Even if the wind rusts,
Gods, and Devils,
and reverts them to sand.
Only you alone,
and your unwavering gaze,
for that beating heart of yours,
is that which the rust fears,
and open up the path ahead.
-Anthem of the contemporary Mushroom Guardian
The words, ‘Man-eating Mushroom Akaboshi Bisco’, were written across the poster in a ridiculously large font.
The mugshot in the center of it depicted a barbaric visage wearing a cat’s-eye goggles with spiky red hair looking as though to bite the people viewing it. A crimson red tattoo hung below his sharp right eye as if to accentuate it.
Below that mad dog appearance which one could tell belonged to a dangerous personage at one glance were the words, ‘Age 17, Height ~180cm, Bounty 800,000 solbuck’, and the stamp of the Gunma prefecture at the bottom.
A young travelling priest was staring intently at that poster flapping in the wind from beyond the window of the inspection counter.
“That catch your eye?”
As he checked the travel document, the plump mustached official called out to the travelling priest.
The priest averted his eyes from the poster and nodded vaguely as he slightly turned to face the official. His face was wrapped in bandage covered in scriptures, obscuring his expression.
“The man-eating mushroom Akaboshi, said to leave all the lands in his wake with mushrooms everywhere. That topic’s all the rage in the prefecture. After all, even that famous sightseeing spot Akagi Mountain was completely turned into a mountain of mushroom down to its base.”
“Why the man-eating part?”
“Obviously, that’s cuz he eats them, humans that is.”
Said the official as he gulped down his cheap wine and guffawed to himself as if he just told the greatest joke in the world.
“Nah, it’s just because he’s such a big villain that people started calling him that. You travelling priests may not have heard about them, but Akaboshi the mushroom is no small fry just so you know. All it takes is one shot from Akaboshi like that,”
The official leant out of the window and drew one arm back exaggeratedly as if pulling a bow.
“And a mushroom as thick as a tree just burst out like with a *BOOM*, be it whether it was the ground he shot or even if it’s metal! These brutes who cares not whether the place is a monastery or a temple calls themselves the Mushroom Guardians. Just look at it, this ferocious canine mug! Probably no wonder if they actually ate people, right.”
Without showing any slight trace of a smile, the priest shifted his gaze from the grinning official to the poster once more.
“The Man-eating Mushroom, Akaboshi……”
“Even so, there’s no need for fear. No villain has ever escaped from the peerless Gunma Prefectural Police before to commit wrongdoings in other prefectures. The misdeeds of Akaboshi has met its end. You won’t have to worry about them hindering your business.”
The mustached official tore off the poster from the wall and stared at it with narrowed eyes.
“So his name’s Bisco, huh. Haha, what a joke. What kind of parents name their kid like that.”
And then mustached man seemed to lose interest and just tossed the poster randomly to the side.
He then resumed scanning the barcode at the bottom of the document over and over again with the dirty scanner, but didn’t seem to receive a response. He then got up in feigned annoyance and clicked his tongue.
“Oi Oota, did you actually fix this thing you knucklehead. It can’t read shit at all.”
Left to the whims of the desert winds, the documents flapped around and flew away. The priest only looked on with boredom before walking around to retrieve them.
There were barely anybody who passed through this southern checkpoint from Saitama to Gunma. Down this checkpoint, there was only the desolate Saitama ironsand desert which spread irregularly, and even further was a place called Tokyo in the past but was now just a large empty pit in the ground.
Having said that, there was a time in the past when the northern and eastern checkpoints were closed due to military tensions with Niigata and Tochigi. Travelers looking to pass through to the east had to go pass this southern checkpoint and traverse the desert of death lining the Tokyo Epicenter to the Imihama prefecture before going through Tochigi’s southern checkpoint to reach there. To the practitioner of Thousand Spirits Temple or the Binding Fire Sect and so on, this was a necessary passage for their pilgrimage. The fact that Gunma still open this deserted checkpoint goes to show how these religious group held considerable influence.
