Prologue

I love books.

I love them more than life itself.

I love the sweet smell of ink that wafts into the air when I turn the page.

I love the printing techniques, refined to an art form after generations of trial and error, the letters that dance beautifully across the pure white stage, and of course, the countless tales they tell.

Wisdom, desire, agony, hatred, grief, awe—the emotions within the human soul are all recorded here.

The bundle of paper in my hands contains a vastness greater than that of the cosmos itself. By opening the pages, I too can leap into that infinity. My heart becomes enveloped by waves of joy, and I find myself enraptured and read without looking away—without being able to look away—even for a moment.

Before I realize it, I’ve forgotten about this world and have submerged myself in the world of paper and ink.

I love books.

I really do.

******

“What an unpleasant building.” Go spat out as he stepped out of the car.

Despite his small stature, the J.Phillips suit he wore fit his frame like stiff rubber. The snake peeking out of his chest pocket looked real enough to startle anyone who saw it, but upon closer inspection, it was clear that it was just a well-made fake.

Lo recognized his older brother’s awful mood and let out a large sigh. His sigh wasn’t the only large thing about him though; Lo’s hands, finger, neck, face—everything about him was thick and burly. His suit was simpler compared to Go’s, but perhaps that was only because he couldn’t find anything else to fit his awe-inspiring size. Standing together, the two looked like an unlikely pair from an old comedy movie.

They seem to be in synch despite that however, as Go soon responded to his brother’s sigh.

“Looks like a damn gravestone. Not a good omen, that’s for sure.”

Indeed, the building in front of them glowed exceedingly bright in the deep, dense darkness. It may have just been the effects of the moonlight, but sight really did bring to mind an enormous gravestone.

Lo surveyed the area. He could see a twinkling lights in the distance, perhaps coming from train station of some sort.

It wasn’t exactly countryside, but because no one lived in all these buildings, they stayed dark. The entire area resembled a cemetery in that sense.

Tokyo. Odaiba.

Thanks to failures in the development of the Waterfront Secondary City Center, this area had become a ghost town. Perhaps they might have seen people walking around during the day, but not even stray dogs dared to show themselves this deep into the night.

It was an almost comical darkness for the two who had come from the nightless city, Hong Kong.

So why was the deal being conducted in a place like this? Lo couldn’t make any sense of it.

“Seems most of our clients are Japanese these days .” Go indifferently muttered to himself.

That particular fact wasn’t too surprising since the Japanese were after all,  the world’s greatest purchasers of useless things.

“Let’s get this over with and go home.”

“Ugh…” Lo took out an attaché case form the back seat. It was unusually thick.

Go looked up at the building once again. It was about forty stories tall.  Only the top part, thirty or so floors up, was illuminated.

“Tch”

Go’s displeasure went up a notch.

That may as well have been a neon sign in the middle of the night. It was common sense that deals were supposed to be carried out quietly and peacefully without standing out.

“………..”

He looked around. There didn’t seem to be any signs of police or an ambush.

Go kept his guard up and walked towards the building. Lo followed, attaché case in hand.

Matching its outward appearance, the inside of the building was also like a graveyard, barren without a single sign of life. Buildings that failed to turn a profit and fell into disrepair after failing to attract tenants were an all too common sight. This was especially true here in places like Odaiba.

However, Go felt that something was still off when he entered the building.

“Keep it ready.” he whispered as they stepped into the elevator.

At that short command, Lo undid the safety of the gun holstered behind his pants.

The agreement was to hold the exchange on the 34th floor. Go tried pressing the elevator buttons for the 33rd and 35th floors—above and below respectively, but nothing happened.  There was the possibility that they were just out of order, but this did nothing to help his unease.

Tap Tap Tap. The sound of his soles hitting the cheap flooring sounded throughout the elevator. Given how cheap the materials used for construction were, it was no surprise that the building failed to attract tenants.

At last,  the number 34 appeared on the elevator display

“Let’s go.”

Lo nodded with a slight apprehension. The door quietly opened.

“……………”

The maze of doors and hallways that greeted Go beyond the elevator doors took him by surprise. This unnecessarily expansive floor seemed to have been some sort of office at one point. There were desks scattered all over the place, along with documents, binders, memo pads, and the like. All in all it was a great mess of paper.

