Gangsta: Death of Anosmic Stray Dogs

 
 

Gangsta: Death of Anosmic Stray Dogs Chapter 4


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Only a little more left. And I admit I teared up a few times during this chapter.

The original Japanese text is provided by.

Gangsta: Death of Anosmic Stray Dogs by Kawabata Junichi

Chapter 4

The Benriya walked deserted back streets, on the way to their office.

Worick didn’t really have much to talk about with Nicolas as they walked. Instead, he used the time to recall a few things. The Lombardi family’s documents he looked through at the police station. The story he heard from Dario. The photo the short man dropped of Johann and a girl. And finally, the request a certain woman had placed with them…

Just as the two turned the corner of a narrow back alley, Nicolas, eyes sharp and alert, sniffed the air. Worick’s hand reached for his left side, while Nicolas’ thrust into the pocket of his jacket, taking out Celebrer, ready to twist off the cap. But suddenly, something hit the case.

Knocked from Nicolas’ hands, the case got sliced in two, rotating in midair before hitting the ground, the contents scattering. With a soft swoosh, not unlike a small bird’s whistling, a throwing knife hit the wall and tumbled to the ground.

Yet another someone who bought into the false accusations of the Benriya being the mafia slayers? Or…

In any case, they were up against a Twilight, the attacker acting the moment Nicolas tried to take Celebrer proved it beyond doubt.

The next things to launched at them were bullets. 4 shots, each fired at an angle slightly different from the previous one. The attacker was somewhere high - probably moving on the roofs, as they tried to snipe Nicolas, targeting him with precision. With a flick of his wrist, katana gripped securely in his hand, Nicolas repelled the bullets. The metallic ching echoed in the narrow alley. Worick couldn’t so much as begin to grasp who their attacker was, but he surmised their location from the shifts of Nicolas’ line of sight and searched for a position where he wouldn’t be in his partner’s way.

“How’s it looking? Think you can handle it?”
‘Shut up.’ The right corner of Nicolas’ mouth lifted up high in a smirk. 'I’m having fun. Don’t get in my way.’

Upon a closer, Nicolas’ cargo pants sported a tear, from which blood oozed. One of the bullets must have grazed his left calf.

—No good.

Inside, Worick got covered with cold sweat at the realization. The wound itself didn’t look deep, but the fact that his partner didn’t dodge that bullet could prove very much fatal. If Nicolas was alone, he wouldn’t have suffered that wound. He would have sidestepped the bullet before it could deal any damage to him. The reason why he chose to knock the bullets by force instead of dodging was because of Worick behind him who he had to protect.

—If the attacker started targeting him, the situation would take a sharp turn for the worse, Worick knew.

Nicolas couldn’t move away from the spot and leave Worick unprotected. The Japanese katana, his pride and joy, couldn’t reach the enemy. Forced on the defensive with no means to retaliate, there would come a time when he would slip up. And as far as Worick could tell, the rules of this battle didn’t allow for timeouts.

The enemy would continue their long range sniping, Worick predicted, probably switching their target to Worick himself. There was no reason why the handymen’s opponent would want to break this stalemate and lose the advantage it provided. Only, Worick soon was proven wrong.

2 more bullets and one more throwing knife sailed through the air. Both weapons were only targeting Nicolas. The next object unleashed on the Benriya was the attacker themselves.

Kicking the wall, their form was closing in on Nicolas at high speed. From a close distance, the person launched a wire with a weight attached to its end. It sliced through the air with a high pitched shrill. Nicolas wound the wire on his sword and pulled. Feeling the pull, the enemy kicked the ground and leaped, releasing the wire midair. The next scene Worick’s eyes registered was the two engaged in a fierce fight. Nicolas, of course, was using his katana, while his opponent was armed with a big slightly bent combat knife. Worick couldn’t tell when the guy had even unsheathed it.

—But it looked like Worick wasn’t being targeted though?

Was it because the enemy tried to uphold the three laws, or maybe because they were a fighting-obsessed maniac like many Twilights were? Whatever was the case, in a fight pitting raw power against raw power, not many could win against Nicolas. And currently, his partner easily sent his opponent’s knife flying.

—No, wrong.

Nicolas’ adversary apparently let go of the knife on purpose. The moment Worick realized that, his ears registered the bang of a gunshot.

—Damn, his eyes were unable to keep up.

In any case, the enemy fired at Nicolas pretty much point-blank. Nicolas, on whatever crazy reflexes he possessed, dodged it. His body off balance, he used the momentum to deliver a power-packed bodily blow, following it with a throw of his fist cutting through the air. His opponent leaped away from him, putting about 3 yards between them, picked up his knife off the ground and slowly straightened themselves up.

Only then Worick was finally able to take a good look at the attacker’s face.

It was Johann.

His face was expressionless, eyes not seeing anything, not even Nicolas. He kept them closed, like he was sleeping or something. Nicolas plucked off the wire still winding around his katana and flung it away.

Before he had a chance to swoop down on Johann, Worick took a step forward. Nicolas grabbed him shoulder, and Worick, turning to him, whispered, “Sorry to spoil your fun, but it’s still my turn.”
'You’ll die if you fight him.’
“I wonder about that. I’m pretty tough, y'know?” Worick turned back to Johann. “Besides, remember? We’re the most trustworthy handymen in town. Gotta be most honest about requests placed with us.”

His back was to Nicolas, so there was no way the other Benriya saw his last words being uttered. The shorter man, however, didn’t repeat his attempt to stop Worick.

Worick started walking towards Johann. The young man’s eyelids finally lifted then, and surprise showed on his features. And yet, Worick didn’t stop his advance. Closer, closer, close enough for the pointed tip of the knife to almost pierce into his body if he leaned forward a little. But Johann withdrew the knife before it could happen.