In the first place, there was no walls protecting one from the rusting wind blowing from the hole once one left the checkpoint. The stance of the Gunma prefecture was that it was no longer their problem once one pass through the gate, be it they be eaten by the Burnt Moray Eels or if they die from being eaten by the rust.
He was slightly curious about the bandage covering the travelling priest. It was not strange for those in the Binding Fire Sect in western Japan to wrap themselves like mummies like this, but it must surely be tough being under the July sun. In particular, he was concerned about the priest’s right eye which he kept wiping off sweat from.
“Hey, sorry ‘bout that, young priest. Let’s continue.”
The priest continued to stare at the plain white walls for a moment while bathed in the sandy breeze, but soon returned to the window-side without losing composure.
“Let’s see, your destination’s Imihama, to provide services…… Thanks for coming all the way here from Kansai.” The mustached official stared intently at the photograph to try to compare it to the priest’s face. “Says here Watarigani Wataru…… ain’t this a pseudonym?”
“It’s a Dharma name. Watarigani Wataru.”
“Your real name?”
“I have left it behind me.”
“Sigh. ……What’s your luggage. Why do you need such a large baggage for a priest travelling alone?”
“I’m collecting bodies.” The travelling priest turned back to his wagon which was about the size of a truck and answered plainly. Practice of the Spirit Collecting Breathing Technique always results in some deaths. I’ve come to return them to the rusting winds.”
“Ugh, talk about gross.”
The mustache spat out and turned into the office and shouted.
“Oi Oota, go take a peek under that cloth. Seems to be a pile of bodies.”
“There’s bugs……” The priest warned the young official who came out.
“In addition to the rot, they’re also infested with centipedes. The sun also did a number of them. Their fingers are also falling off. It is dangerous.”
The pale, frightened Oota turned back to look at his moustached superior, who spat at the floor in annoyance and motioned at him to return.
“Open the gates.”
The large gate slowly lifted up while producing a *girigiri* sound of rust scraping against rust. The priest gave a deep bow before turning back to his wagon. The mustached official watched him go off in boredom until suddenly……
“……Oi, is using a bow the recent fad in the Binding Fire Sect?”
“Yes. Taking lives is not forbidden.”
“Yea, I knew that already.” The mustached man cut him off. “But, I thought they don’t allow projectiles? Something about not feeling the weight of the actions or something. Heard that they don’t allow guns or bows.”
The priest looked pressed for words. When he met those fiery eyes peeking from under the bandages……
His experience of over 15 years as a border guard told him to press the alarm.
“Ooh, it’s been so long. Even a non-believer such as myself feel like hearing a sutra now.” Behind him, Oota has already ran out of the emergency exit. “Let me just recite one I just came up with. You’re not about to reject a priest from chanting a sutra, are you?”
The tension in the space shot up.
The travelling priest did not even blink an eye when the wind blew, chasing large particles of sand into the air. His green eyes narrowed, and his canine teeth peeked out slightly from the bandages.
“‘So that you will become a strong man’……”
“……What did you say?”
“Become deliciously strong, Bisco.”
The priest’s voice carried a harsh tone which seemed to permeate with killing intent.
“It is a powerful name filled with warm blessings…… Someone like you has no right to laugh at it.”
“You, you’re no priest.”
“Say it, say, ‘I’m sorry Mr. Bisco.’”
The mustached official hurriedly drew his handgun and fired. The bullet grazed the ear of the priest, cutting through the knot holding the bandage around his face.
In an instant.
The dry winds rustled his red hair.
Having thrown away the cover of a priest, those eyes were sharp. The green eyes shone with a luster, dwelling within a fierce will that could seemingly cut through a boulder. His red hair was whished by the desert winds, dancing around like flames.