The two brothers looked left,  right, and all around. It looked like there wasn’t anyone hiding themselves.

Their sight final settled on the center of the room. There they saw a large round table, one that had likely been used for meetings in the past. There wasn’t anything particularly strange about it. It was a regular common table that could have been pulled out of any company’s meeting room.

On the other end of the table, they saw two standing figures.

“Welcome! We’ve been expecting you.” The high pitched voice came from a blond man wearing a navy suit with his arms spread wide. He seemed young, but it was hard to say for sure due to the sunglasses he wore over his eyes.

To his side stood an Asian looking woman with long black hair. She was also wearing sunglasses, but the allure of her nose, lips and cheeks, made it obvious she was in her twenties.

She was wearing what looked like a frumpy lab coat, underneath which was an extraordinarily dull shirt, a twisted tie, and a skirt that extended to her knees.

Sex appeal, style, fashion, and trends were all things that were clearly alien to her.

“……………”

The woman nervously opened and closed her mouth. It seemed she wanted to imitate the blond man and greet them, but the words just wouldn’t come out. She was obviously trying hard.

Go and Lo stepped onto the floor without a word. Their footsteps on the bare flooring sounded just as cheap as they did in the elevator. They let their eyes wander as they approached the table, perhaps hoping to catch someone hiding behind one of the pillars, but found nothing. There were alone on the floor as far as anyone could tell.

The blond kept up his half smile they entire time. Go glanced at the suitcase next to him and relaxed just a little.

The woman, clearly unable to calm down, moved her gaze back and forth from Go’s face to the case that Lo held in his hand. The jerky way she moved her head when they stared back made her look like a clockwork doll.

She was an amateur.

Go was sure of it. But why was someone like that here?

The two groups were now facing each other across the table.

“Thank you so much for coming all this way, Master Go.”

“I’d rather not be called master by people I just met.” Go rejected the blond man’s show of familiarity.

“That was rude of me.” But the he really didn’t seem to care at all.

Go looked towards the woman.

“Who is she?”

At the question, the woman froze.

“I’m…a staff member. Pardon the impoliteness, I’m an appraiser.”

“An appraiser?”

“Yes. How to say this…we haven’t worked with you before. It might hurt to hear this, but it would be a real problem if we were given a forgery by mistake.”

Go’s left eyebrow up a centimeter.

“What? You don’t trust us?”

“You could say that…” The blond smoothly interjected.

The conversation had lost all form of pretense.

“……………” Go’s almost audible glare fell on the woman.

She replied with a perplexed expression on her face—

“……P-pleased to meet you♪” Her clumsy, friendly smile could only described as foolish.

“I suppose that’s alright. It’s not like we’re trying to be friends here.” Go completely ignored the woman’s smile. She was probably just an amateur who was forced along. Whether or not they were trusted didn’t matter. In fact, it would make the talks easier if their clients were that cautious.

Go turned to the still smiling woman. “Open up your coat and show me what’s inside.”

“!” The woman’s smile froze on her face

“You heard me, didn’t you? Hurry it up!”

In a very thin voice, the woman replied.

“……pervert”

The entire floor went still.

“What did you just say!?”

It had been some decades since a woman last called him a pervert. Not being used to getting treated like this, Go lost his composure,

“I said, open up…”

“You’re misunderstanding. He just wants to see if you’re concealing any weapons.” The blond man explained to the woman with a chuckle.

The woman was sweating and her breath was coming out in gasps.

“What a surprise…I’m sorry I thought…”

“I don’t care what you thought, just open up your coat!” Go was shouting now.

“Y-yes!”

“Woa-!?”

The two men’s eyes followed the curves of her unexpectedly splendid figure.

But leaving that aside.

There wasn’t any sort of weapon hidden underneath her coat. Rather, the many pockets inside of her coat were all filled with books and rolled up magazines.

“…what the hell is that?”

The woman’s face lit up at Go’s stupefied question.

“They’re books!”

“I can see that! But why do you have so many!?”

“Because not having anything to read on the train ride would have been terrible!” The flustered woman was doing her best to convince Go.

