was how fearsome he found her now, standing unflinching in the blinding morning sunlight.
"Are you... are you going to kill me?" Jake managed, his voice cracked with stress.
"Dunno. That's up to you. If ya just keep standin' there pissin' yer goddamn pants then yeah, probably. But..."
Revy spun her Cutlass around her trigger finger idly, her voice as calm as that of someone discussing the weather.
"But, who knows? I might be the one to bite it. You still have your gun on you, doncha? I ain't stupid. I know I'm not immortal. One decent hit from that .45 caliber and it'd be sayonara for me. Then you'd be the one left standin'."
She was right. The gun that Jake had so lovingly customized was indeed still snug in its hidden holster in Jake's clothes. But to the Jake of now, even the thought of drawing it and firing was so utterly foreign that it was hard to imagine.
How could she tell him to do something so terrifying? It wasn't like he could brag to anyone about shooting someone with that gun...
"Fine, I'll give you a reward for pickin' a decent spot. Let's play a game."
Revy grinned a predator's grin and shoved her pistol back into its holster instead of pointing it at Jake. But the hammer was still cocked, the safety left undone.
"...There. You can draw first. Any time, baby."
Jake realized what she meant and froze on the spot.
She meant to duel him. Like a bad western. Like kids would duel with toy guns. She was offering a bet with their lives on the line, the survivor to be decided solely based on the speed of the draw.
"Wha, what... Why're you doing this?! What're you thinking?!"
To Jake, her offer was, in a sense, even crueler than if she had shot him dead right then and there. She was forcing him to fight, even after everything--his pride and his will--had been obliterated. It was as though she was asking him to pull down the switch of his own electric chair. She was asking him to tie the knot of his own noose and fix it to the gallows.
"Why're you doing this?! What sort of meaning could this have? Why're you so determined to kill me even if it means you might die yourself?!"
"Hey, hey. Don't disappoint me, asshole. You're ruining the goddamn mood here."
Revy dismissed Jake's hysterics with a snort, her eyes going dead black.
"What the fuck is meaning, anyway? Does anything in your life have meaning, except drawin' your gun and shooting? You eat and shit and sleep and wake up, and then you go and get fuckin' drunk and fuck some whore and then what? Looks like a busy schedule to me. Where the hell wouldja fit somethin' big an' fancy like meaning in there? Dipshit. If life has any meaning, the only time you get to feel it is when you live through something that you know shoulda killed you."
Jake stood rooted to the spot, unable to reply, staring dumbly at the smiling reaper.
"We're gunslingers, ain't we? We don't have a chance to weigh our cheap ass lives except times like this. So here's what I'm sayin'. I'm gonna give your life meaning. Try an' stand on the line between life and death. It'll be like takin' a hit of speed, only a million times better, baby."
She was playing with him. She wasn't a pussy cat. She wasn't an animal at all. She was something worse. No animal would kill purely for pleasure.
Jake looked around. There was nobody in the vicinity to witness their duel. No songs would be sung of valor or honor in this place. Nobody would ever speak of this duel. Losing his life in a place like this would truly be a return to nothing. He would vanish without a trace, remembered by no one.
"...No... I don't wanna..." Jake sobbed, terrified by the nameless graves surrounding him.
"...I... I don't wanna die here... Nobody's gonna remember me... There'll be nothing left of me! Nothing!"
"Yeah. Nothin'," Revy said, her voice ringing hollowly. It sounded like she was talking for the faceless tombs.
"If you're scared of that, then shout. Use that gun to tell the fuckin' world that you're here. That's how gunslingers work. You shoot someone else and keep on living. Those're the only moments in our goddamn lives that have any meaning."
Now, finally, Jake could feel the weight of the holster resting against his shoulder.
Perhaps the soul of iron there carried far more weight than any formless life ever could.
"Jake, ya might be a fucktard, but you're not bad with a gun. I gotta admit that trick you pulled on the Lagoon was pretty neat, and yesterday you managed to stay alive against me 'till that fuckin' ninja came to bail out your ass. Your gun's not worthless. Here, in this godforsaken city, it's the most valuable thing you have. It's worth a hell of a lot more attention than your online image as some ultimate cool motherfucker, I can tell you that."
Revy's right hand hovered in midair like a snake coiled to strike, waiting for the crucial moment to draw. With her left hand, she beckoned to Jake.
"Now, let's dance, baby. I'll teach you what real living's like. Welcome to Roanapur."
Jake's consciousness, which had been scattered to the four winds, came together at last. He could think again.
His skills with a gun... Right. He could remember thinking he'd never lose to anyone in a gunfight.
He'd thought that alone would be enough to make him a star. How could he have forgotten? It had been all he had in the beginning.
He hadn't lost anything at all.
There were no anonymous fans screaming his name, no hit counter to gauge his popularity.
But... He had a hand to grasp a gun with, fingers to pull the trigger with, here and now. He hadn't forgotten the gun skills that he'd so painstakingly acquired.
Yes. He'd tell them. He'd show them. Not anyone in particular. He would direct his wild cry at the empty world around him, telling it that he was the greatest gunman alive.
Jake stared down the enemy before him, concentrating everything he had on her every movement. He took in the rhythm of her breath, the direction of her gaze, the faults in her concentration. He searched for the timing that would allow him to bypass her instinctual reaction, the moment where drawing first would ensure certain victory.
Only one voice would cry out into the night. The other would fall silent, face down on the cold earth.
His hand was on the switch of the electric chair. He could feel the fibers of the hangman's noose in his hands.
The balance of his forearm concentrated solely on reigning in recoil. His arm muscles existed only for one blindingly fast draw. Two eyes, open wide, saw only their target... His entire body came into play for this one moment.
Electricity ran up his spine. His heart pounded in his chest. He couldn't think anymore.
Had there ever been a moment like this, when he could feel his own life so clearly?
His soul became part of his gun and spoke to him of the moment of fate. Now is the time, it told him.
Without hesitation or fear, Jake moved his hand toward the grip of his gun. In that very instant Jake lived his entire life, as though all the time he'd wasted had been just for that moment.
The sound of a gunshot echoed in the hot air.
Jake allowed his thoughts to wander as the shock traveled through his body, and the last echoes of the shot faded away.
The sound of a 9mm firing was too cold and unfriendly for his tastes.
He preferred the heavy, powerful sound of a .45 caliber...
...Adios, pistolero. That last look on your face wasn't bad...
He could hear someone talking to him as he sank into the darkness.
The voice was husky, bringing to mind many nights of cigarettes and booze. A sexy voice.
Who was it? He couldn't think anymore. He didn't know.
But he was sure that just the sound of that voice was enough to make him fall in love. He was certain that it belonged to a really cute girl.
Shadow Falcon stopped in front of the demon fortress, Rehe Industries, Inc., and stared up at the windows of the highest floor, where the vile Chang Wai-San hid and plotted his evil machinations.
His battle was finally nearing its end. But especially now, with the goal in sight, he knew that the slightest mistake could spell instant death. Yet it would also be folly to reveal his state of heightened alert.
Right now, he was no longer a formless shadow lurking in the inky darkness. He had become Rokuro Okajima, and he stood revealed in the open. He now had to assume the gentle and intelligent Japanese man's personality and mannerisms in their entirety, deceiving everyone he might chance to meet.
My will, take form, Shadow Falcon recited under his breath as he slowly stepped into the lobby, the arcane chant exerting its power over his body.
In an instant he took in in the number of people in the lobby, as well as their positions. Two uniformed security guards stood in plain sight. There were three bodyguards in black suits seated on the lobby sofa, and from the way the two women at the counter held their bodies he could tell that they, too, possessed hidden weapons. The pair of security cameras on the ceiling had been cunningly installed to cover one another's blind spots.
Truly an impenetrable perimeter. But Shadow Falcon's disguise was beyond perfect. Indeed, the moment they caught sight of him, every person in the lobby immediately smiled in his direction. Obviously the response one would show to a trusted friend.