Without a trace of being cowered by the gun, he wiped his face fearlessly, his sweat rinsing away the makeup on his skin and revealing a blaring red tattoo under his right eye.
“T-the man-eating……” Both the mustache and Oota’s jaw dropped as they shook in fear of the man.
“The Man-eating Akaboshi!!”
“Who the hell eats man.”
Bisco smoothly slide the bow at his back into his hands, which glistens emerald under the sun rays. He swiftly draws a red arrow from the quiver by his bosom and fires it at the window.
“Woah!” The mustached man groans as he leant forwards, barely evading the arrow which struck the gravure calendar on the wall and sent deep cracks throughout.
“What kind of bowmanship is that!?”
“Mr. Inoshige! L-look at that!”
When he turned his head to look at where Oota was pointing, he saw that from the various cracks running through the wall, something red—and round seemed to be swelling up.
Those red things gradually swell up before suddenly stretching out with a *Boom!*, crumbling the small customs hut. One can easily tell even with the untrained eye what those things with a bright red cap and continually swelling stem were.
“T-that’s…… Woah! I-it’s mushrooms!”
“Get out of there, you idiot!”
The moustached official grabbed Oota who seemed to be trying desperately to retrieve his camera and pulled him out of the hut. Before they could even cross the door, the bright red mushrooms sprouted with such momentum that they burst right through the small hut with a thunderous boom.
Without turning back to look at the now-destroyed customs hut, Bisco flew to his wagon in a sprint and shouted at the cloth covering the wagon.
“The plan failed, Jabi! We’re escaping along the walls. Wake Akutagawa up.”
In that instant, something under the cloth jumped up into the air. What it revealed was a gigantic crab. Its height was about twice that of a person’s. The giant crab landed on the sand with a few roll before getting up, showing off its orange shell and raising its large pincers in the air.
Bisco then leapt onto the saddle and the giant crab sped off.
“Didn’t I told ya so.” An old man in a triangular hat with flowing white beard said as he passed the reins to Bisco. “If ya wanna pass off as a priest, ya gotta at least memorize a single sutra. Even I can say one. Ja Mon Kin Nara, Hosu Yaku Shai.”
“You’re the one who said the Binding Fire Sect can just enter Kanto by name, you damn old man.” As Bisco shouted the old man, the sand exploded next to the crab, drowning out the commotion.
“……Damn them, they’re getting the hippos out!”
Spying through the cloud of sand, Bisco could see a group of military-use Sand Hippopotamus glaring at them with machine guns and cannons installed on their backs. The varied-sized Sand Hippos quickly lined up next to the giant crab and the machine guns aimed towards them with Bisco in their sights.
“Out of the way!”
Bisco let out an arrow with lightning speed, which pierced into the side of a hippo. It let out a groan as it rolled on the ground, a huge mushroom with a red cap sprouting from its side. Bisco tried to get rid of all of them in one go, sending out arrows in rapid succession and blowing away the hippos.
However, despite the power of his mushroom arrows, the number of hippo troops was overwhelming. One of them finally managed to catch up to them and the machine gun fired at the feet of the giant crab. The hard shell of the battle-harden Horse crab repelled the bullets, mowing down several of the hippos, but sea of hippos closing in caused sweat to bead on Bisco’s forehead.
“This is getting bad.”
He took a gulp before looking at the old man in determination and shouting in a voice louder than the wind.
“We’re gonna jump on an Eryngii. Give me ten seconds, Jabi.”
“That again, huh.” The old man said so in a tired voice, but upon looking at Bisco’s face, closed one eye and continued. “Well, the sand should be kind on the back, I guess.”
With that, the old man took over the reins and whipped at the giant crab with a, ‘Hoi, get them, Akutagawa!’ The giant crab spun around and smashed at the approaching hippos with its giant claws.
Bisco notched the Eryngii arrow and shot it into one of the hippos sent flying into the cloud of sand. If one puts their ear by the falling hippopotamus, they would have heard the sound of the spores sprouting throughout its body.