“A single newspaper would have been enough!”

“I couldn’t take just one! Besides, they’re all interesting!” The woman took a book out of her coat and thrust it towards Go.

“See, the end of this Love Song from the Heavens is a real tearjerker. There’s a scene where the two lovers sing a ballad to an empty music club and…”

However, Go did a splendid job of ignoring the prattling woman.

“What’s her problem?”

“She’s the appraiser.” The blond man’s reply gave relayed only the bare minimum information. That sort of obvious response didn’t tell Go anything.

“…whatever.”

At Go’s complaint, the blond man help up his hand to calm the woman down. She pouted and reluctantly put her book away.

“Well then, why don’t you show us the goods?”

Go glanced to his side. Lo nodded and placed the attaché case on the table.

“Open it.”

Lo cleared the case’s three-stage locking mechanism, which involved a card-key, a combination lock, and a fingerprint scan.

The case opened with a whoosh and a muffled thump.

“Show them.”

Lo turned the case around as instructed and let the blond man and take a look.

It was quite the grand case. The outside was covered with two layers of cushioning material that looked like it could absorb any kind of damage.

“The inside of the case is always kept at 15 degrees Celsius. It also has perfect dehumidification and ventilation systems. It’s heat, water, and shock resistance are all military grade. I would never want to come out of this case if it were me. More comfortable than my own mother’s belly.” Go explained with a hint of pride.

“How wonderfully meticulous.”

The main star of the evening was there enshrined in its indulgently protective environment.

“The requested item.” Like the crown prince of an eminent country, the merchandise had been transported cautiously and with respect.

It was a book. A fairly old one bound in black leather. The title was stitched onto the cover with gold thread.

“The Black Fairy Book“.[1] In 1643, Angelica Laston was asked to write this book by a noble patron. It’s a “fairy book” in name only, as the erotic and brutal contents of the book could put any porn magazine to shame. Since it was created in secret, this is the only authentic copy on the planet; fairy book fans in the world can only drool at the thought of being able to get their hands on it.”

“Yes, yes, of course.” The blond man nodded a number of times as he listened to the explanation.

“But where did you find it? I heard it was lost long ago.”

“Did you know Tucker Ringlard in Utah passed away last week?”

“I heard about it.”

“This book was found in his eighth library. There hadn’t been a trace of it for the past 20 years, and it turns out that was because he was keeping it hidden.”

The blond replied in agreement. “Tucker’s libraries were called a veritable sea of books. It certainly makes sense.”

“A used bookstore went after his collection even before his relatives. Though I suppose that’s a fitting end for it.”

“As cliché as it sounds, you can’t take your collection with you to heaven.”

As Go and the blond man continued their idle exchange, Lo stood there looking perplexed. Specifically, he was looking at the woman standing next to the blond man.

She wasn’t paying the slightest bit of attention to their conversation and instead stared fixedly at the book. The heat of her gaze could be felt from even from  behind her sunglasses.

“Umm…” she sounded breathless. “May I examine it?”

Hearing her voice, Go took notice of the woman’s unusual state. However since she was here as an appraiser, there was no reason to refuse her request.

“I don’t mind. Hey.” His latter words were directed at Lo.

Lo put on a white pair of gloves and reverently took the book out of the case.  He adjusted his grip on the book with careful deliberation and held it out to the woman. She greedily snatched at it like a child taking a Christmas present.

“!”

But Lo pulled the book back in a panic.

“Ahh!? Why’d you do that!?” She let out a startled shout, but there also seemed to be some real anger there. However, Lo did not flinch.

“Look!” He pointed to her mouth with a gloved hand.

A trail of liquid was trickling out of it.

“Waaah!?” Go also shouted at the unexpected event.

That was, without a doubt, drool. An unbelievably viscous drool that hung down past the woman’s chest.

“Eh!? ….oh! …aaaah!!”  Her face turned bright read and she hastily raised her hands and had the drool disappear into the floor. Neither Go nor Lo noticed this from across the table.

“I-I’m so sorry!” The woman bowed deeply. The blond man next to her laughed wryly.

“Don’t mess with me. I’ll make you pay full price if you stain it.”