Having confirmed that his disguise worked, Falcon proceeded to the next obstacle standing in his way: the receptionists. He would have to exert his greatest powers of suggestion to convince the women that his unscheduled visit was strictly natural.
"Excuse me. I am Rokuro Okajima desu. Sorry, very sorry."
Assuming the basic position of all Japanese--bowing from the waist continuously as he walked forward--Shadow Falcon closed in on the receptionists at the counter. But before he could even bring his more advanced techniques to bear, the women smiled warmly at him.
"Ah, of course. Mister Chang is waiting in his office. Take the elevator inside and go to the highest floor."
They allowed him to enter without even asking after the purpose of his visit, their voices full of friendly cheer.
"...Thank you very much, sorry, very sorry," Shadow Falcon said, advancing as naturally as he could toward the elevator. Inside, though, he was shocked. He had correctly predicted that Master Rokuro was a friend of Chang Wai-San, but to think that they were so close that he would be able to enter Chang's lair just by assuming his face! It seemed that Master Rokuro was treated no differently from family within the Triad. Verily, the natural virtue of the Japanese was an amazing thing.
...Unknown to Falcon, Chang had personally given an order to everyone working in the building that day. He had told them that if by chance a blatantly suspicious individual were to appear, they were to ask no questions and immediately direct him straight to Chang's office. The man working the security cameras had caught sight of Falcon standing in front of the building and had immediately contacted the lobby, informing them that the blatantly suspicious individual had indeed made his appearance.
Observing how everyone in the lobby burst into merry laughter just before the elevator doors closed, Falcon was once again awed by Master Rokuro's popularity. It hurt him deeply to use such a universally loved individual for a shadow operation, but the way of a ninja was harsh and fraught with such necessary sacrifices. Falcon had no choice but to become a demon himself, until the lord of darkness Chang Wai-San was vanquished.
The elevator carried Shadow Falcon up as he brooded heavily on these dire thoughts, finally arriving at the top floor. It was bare save the CEO's office and two meeting rooms, and instead of a proper hallway there was merely an elevator landing.
The strangely wide interior appeared to have constructed so a barricade could be constructed in case of an emergency. Five bodyguards armed with fearsome submachine guns stood guarding Chang's office, but the moment they clapped eyes on Falcon...
"Oh, hi, Rock... Pfffft!"
...They greeted him like a brother.
"Excuse me, I am sorry, very sorry, excuse me, I am Rokuro desu," Falcon repeated, bowing as he approached the office. One of the black-suited guards turned and pressed the intercom, his voice light with good humor.
"Da Ge, uh, Mister Rokuro is he, he, hahaha, here to see you. Ahahaha!"
"Of course. Send him right in."
Chang Wai-San's voice carried not the slightest hint of suspicion. And at last, the final barrier was laid open before Shadow Falcon.
Everything about the office, from the furniture to the lights, had obviously been chosen from the most expensive stores. Yet, the atmosphere was not gaudy in the slightest, every factor in the room coming together to form a perfect harmony.
A handsome man sat on a sofa positioned so that he could look down on the cityscape of Roanapur, a whiskey glass in his hand. It was none other than Chang Wai-San himself.
Falcon could feel the dignity and force of personality practically rolling off of the man, even though he was at rest. Truly, he could see how such a person had come to stand at the top of this formidable organization.
"Excuse me, I am Rokuro desu. I am very sorry, very sorry..."
Casting away all doubt, Falcon shuffled in, subtly surveying his surroundings. There were no hidden guards.
The door shut behind him. It was a closed room now. There could be no better chance to assassinate Chang. All he had to do was strike Chang down in one decisive blow, before he could even draw a breath to scream and alert the bodyguards outside, and then his mission would be complete.
Chang raised his glass in salute, cheerily watching Falcon as the shadow warrior carefully moved forward.
"Welcome, Rock... Or, no. Perhaps I should I say, welcome, warrior of the Kouga Death Shadow."
Shock ran through him. But even then, Falcon did not let his body betray him, leaping backward from the unknown threat. He retrieved the shuriken from its hiding place in his belt buckle and held it ready.
Even as his body moved, Falcon's mind was awhirl with confused questions. How had Chang seen straight through his flawless disguise, which had so perfectly fooled the receptionists and the hardened bodyguards?
None of this inner turmoil showed on his face. But Chang seemed to read his very thoughts, laughing calmly as he answered Falcon's unspoken question.
"You have done well to come this far. But alas, Shadow Falcon... No matter how well a ninja may disguise himself, he cannot fool another ninja."
Falcon was unable to hold the exclamation back, such was his surprise.
"Who... what are you?! How do you know this one's shadow name?!"
"Ha, ha, ha. A hard question to answer, but I will do so nonetheless. You see, I am a man of many faces."
Chang removed his sunglasses, a mysterious smile gracing his features.
"To some, I am known as Mike Chang, CEO of Rehe Industries, Inc. To others, I am the Pak Tsz Sin of the Triad, Chang Wai-San. But in truth, I am..."
With grave ceremony, Chang drew something forth from an inside pocket. When he saw the small obsidian box glimmering softly in the sunlight, the greatest shock yet seized Shadow Falcon's mind and body.
"A... a MASTER Seal Case?! Then... then you are...?!"
"It is so. I am a Master Ninja of the Kouga Death Shadow Style. There are those who speak of this one in hushed whispers as Shadow Dragon."
Even Falcon had only seen a MASTER Seal Case in the pages of the O.M.C. catalog, never in person. It was an ultra rare item, given only to those who had mastered every dan and collected every ninja item, even the limited edition ones. Now that many of the most arcane relics were sold out, it was a thing of fantasy, considered impossible to obtain.
Trembling in the face of such a dread presence, Shadow Falcon immediately dropped his weapon and prostrated himself, touching his forehead to the floor.
"Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would meet a Master Ninja in such a fashion... I submit myself to your tender mercies, for I have committed countless discourtesies against you. If only I had known...!"
"Mmm. It is of no consequence. I know this to be the guidance of our honored forefather, Kemuma Ki(1)."
Chang Wai-San... No, Shadow Dragon gathered his hands together as he gravely uttered the name of the Death Shadow style's founding grandmaster. Even as he quivered with gratitude at the Master Ninja's forgiveness, Falcon could not help but ask a question.
"Bu... but, Master, why did you not reveal your identity sooner? I heard that you were a lord of darkness, and unwittingly thought to commit such gross transgressions against your person..."
"Mmm. I knew, of course, that you were being used by a great and evil conspiracy that aimed to destroy the Death Shadow from within. But I judged that this, too, was a trial that had to be faced alone by one who walked the path of the shadow. Now that I face you here, having observed your skills as you exerted them to their utmost, I can see how far you have progressed in the ways of the shinobi."
"Such all-encompassing compassion..."
Overwhelmed by the generosity of the Master Ninja, who had deliberately put himself in harm's way in order to hone Falcon's skills, Shadow Falcon soaked the carpet with his tears. Standing above him, Shadow Dragon nodded magnanimously.
"But I see that it was well worth it to put myself in danger. You have come to stand before me, having cunningly used the ninja arts to circumvent all obstacles. Now... Rise, Shadow Falcon. Rise, and receive this."
Falcon raised his head and was immediately transfixed by the sight of the scroll held in the Master Ninja's hand.
"Is that... a Scroll of License?!"
"I bestow this upon you by evidence of the skills you have showed to me on this day. I, Master Ninja Shadow Dragon, hereby grant you the title of Shadow Greater Ninja."
Shadow Falcon gently took the scroll from the revered elder, his hands shaking with emotion. The Scroll of License was also a super rare item--not quite as prestigious as the MASTER Seal Case, but nevertheless extremely hard to obtain. To Falcon, it felt as though his countless days of grueling training were now finally being rewarded.
"Shadow Falcon, I charge you with a new mission. Hurry across the sea, to Hong Kong, and there pledge yourself into the service of my own master, Grandmaster Zhuang Dai-Long. There, under his guidance, you will punish new evils."