“What is wrong, Johann-chan, sweetie? Didn’t you come to kill us?”

For a while, everything was silent. Worick patiently waited for Johann to open his mouth.

Finally, Johann spoke up in a taut voice, “I have no permission on you yet.”
“Do you really need your big brother’s permission every single time you wanna fight?”
“That’s the kind of beings Twilights are, and you, of all people, should know it very well.”
“But you two are not really like that.”

If Johann was behind the mafia killings, it meant he had ignored the 3 rules and was actively destroying Ergastulum’s balance.

“Did you let those thugs do a number on you that night because you didn’t have permission?”
“Dario told me not to be violent except when necessary.”
“Oh. I didn’t think he could be that rational.”
“He probably gave that order simply on a whim. But he has a nose that tells the right way on an instinct.”
“I’m not sure about that. Good for you if you’re not misunderstanding though.”

Worick recalled it again: the Lombardi family’s papers, and the photo of Johann and a girl.

Flashing his familiar business smile, he inquired, “Is it Sophia-chan you’re looking for?”

His neck no longer hurt any, but he still knew there were faint traces of twin scars left on it.

Sophia. He came across that name in the Lombardi family’s documents. But not on the list of their members. It was in the catalog of their merchandise, positioned as a 'dynamite’, along with drags and prostitutes.

Johann sneered. The size of his eyes changed, one becoming bigger than the other, the orbs themselves warped.

“I see. So it was you.”
“I’m more popular than Nic, yes.”
“Not that.” Johann shook his head very slowly. “You smell too strong.”
“Now that’s mean. Can’t exactly say I’m a clean freak, though.”
“I’m talking about perfume. You have so many of those on you that I couldn’t tell my sister’s scent among them.”

It had been more than a month since the time Sophia stayed with them. And Johann could still detect her scent, huh? Talk about crazy.

Worick cocked his head.

“We won’t hide or run. Tonight, we’ll come to Dario. So how about you bow out for now?”
“Sorry, but I cannot do that.”
“Then what are you gonna do, boy? Disregard your big bro’s orders and skewer my chest with your knife here?”

Johann was silent. The troubled face he wore was so very childish. His usual timid mannerisms were not an act, apparently.

“Stand down, boy. It’s adult time from here on out. But don’t worry, our Nic looks all fired up, too, so you’ll have yourselves your playtime soon enough.”

Johann glared at Worick for a while. Then he turned on his heels and started walking away. Worick, too, turned away from him.

Nicolas pointed down with his finger.

'Let me fight him here.’
“Don’t be in such a hurry. We can’t cut corners when fulfilling a client’s request.”
'What request are you even talking about?’
“Huh? I didn’t tell you?”

Sophia’s request.

—Hide me for the next 3 years.

She was perfectly aware of her enclosing death. And she didn’t hope for a miracle to occur that would somehow let her live longer. That’s why it was really puzzling why she would place that kind of request.

But now Worick finally understood the reason.

He had accepted her request, for better or for worse. And now that he had learned the meaning behind it, he had no choice but to fulfill it.

It took some effort to make Nicolas see the whole picture of the situation. It was something he wouldn’t be interested in much even under the best of circumstances, and this time his mood was particularly foul due to having had to accept a postponement, so he looked vehement as he argued, venting his anger.

'In the first place it makes zero sense. That Sophia woman was at least 10 years older than that brat! No way she was his little sister.’
“As I was saying for a while, Johann-chan’s compensation is a little odd. Different parts of his body age differently. If you peek underneath that down coat of his, you just might see that his right arm is that of an old man, while his left arm is that of a baby.”
'You wanna say he looks much younger than his actual age?’
“If I had to guess, it’s probably the opposite? Sophia-chan probably had the same compensation as him. That’s why her face looked much older than her actual age.”

Come to think of it, she took pains not to show much skin. Worick remembered her wish to be cremated her in her clothes. He thought her to be a woman not much different from himself in age, but now he was sure she was more than 10 years younger than him.

That kind of compensation must have been especially hard on a girl. If she was still around, he would have tried to comfort her. But now nothing could have been done about it anymore.

'Alright, then why the brat goes around asking about her with a photo like that? Is he an idiot or what?’
“You saw that photo, too, Nic-chan? That’s where the problem lies, ain’t it.”

Even as he replied vaguely, Worick could already venture an educated guess as to the reason.

Johann’s inquiry didn’t account for that peculiar compensation. In which case, it meant that Sophia hid her compensation from him.

Worick remembered what Theo said about her condition.

— You can’t really tell from her appearance but her organs are all pretty much decayed.

Worick assumed it was due to the effects of overdosing on Celebrer. But now that he thought about it, perhaps it spoke of her compensation. Sophia aged starting from the inside. In which case, it wasn’t too much of a stretch to assume that she managed to successfully hide her compensation from Johann.

Nicolas, probably getting fed up with this conversation for real, signed with rough movements.

'So, in the end, are they the mafia slayers or aren’t they?’
“It’s 99% certain that they are. They started with the Lombardi family and continued with families that the Lombardis had dealings with. All for the sake of taking back Sophia-chan.”
'In short, bump 'em off and we’re done with this shit.’
“Mn. I guess understanding that much should be enough for you, Nic-chan,” nodding, Worick then glanced at Nicolas’ left leg.

Nicolas’ calf, hit earlier, was still bleeding. It looked like the wound was deeper than it had seemed at first.

“Is that OK though?”
'I’m not a wimp like you.’
“Ask Nina-chan to bandage that later.”

Nicolas didn’t reply, just scratched his head.

Chatting about nothing, they had made it back to their office. Just as they opened the door, the phone began to ring.

