Scepter 4 on the beach! And a little sneakpeak into Munakata’s wisdom in handling the matter of Fushimi.
Sand castle by Kabei Yukako
There was a man wearing glasses there.
In full getup consisting of a straw hat on top of a towel tyed around his head, high rubber boots, work pants kindly lent to him by a neighboring fishermen association, and complete with latex gloves worn on both hands, he was squatting down on the sandy beach after the tide ebbed, slowly but steadily digging into the sand with a small rake. His glasses were square and thick-framed - by them alone, so different from the trademark aristocratic silver-framed glasses of Munakata Reishi, one could easily tell that it was not him. Having come to this conclusion, one could think further and hypothesize that it might have been Fushimi Saruhiko, but the man’s glasses, while also having black frames, were bigger than those of the third-in-command of Scepter 4, and overall, the impression of the man on the beach was somewhat lacking in style. The man’s long black hair was tied up in a ponytail, which hang down from underneath the straw hat; the man in question tended to hide in the shadows of his two bespectacled superiors because their presence was just too powerful, and yes, that man was me, Enomoto Tatsuya, also known as the third glasses of Scepter 4. Well, to be exact, no one ever called me that, I just called myself that in my mind. And anyway, as you see, I was well aware that I lacked style.
I imagined that being called ‘the third glasses’ for real would be cool. It had a dark horse-ish ring to it. Like the hero’s codename in American comics. And when Scepter 4 came under attack, finding itself in the direst predicament it ever faced with Fushimi-san defeated and captain Munakata severely wounded, I would awaken as the strongest glasses character… Hehehe, hehe.
"…Eno, whaccha giggling for? ‘s creepy", Hidaka Akira, a coworker of mine, currently squatting opposite of me and also sifting through the sand with a rake, furrowed his brows fiercely.
"Eh, ah, no, it’s nothing. It’s just that gathering shellfish is kinda hard". I put on a false smile and dug into the sand enthusiastically.
"I know, right? Aah, why do we even have to look for those tiny shells…?" Moaning, Hidaka violently combed through the sand with his rake.
"If you’re not careful, you’ll end up breaking them. When you feel your rake hit something solid, put it away and dig with your hands, like the fishermen from the association explained to us".
"I know, geez. But this is so damn troublesome, and those shellfish are so damn tiny…"
Unlike me, Hidaka was only wearing trunks and flip-flops. Since he didn’t put on latex gloves, sand ended up getting under his nails, and I was sure he’d feel it later as an unpleasant sensation when touching his PDA or, once we were back to the HQ, his computer. There was also a possibility of some weird insects you wouldn’t want to come in direct contact with crawling in that sand to consider… But that was what I was cautious of, while Hidaka was the kind of guy who didn’t care about such things.
Next to the two of us there was a bucket with ordinary clams, short-necked clams and small crabs scattered on its bottom, small amount of our catch worrisome.
"Fushimi-san, please take this seriously and make some effort! This is going to be our dinner tonight after all!" Hidaka shouted from the foreshore to a lone figure quite some distance away.
"Huuh? I don’t eat shellfish, so why the heck should I dig up something that someone else’s gonna eat?" Fushimi-san - as it was none other than him - replied, throwing a glare our way, mouth twisting. He had a straw hat, a parka and trunks on and was scooping sand with a toy-sized shovel, piling it up in front of him in what looked like complete desperation. It ran through my mind that there couldn’t have been many people who could make a face that scary while wearing a straw hat and holding a toy shovel - both being practically the symbols of innocence and openheartedness.
"Why a trip to the sea… It doesn’t make any sense, not when we’re so damn stumped with work. I’ll kill the bastard who suggested it… Anyway, why the hell it has to be the beach…? You get sunburns; when the morons get together, they’re so ridiculously excited it’s just plain depressing; glasses get fogged up because of the salty wind; you get sunburns…"
A sand castle about a meter high was growing in front of Fushimi-san who gave off a dark blue aura of gloom on this sandy beach generously bathed in bright sunlight. The castle was so fighteningly elaborate, complete with a castle tower, walls and even a ditch, that one might have thought it was a purchasable model. Why on earth was he making a Japanese castle, of all things…?
"Eno, under no circumstances tell Fushimi-san it was me who suggested this beach trip. And warn everyone to keep their mouths shut as well. If he finds out, he’ll strangle me to death…"
Well, probably, Captain Munakata or Lieutenant Awashima would leak it to him before long, though…
One might wonder what we were doing at a place like that. The answer was as you see - we were shellfish hunting. As to why Scepter 4 was out on a beach, merrily shellfish hunting in the middle of a working weekday… the cause was Hidaka.