“Oh, please excuse her behavior. She’s a dyed in the wool bibliomaniac and tends to get overly excited when she sees rare books.”

The woman’s cheeks flushed crimson once again and she looked down at her feet.

“Be more careful this time. Goddamn…” Lo grimaced, but still held the book out to her one more time. The woman’s head snapped back up the moment she noticed his movement. She clearly hadn’t learned her lesson, but at least there wasn’t any drool this time.

She took the Black Fairy Book out of Lo’s hands and let out a small sigh.  Lo  got an ominous feeling and pulled his hand back in terror once again.

Slowly, the woman pulled the book up to her chest.

“Don’t stain it, I’m warning you” Go knew she was only handling it with her bare hands to test the paper quality, but he couldn’t help feeling nervous.

The woman turned to the blond man. “May I?”

“Please restrain yourself.”

“Awww. But if I don’t take a real close look, the analysis…”

“No other choice, I suppose. Go ahead.” After a brief silence, he assented. The woman’s face lit up the moment the words left his mouth.

“Huh? Hey wha—“

The woman had already taken off her sunglasses before Go could finish his question. They had expected to see just her pretty face, but underneath the sunglasses were another pair of black rimmed glasses. Both Go and Lo felt let down somehow.

The misshapen glasses further amplified they sloppy impression she gave off. Even so, the large, bright eyes behind her glasses felt overpowering to the two.

“You’re only allowed to look at it. Don’t take your time reading.” The blond man addressed the woman.

“I know.”

She traced the edge of the book with her white finger carefully, almost lovingly. Probably to test the paper quality, Go reasoned.

Then she flipped the book over and ran her finder along the other edge. What was the purpose of that?

Lo found himself staring at the woman.

With soft breaths, she opened the book. No sooner did her eyes fall on the two page spread—

“Eheheheheheheh……..”

–he face flushed red again. Her eyes were a little moist; just like a girl who got a love confession. Clearly something was stirring inside her. The seemingly unfashionable, not-at-all charming woman was now giving off a sensual atmosphere.

Her allure was that of a high-class courtesan, multiplied a thousand-fold. A moan escaped her lips, causing Lo to swallow nervously.

With a “plop” the captivated woman suddenly buried her face into the book.

“Hey!” Go shouted in shock at the sudden development.

The blond man raised his hand to calm him down.  “Please, stay calm. She isn’t rubbing her face into it for fun. This is to take in the book’s scent.”

“Scent?”

“The scent of the paper. That’s one of the many things we can use to test authenticity.”

“How could anyone test authent—“

“She can.” The blond man decisively interrupted Go’s protests. “Scientific evaluation, historical records, and style analysis are the three most common ways to evaluate books.  However, there certain people in the world who have risen above all those methods.”

The woman was now loudly sniffing the book as the blond man continued his explanation.

“The emotions that the author invested into the book, the ages through which the book has survived…these are not things that can be counterfeited by any means. These men and women can “read” what lies beneath the pages—and in rare cases, use their connection with the books as weapons. She is one such person.”

“….ahhn…” As if to punctuate the blond man’s speech, the woman let out a small voice from behind the book. Anyone could see she was in ecstasy.

Go truly felt at a loss about what to do with this meeting.  He had been feeling a sense of incongruity ever since he first set eyes on this building. That feeling began to rise up in him like a poisonous snake.

He had met countless appraisers in his line of business, but this was his first ever time someone test authenticity using the book’s scent.

The woman raised her head. Her eyes were filled with tearful bliss, and her face was tinged pink.

“Your evaluation?”

“It’s…genuine…” She answered with an intoxicated voice.

Go felt relief at her words, followed closely by annoyance. Of course the book was real; he had paid a million dollars to get his hands on it.

RODv1_prologue_img1

“Wonderful. I’d expect nothing less from Go, “The Reading Snake”. That’s not to say I doubted you, of course.”

“It’s fine. I don’t mind as long as you pay me.” Go brushed away the blond man’s flattery. But now that the deal looked like it was going well, he felt a little more talkative. Go continued.

“You know, I rarely see women in this line of business.”