The sun had almost set, so the ringing phone was a hassle, in Worick’s honest opinion, but he picked up the receiver. On the other end of the line, there was an old member of the Monroe family, Myles. He looked almost as striking as Monroe himself, but gentler and close with the Benriya. Among those who could have called them, he was on the easy to deal with side. That said, it was still a hassle given the fact that he went out of his way to call himself.

“How unusual of you to contact us in person, Myles-nii.”
“Boss’ orders. He says he’s so worried about you rascals that he can’t sleep at night.”

Yeah, right, Worick gave a sarcastic smile inside.

“How’s the progress?”
“We’ve got suspects,” Worick reported shortly, and Myles humph-ed on the other end.
“Nothing less from you, Benriya.”
“But of course. Our serious attitude is our selling point, after all.”
“We can trust you to take care of them then?”
“Sure,” Worick replied.

Mafia was one of the organizations - few in number even worldwide - that retaliated proportionally based on reason and calculation. If someone did wrong by you, do the same to them. Stay invincible in the world of violence. It would not be an exaggeration to say that to mafia, the title of the overdog was the fundamental tool of their trade. That’s why every mafia family sought to mete out retribution for their members.

The mafia slayers did wrong by too many mafia families. Too many were after their heads now. The issue of who would have the honor to deliver said retribution could become the bone of contention soon, too. Of course, considering the power dynamics within Ergastulum, the Monroe family was one candidate for the role of said retributor no one would complain about, but the city’s small-time thugs like Worick and Nicolas inadvertently killing the culprits was an even better and more peaceful solution. That was probably the likely reason why Daniel Monroe didn’t stipulate that the culprits should be captured alive.

“I’m planning to make arrangement for a gift box with the mafia slayers packed inside as early as tomorrow. Ah, right, something I wanted to ask. Does Monroe-san like violets?”
“Hm?”
“Flowers. I happened to come across a shop that sells some beautiful ones. Can’t have the present smell of blood too much.”

Myles was silent for a few seconds. Probably tried to gauge Worick’s intention behind the question. But in the end, he didn’t pry into it any deeper, replying mildly, “Do as you want. Give me a call once you’re finished tomorrow.”
“And what will happen if I’m behind the schedule?” Worick knew the answer, just wanted to confirm.
“All kinds of families built up a lot of pent-up anger. If it was to explode, the number of dead bodies will increase by an order of magnitude, and controlling who would end up among the corpses may be impossible.” So don’t fall behind the schedule, Myles implied gently and hung up.
“It’s a cruel world we live in,” Worick murmured and ended the call as well.

Although Worick had no such intention in the first place, now it was more clear than ever that wrapping up this business with just cutting off a few fingers was impossible.

Most things had the upside and downside to them. A life where you received a call from a member of a mafia organization first thing after coming home made Worick sigh, but at the same time, it reminded him of his place. In essence, it was the same as his ability of not forgetting anything. So first, the upside of it. He remembered all things he had done and all places he had been to. Now, the downside. For that exact reason, he couldn’t bring himself to clean up the room.

Worick went downstairs and took a necklace he had hung there for the time being on a kitchen hook next to spatulas. The silver necklace in the shape of an angel’s wing.

'Is that what you forgot and went back to fetch?’ Nicolas, leaning against the wall, twisted his lips in annoyance.
“It’s the pay for the request. Made in advance.”
'It’s a cheap thing no matter how you look at it.’

Worick hung the necklace on his index finger and span it around it.

“True, maybe I gave her a bit too much of a discount. She wasn’t even my type. Oh well, I had already accepted her request, so can’t be helped.”
'That woman is already dead.’
“Uh-huh. The request of a dead woman. The sort of request that you have to fulfill even if it kills you.”
'I don’t really get it though. What kind of request did she even make, pray tell?’

Worick didn’t grace that question with an answer as he put on the necklace on his neck.

“Oh right. There was something about her that I did like. You see, I prefer women who would wear perfect make-up even if they know they’re about to die. Keeping up the lovely appearances till the bitter end is what makes wearing makeup meaningful.”
'Answer me. What should I do?’
“Easy.” Looking into his partner’s black eyes, Worick grinned. “Like you said yourself, Nic. They’re the mafia slayers, so bump them off and we’re done with this.”

Nicolas grinned back at him. It was a wild, maniacal expression.

'Yeah, easy to understand makes it good.’

The Benriya would fulfill the dead girl’s request. As well as the semi-forced request of the mafia boss, of course. This once, the two were not mutually exclusive. Could it be considered their luck?

“We’re under no obligation to settle it prettily. Simply faithfully fulfilling what was requested of us should be enough. In just moderation. Like always, partner.”

Before Worick was finished with his speech, Nicolas had already started walking. Worick followed him. Once they left the office, he raised his hand to the necklace a little too tight for him to touch it just once.

*

When Johann returned to the sickroom, Dario slept, snoring.

Johann didn’t really understand the man, even now. It had been a whole year already since they had met, but Johann still couldn’t even take a guess about what went through the short man’s head.

And at times, he even looked like a complete and utter fool to Johann. Johann recognized that he lacked the sense of social etiquette, but he felt that compared to Dario, he was much better off.

On the other hand, there was the undeniable feeling of respect for Dario in him.

At the very least, they were still alive. Johann was being kept alive by Dario. And it felt much better than coarse environment he was forced to live in before coming into Dario’s possession. Only Dario could accomplish something like that. Only the man, who wasn’t even smart and a really weak fighter, but possessed an extraordinary sense of smell.

Johann’s own nose was good. Twilights were superior to Normals in all things bodily, but even among Twilights Johann’s sense of smell was outstanding.

The one to pick up the really important smells, however, was Dario. The two, guided by his often inflamed nose which was also runny when pollen danced in the air, actually survived and made it this far.