And then Bisco grabbed the body of the sand hippo, which usually required five men to move, and held it up above him as if it was just a soft toy.
“Geeh!? Is that kid a monster!”
Ignoring the shout of the official, Bisco slid the body of the sand hippo ladden with Eryngii spores under the body of the giant crab and hit it with great force.
A humongous Eryngii mushroom burst from the ground to a height of around 30 m similar to that of the wall, bathing the ground in a storm of sand. Bisco and the old man, and the crab rode on top the mushroom, which sent them hurling through the air like a tennis ball to the other side of the wall.
Bisco adjusted his position in the air, clamping onto the old man who was trying hard to hold down his hat with his legs, and letting loose an anchor arrow towards the giant crab. The giant crab adroitly caught the anchor with its claw and drew the two of them towards it, encasing them inside its eight legs to form a ball which crash-landed on the other side of the wall rolling.
At Oota’s murmur of disbelief, even the mustached official was speechless as they stared at the colossal Eryngii towering before them.
Eventually, the sand which was mounted atop the cap of the Eryngii which formed an arc along the wall poured down like a waterfall, before it returned to an upright position.
It was a grand show of its vitality amidst the dead lands of sand and rust.
“Turns out it’s true that the Mushroom Guardians can cause mushrooms to sprout even in such dead lands……”
With the ability to manipulate many different species of fungi, such were the order known as “Mushroom Guardians”.
Due to rumors of the effect that spores were what spread the rust, the average populace fiercely reject and flee from mushrooms, and the resulting persecution of the Mushroom Guardians has led to their concealment from society.
It was extremely rare for one to witness the mysterious techniques of the mushroom directly as such.
Oota hurriedly brought up the camera hanging from his neck and snapped a few shots…… before being slapped by mustache when he turned back who shouted in his face.
“You fool! The hell you being so excited for, it’s common sense that spores of these mushrooms are causing the rust! If we leave such a huge mushroom alone, it’s gonna rust over this whole area!”
“Oooii, you mustached pig!”
The voice from beyond the wall caused the two official to look at each other before hurriedly taking the service elevator up to the observation deck on top of the wall, where they looked down at the owner of the voice.
“Spread some of that hippo shit on the Eryngii once a week! The sand alone’s not going to raise it.”
The wanted guy with a head of red hair shouted to them atop the crab. Next to him, the old man in the triangular hat was smoking a pipe.
“Y-you telling us to give the mushroom fertilizer!?”
“Listen well, you piggy bastard! The mushrooms feed on rust!” Bisco shouted back in irritation. “If you raise it right, this desert will soon enough……”
Bam! A bullet from the mustached official scratched his shoulder, interrupting his desperate appeal. Bisco’s look of surprise slowly turned into one of a demon as his eyes widened.
“This is how you repay my kindness…… Each and everyone of you shitbag! Why won’t you just listen!”
As he looked at Bisco who seemed about to draw his bow in anger, the old man slapped the reins. The giant crab, as if waiting for the signal, run off energetically towards the southern gate of Gunma, gradually becoming a spot in the distance.
“I’m gonna remember your mug, Akaboshi! The next time I see you, I’m gonna pull out that tongue of yours!”
The winds grew stronger, whipping up sand into the air. Amidst that sand storm, Bisco slowly turned around without blinking and……
Glare back at him with his jade-green eyes, sticking his tongue out and giving him the finger.
Zooming in with his lens, Oota could clearly see that expression. The resulting photograph depicted the visage of a Rakshasa with a fierce will.
“……That gaze alone looks like it could kill a fly at least……”
That shot was eventually used to make a new wanted poster in the Gunma prefecture, which was also seemingly the trigger for Oota to seriously aspire to become a cameraman, but anyway that story doesn’t have anything to do with Akaboshi Bisco who disappeared into the desert.
Table of Contents | Forward to Chapter 1