The Summer Festival is here!
J-District is decked out in all sorts of colorful glee. Banners up everywhere in countless symbols I can’t possibly read. Booths snugged tightly against each other that stretch on down the entire street, selling poppingly bright cotton candy, or mouth-watering yakitori sticks. Half the people here are wearing yukata, sparkling with the reds and purples and yellows of their floral prints.
In contrast to the clouds above that get darker with each passing hour, the Summer Festival is a feast for the eyes. And a feast for the mouth, too, considering the massive amount of food on sale right now. I already bought a pack of takoyaki and gulfed it down faster than you can say, “Why’s Morgan so skinny when they eat so much?” (I don’t know the answer to your question, by the way.)
The Crusader and I just arrived a few minutes ago, but already we’re having trouble keeping together just due to the massive crowd. The entire damn world’s here today, apparently, which makes our mission that much more important.
There’s a big billboard with a hologram display of that Soli⭐ lady, decked out in star sunglasses and dancing to a vague hip-hop beat that none of us can hear, because the music is only coming out of one tinny speaker. At the street below that billboard, there’s an opening with no booths where music industry hype-men, and one person in a mascot suit, hand out pamphlets and free CDs to promote Japanese pop music. They’re really up in this, aren’t they? It’s already a massive industry across the world, but I guess it still hasn’t hit their sales thresholds or something if they’re doing these sorts of moves. It’s not like Soli⭐ is THAT good, but I guess they have a whole slate of artists to promote.
“We must stay vigilant, lest the enemy appear without our knowing,” the Crusader says. “We must stay focused on our singular goal.”
“Yeah, of course. Absolute focus with definitely no trailing off to think about other things.”
“We will cover more ground if we split up,” he says. “Two villains, two heroes, two times the action.”
“Wait, no. That’s a terrible—”
Before I can dissuade him, the Crusader goes off in his chosen direction, and a crowd of yukata-sporting ladies blocks my path to go after him. By the time they clear out, he’s deep into the crowd.
Ugh. I hate men going their own way. Why do they always have to do this?
Well, I saunter off in the general direction the Crusader probably went, and hopefully I’ll find him again before the real tensions start rising. Before Mighty Slammer begins her nefarious plot or whatever, and before Ohata King begins his terrorist attack, we absolutely need to be together. Fighting separately will just ruin us both.
I probably should have expected this, and yet somehow I didn’t.
The streets here are completely closed off to traffic. The two private vehicle lanes, the two bus lanes, and the two bike lanes are all for people today, creating a massive empty asphalt space where people walk any damn direction they please.
Fortunately, a friendly face greets me just a couple minutes into my search. Then another. Huh, my day’s looking a little brighter!
“Yo,” says Lamar, holding up a hand.
“Hey hey,” says Amy, her pipsqueak stature barely reaching up to Lamar’s chest.
“You’re here!” I exclaim.
“Nice, such a smart and intelligent observation from Morgan,” says Amy.
“Hey, now,” Lamar says to Amy. “What did we say before we got over here?”
“We said we’d ‘only compliment Morgan and help their self-esteem,’” Amy recites. “But that’s what I just did! I said they were smart and intelligent.”
“No sarcastic compliments. It’s rude.”
“Fine, whatever.” She folds her arms together.
“So, did R8PR send you?” I ask.
Lamar gives a thumbs up. “We’re here to help. Me, Amy, and this guy here.” He taps the metal computer in his head. “We know all about the Japanese mafia. Founded in 1987 in Atlanta, Georgia, this group is in offshoot of the Eastern Union organized crime syndicates and—” He shakes his head in quick motions and lets himself stop speaking. Or, rather, lets his robot side stop speaking.
“I’m mostly here to pickpocket,” Amy says. “But if I see any mob guys, I’ll kick their shins in before I run away.”
“I’ll have to thank R8PR later, I guess.”
“Yeah. He even contacted the authorities anonymously. There’s more police around, which could help us if—”
Amy raised her hand in the air and interrupted to say, “Screw that. They’re just looking for people to arrest for their quotas. The moment the guns go off, they’ll probably run the other way. Or accidentally shoot civilians.”
“Optimism, Amy,” Lamar says.
“You said be nice to Morgan. I can do that, or I can be optimistic. You have to choose one, because that’s a hell of a lot of work.”
“I’m a hard worker,” she says. “Not like this Morgan kid over here. This one barely knows how to lift a pencil.”
“You know what, Amy? Why don’t you go off and pickpocket or whatever?” I ask. “We’ll call you when we need you.”
Mild disappointment in her face, she shrugs and skitters into the crowd of people, just like the Crusader did a couple minutes earlier. Too much annoyance for too little help. Well, any help is better than none. Maybe I shouldn’t have let her go like that, actually.
“Lamar, don’t leave me,” I plead.
“Don’t worry. I never will.”