"As you will, so shall it be!"
Falcon nodded sedately, but his mind was already flying across the ocean.
Hong Kong... Oh, Hong Kong!
There, within that legendary unsleeping city, his ninja path would continue ever onward. The darkness of Kowloon's Walled City beckoned. Junks floated on the water, their sails flapping lazily in the morning wind. Did four thousand years of Oriental mystery await him there? Or perhaps a vast conspiracy revolving around the transfer of sovereignty?
No matter what hardships awaited him, the blade (刃) of his heart (心) would cut down all enemies who stood before him, and the heart (心) of his blade (刃) would pierce through lies to discover truth.
What had he to fear? It was his fate to live in the darkness, and to cloak himself in it.
Now, holding the fearsome arts of the ninja in your breast... Go, Shadow Falcon!
Fight, Shadow Falcon!
"...and so, I sent a promising young man to serve you. He requires a bit of knowhow to handle properly, but I can vouch for his skill as an assassin."
The moment that Shadow Falcon exited his office, Chang immediately dialed the Triad's Shan Chu(2), Zhuang Dai-Long, and filled him in on the situation.
"The only weakness that comes to mind is... Ah, never send him on a mission that might require him to disguise himself. And he is easily deceived, so that might need some work... Yes, he's already on his way, so all you need to do is receive him... No, no the pleasure is all mine, Lung Tao(3). Yes. Of course. Goodbye."
Chang set down the receiver and turned to Biu Yu-Yun, who was practically chomping at the bit with curiosity.
"...Da Ge, can you really send him there in good faith?"
"Hmm? Well, I couldn't just let such an amusing fellow go, could I? Shenhua's probably going to be out for his blood, though, so I think it would be a good idea to let him lay low in Hong Kong until she calms down."
Chang's taste in subordinates was often unpredictable, even whimsical, and his right hand Biu was constantly worrying over his boss's capricious impulses. Still, Chang had never been wrong, so it wasn't exactly like he could properly protest.
"But what was he, exactly?"
"Mmm, I suppose you could call him one of our best customers."
Chang opened a drawer in his desk and drew forth a booklet, handing it to Biu. It was the same phony OMC ninjutsu pamphlet that Falcon had had, but unlike Shadow Falcon's cherished treasure, which had been worn from constant use, this one was almost brand new. Chang had only flipped through it once a few hours ago.
"You see, OMC is one of the businesses managed by our New York branch. Usually they sell things like mummy powder and Qing Dynasty elixirs, but back when kung fu was booming thanks to Bruce Lee, they added martial arts manuals to the catalog and made a killing. Naturally, they did it again with the ninja boom just a while ago. I admit it took me a while to remember, myself."
Biu frowned as he skimmed the booklet, taken aback at the preposterous training methods inscribed inside.
"So I gave the customer records a look, and what do you know, we had a winner. Some fool had bought a hundred and eight fake swords under the name Shadow Falcon. The actual manufacturing goes on in Malaysia, so it only took a night when I told them I needed some items right away, and... Well, the rest is what you just saw. Hah, Master Ninja, hmm? Maybe I'll add it to my repertoire of nicknames."
"Don't even think about it," Biu said respectfully, tossing the booklet onto Chang's desk.
"...Really, though. What would the martial artists of the world think if they knew that someone could become a master assassin by following the instructions in this joke of a manual?"
"I suppose it just goes to show that training isn't really about what you do, but instead the effort you put into it. Manuals don't hold all the answers. Maybe you can see the truth even when faced with lies or irrationality, as long as you know how to look at them."
Biu turned the cheaply manufactured plastic seal case over in his hands and sighed.
"...You speak of things beyond my knowledge, Da Ge."
"Oh? Don't you think what we do is pretty similar? Good and evil are all in the eye of the beholder, after all. People who don't understand that kind of thing look at us and talk about the mysteries of the Orient. Hilarious, isn't it? I suppose it's only natural that we Chinese hold power over the dark places of the world."
Chang stretched leisurely as though he'd just finished a difficult task and promptly set about pondering his next problem.
"Let's see... Add the one that Revy said she took care of this morning, and we've only got one or two rats left scurrying around."
"The Lagoon's reputation is in good standing again, so isn't it about time we took up the hunt ourselves?"
"Hmm... Maybe, maybe not," Chang said pensively, staring out the window at the cityscape of Roanapur.
"...Perhaps someone will bring this play to its end before we do."
Stan's consciousness was lost in a maze of confused memories.
He held a brand new Dragunov in his hands. He'd lost his old one, but someone had provided him with a replacement. There was nothing to provide shelter from the sunlight on the roof of the five floor apartment where he stood. The direct rays of sunlight on his back and the heat reflected off the concrete floor on his belly made him feel like a turkey shoved onto a grill.
He held the rifle in his hands and waited. He'd lost count of how many times he'd done this over the years. Sometimes he even thought it was the only thing he'd ever done. He had waited like this in the shadows of craggy rocks, behind billboards, feeling the sun sear his skin. He had done this many, many times.
What day was it, with its blindingly bright blue sky? What was the name of the city he saw, the heat rising from it making the sky waver?
He didn't understand how time worked any longer. Was he aiming with the rifle now, or was he remembering a time long ago when he had held a rifle and aimed it? His memories encroached on the present, mixing with it in his consciousness.
Within Stan's heroin-addled brain, the past, the present, and fantasy all came together in equal parts.
It felt like if he slipped he would fall into the chaos, never to return... But the hard feeling of the stock against his body provided a firm anchor.
Don't be tempted. Don't look at it. Concentrate on what you have to do. The same thing I have always done. Focus on the target, and gauge the timing to pull the trigger.
He had to kill a man named Chang Wai-San. At noon, the target would exit a car that would park at the corner of Hamipong Street, and walk into the Golden Swinging Nightclub. He would have approximately ten seconds to sight the target and fire... It would be more than enough.
Who was Chang? Perhaps he was a leader of the Mujahideen. Maybe a Pashtun.
Perhaps such a man didn't exist at all, and he was dreaming that he was on an imaginary mission. It didn't matter anymore. What mattered was that he completed the mission. That was all.
He would complete the mission. He would present the evidence to what remained of his pride. And with his head held high he would report to Kapitan Pavlovena. Mission complete, he would say.
...we will remove you by force...
A voice from the depths of his memories. It belonged to the woman with only half a face. Fry Face, Balalaika...
No, that wasn't a memory. It was a hallucination. Stan nodded to himself and laughed dryly.
It was but a nightmare, inadvertently brought on by his longing to see the Kapitan. He knew for certain that a woman like her would never fall so far as to become a mobster.
For Stan could see the glory of Kapitan Pavlovena in his mind's eye, just as clearly as he could remember Balalaika.
He could see her receiving an Order of Suvorov, first class, for her courage and dedication. He could see her marching through the Red Square, her head held high.
The Kapitan recited a short prayer for all of their comrades who had not lived to see that glorious day in front of Lenin's grave. And all who were gathered there listened, and shed mournful tears for their friends, who had fallen in a faraway land...
Had Stan truly seen such a thing? He wasn't certain, just as he couldn't be sure that the woman known as Balalaika existed. It was impossible for Stan to tell the difference between reality and delusion anymore.
That was why it was folly to attempt it. "There was only a matter of which hallucination he would believe in... and naturally, Stan hadn't the slightest intention of acknowledging an illusion which would besmirch his hero's name.
Soon, the minute and hour hands on his wristwatch would meet. Pushing his crazed delusions back into the sea of chaos inside him, Stan peered into the scope of his Dragunov. He set it to 4x zoom, focused on Hamipong Street, which lay 800 meters away, and asked a question to the wind.
He called the devil's wind into his head as it lay against the stock, as he had so many times before in the past.
Slowly, the image of his homeland rose to the forefront of his mind, returning from beyond the abyss of his memories. The world turned monochrome, everything freezing into harsh shades of silvery white.
Stan was young again, and as he struggled to handle the heavy, solid feel of his first rifle, he could hear a stern voice whisper into his ear.