Well, it just so happened that among us all said Hidaka was almost always the one to suggest things like that. And the one with a penchant to dig his own grave was also Hidaka.
Unfortunately, before the summer, there was a significant increase in cases that fell within the jurisdiction of Scepter 4, so all the members had to put in a lot of overtime hours. That’s when Hidaka, who got fed up with it, suggested, “How about a summer training camp for the members of the special operations squad? Why not go to the sea?”
"Hoo, the sea, huh. It might be a good idea. To tell you the truth, I have been to the sea myself only a handful of times. We can clear a time window for the camp with an overnight stay, can we not, Awashima-kun?" Captain Munakata was generous.
"I support the idea. I believe a workout will be in order. The squadsmen should have a lot of excessive energy and stamina left since they have been mostly working indoors lately. I shall set about making a schedule at once", Lieutenant Awashima approved.
It was clear to everyone just what kind of ‘summer training camp’ Hidaka imagined when he made that proposal — it’s safe to say that all the members, with the exception of Captain and Lieutenant, had roughly the same general idea. However, Captain and Lieutenant’s train of thought easily surpassed everything that our vulgar inferior imagination could have come up with. As a result, the schedule for the training camp that Lieutenant Awashima compiled was, uh…
Hidaka threw away his rake, flopped down on the sand and started floundering and flailing his limbs. “This is a beach, and we’re supposed to do sports and games you usually do on the beach! Like beach volleyball, beach flags, watermelon splitting, things like that! There’s a ton of them! Y’know, the standard activities…! But instead, instead…! We had to bunny-hop for 5 km along the damn sandy terrain while pulling 3 tyres each! And swim for a long distance of 20 km in the open sea with sharks! Why those are all we did?! No, I’m not complaining about severity of training or anything! It’s just, it’s just… it’d be worth it if there was at least a chance, however small, to chitchat with girls in swimsuits and do, y’know, other things, right? No, actually, it’d be still worth it even if we didn’t get to make out with them! Just talking with them would do! Just ogling some girls from afar would be enough to make me happy!!! But Captain, Captain… he let Annex 4’s budget do the talking and rented an uninhabited island!!!”
Splash! As if in response to Hidaka’s grievious outcry, ferocious white-crested waves rose, attacking the desolated beach where there was no one except for the three of us.
"Well, it was predictable that the whole thing would turn out something like this". I resigned myself to the worst from the get-go, so I successfully avoided the heartbreaking disappointment Hidaka was going through. Having fun together with barbecue on a hotel’s balcony and fireworks on the beach at night…. I certainly didn’t have any hope for us to be rewarded with something like that, and we hadn’t. The training was conducted under the premise that we drifted ashore an uninhabited island, so we had to be self-reliant and procure something to serve as our dinner on our own (and you know, we may have belonged to special forces, alright, but basically, we had been serving at the heart of a metropolis, so I was really curious as to just what had to happen in the center of a city for our entire force to wind up washed ashore some uninhabited island…)
Anyway, for that reason we were divided into the fishing team, the shellfish hunting team, and the firewood gathering team; the entire force struggled hard to live through today, trying to forget about our empty stomachs. On one hand, shellfish hunting appeared to be the most peaceful task, but on the other, in case the fishing team failed to catch anything, we’d become the lifeline, so actually we were under a lot of pressure.
"Well, you had the honor of seeing Lieutenant Awashima in bikini, so you’ll have to make do with just that".
"Yeah, I saw her alright. It was an absolutely wonderful sight. When it comes to the bust size, Lieutenant’s is as huge as three to five ordinary girls’ put together, depending on how lacking they are in the boob department. But y’know, this time it’s not about size! It’s about variety and numbers! Don’t you agree that chatting with guys about which chick’s swim suit they prefer while feasting your eyes on lots and lots of different girls is heaps of fun?! Lieutenant alone is not enough for that! And you know what? I, I… I was really looking forward to discussing girls with Fushimi-san…" Hidaka kept grumbling in a quivering voice while lying prostrated on the sand.
I was surprised at his last confession. “…With Fushimi-san? Uh, for real?”