—He had nothing anymore, Johann thought. He also knew that his body would not last long, either.

No, there still was one thing left: the meager freedom Dario had given him.

*

Johann didn’t know his father. He hadn’t even heard his name.

It was not much better with his mother as all he remembered was the sensation of being petted by a thin hard dry hand. He believed it was his mother’s hand. But his little sister, Sophia, didn’t know even that. Apparently, their mother had died when Johann was 3 and Sophia was only a 6 month old infant. He didn’t hear anything about the reason.

When Johann became old enough to understand what was going on around him, he and his sister had already been kept by a mafia organization.

He never considered it something odd. Neither did he think of his life as frustrating or sad. In his understanding, he simply was that kind of creature.

His masters changed a few times.

The first mafia family treated Twilights like livestock, feeding them tasteless swill and dishing out beatings depending on the members’ mood. That family got into a fight with another family, lost and dissolved as a result, with the winning family claiming Johann and Sophia as spoils of war. Johann believed he was about 8 at the time.

The siblings’ second owners were of a more calm kind. They treated Twilights as merchandise and had the minimal management system in place. Johann learned to train and read under them. His first kill, too was for a job entrusted to him by that family. No one made an attempt to strike up a conversation with Johann or Sophia, but as long as you fulfilled your quota, food and a place to sleep was guaranteed. About 4 years later Johann and his sister were sold off to another family. Apparently, they sold for good money, so the woman that was in charge of taking care of them, even praised them for one last time at the end. Johann didn’t know the woman’s name.

In any case, Johann was 12 and Sophia was 9 when they met a certain man.

He was called Gummy, but obviously, it wasn’t his real name. Johann grasped from the conversations he happened to hear that other members gave him that nickname for his long greasy hair. The siblings didn’t get to know his real name until the end.

Gummy was young and held the position of a Capo Regime for a North Gate mafia organization. It looked like the organization wasn’t exactly small, so he probably was a decent go-getter. He was controlling and selfish. And he also knew that in order to get his way, what was necessary was effective utilization of violence. That’s why he bought Johann and his sister. As a tool of violence for his beloved self.

Johann knew for sure from the first time he had me him in person that the man had no slightest interest in the two of them. Gummy didn’t even bother to take a look at Johann’s face, instead he grabbed the tags hanging from Johann’s neck and commented, “So-so.”

He let go of the tags and punched Johann in the face then, completely out of the blue. It wasn’t really painful and it wasn’t like Johann was taken aback at the treatment. Observing Johann who didn’t budge, Gummy roared with laughter.

“For someone so misshapen, he got guts! Maybe he’ll be of some use, after all. Hey,” Gummy wasn’t addressing Johann. He was talking strictly to his henchmen the entire time. “I ain’t gonna be satisfied with just these lows. I’m gonna get me an A-rank, mark my word. Keeping these is just a stopgap. For the time being, I’m gonna use 'em and abuse 'em.”

Twilights were assigned a ranking category composed of a letter and a digit. At the time, Johann’s rank was C/2, while Sophia’s was D/1. A-ranks were rare, and obtaining them was more difficult than a top tier Mercedes model.

“Don’t ya get 'em dirty, hear me? They don’t look like much, but they’re still my tools.”

And so, the siblings started living under Gummy’s rule.

There was a reason why Gummy described Johann as 'misshapen’.

At 12, Johann’s right arm was much bigger than his left. Since he was used to double wielding weapons, neither of his hands were soft, but his left arm still preserved youth appropriate for his age. In contrast, his right was rugged, with wrinkles and knots and joints big and jutting out, as if it was an arm of an adult man.

With his childish left and his grown-up right hands, Johann killed many of people, like he was ordered to. Speaking of kill count, Sophia’s wasn’t far behind either. Gummy used the siblings to kill his own traitors, his trade rivals and even loud stray dogs. Forced to make up for their still immature bodies with overdosing on Celebrer, the two never failed to accomplish the task given to them at the expense of their rapidly shortening life spans. Gummy was a vulgar man, but not without craftiness. He had a firm grasp on the limits of the two’s abilities and never made the blunder of choosing a target stronger than the siblings could handle.

Before long, Johann started experiencing a pleasure of sorts when overdosing on Celebrer.

It was pleasant to forget who he was and just lose himself to violence his overflowing with power body caused. He didn’t have to think of anything when he was killing. Blood spilling out of people as they were dying stunk to high heaven and turned his stomach, but as his flesh groaned in pain, for some reason Johann’s mood got brighter. At least, for as long as Johann kept killing, immersed in the life of daily carnage and continuous self-torture, he didn’t have to worry about anything.

Johann was profoundly unhappy. But he didn’t realize it. The fact that since the day he was born, he had never once experienced even a moment of happiness was the last line of defense that had just barely protected his heart.

One would not seek what one did not know. And if one did not seek anything, it was easy to just exist.

On a certain day, about two years after Gummy bought the two, Johann changed just a little.

At the time, Johann was mastering various weapons, including knifes and guns. It was Gummy’s order so he could unleash violence even more overwhelming, and with his different-sized arms, different-sized knifes felt comfortable in his hands, so while he was searching for the most suitable weapons, he came to master quite a few kinds of them. Johann didn’t grow much, partly due to his peculiar compensation, so he centered his fighting style around his mobility. He also managed to integrate use of many weapons into that minutely changing fighting style as the need demanded.

Since he also was tasked with security, Johann lived on the premises, in a plain cabin built in a nook of Gummy’s estate. On that day, when he finished his training session in the yard and was on his way to the cabin, he heard a soft whimper. It came from behind the cabin.

When he came around, he saw a crouching Sophia holding out pieces of bread given to them for lunch. In front of her, there was a old mud-covered dog. Johann didn’t know anything about dog breads, but this one was probably a mongrel. It didn’t look like it could cost good money.