"Listen to the voice of the wind, Simonovich."
It was his uncle, who always called him by his father's name. He couldn't even remember what the man had looked like, but the skilled hunter's voice, at least, was as clear in his ears as it had been when he was young.
"See the wind. Watch the snowflakes swirl, the branches shake. And breathe in the scent of the wind. Distinguish the smells of the snow and the trees and the animals."
His uncle had spent most of his life fighting against the wilderness of Siberia. His face burnt nearly black from the light that reflected off the snow, his uncle had taught Stan the ultimate secret that lived in the deep wild, about the life and death that existed in their world of snow and ice.
"Your grandfather's grandfather was the greatest shaman(4) in his tribe. His blood flows through your veins. Within your soul sleeps the language of the elements, that speak to the earth and understand the trees. Now, Simonovich, listen, for the wind will always be your companion."
Yes... Stan nodded at his uncle's words. The wind had always taught him the most important things he knew. Stan could see the wavering bullet parabellum which confounded every sniper as clear as day. The scent and feel of the wind had always pointed out to Stan the invisible pitfalls and chances.
Armed with the skills his uncle had passed on to him, Stan became a career soldier, and found himself a hunter of men instead of beasts. His unique instincts, his experienced skills, and his high-powered rifle came together to make him a feared angel of death on countless battlefields.
That was why people called him Shaitane Badi... the devil's wind. They knew him as the deadly sniper who delivered swift death, borne on the hot, dry drafts of Afghanistan.
And even now, Stan listened to the voice of the wind. His fast friend, invisible and untouchable, yet existing everywhere, was by his side in Roanapur as well.
The swirls and ripples that ran through the sweltering air whispered to Stan of unseen danger.
...Someone was there. Staring at Stan with intent to kill.
He had no way of hearing the sound of a round being chambered. He could not have smelled the fatal scent of gunpowder.
He sensed the direction the bullet would come from and twisted himself to the side as he rolled, avoiding the first shot. It was beyond the realm of mere experience. It was something that could only have been brought about by Stan's unique instincts. The bullet that should have entered his skull only ripped through the trapezius muscle of his right shoulder thanks to Stan's instantaneous reaction.
Taking the direction into consideration as well, it was easy to tell where the shot had come from. There, on top of the transmission tower six hundred meters away. The crosshairs of Stan's PSO-1 scope came to rest on the silhouette of a man holding a rifle.
The man fired again... but, perhaps surprised by Stan's sudden movements, he missed. The shards of concrete that burst upward dug painfully into this thighs and waist, but Stan ignored the pain and instead became one with his gun, synchronizing his breathing and his heartbeat and his will to kill.
The south wind whispered... Just a little to the left...
His index finger became one with the trigger and passed through the spring and the bolt and struck the detonator of the 7.62mm Russian made bullet, the harsh bark of igniting gunpowder cutting the air.
Stan cried out and dropped his rifle at the same instant, agony tearing through his right arm.
He had fired without even thinking of his injured shoulder, rupturing the wound. Blood stained the ground, more than when he'd been shot.
It was beyond Stan to check and confirm the results of his shot, but since the sniper atop the transmission had not fired again, he must be dead, or at least injured enough to be effectively neutralized.
But if it was the latter, he would certainly have told his comrades about Stan's survival. He'd already been sighted, which meant that if he stayed where he was he'd surely end up surrounded and killed.
Stan ran to the emergency stairs and forced his shaky legs to guide him down.
Stan spat the name like a curse, rage and hatred coloring his voice. She had told Stan that she would remove him by force, and true to her word, she had finally stepped forward to impede his mission.
Laughter bubbled up in him between his ragged breaths. He felt the will to fight rise inside him, the heady sensation letting him forget his pain.
Come, then. Kill me, if you can.
I know that you don't exist. How dare you stand in my way, wraith? I will destroy you myself.
Yes. I refuse you. I will believe in Kapitan Pavlovena to the bitter end.
It seemed like his right arm would no longer be any help. His collarbone, already fractured from the shot that took him in the shoulder, had probably broken completely once the stock recoiled as he fired. There would be no more firing rifles for him.
Stan put the Dragunov he'd left on the roof out of his mind and drew the Makarov semi-automatic pistol at his waist with his left hand. He racked the slide with his teeth, his right arm dangling useless at his side. He might come face to face with the enemy at any time, but he couldn't afford to stay quiet. Now that he'd lost his rifle, he had no choice but to assault Chang at point blank range with the pistol. If Chang entered the club, it would all be over. He had to get to Hamipong Street before the target's car arrived.
He would not give up. He had a mission. He would kill Chang Wai-San. And he would take that as proof that he had defeated Balalaika. He would show her the reserve of a Spetsnaz.
He reached the first floor and exited the building, making his way toward the main road. He had only run down five flights of stairs, but he felt winded, as though he'd sprinted several kilometers. His shoulder was bleeding too much. But the position of the wound made it impossible for him to stop the bleeding himself.
If he pressed down on the wound with his good hand, he might have been able to at least slow the flow of blood, but unfortunately it was already occupied with holding his Makarov. He couldn't afford to let go of his gun. Balalaika's men could attack at any moment.
He hurried on, staggering and weaving like a drunkard. Loss of blood made his vision blur. He would have traded the world for just a few seconds of rest.
But he couldn't. Hamipong Street was still far in the distance. He was running, but the speed at which he moved was no faster than the walk of a normal man. It felt like if he let his attention wander for even an instant he would trip over his own feet. If he fell over, everything would be for naught. He would never rise again.
His lungs screamed at him, as did his heart. They cried out for the sweet touch of heroin.
He could not give in. His mission was not over yet. This time, this time, he would not run away. He would stand and fight to the last. Like she had, so long ago.
Exiting the alley, he finally reached Hamipong Street. Chang's car was nowhere to be seen. He still had about a hundred meters left to reach where it would park. A long distance to hit a man with a Makarov.
He walked through the blinding sunlight. But this time, he was not lost. His destination was near.
Victory in my grasp. Honor in my breast. Though it may cost me my life...
A black Mercedes Benz turned the corner and slowly rolled forward, coming to a stop in front of him.
Stan perceived the passage of time in slow motion as the fateful moment arrived.
The back door opened, and the first thing he saw was a foot, adorned with an elegant high heel. Then he saw the officer's coat flapping in the wind, the wavy blonde hair. And the keenly beautiful right side of her face, as well as the terribly burned left side. It was the face of the woman he'd longed so much to see, the woman he had respected so much. And also, it was the face of his most hated enemy.
Pouring everything he had into his left hand, he raised the Makarov.
Balalaika's right hand flashed, and suddenly he saw the muzzle of a Stechkin.
The sound of just one gunshot split the air... The short, dry bark taking a single life with it as it faded.
Balalaika strode forward, coming to a stop next to Stanislav as he lay on his back, staring up at the sky.
If he was in pain, a final bullet would have been necessary, but the man's face was at peace as he took what would surely be his last breaths.
His blurry eyes slowly focused on Balalaika's face, and, perhaps discovering something there, filled with faint joy.
"...Kapitan? Ah... I see... you are, unharmed..."
"...Operation complete, comrade Junior Sergeant. Your mission is over."
The man let a satisfied sigh pass his lips at the sound of his superior officer's clipped tones.
"I see... Ah, how wonderful... I must, propose a toast... when we get home..."
"Indeed. Just this once, I will provide the vodka. Be sure to hand out some to everyone in the squadron."
Stanislav smiled and nodded. Balalaika knew he was feeling the presence of the comrades who had been swallowed by the sands of a faraway country.
A stray draft blew down the deserted street, gently caressing the hair splayed over his pale face. Perhaps he could still feel it, for his expression suddenly colored with chagrin.
"...Ah, Kapitan... My apologies. I, I have lost the direction... Where is the wind... blowing from...?"
The wind had become stale from the heat of the noon sun. Balalaika looked in the direction where it had blown, her gaze growing distant.