Just then, a figure dashes in front of me and covers up Lamar.
It’s… Ugh, no! Why!
“Morgan!” Chuck Araragi shouts. “So good to see you today!”
“Oh, hey, Chuck. It’s, um, you.”
Red alert. Absolute worst-case scenario here. We are in imminent danger, as soon as the Nebuta parade starts. And we haven’t even found the mafia members in the crowd yet, let alone dispatched them! If I get roped into a conversation with Chuck, my whole life might be ruined just like that.
“I love it here in the Summer Festival,” he says. “Don’t you? It really reminds me of back home, except back then I always hated our town festivals because it was too much work and participating took way too long. Now that I don’t have to do anything, it’s a lot more interesting! Anyway, I guess you’re wondering why I’m really here, aren’t you?”
“Well, I’ve got a booth set up!” Chuck exclaims. “Right, right, I’m a tech salesman. I run the Tech Emporium, so you don’t expect me to be a food connoisseur or anything. But I’ve got a great stand for yakitori, trust me. I bet you don’t, since there’s a good hundred other stalls with the same product, but my stuff’s the best. I’m not working there now, but my assistants are. Actually, isn’t it weird that I just used three different words for the same exact thing? Booth, stand, stall. What’s the deal with all these words? Did they all come from the same Proto-Indo-European root, or did they have different meanings in the past? Really hard to know. Or rather, it would be if I didn’t have a portable PC with me connected to wireless modem. I can easily just connect and look it up on the Online Etymology Dictionary, but—”
Lamar steps out from beside Chuck and puts a hand on the man’s shoulder. “Sorry, sir, but we have something really important to tend to. We’ll see you later.”
“Oh, why didn’t you just tell me?” Chuck looks at me with bright eyes. “Oh, Morgan. Good luck with your whatever. Make sure to finish it up well, and then I’ll give you five percent off my yakitori! No, scratch that, make it ten. I better see you!”
“Bye, Chuck. See y—”
Before Chuck can leave and Lamar and I can go further into the crowd, we’re flanked by a contingent of armed, yukata-wearing soldiers, and one long-nosed man with a scowl.
Kusata, that Eastern Union agent, is here, and currently has us surrounded. Oh, great. More company.
“Why haven’t you started searching already?” Kusata asks immediately. “Who is this old man?”
“My name is Chuck Araragi,” says Chuck. “I’m a used goods seller, and a purveyor of the—”
“Get out of here. Scram.” Kusata shoos him away like a dog or a small child being treated poorly. When he leaves, next he turns his stare to Lamar. “Is he good?”
“Nice to meet you, sir,” Lamar says.
Kusata does not bother with the pleasantries. He also no longer has even a semblance of his hunched-over, slimy advisor guise. Instead, he looks like a man prepared to commit violence and attain justice at any cost.
“They’re already here,” Kusata says. “I’ve spotted Motokawa’s men on the perimeter. My men will try to cut them off, but that has considerably risk of a firefight. A lot of innocent people will die. I don’t want that blood on my hands.”
“So we need to capture Ohata King and take him hostage so he calls the whole thing off,” I suggest. “I’d say he isn’t stupid enough to come here in-person, but…”
“He’s here,” Kusata says, “but I don’t know where, and he’ll be very well-guarded. Getting close enough to him to capture him alive will be exceedingly difficult.”
“And there’s still that matter of Mighty Slammer,” I say. “She may not be involved with Ohata King’s plot, but she’s going to set off a series of EMP bombs all across the city to knock out power, and I can bet you she’ll show up here.”
“I don’t know about that, but thank you for telling me. That sounds a lot less deadly than the shootings, though, so I apologize if it doesn’t enter my priority list for now.”
“Yeah, got it. It’ll devastate the economy, but so will hundreds dead, I guess.”
“Okay, that’s true. Well then, let’s find Ohata King, and then let’s take his shitty mafia down.”
I don’t know about this motley crew, though. Lamar and me, plus Kusata, plus his nameless, gun-toting posse. Technically, Amy and the Crusader are here two, but I’m not sure that will actually happen.
“Can you give me a picture of him?” Lamar asks. Someone hands it over, and he nods. “Alright. I’ll run a facial recognition scan. If my AI detects him, I’ll let you kn—” Lamar stops himself just one second into the scan. “No Ohata King, but we’ve got company.”
“Who?” I ask.
“Yuri Motokawa, straight up ahead.”
My bones shudder in unison. I would absolutely prefer never to face off against this woman again if I can ever help it.
I look into the crowd, next to a ring toss stall, and find Yuri Motokawa in full suit, standing next to another woman who is also suited, but with many of her buttons undone to help reveal her cleavage. That second woman wears a fox mask that hides her bright blue hair, but doesn’t hide her identity from me—that’s Nami, the woman I definitely won all my fights against.
Things are heating up.
We’re probably only a couple minutes away from the fight.
So we advance together.
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