Sophia’s shoulders jumped in surprise when she heard the footsteps, and she whipped her head to look at the intruder. When she saw it was Johann, she breathed a sigh of relief.

“What’s with that dog?” Johann asked.
“It was injured.”

Johann’s eyes studied the dog. Or rather, his nose did.

Indeed, the left paw of that old dog was injured, he could feel the smell of blood coming from there. But that wound almost healed.

Sophia smiled.

“It will be able to run again soon, I think.”
“Since when?”
“Eh?”
“Since when have you been taking care of this dog?”
“About a week, I think.”

Animals smelled pretty strong. Johann was taken aback at the fact that he had evidently failed to notice the dog’s presence until now. But he easily realized the reason for that.

—He simply did not care. About the dog or about his sister. He just stayed apathetic the whole time.

For some reason, Johann suddenly felt incredibly confused, fingering the knife he trained with. For a while, he stared at his sister fixedly.

—What on earth was going on with him? His head was dizzy. How did this little girl find something like taking care of the dog possible?

He had thought Sophia was the same as him. That she just killed and in between killings, just existed, having accepted such a life. And yet, how she… How could his sister who was born the same as him and was raised the same as him, smile when she shared her bread with a dog? He couldn’t understand it.

In those moments, the little girl in front of him suddenly looked precious and important in his eyes. She was different from him, a conviction dawned on him.

Coming closer, he patted Sophia’s head gently. No one taught him to do something like that, it just came to him naturally. Or maybe he remembered the touch of his mother’s hand he had felt when he was a toddler.

Sophia was surprised just a little, but then her eyes narrowed in a whole-face smile.

“Is something wrong, onii-chan?”
“No…” He couldn’t find the right words. “You’re such a good girl, Sophia,” was all he managed to say with effort.

When the girl under his hand smiled, his chest suddenly felt strange, like someone stroke it with their fingertips. That was the feeling of happiness Johann had experienced for the first time.

—I’m already beyond saving. But let at least this girl stay unbroken, he prayed, wishing he could protect the kind feelings this girl, who, just like him, had had to kill countless times,
still had to pour them onto a stray dog.

The single gunshot Johann had heard later that night was what strengthened his own feelings for his sister more than ever.

A gunshot.

It was not the first time when Johann heard its loud and somehow sorrowful sound echoing throughout the premises of this mansion. Gummy was a man who made enemies as easily as he breathed, after all.

This time, however, Johann had a bad feeling about it. Only one gunshot resounded. They weren’t under attack.

In the air there was the smell of gunpowder, of blood and of animals.

And of 2 humans. —Sophia and Gummy.

That was what Johann’s senses told as he exited the cabin.

One look at the scene before his eyes was enough to grasp what had happened there.

Head stuck out the mansion’s window, Gummy was looking at the yard and grinning. And in the yard, Sophia stood, tears welling up in her eyes. In her hand, she was gripping a gun. The old dog lay collapsed on the ground bleeding with darkish blood.

Noticing Johann, Gummy flashed a vile smirk, saying, “Hey. If you’re her big brother, teach her properly. Discipline her not to pick up garbage.”

It was nothing new, Johann thought. Gummy would say kill, and they would kill. It was the same as always.

Johann didn’t feel anger. Only, he hated seeing Sophia with tears in her eyes. The dog lay, not making a sound. Johann walked towards that source of the disgusting bloody smell.

The dog seemed to be dying. After watching its face wet with blood, Johann crushed its head underfoot. It felt not much different from breaking an egg.

“Eek!” a tiny shriek escaped Sophia’s throat. And then, after a long heavy silence, she burst into tears loudly.

Gummy called out to Johann irritably, “Hey. She’s offending to my hearing. Make her stop. And clean up the garbage,” he ordered, spitting and closing the window.

Johann hugged Sophia close.

“You’re not the one who killed it. I did.”

His little sister kept crying in his arms.

“You didn’t kill it,” Johann kept repeating.

No one should hurt this girl. He didn’t care about anything else, but he must protect Sophia no matter.

“Come on, stop crying, please.”

Next, he should give her something that would not die, he thought then. He would go out on another kill mission soon enough, anyway. And then he would have all the chances he could want to steal money from dead bodies’ pockets.

Johann trained himself with dedication and put earnest effort into polishing his ability to unleash violence. Before long, the Twilight rank etched on his tags went from C to B.

If I got stronger, Gummy would use mostly me, he thought. He wanted to become so strong than his sister would never have to kill again.

As his combat technique improved, Gummy actually started using Johann more frequently. Additionally, Johann often volunteered for jobs himself. Clashes with other Twilights had become more frequent, too. Twilights’ power levels were often determined with what they were born with. It wasn’t like Johann was an outstanding Twilight, but he made up for what he lacked with Celebrer, continuing to turn Gummy’s wishes into reality.

Another 7 years passed like that. Johann turned 21, and Sophia 19.

On a certain day, when Johann was keeping to himself in the siblings’ cabin, he picked up the voice of Gummy who had just returned. It made him feel anxious.

Gummy was clearly mad. Bottles of alcohol, chairs, table, pet dog, maids, henchmen - he threw and kicked everything and anything that was in the vicinity, roaring in an enraged voice.

Gummy’s voice was hard on the ears. But Johann had to bear it, straining his own ears to listen carefully so that he could go immediately if the man called for him. He had to respond within a fixed number of seconds. Unnecessary wounds would be inflicted if he was late. Lately, Gummy had acquired a taste of taking it out on Sophia when he was irritated at Johann. He was a man evil to the core.