"It comes from the north."
"Ah, I see..."
Stanislav closed his eyes, his features at rest once more.
"That means, it comes from my homeland... I can... smell... the pine trees..."
He fell silent, and did not speak again.
Balalaika looked down at the face of her fallen comrade, searching for a suitable epitaph. At length she realized that no such thing was necessary, and honored him with a silent salute, as she had done so many times before, for so many others.
"Чёрт! Каая сука! Невоэможно! (Shit! She's insane! I can't believe her!)"
Tatiana Yakovleva let loose with a flurry of curses as she sped out of the city in a rented Toyota.
She had heard everything that happened on Hamipong Street, thanks to a store owner to whom she'd discretely passed some money and a prepaid phone in advance. It was the worst outcome she could possibly imagine.
Stan had failed. If he'd been gunned down by the Triad's bodyguards then there might have been some hope of salvaging the situation, but no such luck. Balalaika had shot him herself.
"She... she shot her own comrade! That witch! I should stick her heart into a pot and boil it!"
She had heard that the bonds of trust and camaraderie between Afghanistan veterans were stronger than anything. She certainly hadn't expected the bitch to shoot him dead without even blinking. Balalaika wasn't sane. She was a mad dog with a thirst for blood.
Her plan to frame Balalaika with Chang's death had failed. There was nothing for Tatiana to do except make a run for it.
Her career within Hotel Moscow was as good as over, too. Laptev and the other former KGB would all deny knowing her at all. But she still had her life, and that was enough. More than anything right now, she needed to escape from Balalaika's turf. Then she would use her old connections to go to earth, looking for the right time to throw her lot in with a different organization and build herself up once more.
Balalaika had been at the scene herself, which meant that she would have her hands full for a time taking care of it and wouldn't notice immediately that Tatiana was gone. She had at least an hour. If she could catch a plane out of Thailand within then she'd be-
Her mind running on overdrive as she consoled herself with optimistic thoughts, Tatiana had no chance to react to the Benz as it lurched forward from a side alley.
The Toyota's light chassis practically bounced off the Benz's bumper, the fender and wheels flying away as the car itself went into an uncontrolled spin before coming to a heavy stop.
Tatiana lived thanks to her seat belt and the airbag, but a hand crashed through the window before she could get a hold of her senses and pulled the door's lock upward, throwing it open and dragging her out.
The hand, more like a boulder made of flesh than anything, belonged to Boris, Balalaika's right hand man. He shoved the disoriented woman into the back seat of the Benz without a word and then entered himself. He told the driver to go.
Leaving the scrapped Toyota on the road, the Benz drove serenely down the road.
"Wha... what are you people thinki-"
Boris shoved a cellphone into Tatiana's face as she struggled to draw herself up into some measure of haughty indignation. The LCD screen told her that it was already connected.
Tatiana cautiously brought the phone to her ear, and was immediately greeted by Fry Face's cold voice.
"...Chang never came to the Golden Swinging Nightclub. The meeting itself was a lie. And if I recall correctly, only one person told that lie to you."
Realizing that she'd fallen completely into Balalaika's trap, Tatiana bit her lip in frustrated despair.
That meant that Balalaika had already had her eye on Tatiana when they talked the day before, suspecting that she was behind the plot to create a rift between the Triad and Hotel Moscow. Boris had probably been tailing her all day. And once an assassin had appeared at the place where Chang would not come, the damning evidence had let him move to secure her person.
There was nothing she could say, no lies she could weave, to get herself out of the situation. Checkmate.
"...If you kill me, you'll never find the double agent in your-"
But Balalaika's cold laughter cut off even this last desperate ploy.
"That was your greatest mistake. I'm sure it was standard procedure during your KGB days to fabricate the existence of a double agent to foster suspicion and anxiety in your targets. But such lies do not work on me."
There was belief like iron hidden behind her taunting tones.
"There is no flaw in the bond of the Vysotniki. Such a thing is impossible. A statue of Stalin would be erected in the Vatican ere it happened. Though, I suppose the very concept of people bound by such camaraderie existing would be incomprehensible to a filthy spy like you..."
"Camaraderie, you say...?"
The word brought to life a rage in her breast that flared even greater than her despair.
"That was when you dug your own grave. There was no way that something only we knew could possibly make its way to your ears. That could only mean that you knew everything beforehand through other means."
"Shut up, you baba yaga!" Tatiana shrieked, cursing the fact that she couldn't strangle the woman on the other side of the connection with her bare hands.
"You killed a comrade with your own hands and you babble on about camaraderie?! You bitch! You crazy Afghan reject! I could fall into Hell and receive less punishment than you!"
"Haha, well now... Didn't I tell you? That someone like you would never understand."
Balalaika ignored Tatiana's curses, an icy chuckle her only reply.
"Now, then. One last question. Who was behind this? I know you don't have the brains to have come up with this by yourself."
"...You think I'd just tell you?"
"I could torture you until you did, but... No matter. I have some idea of who it might be. We're busy people, you see. We don't have the time to waste extracting confirmation of an already foregone conclusion."
And so Balalaika coldly denied Tatiana her last worth, her potential as a key to the plot.
"Goodbye. Comrade Zamyatin suffered wounds which will take three months to heal while putting a stop to what your scheming caused. I will pass on his message to you. 'Choke on your own filth, Cheka.'"
The line went dead without waiting for her reply. Tatiana could only clench the cellphone in her hand hard enough to make the LCD screen crack as the empty dial tone taunted her.
"...Where are you taking me?" Tatiana asked Boris, knowing even as she said it that it was a futile question.
Never one to disappoint, Boris stared straight ahead, giving no hint that he'd even heard her. He was like a butchering machine next to a squealing pig.
The Benz sped through the streets, through the entrance to Roanapur, past the railroad bridge from which hangman's nooses hung, out of the city. Strangely, it seemed that it was heading in the same direction that Tatiana had been when she was going to the airport.
She found one small fact to take comfort in as her mind froze over with resignation.
...At least, it seemed, she wasn't fated to die in that terrible city.
Woman Found Murdered In Airport Public Bathroom
Crime Flies High - Holes In Airport Security Revealed
The corpse of a Russian woman named Tatiana Yakovleva (31) was discovered by an airport employee cleaning the stalls of the women's bathroom in the international arrivals lobby of Narita Airport, at approximately 8 in the morning of the 7th.
According to investigating officials, Yakovleva got off an international flight from Thailand's Don Muang Airport at 6 AM. Witnesses have testified to having seen her in the company of two white men, both on the plane and in the airport. Authorities suspect that these men may have had something to do with the murder, and are currently pursuing leads as to their whereabouts.
It was late at night when the phone in Bougainvillea Trading's central office rang with a call from Tokyo.
"Алё (Hello), who's calling?"
Balalaika knew without looking who the man on the other side would be, and so she deliberately injected a false note of formality into her voice.
"...It's Laptev. Sorry for the late call. I had something urgent I needed to ask you."
"Oh? What could you possibly have to ask me at this hour?"
The voice of Hotel Moscow's Japan branch boss was rigid with barely suppressed anxiety.
"It's about the woman who was sent to audit you. Tatiana Yakovleva. Slevinin himself called just a minute ago, but I have to make sure... Is it true that she stole your money and ran from Roanapur?"
Balalaika let out an exaggerated sigh, even as inside, she bared her teeth in a feral predator's grin.
"It's all true. Vexing, yes, but I suppose it's all my fault for believing her flimsy excuses. It was no small matter, so I had no choice but to contact Moscow myself, embarrassing as it is. Why, I even received a warning to tighten my security measures. But why is that of concern to you?"
"Tatiana Yakovleva was discovered dead in Narita Airport this morning. Everything she had on her had been stolen. Not just the money, everything. Even her gold teeth."
"Oh, how horrible. I wonder what happened," Balalaika said, taking care to tread just shy of outright impudence as she expressed her "surprise."