"…Yeah, for real". Hidaka abruptly raised his head. "I just thought that even Fushimi-san may open up a little on the public beach. There should be at least one girl he’d nod with approval at, agreeing that she’s not bad, y’know…"
"And here I thought you’re bad rather than good at dealing with Fushimi-san…"
"Ah well, there’s hardly anyone who can handle him right from the start. But I’m thinking that I’d like to get along with him a little better, so…" He sat cross-legged, grains of gray sand sticking to the front of his body on its whole length, including the face, sulky pout on his lips as he glanced in Fushimi-san’s direction. "Come to think of it, he never once took off his parka today… Ah, I guess it makes sense… I forgot he has that… Maybe a trip to the beach wasn’t such a stellar idea, after all…” He vigorously scratched his already ruffled head and hung it.
On Fushimi-san’s chest there was a burn mark dreadful enough to make anyone go ‘Whoa’ when they saw it. It was not like he flaunted it or anything, but he also didn’t make any special effort to hide it, that’s why some of the squadsmen happened to catch the sight of it accidentally. Most of us knew the result of destroying what that burn mark was.
When Captain found that a person would be useful, he would take that person in regardless of who they were and what they were doing before, and for that reason the backgrounds of Scepter 4 members varied greatly. I heard that Kamo-san was a cook previously, for example. But Fushimi-san’s unique personal history stood out even among that variety. He was a former clansman of the Red King, the adversary to the Blue King under whom we lived — and Captain didn’t even make an attempt to hide that fact of Fushimi-san’s biography from us at all. It was hard to say just what exactly was going through Captain’s head, but not only did he make the fact an open secret, but he also appointed Fushimi-san to a high responsible post. It even made me suspect that he purposefully planted the seeds of conflict in order to test us in some way.
To top it off, Fushimi-san was very young, and because of that, in the beginning, there were those among the members, especially among the older personnel, who secretly felt shunned and unneeded, thinking that in Scepter 4 hitting one’s thirties became the age limit to be considered old.
On his part, ever since being a member of the intelligence section, Fushimi-san didn’t seem to pay attention to the looks the others around him gave him. Not being shy of his personal history in the least, he even looked like he dared somebody to actually call him out on it…
Hidaka, being an honest guy, had distrust written all over his face when it came to Fushimi-san… but now he said he wanted to get along with him, huh… Not getting bound by his pride and stubborness and easily reversing his prejudiced views was yet another trait of Hidaka’s personality.
I felt sorry for the depressed Hidaka, but at the same time I was also glad to hear what he said, and ended up giggling.
"Oh? If it isn’t Hidaka-kun and Enomoto-kun".
It was then that a cool, composed voice called out to us. Upon hearing it, the two of us tensed on what could be called a conditioned reflex and sprang up, clicking our heels together and saluting to the voice owner, “Yes, sir!” and… the sight that greeted us made our faces twitch convulsively.
'S-Speedos…?!' Hidaka pointed out the obvious quietly so that only I could hear him.
'He's so good at casually wearing them without a trace of embarrassment, huh…’
'Th-This is the true might of a king possessing the Sword of Damocles…!’
'He can pull it off so easily because his morals are crystal pure'.
The Blue King and our Captain, Munakata Reishi, was standing unmoving in only a skimpy swimwear, which didn’t use nearly enough cloth, holding a surfboard under his arm.
"C-Captain, dost thou also like surfing…?" Trying to be extra careful, Hidaka ended up using some strange grammar. His question was an implicit resentful complaint meant to convey something like, ‘From the looks of it, while we were being forced to bunny-hop 5 km, destroying our tight muscles, and were getting attacked in the open sea by sharks, having to draw our swords, you were having a graceful time and enjoying yourself, huh’.
"Not exactly. I haven’t surfed before, and today was my first experience, but this kind of sports does look very interesting. What are the two of you doing here?"
"Haah… I mean! We are in the middle of shellfish hunting, sir! Shellfish will serve as a side dish for tonight’s dinner, sir!"
"Hoo, shellfish hunting, you say… This would also be something I haven’t done before. It looks fun".
Our king was somehow quite far removed from the world of the general public, so occasionally he would leave us surprised by not having the slightest idea about things that everybody was normally expected to know of. When he came across something unknown to him, he would be interested in whatever it might be, and his eyes would shine like those of a child.
"I would like to try it as w— Oh?" Captain’s gaze, full of curiousity, drifted in yet another direction. "Fushimi-kun, what are you doing?"
Unlike us, Fushimi-san wasn’t humbled by Captain’s presence, and not just that - he completely ignored his appearance, squatting, apparently absorbed in putting finishing touches to his sand castle, going as far as taking out one of his throwing knives he always had on him to carefully carve decorative gable on the castle tower with an incredibly earnest concentration.