“Oh really?” The reply came from the blond man, not from the woman in question. She still had the book clutched to her chest and was staring off into space in a daze.  She was treating the book as if it were a present just for her.

“I’ve noticed that collectors all tend to be male.”

“That does seem to be the case now that you mention it.”

“Women just lose interest too quickly I suppose.  They just don’t have the patience to spend lots of time collecting things—especially useless things like books.”

The woman reacted only to his last few words. Her starry eyed look immediately disappeared and turned to Go.

“I wouldn’t have expected to hear that from you. Do you really believe books are useless?”

“The stupid things are heavy, take up space and aren’t even good for anything. Wastes of paper, I tell you.” Go responded harshly to the blond man’s question.

“Oh? But aren’t you an avid reader?”

Go smiled bitterly. “I don’t read ‘em and I don’t write ‘em.  They’re just merchandise that I sell to make money, just like my father and his father before him.”

“I see…”

“YOU!” The woman suddenly began to shout at Go. “How dare you say something like that!?  Books are treasures that contain all wisdom of the world!”

Go was shocked by her furious tirade.  He hadn’t been yelled at by a woman since his teachers scolded him in grade school. Lo, standing next to him, was even more shocked.

“Books are the wonderful medium through which people of old and all over the world transmitted their thoughts and words from decades, from centuries past! Sometimes intellectual, at times passionate, there are limitless possibilities depending on how one interprets the words! You dare call books that move people so deeply wastes of paper!? Take that back!”

Her rapid-fire rant continued on and on, and rather than feeling angry, Go felt overpowered.

The blond man covered her mouth in a panic.

“Mhhm!”

“I’m so very sorry about that. As I said before, she tends to get overexcited when it comes to books. Would it be too much to ask you to overlook this?”

Now that her mouth was covered and she had come back to her senses, the woman had a remorseful expression on her face.

“Ah, sure…” managed a nod in response.  As far has Lo knew, everyone who dared defy Go had been dealt at least some sort of injury. This woman had overpowered someone like him.

Her voice, her eye, her face was just that overwhelming.

“Much appreciated, Master Go. It has truly been an honor working with you.” The blond man adopted a pleasant tone and tried to keep things going.

“Don’t talk about it in the past tense just yet. Where’s my money?” Go’s gaze clung to the man. He had the expression of someone stubbornly trying to regain control of the situation.

“Of course. Here it is.” The blond man set a case on the table. It was rather plain compared to the one the brothers brought in with them.

“Take a look.” The man opened up the case and turned it so that it faced Go and Lo. Three million dollars were tightly packed inside.

“Let me see”

The blond slid the case over at his request. Lo picked up one bundle of bills.

“……………”

Lo’s expression did not change, but the atmosphere around him suddenly became oppressive. He flipped the bills upside down and thrust them out towards Go.

“What’s this supposed to be, you damn Brit?”

Go was calm. He was struggling to stay calm. Contrary to all expectations, the back of the bundles were a startling white. These weren’t bundles of cash, but paper.

Lo scattered some more of the bundles around. With the exception of the topmost layer, the rest of it was just plain old paper.

“Exactly what it looks like. It’s all paper, nothing more.”

“Don’t mess with me!” This wasn’t a shout, but a roar. Go crushed the paper in his hands and hurled at the woman and the blond man. The blond moved just a bit and neatly dodged the blow, but the paper hit the woman, still holding the book in a tight embrace, squarely on the chest.

“Paying for books with scraps of paper…that’s how you Brits do business, huh?”

Lo reached behind his pants and pulled out his gun. For now, the barrel was pointed at the blond man. He’d be able to fire it the moment he got the word from Go.

“The British way is one of courtesy and fair play. I’m sorry to say, but you two demonstrate neither.”

“What!?”

The blond man’s tone turned serious. “This book was stolen from the British Library twenty five years ago. According to the results of our investigation, the crime was carried out by  members of an East Asian syndicate.”

“What are you trying to say?”

“In the name of the British Library Special Operations Division, I’m returning this book to where it belongs!”

Go fell silent and pulled out his own gun.

“Please hear me out. Although it looks like you don’t intend to settle this peacefully, I think it’s good to talk things through from time to time.”

At the blond man’s half-hearted suggestion, Go’s face twisted into further rage.