"I suppose it's only fitting that she meet her end in such a manner, but then there's the fact that she let some petty criminal make off with our money. I don't think we'll ever get it back now... But you know, there is one thing that bothers me. Why would she have chosen Japan, of all places?"
"How the hell should I know?! If I could I'd ask her myself!" Laptev cried, finally revealing his anxiety at Balalaika's innocent prodding.
"Our leader wants to know what's going on and I have nothing to tell him! Why the hell did she run to my turf?!"
"I don't know, and neither do I want to, Vasili. But come to think of it, I do seem to remember hearing that she worked under you during your days in the Seventh Department."
It seemed that Laptev had felt the fierce joy of a wolf savagely worrying its prey in Balalaika's tone, even over the phone. His silence told her everything she needed to know.
"Really, now. Tatiana ran away from Thailand... all the way to Japan? I'm sorry, Vasili. It pains me to say this, but I just can't ignore the evidence staring me in the face."
"...Balalaika. I have something to ask you," Laptev said slowly, apparently having decided that there had been enough sidestepping the issue.
"Did Tatiana really steal your money? Did she really come to Japan of her own free will? Coincidences like this are making me think that someone's set a trap for me."
"Oh? Are you suspecting me of something?" Balalaika asked, feigning shock, even as glacial cold seeped into her voice. "Perhaps we could ask our leader to send an objective third party here and ask for a proper investigation? I'm sure that someone like Borodino would be more than happy to send one of his agents to look over everything. Everything she did here in Roanapur, that is."
Only the sound of heavy breathing came from the receiver, ragged with tension and anger.
"I do so want to prove my innocence, you see. Find the person who killed Tatiana and get back the money, will you? I'll even send you a thank-you card if you do."
"Balalaika, you bitch..."
"I hear that the Chinese in Kabuki-cho are pressuring you lately. Vasili, if you leave your job unattended while meddling in things that are none of your business, I fear you won't be long with us... Well, then. До свидания (Farewell)," she said, leaving Laptev with a final venomous goodbye as she killed the line.
"...In the end, it seems we couldn't get any solid evidence, Kapitan."
Sergeant Boris, who had been standing at her side as she made the call, gave a short sigh of disappointment.
"It doesn't matter. He's been slipping up lately anyway. He only got the position through politics, so once his reputation is tarnished, that'll be it for him. Once the Chinese finally drive him out, even Slevinin will turn away from him."
Balalaika took a cigar, and immediately Boris prepared a match. A guillotine also appeared in his hand as he waited to cut the cigar according to his mistress's tastes.
Using an oil lighter to light a cigar would be the height of folly, for the smell of oil would destroy the cigar's exquisite scent. Even within the Vysotniki, Boris was the only one with the privilege of carrying the cedar matches for her cigars.
Balalaika luxuriated in the smooth taste spreading through her mouth as she leaned back, smiling at the smoke rising toward the dark ceiling.
"Of course, if it fell to me to bring about his end when the time finally comes... Ah, that would truly be wonderful, would it not?"
(1): From Kemumaki Kemuzou, the antagonist of the 1960s manga Ninja Hattori-kun.
(2): 山主 (mountain master). Leader of a Triad.
(3): 龍頭 (dragon head). Similar in meaning to Shan Chu.
(4): Urobuchi used "tadibiya" in katakana here; I have been able to find a proper equivalent. Within the Sami, the shaman were known as "noaidi."
Revy's face as she stared out the bridge window at the waves was a study in depression and laziness.
"Aww, c'mon, Dutch. Don't be such a hardass. Can't ya give us at least a little time off?"
"Stop complaining, Revy. You know what they say. The labor of the body relieves us from the fatigues of the mind. Something about it forming the happiness of the poor."
"...Yeah, I bet some poor motherfucker was the one who said that."
"Actually, it was a French nobleman."
"Yeah well, fuck him, too."
The good ship Black Lagoon cut through the waves, carrying the four pirates along through the Malacca Strait as always. Only a day had passed since the plan to assassinate Chang Wai-San had been brought to an end.
"It's not exactly like we could refuse a request from Mister Chang, right?" Rock asked in an attempt to placate her, but Revy was not to be consoled. She spat out a curse and sighed heavily, breathing out smoke from the Lucky Seven clenched between her lips.
"Well, he went too far this time. I mean, you gotta let a girl a break every so often, doncha think? He knows how much shit we went through the past few days."
"This is Mister Chang's way of showing that it's all water under the bridge. You should be thanking him."
Their Triad-funded mission this time was to attack a disguised smuggling ship.
The boat in question had trespassed on the Triad's area several times already, ignoring repeated warnings to stop. At last, the Triad had decided that something had to be done. If the target stopped as directed, they'd just dump the smuggled cargo into the sea and leave it at that, but if it resisted, they'd have no choice but to let a little seawater into the hold.
The important thing here was that the goods that the Triad didn't want being traded didn't enter circulation, so if the pirates hired to do the job got greedy and took the stuff for themselves it'd all be for naught. That meant that whoever was chosen to attack the smuggler ship had to be someone the Triad could trust. In other words, Chang had given this mission to the Lagoon Company to show that he harbored no doubts about their trustworthiness, and so Dutch and the others had no choice but to drag their weary bodies back into the torpedo boat and set off.
"...Y'know, I still don't know what those fucktards tryin' to kill Mister Chang were thinkin'. Did they really think they had a chance taking on the Triad with a team like that?"
"Who knows? Even if they had some kinda ulterior motive, it's probably gone straight to hell by now."
Of the ones who'd escaped Revy's clutches, they'd heard that the ninja had switched sides and was now working under the Triad, but Stan's whereabouts were still a mystery, as were those of the unknown redhead who'd solicited them at Pangkal Pinang, "Jane." Still, Chang had declared the case to be closed, so they supposed that he had a good reason for doing so.
They'd heard a rumor going around the Yellow Flag that there'd been a gunfight on Hamipong Street on the same day that Revy took care of Jake, but nobody seemed to know much about it. Either way, the whole thing left a bad taste in the Lagoon Company's mouths.
"I think... They were some pretty strange people, weren't they?" Rock murmured quietly, going over the past few hectic days in his head. Revy snorted derisively.
"Look who's talkin', dumbass. Who ever heard of a pirate walkin' around with a necktie, wearing goddamn dress shoes?"
She had a point. Still, he thought it was a sight better than anachronistic buccaneers or shadow warriors... or was it? It was true that the sight of a plainly dressed salaryman was actually pretty rare in Roanapur. Looking at it objectively, he supposed that he might be just as strange a sight to others as the people who'd caused such a mess a few days ago.
Dutch laughed out loud, watching Rock struggle with his sudden doubts.
"Who cares? This is the kinda place where nuns wave around automags. All the crazy motherfuckers in the world're probably drawn to Roanapur."
"Ah, you're right. There was that one killing machine who came wearing a maid outfit."
"...Motherfucker, you made me remember it."
Revy's face twisted with disgust as she recalled her encounter with the implacable head maid.
Just then, Benny's voice came from the communications room, where he'd been sitting staring at the radar.
"Okay, found it. It's going pretty fast. We'd probably be better off turning north by northeast to cut it off instead of just heading straight ahead."
"Gotcha, Benny boy. Now, Rock, it's your turn," Dutch said, taking the helm and handing a loudspeaker to Rock.
"...Err, Dutch? How long do I have to keep on doing this?"
"A wise man named Karl Marx once said that every member of society had to do what they were good at and in return they'd get what they need. Revy, got the RPG ready?"
"Heheh, just give the word."
Revy's mood lightened immediately once she sensed carnage on the horizon. Nobody paid the slightest attention to Rock's sad sigh.
"Ah... Testing, testing. The weather is fine today... Testing..."
Rock felt a headache coming on already as he fiddled with the settings on the loudspeaker, staring at the smuggler ship disguised as a fishing boat about two hundred meters away.
Once again, he found himself facing down criminals armed with nothing more than a loudspeaker. Somehow, he didn't think they'd just give up.