"F-Fushimi-san!" Both me and Hidaka panicked and called out to him.
"Eh?" He raised his head with a look on his face that, for a moment, was disarmingly innocent; then, as his eyes landed on Captain, he abruptly came back to his senses, expression becoming cynical. It seemed that he was so earnestly devoted to the task of building that castle of his that he really hadn’t noticed anything around him…
"Hoo? So you piled up wet sand to make a building…?" The moment Captain, with his eyes gleaming as was in his habit, drew closer, Fushimi-san did something unexpected - he clicked his tongue, got up and intentionally kicked down the castle tower.
"Ah!" Me and Hidaka cried out instinctively. That castle was truly something like a work of art, and Fushimi-san invested quite a lot of time and effort into building it…
"What a waste. I really wanted to take a better look at it", Captain said with genuine regret, and me and Hidaka looked at each other, nervous.
"When the morning comes, something like this will be swept away by waves in no time anyway". With this, Fushimi-san stomped with his flip-flops on what still remained of his castle, turning it into a simple pile of sand and, unlike the rest of us, showing no remorse at all at his actions, despite being the castle’s creator. It was as if he didn’t want to let even its remote countoures survive… like he obsessively tried to break something that had already taken shape… why, I wonder?
Just then, Captain, touching his fingers to his chin thoughtfully, said all of a sudden, “Hidaka-kun, Enomoto-kun”.
"Please notify everybody that I suspend the current mission and call for the general assembly".
"Oh, and inform everybody to bring buckets and shovels".
At that, Hidaka, who was about to contact the other members, went ‘Huh?’ in a voice high-pitched with surprise but immediately caught himself, “I mean… Roger”, and put his PDA to his ear.
"What are you planning?" Fushimi-san uttered askance, but Captain simply calmly put down the surfboard, saying, "Well then", and took a step forward on the sprawling sandy beach.
I was confused, but for the time being, I took off the shirt I was wearing and had Captain slip it on. While I couldn’t care less about Hidaka in trunks, letting Captain stay in the state of dress he was would be somehow embarrassing and soon I wouldn’t know where to rest my eyes.
A sapphire blue aura rose off Captain’s shoulders. His face, shining with genuine interest before, underwent a complete change and a bold smile of a king was now adorning it.
"Shall I draw a plan? If it were just me, eye measure would suffice, but it certainly will not in case of group work". Captain stroked across the empty space before him with the palm of his hand, and when he did, lines, shining blue, ran through it, tracing and forming a grid that made one really think of a blueprint. Before our eyes, the blueprint of a three-dimentional building was being drawn on that improvised air graph paper by just light strokes of the king’s hand. As if drawn by a computer, the building was being reproduced in the smallest details down to the last pillar… How could Captain do something like that without having the building itself to consult with before his eyes…? If that person’s brain actually memorized real objects that accurately on a routine basis like it was nothing, then his powers of observation and insight were just plain scary.
"Hey… Are you seriously going to build a house?" Looking with hooded eyes at the life-sized blueprint of a house, Fushimi-san ventured a question with a rather obvious answer.
"Captain! Lieutenant Awashima caught a marlin, and apparently, they have enough food for everybody for tonight’s dinner anyhow! She ordered the entire force to make haste and gather!" Hidaka reported, holding his PDA so that the rest of us could see it. On its screen, there was a picture of Lieutenant Awashima, beautiful and brave in her bikini, standing tall on the bow of a fishing boat and holding a marlin.
"Mhuhu. Nothing less from Awashima-kun, reliable as ever. Good". Captain nodded, narrowing his eyes approvingly. "Let us make a castle that will not be swallowed by waves or washed away. I shall imbue the sand with my power so that it becomes harder than concrete. Although such a wording might be contradictory, but it shall be a solid sand castle that cannot be destroyed easily".
He smiled brilliantly at Fushimi-san. It was the smile of the Blue King who we adored from the bottom of our hearts - noble, graceful, filled with unwavering confidence, but at the same time hiding an unfathomable abyss somewhere within that sent a shudder shooting though even his allies.
Body shaken to its deepest core with the mixture of exaltation and fear, I glanced at Fushimi-san. He was standing stock still, dumbfounded, the blue light reflecting in his eyes which rarely lit up. I wanted to think that that glow was both the light Captain cast off and the inner radiance coming from within Fushimi-san’s being.