“You can go suck on that in hell.”

‘I don’t know what that means, but I’ll take it as a rejection.”

Go pointed his gun at the woman. She held on to the book even tighter than before.

“Return the book.” Go stared the woman straight in her glasses.

“I won’t. It’s mine now.”

“Actually, it belongs to the British Library.”

“No, you idiots, it’s mine!”

The blond man corrected the woman, and Go corrected him in turn. Since they had no intention of paying up, there was no reason to hesitate. Go pointed the gun to the woman’s forehead and readied his finger the trigger.

The woman’s hand moved and she grabbed the bundle of paper stuck on her chest.

A bullet rocketed out of the barrel the moment Go pulled the trigger.

The explosive gunshot rang throughout the floor.

“Wha…” Go’s eyes went wide.

The woman’s face was white…and not because of sudden blood loss. The bullet that should have smashed through her glasses and blown through her skull was now buried in a mass of white. It was stopped by the single sheet of paper that she held in front of her face.

“Wha..!?” There was no doubt that this was the same paper that he had thrown at her before.  It was ordinary, run of the mill paper. Far from stopping a bullet, it shouldn’t have even withstood a cat clawing at it.

But the reality in front of him was that she had stopped a bullet with a sheet of paper.

“Aaah!?”

Lo reacted first and changed his target from the blond man to the woman. He began firing bullets at her one after another.

“Wah! Hey! Wait!—” The woman’s protested as if she were just getting splashed with water at a pool. She took out consecutive pieces of paper and stopped every single one of the bullets.

“Wha-what would you have done if you hit the book!?”

Lo looked over at Go, astonished. Go didn’t answer and instead pointed his gun at the woman.

If the two of them fired at the same time, she wouldn’t be able to handle it. That was the new unspoken plan.

But the woman immediately saw through their idea.

“Really now!” She grabbed her papers once again and threw them into the air.

The paper fluttered through the air like confetti, and formed a white wall between the two groups. The pure white barrier hid them from Go and Lo and stopped all the bullets being aimed at them.

When the papers finally fell to the ground after the storm of bullets, the blond man and the woman were nowhere to be seen.

Out of nowhere, a piece of paper came flying like lightning and sliced through the barrel the dumbfounded Go’s gun.

“Shit!”

Go dragged his brother behind the cover of a desk. Not a second later, another piece of paper whizzed right through the spot they were standing in, slicing the air as it went.

“Ah! Aaaaah!”

As Go tried to calm the panicking Lo down, he pulled out the paper, which had since turned back to normal, out of the barrel of his gun.

“She’s a paper master…”

“Eh!?”

“I’ve heard of them before. Like the name implies, they have some special power that lets them use paper as weapons.”

A paper plane came flying out, turned itself midair and embedded itself at Go’s feet. The word “correct” was scribbled on its surface.

“Wha-!?”

“So you do know about them, well done.” The blond man’s voice sounded from somewhere.

Lo lost his cool and tried to stand up to shoot at the man.

“Gah!”

However the paper planes changed targets and rushed at him this time.

“Dumbass!”

Go pulled Lo back down just in the nick of time. Hundreds of paper planes rushed over their heads like a storm.

“Those things aren’t just paper, they’re lethal weapons! Don’t make any careless moves!”

There was a small cut on the heavily panting Lo’s face.

Scraps from the paper planes fluttered down to where the two were hiding.  Go picked one up and saw that it had information on surrendering.  The other scraps were similar in nature, documenting their right to an attorney, their right to remain silent, and the like.

“You think this is a game!?” Losing himself to fury, Go tore the papers to shreds.

“Ummm…I think you should surrender. You’ll at least get a trial that way.”

“The Paper, there is no use in reasoning with them. Arrest them as soon as possible.”

“Okay…”

“Cut the bullshit! Who’d want to get caught by a monster like you!?”

“……….sniff……sniff”

A pitiful sob could be heard through the  paper-thin silence.

“Err…I’ll ask you not to hurt my agent’s feelings”

“Shut up!”

Lo stared uneasily at Go while he was angrily shouting back.