"Uhh... To the gentlemen who're carrying questionable merchandise on that ship... We, err, represent the Triad, and must regretfully request you to stop and prepare to be boarded."
...Look at that, the smuggler ship turned tail and began accelerating as it ran away. Who would've guessed? From the speed at which it was moving, it looked like the boat was hiding something at least on par with the Lagoon's engine behind its innocent looking exterior.
"Oh hey, looks like it's my turn, Rock," Revy said, smiling in anticipation of the explosion to come as she swung the RPG up onto her shoulder.
Even with Revy's skills, they'd need to be within at least a hundred meters of the target to accurately hit it with a grenade. Dutch accordingly jacked up the engine to full throttle, chasing the hapless smugglers across the water.
Suddenly, Benny's voice came from the speakers again, sharp with warning.
"Dutch, something else just appeared on the radar! It's at 9 o' clock... It's coming right for us!"
"What? Is it a Thai patrol boat?"
"They'd have contacted us on the radio first if they were. But this speed and course... I'm not certain, but I think they might want to pick a fight. You think they're working with those smugglers?"
"No way! I didn't hear anything about that..."
Even as Dutch and Benny tried to get a hold of the situation, a huge, resounding boom split the sea air. Everyone froze at the sound, and as they watched the deck of the smuggler ship before them exploded in a pillar of flame.
"What the hell?!"
Rock took up the binoculars and spotted a new ship on their port side. Thanks to Dutch's stern mentoring, even he could recognize most conventional ships by their shape alone...
...Which was why he was unable to suppress a gasp of dismay as he focused on the incoming craft.
"Shit... it's a Vosper MTB!"
The motor torpedo boat, which had been made from the base design of the American 80-foot Elco PT boat, was a formidable adversary that eclipsed the Black Lagoon in both size and armament. It was a terrifying foe.
The Lagoon had reinforced armor plates on its hull, granted, but they'd be as much use as wooden planks in the face of the Vosper's main gun, the 40mm Bofors autocannon... Except, Rock noticed, there was something strange about the boat's silhouette as it approached.
"...Huh? What in the world is that...?"
"What's wrong, Rock? Are you sure it's a Vosper?!"
"Well, no, it is, but..."
Instead of a 40mm autocannon, there was an honest-to-God bronze Culverin front-loading cannon mounted on the front of the ship, white smoke drifting lazily upward from its barrel. Standing beside it, packing in gunpowder, were two men with bandannas gracing their heads, one eye each hidden behind eye patches, sporting scruffy roguish beards.
Not quite able to believe what he saw, Rock's gaze drifted upwards and came to rest on the Jolly Roger proudly on display at the top of the ship's communications antenna. Then he looked down again, at the grinning woman standing on the open bridge, taking in the flintlock pistol she waved about, as well as the tricorne atop her head, her swallowtail coat, and her large breasts.
"...You've got to be kidding me."
She looked almost exactly like Caroline Morgan, who he knew had been found dead on the Zaltzman.
"Haha... I mean, Yarharharhar! We finally meet, Black Lagoon! I been lookin' for ye scurvy seadogs, arr!"
Raucous laughter exploded from the Vosper's external speakers.
"I be Catherine Morgan, the new captain o' the good ship Millennium Tortuga! I'll send ye all to Davy Jones' Locker fer betrayin' an' murderin' me beloved sister Caroline! An' I'm takin' all yer booty to boot! Yarharharhar!"
They'd been twins, it seemed... Even the way she talked was practically identical to her late sister. Rock could only sigh at the unexpected ambusher, to say nothing of her ridiculous jump to conclusions.
"I don't know whether to call this all a misunderstanding or take it as a willful misinterpretation... Hey, how did her sister end up dead, anyway?"
"Hell if I know. She already had a new breathin' hole in her forehead when I found her."
For his part, Dutch had clearly given up on everything. He slumped forward onto the steering apparatus, feebly rubbing at his bald head in a futile attempt to stave off his oncoming migraine.
"What do you think, Revy? Do you want to explain our side of the story to our guest over there?"
"Hmph, like hell I do. She wants a fuckin' fight, she's got one. I'll teach those Caribbean pussies how things work around here."
Revy grinned savagely as she put on a pair of headphones. It seemed she was already raring to go.
"Dutch, we can put off those smugglers for a bit, right? Go straight at the dumbfucks on our port side. I'll take 'em out as we pass."
"Jousting, huh. Okay, just don't fuck up."
"'Course I won't."
The CD player hanging from Revy's gunbelt contained a playlist of songs that Revy had chosen herself, her "Jitterbug of Death" collection. She flipped through it as the Vosper loomed ever larger before them, finding just the right one for the situation at hand. Today, she felt like... yes, Rage Against the Machine's "Sleep Now in the Fire" would be perfect.
"Ain't it great, Rock? The grenade I'm about to shoot's gonna go down as a necessary expense since they attacked first. I'm happy 'cause I get to shoot, you're happy 'cause it don't come outta yer own pocket, everyone's happy, 'cept those dumbass cunts who're gonna get an RPG to the face, right?"
"...Yeah, I guess."
If he objected now, all he'd achieve would be ruining Revy's good mood. Rock gave up and grasped one of the handles on the deck in preparation for Dutch's wild steering.
The two ships closed in on each other at full speed, eating up the distance at an alarming rate. In an instant it was right in front of them. They could even make out the features of the man putting a flame to the cannon's fuse.
Feeling the adrenaline flow headily in her veins, Revy began to sing along with Zack de la Rocha as she aimed the RPG straight at the enemy ship's bridge.
"Hey, hey, sleep now in the fire!!"
Rocket fuel and black powder ignited in unison, the booming roar of exchanged shots sounding over the raging waves.
Just below the equator, there existed an island of blue-black waves and stifling heat, forsaken by God. The procession of damned souls there continued without end...
Black Lagoon: Shaitane Badi
Special End of Book Interview
Hiroe Rei and Urobuchi Gen
Courtesy of the Sunday GX Editorial Department
●I love guns made of wood and steel!
-If you would mind telling us how you two met?
Urobuchi: It all started when I left a post on the message board of Mr. Hiroe's homepage. It was a long, long time ago. I just liked the sexy women with tempting hips and breasts. And they had guns to boot. (laughs)
Hiroe: Huh? Was that how it was? (laughs) I'm sorry, but I don't remember a thing about that. My oldest memory is receiving a Phantom of Inferno preview disc at a Comiket. And I was struck then by the strangest feeling that I'd never meet Mr. Urobuchi ever again.
Urobuchi: Whaaat? Why's that? (laughs)
Hiroe: Well, consider how our schedules never fit. I wanted to meet you and talk about lots of things, but you know how things often turn out, like gears that just don't fit together... And I felt like we were sort of rivals in the ring, since we work on similar things... Which is why I was so glad when a certain animation studio provided me with the opportunity to meet you again. I read the interview in Phantom's mook magazine, and remember how you said there that you loved guns made of wood and steel? Well, I said the same thing in a GX interview. I read that and thought to myself, "Oh wow, we're the same!" (laughs)
Urobuchi: There are people out there who just can't stand Glocks, right? (Editor's note: Glocks are largely constructed of polymer parts.)
Hiroe: Exactly. I mean, doesn't it look just like a toy? And I hate the assault rifles they're using in the U.S. Army these days too! I wish everyone would just use AK's!
Urobuchi: I look at those guns and think, "What are you going to do with that cutting edge tech, anyway? Fight aliens?" (laughs)
Hiroe: See, this is why I like you! We think alike! (laughs)
●A work that makes you think it's a movie.
-Starting with Mr. Urobuchi. What do you think of Mr. Hiroe's work?
Urobuchi: When I read Mr. Hiroe's work, it feels like I'm watching a movie. I guess you could say it's like a movie was translated into a manga. Honestly, haven't you ever thought that you wanted to direct a film?