Gummy roared like a beast in heat, and his unintelligible rumblings didn’t provide much information. But Johann managed to more or less grasp the reason behind his rage. Apparently, Gummy lost at gambling, and lost big.

“Fuck, that stupid prick! A fucker like him pushing his luck!” Gummy spat out vehemently, then called the siblings.

The two lined up in the garden, mindful of keeping their steps silent as to not ire Gummy further with the sound of them. Gummy, seated on the sofa in the living room, spared them a glance through the open window, then launched a lighted cigar at Johann. It went flying in a wrong direction, missing Johann, and the fact put Gummy into an even worse mood.

“Hey, Tag. How long’s it been since you came here?”
Unable to gauge the intent behind the question, Johann provided an answer the best he could, “About 9 years, sir.”
“I see. You’ve been doing a surprisingly good job all this time. I bet you’re tired, ain’t ya? About time you rested.”

Johann felt terror of the kind he had never felt before. There was just no way the man would reward him. And actually, contrary to the words, the mobster’s voice rang with heated anger. There was something in it that deviated from the usual patterns prefacing Johann getting punched, kicked or ordered to kill someone.

Roughly cutting off the tip of a fresh cigar, Gummy lit it up. Breathing in the smoke slowly, he exhaled it along with an utterance, “Johann. Don’t move.”

Cold sweat traveled down Johann’s brow. He had no idea what Gummy’s intention was, but he knew that if he obeyed the man’s order, something bad would happen. Except, in spite of that realization, his body stiffened, ceasing all movement, as was ordered. Was it because Twilights were bound by the 3 rules? Or because he would not survive without Celebrer Gummy provided? No, neither of those.

By the time Johann reached the age of reason, he had already been 'kept’ no different from an animal. The rules ingrained deep into the marrow of his instincts did not allow him to disobey his master’s orders.

Next, Gummy pointed to Sophia with his cigar and ordered, “Hey, Sophia. Kill Johann.”

Johann’s head refused to make sense of that.

What he remembered then was the old dog. The dog that Sophia shot and Johann crushed the head of. If she shot Johann now, who would be there to crush Johann’s head? Johann didn’t want to force his little sister to kill him. Then, should he try and kill himself before she could pull the trigger? He had his throwing knife he trained with on him, strapped to the lining of his jacket. It was small knife, only a little longer than his own index finger, but it should have been sufficient to slit his own throat.

Except, Johann didn’t move, and there was only one reason for that: Gummy ordered him not to. Johann, brought up like a perfect pet dog, couldn’t disobey even the most absurd order of his master.

“Hey, do it already,” Gummy demanded.

With a hand that shook so much that one could think it was on purpose, Sophia pointed a gun at Johann. Johann could smell her sweat and tears. A long while had elapsed, but she still didn’t pull the trigger.

“Why?” she implored. “Why do I have to kill my brother?”

Gummy clicked his tongue in annoyance. “Hurry the fuck up and do it. I’m getting bored with this.”

Sophia disengaged the safety.

She appeared very young for her age, and her eyes were filled with tears. She was also very pale, with her lips losing all color as well. On her neck, there was the necklace that Johann gave her as a present. He didn’t like the tags hanging from her neck, so he chose a wing-themed necklace, in hopes that at least she would be more free. Gummy never noticed though.

For one last time, Johann looked at Gummy.

And for the first time in his life he prayed to God for Gummy to change his mind if this was just a sick game of His. But it was like Gummy on the other side of the window was in an entirely different world, watching the show absentmindedly and puffing at his cigar.

Sophia’s index finger tensed. But…

Before a gunshot could resound, from the entrance-way, a knock on the door came.

Using that as an excuse, Sophia relaxed her finger. Gummy on the other side of the window reflexively shifted his gaze to the wall beyond which the source of the sound was located, but that was all. With his chin he demanded Sophia to continue. Only for the knocking to come again, and this time, it was loud and accompanied by the sound of something breaking.

Johann glanced at Gummy who shouted, pissed, “Hey, stop the fuckin’ noise!”

The noise did not stop though. Gummy probably couldn’t hear it, but Johann’s sensitive ears picked up a new sound. The sound of footsteps. Of the careless and absolutely alertless kind.

Johann tried to assess if that sound boded well or not for him and his sister. He doubted that any footsteps resounding in this mansion could actually bring them luck, but on the other hand, it was rather hard to imagine it making the siblings’ situation worse.

In any case, the footsteps headed straight for the living room, and its door opened.

To Johann, everything beyond the window looked like it was happening in a different world. It felt the same as when Gummy was leering at Sophia with a gun grasped in her hand.

The one who came through the door was a man about 30 in a gaudy striped suit.

Johann, at gunpoint of the gun his beloved little sister was forced to point at him, idly thought that the rare color the man chose for his suit made him easy to remember. And also that he resembled a bug. He was so painfully conspicuous against the dull background surrounding him. The man didn’t feel real to Johann.

But Johann knew that he saw that man before. Sometime ago, he accompanied Gummy to a meeting of the mafia family as a bodyguard, and that was where he saw that gaudy man. Johann didn’t know the man’s name, but he had to be a Capo Regime, just like Gummy. If memory served, he was—

“Hey. What’s a dirty stray want with me?”

Right, Stray.

That’s what the man in question was called. A hated mad dog that could not really connect to any organization. It made one legitimately wonder why a man like that was a Capo Regime in the first place, but what Johann found more memorable about him was the pattern of his suit.

Stray resembling a bug flashed a crooked grin.

“I came to collect my gamble winnings. 'Cause I just might forget about it come tomorrow.”
“Don’t worry, everything’ll be delivered to you by tonight.”
“No dice, have no need for a bad smelling corpse. You bet the mad dog that killed a hundred people, right?”
“I’m telling ya, I’ll include everything, up to all the fingers, so go chew on a bone or something in the meantime, damn mutt. Don’t be greedy and pester me for more, now. Or what, want me to send ya lead as a present first?”