“Don’t lose your nerve. I have my own way to fight her.” Go patted the snake in his chest pocket. “I’ll just have to kill that woman myself.”

He abruptly stood up and threw off his suit-jacket and shirt.  On his bare body was a metal snake wrapped around him like a restraint.  The tip of the metal snake held the same snake head attachment that was peeking out of his chest pocket before.  On his belt was a similar three-headed horned snake.

The vivid snake scales on his bare torso gave off an ominous aura.

The paper planes rushed at Go now that he had moved away from his cover.

“Die!”

He grabbed the snake’s tail and swung it around.  The snake smoothly unfastened itself from his body, and like a whip, sent the paper planes flying.  The repulsed planes stabbed into the nearby desks.

“Oho!” The blond man sounded impressed.

“You think that woman’s stupid papercraft can stand up against my snake!?”

Go continued to grin wildly as a new fleet of paper planes launched themselves at him.

“Die die die die die and DIE!”. He moved his fingers faster than the eye could see and the snake raged all the more.  The paper planes were all torn to shreds and fluttered down to the ground like snow. A hazy human silhouette became visible through the cloud.

“I’ll kill you!” Lo came out from his hiding spot and rushed at the silhouette.

“Gaaaaahhhhh!.” He rammed the silhouette and pinned it to the floor but…

“Huh!?”

It wasn’t the woman, or the blond man. Rather, it was the life-size cardboard cutout of an idol used at Shueisha’s spring book fair.

“Fall back! It’s a trap!”

Too late. Before he could even react, the paper tape that was hidden in the corner of the desk, in the ceiling, in the trash—from every which direction—sprang into action.

“!”

It shot out towards Lo the next instant.

“Waah!”

The tape wrapped around his entire body, and despite his great struggle, Lo ended up looking like a mummy after a few moments. Not only that, but the tape began to tighten around him as well.

“Shi—!”

Go heard the sound of rustling paper behind him as he move to try and help Lo. He turned around and swung his snake, but what was flying towards him this time weren’t paper planes, but ordinary sheets of paper. The snake wouldn’t be able to deal with individual sheets as easily.

“How about it? Do you feel like surrendering now?”

Still standing behind the struggling Lo, Go licked away the stream of blood flowing from his forehead.

“You know the reason I’m called the Reading Snake, isn’t because I use this thing…”

Go threw off the snake attachment at the end of his whip and replaced with a new one.  This time, there was a sharp blade sticking out of the snake’s mouth.  Go’s own mouth was twisted into an equally sharp, and wicked smile.

“…It’s because  of my nature. I always kill my prey.”

“….Understood. ………The Paper!” At the blond man’s command, a rush of papers stormed at Go once again.

Go twisted the grip at the center of the snake. The joints in the snake snapped together, turning the whip into a staff.

“Gaah!” Go spun his staff quickly like a baton. The incoming papers were all sucked in, torn to pieces, and then scattered.

Through the paper confetti in the air Go finally caught a glimpse of the hand that was launching the papers from under a desk.

“Got you!” He knocked away all of the papers and readied his staff like a spear. Then, he pierced through the desk, and like that, picked it and tossed it away. The desk crashed through the glass window and fell out into the night sky.

At last, there was just a single woman where the desk used to be. On the floor next to her was a single loose sheet of paper.

“Awaah!?” The woman feebly tried to crawl away now that her location was compromised.  However, her avenue of retreat was blocked by a pillar.

“Hmph!” Go pointed his blade right at the woman’s throat. “It’s your loss, paper master.”

RODv1_prologue_img2.jpg

“Let him go.” He ordered her and thrust his chin towards Lo.

In an instant, the paper tape that was binding him was released and Lo’s huge body fell to the ground. He rose to his feet tearing the remaining tape off of himself.

“You just weren’t good enough, Agent Paper.

“…I’m sorry…” the woman said sadly. However, it wasn’t the sadness of someone who’s life was on the line, rather it was that of a student who got bad grades on an exam. This irritated Go.

“You come out too, ya damn Brit!”

“Sure, why not.” The blond man appeared from under the neighboring desk. Go, as well as the woman were shocked by his sudden appearance.

“Ah well, now I know why you’re called the Reading Snake. I learned something new today.”