Hiroe: I'd be lying if I said no. (laughs)
Urobuchi: I thought so. Mr. Hiroe's manga always make me think to myself, "If you translated a movie's pacing or editing methods into a series of panels, this is what you'd get." If you were to divide manga into those that focus on characters and those that focus on scenes, I'd say that Mr. Hiroe's work falls squarely into the latter category. I just love that so much. The way that the action just unfolds before the eye, willing you to forget paltry things like how much ammo that gun can hold. (laughs) Don't you think it'd be just great as a live action movie, too?
Hiroe: That's pretty much how it is. Thank you.
●Phantom was a rival.
-Then, Mr. Hiroe. Tell us what you thought about Mr. Urobuchi's work.
Hiroe: When I played Phantom, in all honesty, I felt like I had a rival. (laughs) You know how when you meet someone who feels like he's standing in the same ring as you are, how you're a little glad but at the same time you feel a little confrontational. (laughs)
Urobuchi: Of course. (laughs)
Hiroe: But then Saya no Uta, that came after it, had Cthulu Mythos-ish themes in it too, didn't it? That's when I realized, "Ah, this person can write stuff like this--not just gunslinging stories--too." Saya no Uta was a fine piece of work in my opinion, even if you only look at the story.
Urobuchi: You're embarrassing me.
Hiroe: And take the one I played recently, Zoku Satsuriku no Django -Jigoku no Shoukinkubi-. It's got girls like a romance sim, yes, but the story's actually like an adventure novel. It starts with a bang and gets right to the point, and then starts building up the atmosphere. It's even got stuff to make a grown man cry. I really liked that kind of thing.
Urobuchi: Thank you.
●And so a terrifying collaboration was brought about.
-We hear that this novel actually came about because Mr. Hiroe asked Mr. Urobuchi to do it...
Hiroe: I always had this sort of condition inside myself that if Black Lagoon was ever novelized, someone who knew the "rhythm" of a gunfight would have to do it. And I also thought that being faithful to the atmosphere of the original was a huge factor, along with how well it could be linked to canon. To me, it seemed that Mr. Urobuchi had all of these skills. While I was playing Django to confirm one last time whether he would be the one, my thoughts changed along the way from "I think he might do a good job!" to "I can't think of anyone else for the job!" and so I just asked him on a whim.
Urobuchi: It wasn't really a surprise that he asked, in a sense. I'd been thinking to myself, you see, that I'd surely end up doing a Lagoon novel some day. (everyone laughs)
Hiroe: Awesome. (laughs)
Urobuchi: Well, I suppose you could just say that it was a feeling, like, "I might be the one to write it!" (laughs)
Hiroe: That's great!
Urobuchi: That's why when it actually happened, I was like, "Hell yeah!" I really felt this personal investment even when I was reading the manga, you see. "Oh ho, so that's how things are going this time?" That kind of feeling. (laughs) I felt more like a mangaka working for the same magazine, waiting for it to print, than an actual reader.
Hiroe: Really, now. Something like the rivalry I felt from Phantom, then.
Urobuchi: Something like two people who set up shop at the same corner in Akihabara.
Hiroe: That feeling of "Oh, shit!" that you get when someone else uses a good storyline that you wish you'd come up with. (laughs)
Urobuchi: Yes, exactly. (laughs)
●Write something that will challenge Black Lagoon.
"Mr. Urobuchi agreed to write, so Black Lagoon is officially getting a light novel. Please, try to write something to challenge the world of Black Lagoon! Make a little Urobuchi World inside it, and mess things up however you will. (laughs) I want to see the demon inside Urobuchi Gen!"
"Charging into Roanapur is like exposing oneself to the barrels of twin Sword Cutlasses... But even considering that danger, a man can't help but want to give it a try... Because Miss Revy's slim thighs are waiting there, accentuated by her denim hot-pants!"
Taken from the June 2008 issue of Monthly Sunday GX
-Mr. Urobuchi, what did you feel upon actually writing the story?
Urobuchi: It came so easily that I surprised myself. I'm actually a fairly slow writer. I always have trouble somewhere... But the world of Black Lagoon was really familiar! It felt quite close to me.
Hiroe: Thank you!
Urobuchi: I was really surprised that I was able to write and write without running into anything that made me stop and think it over.
Hiroe: Our similarities at work again?
Urobuchi: It felt like I was borrowing a movie set called Roanapur and using it however I wanted. I really liked the feeling of doing whatever I liked! All the while I was writing, I felt like, "Ah, there's a camera just lying here on the street! I can pick it up and start filming right now!"
Hiroe: Personally, I'm just glad that you enjoyed writing it.
Urobuchi: I even thought that Brother Chang was going a bit far sometimes, but then I shrugged and thought, what the hell. (laughs)
Hiroe: I did ask you to challenge the world of Lagoon, after all. (laughs)
Urobuchi: I really felt pressured. (laughs) I felt like I didn't dare to mess things up.
Hiroe: I was more curious to read "the world of Black Lagoon from the pen of Urobuchi Gen" more than I was really worried about it staying faithful to my work. That was why it didn't matter even if you'd written it aiming to conquer Roanapur in its entirety.
Urobuchi: If I had to choose something that bothered me, it was probably the anime. I'd look at it and think, "So that's how they did Roanapur..." (laughs)
Hiroe: That's Director Katabuchi's reconstruction of Roanapur.
Urobuchi: That's why I really worried a bit when writing chapter one. I didn't know whether words would suffice to pass on the feeling of Black Lagoon... I couldn't write a single word until I felt that it was possible. But as I wrote, I felt like, "Hey, this works!"
Hiroe: That's the good thing about Roanapur. It's got no nationality, and as long as it's bloody, anything can happen there. (laughs)
Urobuchi: Yes, life is cheap in that neighborhood. (laughs) I really enjoyed myself in Roanapur. In a way I enjoyed myself even more than when writing an original piece. (laughs) Personally, when I work on an original story, I always find myself worrying, right from the beginning, about where I'll end up when all is said and done. I have this habit of thinking about the story before I'm even done ironing out the background. To bring back that movie set analogy, think of it as setting up the cameras first and then building the sets around them. I keep thinking to myself things like, "I should put something here so that the viewer won't see the wires," and then I just end up unable to enjoy writing. That's why I really liked having a set that appealed to me right from the get-go to write a novel with.
-Finally, a few words of congratulations to one another. Mr. Urobuchi, you first, if you'd please.
Urobuchi: I really think that girls with guns are extremely erotic! That feeling of release when they fire, I suppose. (laughs) That feeling of freedom, coupled with tight asses and legs and breasts is almost like some sort of traditional craft. (laughs) I'd like if Mr. Hiroe focused a little more on that sort of thing. Please!
Hiroe: Well, since you asked so nicely, I guess I'll just have to try and include more of that from now on!
-And Mr. Hiroe.
Hiroe: I'm really glad that we had the opportunity to work together like this. I truly believe that Mr. Urobuchi is the only one who can properly novelize an otaku-oriented gunfight. He knows what works, I guess you could say.
Urobuchi: Isn't it just the difference of whether you've ever been looked down on for being a gun nut or not? (laughs) Or rather, how you spent those harsh times...
Hiroe: Ah, that's it. (laughs) Gunfighting is really a hard genre to do, isn't it? I'd like it if you could do with words what I'm doing with drawings, something solid with plenty of fine women. And maybe something horror oriented, too.
Urobuchi: Thank you!
-Thank you both for your time.
May 2008, Shogakukan
This interview is an edited version of the one that appeared in the pages of Monthly Sunday GX's July 2008 issue.
Whew. That's that. Thank you all for reading. I don't really have much to say this time, except...
Damn, that Falcon really stole the show, didn't he? Ahahaha.
I hear that Urobuchi's not known for his happy endings, but I suppose this one turned out alright. Even Stan died content, I guess. The limits of working in someone else's universe--you can't kill all the characters!
Anyway, hope you enjoyed, and as a matter of fact I just got an email telling me that my order for the second Black Lagoon novel, Black Lagoon 2: Elegy of the Sinful Wizard just shipped, so... who knows? We'll see.