From that exchange, Johann finally had the more or less full picture of his situation.

Gummy bet Johann - and lost. That’s why he intended to first turn Johann into a corpse and only then hand him over to that Stray.

Sophia, her gun still pointing at Johann, watched the gaudy stripes guy with entreating eyes. Johann shared her sentiments.

—With this, they would be saved.

His sister wouldn’t have to kill him.

Johann had received the order to not move from Gummy. But his master was no longer Gummy. If only that Stray person said just one word, something like run, this whole crisis would be settled. Stray probably wouldn’t want to lose on the spot the spoils he won at gambling.

What Johann heard next, however, was Gummy’s yell, “Whatcha taking your sweet time for?! Shoot already, bitch!” he ordered Sophia.

At that, she aligned her gun properly, but still didn’t pull the trigger. She was waiting for Stray’s words. Johann, too, was focused almost solely on the man only.

The man, though, spared him a glance, raised his brows questioningly and asked simply, “Hey, you over there. You’re in a tough spot, ain’t ya. So what are you just standing around there for?”

Johann’s eyes went wide at that, and he suddenly felt the urge to tell the man that he should know the reason why without anyone’s help because it was the most obvious thing in the world. That he was simply obeying the order of the previous master.

“I would like you to give me a new order please,” Johann pleaded.

Stray seemed to have lost any interest in Gummy meanwhile. He crossed to the window, put a foot on the windowsill and jumped out and into the yard.

His action shook Johann to the core. He thought the world beyond the window was an entirely different dimension, one that was not supposed to ever come in contact with the world where Johann and his sister existed. And yet, that man went and crossed here like it was nothing. The gaudy color of his clothes hurt the eyes. He was smelly, dusty and beastly somehow. Truly a smell befitting a stray, Johann thought.

The colorful Stray chuckled.

“Huh. I get it now. You been spoiled silly when growing up, eh?”

Spoiled silly? Him?

That was clearly a too much of a stretch no matter how you looked at it, Johann thought. He didn’t know what exactly counted as typical normal upbringing, but he was certain that never once in his life he was ever spoiled in anything.

“You’ve never killed people, have ya?”
“Yes, I have. I have killed a lot of people.”
“Now, listen up, boy. It ain’t guns or bullets that kill people. People kill people, always. Unlike that Hairdo over there, I ain’t no good at lame stupid things, and I’ve no intention of shouldering your desire to kill for you. I’ve no interest in a dog kept immobile with its chains.”

Johann’s breath caught. His next reaction was self-searching.

—Did he even have a desire to kill in him? Was there anyone he wanted to kill without being ordered to?

The man opened his arms wide and flashy and, eyes taking on the gleam of insanity, said, “Let’s make this fun, Johann. If you wanna kill, kill. If you wanna die, die. I will work you to the bone, but I will guarantee you freedom. I swear,” he finished.

Johann wanted to check what Sophia’s face looked like, but didn’t. For he had already found his desire to kill - not for her, not for anyone - it was only his own.

Taking out the throwing knife, he launched it. It sailed through the space, unresistingly crossing to the other side of the window and reaping Gummy’s throat open with equal ease.

A single awfully swelling breath escaped from the mobster’s throat with a hiss. The man who was always so loud, couldn’t even make noise in his last moments. And so, Johann had truly killed someone for the first time.

Apparently, the incident with a kept Twilight killing a Capo Regime made a lot of noise in the family.

As a result, Stray - Dario was the man’s name - quit the family, taking Johann with him.

The bosses demanded Dario to present them Johann’s head, but he didn’t obey the order. “I quit because I got bored,” Dario would say, but it was a fact that the family unilaterally severed all connections with him, expelling him.

Johann was forced into a rather difficult life because obtaining Celebrer was not easy, but strangely enough, he didn’t die. Dario’s words and conduct was absurd, but somehow he routinely overcame all kinds of troubles that were thrown their way. He started calling Johann his kid brother and demanded Johann call him casually, too, without any titles and formalities.

He was always cheerful, and it was beyond Johann’s comprehension how he could be.

“Why are you going to such lengths for me?” Johann asked once.

It was completely unprecedented and crazy for a Capo Regime to willingly lose his position and be exiled by his mafia family for the sake of a Twilight.

“What makes you think I’m doing it for you?” Dario asked with honest to God surprise. “I simply always choose where it’s fun to be.”
“What fun is it to be with me?”
“Well, 'cause you’re a weird one, ya see.”
“Am I? I cannot compete with you, in any case.”

Dario only grinned in reply, not explaining his reasons any further.

What weighted heavily on Johann’s heart was Sophia. She was still owned by the family.

“So what’d ya wanna do?” Dario asked him.
“I want to take her back,” Johann replied.

From there on out, the two’s objective became Sophia’s rescue.

*

After an investigation that had taken a year, the two had learned that the family had already sold Sophia.

The buyer she was sold off to was the Lombardi family - rather modest-sized mafia family, based in Ergastulum.

Following that information, the two came to Ergastulum. They destroyed the Lombardi family, but didn’t find Sophia there, so having investigated that family’s clients, they followed that trail and dealt with them one by one.

And presently, Dario was covered in bandages from head to toe, sleeping a patient’s bed and snoring loudly. In exchange, they were able to pinpoint Sophia’s whereabouts. A duo consisting of one-eyed man named Worick and a Tag called Nicolas was their clue. All that was left was to kill those two, and it finally would be over.

Johann observed the sleeping Dario who looked like he had no care in the word, as he pondered.