“…The two of you, line up.”

The blond man raised his hands and stood next to the woman. The woman also timidly stood up. The two groups were facing each other, just like they did at the beginning of the exchange.

“Time for you to die.”

“Before that, are you really sure you don’t want to surrender? That would make settling this easier for all of us, you know.” The blond man’s voice didn’t have the least bit of tension.

“What the hell are you saying!? Is your head full of paper or something?”

“It was useless after all…I guess there’s no helping it now.” The blond looked meaningfully at the woman. “Let’s put an end to this.”

“Alright…”

The indifferent attitude that the two were displaying was pissed Go off. This absurd night was almost over. Unable to keep his emotions in check, he began to scream.

“I’ll kill you! I’ll kill you right this goddam second!”

The woman looked at Go and Lo’s faces with a worried expression, but the one to actually speak up was the blond.

“I’m sorry to say that we’re done fighting here.”

“What!?”

“Ahh to be more accurate, you two lost the moment you stepped into this building.” He pointed to the floor near the table where they first met.

“……………”

Go’s eyes unconsciously followed the blond man’s finger. The floor was slightly warped; there was a small indentation no larger than an ordinary bottle cap.

A sudden memory flashed back into Go’s mind. He remembered the woman’s dangling drool.

“Don’t tell me…!!”

Go’s thoughts led him to an ridiculous conclusion. Was that even possible!?

“Indeed it is.” The man confirmed his thoughts with a smile.

“I’m sorry.” The woman lowered her head.

At the same time, Go and Lo’s knees began to buckle wildly. The feeling they were getting in their legs couldn’t possibly be real.

Large waves formed on the floor they stood on.

Their legs wobbled; maintaining their balance was difficult; standing upright was impossible. They were assaulted by a terrible sense of nausea.

“This is insane! What the…what the hell is this!?”

Go looked to his side and saw that Lo had already collapsed. His face was screwed up as if he were about to cry. The entire building was bending. Not just the floors, but the walls and ceiling too.

“This is———!!!”

As if to reward Go’s correct answer with a checkmark,  the floor tore open to reveal an abyss going 30 floors down.

The “tear” swallowed Go and Lo in the blink of an eye.

“PAAPPPEEERRRR——!!!!!” The last thing Go saw was the image of the woman looking down on him with worry from above the tattered paper floor.

The paper building dry, crackling sound as it folded and collapsed onto what had been an empty lot just earlier that afternoon.

A helicopter soon appeared from the wreckage, tearing through building as it went. Sheets of paper scattered through the air like rose petals as it quickly ascended into the night sky.

In it was the blond man who had finally taken off his sunglasses.

“This is Joker. This is Joker. All stages of the mission have been successfully completed. I’d like to request safeguarding and custody of the targets along with resources to deal with the aftermath. Joker, along with The Paper will be returning to base straightaway. A full report will be submitted at a later date. Over.”

“Ahh, that was exhausting… Yomiko, I’ll make sure to take you to Jinbōchō lat…”

His words did not reach the bespectacled woman’s—Yomiko’s— ears.

She was hungrily reading the Black Fairy Book, completely engrossed in its pages. Her eyes focused on nothing but the letters of the book; Joker’s voice and the noise of the helicopter didn’t even register in her mind.

Her dark eyes continued to move furiously behind her misshapen glasses.

“What am I to do with you…” Joker shrugged and faced forward.

“Paper master! I can’t believe you’re actually here!. If it’s not too much trouble, could I get an autograph later…?” The lively voice came out from the pilot’s seat.

Joker answered in the place of the book-crazed Yomiko.

“It’s useless now. She won’t hear anything you say until she’s done reading. There’s no coming back once she gets like this—It’s one of her weak points.”

She of course heard neither the adoration nor the criticism aimed at her. Yomiko “The Paper” Readman had already given herself in to the pleasures of reading. She no longer even remembered what Go and Lo looked like.

Because she loved books more than anything. Indeed, more than anything at all.

The helicopter left the dark district of Daiba behind and flew in the moonlight towards the city’s center.


[1] Likely a reference to Andrew Lang’s “Coloured Fairy Books”

4 thoughts on “Prologue

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