He was told by the doctor that his body would hold out for about 2 more years. He knew he didn’t have long even before hearing that, and his only regret was Sophia. If only he could ensure the well-being of that kind, tender-hearted girl, he would die happy and no end would make him more content.

Sophia and Johann both were worked to the bone by Gummy, but if a comparison was to be drawn, Johann often was the more reckless one. Besides, to Johann’s knowledge, Sophia didn’t have to shoulder any kind of compensation, so she should still have quite a long life ahead of her.

Just thinking about making his little sister happy made Johann’s chest feel warm inside. She would live somewhere where it was calm and peaceful. Somewhere where it didn’t stink of blood. And this time, she would be able to keep a dog for real. Pick up a local stray and share fluffy bread with it. Just that was enough for Johann to die with a smile on his face, and even go as far as to say that his shit of a life was nevertheless a happy one.

Before long, Dario stopped snoring and opened his eyes.

“What, more visitors?” he mumbled.

Needless to say, Johann, too, had already sensed the presence of other callers.

“It’s Worick-san and Nicolas-san. Can I kill them?”
“Why are you asking me?”
“Because it was you, Dario, who told me not to be violent in this city. Besides, I already have your permission to kill Nicolas-san, but not Worick-san.”
“Huh? Why so much trouble?”
“No idea. Probably because you are very whimsical.”
“Oh really. Oh well, this city reeks of misfortune, so maybe I wanted to go about it in a more clever way.”

Johann wanted to ask him about why he couldn’t remember even his own thought process, but before he could, the door opened. What came next was the familiar foul smell, turning Johann’s stomach, of all kinds of perfume and beauty products all mixed in one. But this time, he could feel his sister’s smell among them very distinctly.

On the neck of Worick, who set foot into the room, there was a necklace. The necklace that Johann gave his little sister as a present.

Dario rose up on his bed, speaking up, “Yo, my friend. Where’s your other half?”
“Nic’s downstairs. Sorry to wake you up.”
“I don’t really like sleeping. Makes you idle away your time. So, here for another get-well visit?”
“I’ve something to ask you.” Worick showed a superficial smile, neither particularly happy nor particularly sad. “Are you the infamous mafia slayers?”
Dario answered back without any hesitation, “Yeah, probably? I don’t know that lame name, but it does have a familiar ring.” He pointed a finger at Worick’s neck. “Now, tell me something, too. Are you the one who bought a woman named Sophia?”

Worick nodded.

“I made off with her. A great woman, ain’t gonna give her to anyone.”
“Then we have a problem. I want that woman.”
“Not you but the boy over there wants her, right? Oh well, whatever. I, too, happen to have a problem. I have to get you two’s heads, you see.”
“In that case, great.”
“Great? What is?”

Dario grinned. With an innocent and equally insane grin. Like a beast far removed from the concepts of good and bad.

“We both have something the other wants. With bets in place, all that’s left is to decide what we’re gonna gamble on.”

Worick shrugged in seeming dissatisfaction. “Are those bets of equal value though?”
“What the heck. Are you saying that the heads of two men ain’t worth one woman?”
“Well, duh? To me, I don’t get a desire to drink with dudes, no matter how many of them there are, but if it’s just one good woman, then I’m all revved up and ready?”
“But you’d drink if it was with a friend, no? One of the heads you seek is mine. Cut me some slack, man.”
“How selfish,” Worick smirked, lips twisting. “Oh well, deal. Do you mind if I choose what we’re gonna bet on?”
“Nah, knock yourself out. But spare me petty tricks, will ya.”

Johann couldn’t help forcing his way in the conversation then, speaking up from a spot by Dario’s bedside, “Dario. I will fight. No need to resort to something as uncertain as gambling—”
“Alright, let’s do that then.” Worick pointed a finger at Johann. “My partner and your kid brother will fight it out, and we’ll bet on the winner. Which one you wanna bet on?”
“My kid bro, of course,” Dario grinned. “Sure you wanna bet on that taciturn fella though?”
“But of course. Nic won’t lose.”
“We got ourselves a deal then. I’m betting my and Johann’s heads. And you bet Sophia. The winner takes it all. No objection, I trust?”
“None. But you see, we’re in a bit of a hurry. Can we get to it right away?”
“That was my intention from the start though?”
“You sure? Don’t mind if bland hospital food becomes your last supper?”
“I won’t lose. I’ve never lost at gambling.”
“Is that really true?”
“I don’t remember small stuff. I think I’ve never lost, but ask Johann for a confirmation.”

Worick turned his head to Johann, wordlessly asking if it was true.

Johann sighed. It was true that Dario was really good at gambling, but it went without saying that he couldn’t possibly stay undefeated. Just like the person in question said himself, he just didn’t remember the times that he had lost.

But tonight would be different.

“Of course it is true,” Johann nodded.

The corners of Worick’s lips lifted up in a smile as he turned his back to the two.

“I’m sure you two have some last words that need to be said between you. So let’s meet on the couch at the garbage dump site where we first met Johann-chan. But don’t make us wait too long.”

With a wave of his hand, Worick left the sickroom.

Dario hopped off the bed, flung away the hospital gown and tore off the bandages.

“Hey, kid bro, d'you happen to know where’s my awesome suit?”

Taking out the suit out of the closet, Johann quietly inquired, “Are you sure?”
“About what?”
“You ended up betting your life for me.”
“What makes ya think I did it for you? We got ourselves such an enticing gamble. The one having the most fun right now is me, y'know.”

Ow, it kinda hurts, he muttered under his breath immediately after, pressing a hand to his shot thigh.

Spreading the suit wide for the short man so that he could put it on more comfortably, Johann said, “Thank you. I will not lose.”
“That goes without saying,” Dario’s lips parted in a big hearty grin. “I can’t do anything. Giving me the win is your job.”