The first day or so we all pointed to our countries. The third or fourth day we were pointing to our continents. By the fifth day, we were aware of only one Earth.
– Sultan bin Salman Al-Saud, astronaut
After Shion had finished reading the picture book, Kalan gave a sigh of satisfaction.
“That was a good story.”
Rico blew out of his flared nostrils sullenly. He fiddled with the newly-changed bandages on his neck and complained.
“Well, I didn’t think it was good. Stories about rabbits are boring.”
“Then what kind of story do you want to hear, Rico?” Shion asked.
“Ummmm―” Rico paused for a moment of thought. “Oh, a story about bread. And― and one about soup and fried sweet potatoes.”
“You must be hungry, Rico.”
Kalan turned to Shion and nodded.
“He’s hungry all the time. Rico gets more hungry than anyone else.”
“Just a minute, then. I think I’ve got some soup…” Was there any soup left for him? A bowlful of soup that could sate Rico’s empty stomach for a short while―
Kalan stood up.
“No, thank you. It’s okay. We have to go home now.” She took her little brother by the hand and made for the door. She stopped, turned, and spoke in a small voice. “Thank you for reading to us.”
“You’re very welcome.”
“Can we come again tomorrow?”
“Okay.” A smile spread across Kalan’s face, and she half-dragged Rico out the door. Nezumi stretched in the shadow of a pile of a books.
“Stupid as always, aren’t you.”
“They say the biggest idiots are the ones who don’t realize they’re idiots. I think there was a proverb like that.” Nezumi stood up, and draped the superfibre cloth around his neck. “You tried to give a handout to the kids. You tried to give them leftover soup.”
“Is that a stupid thing to do?”
“Those kids came here to be read to. They didn’t come to beg. If you can ensure that Rico will never starve again, that would be fine and dandy. But if you give him leftover soup on a whim one day, what’re you gonna do the next time he starves? You wouldn’t be able to take care of him all the time. If you’re going to be irresponsible and abandon him halfway, it would be better not to give him anything at all in the first place. Kalan has a better idea of how things work. That girl is bright and dignified. She knew to refuse your half-hearted and reckless charity.”
Shion sank into a chair. Nezumi’s words always inflicted him with pain. It felt like his skin was being torn from his very body. He could almost hear the sound of his flesh being ripped from him. His foolishness, his arrogance, his heedlessness. His outward vanity stripped from him, he was left naked: superficial and pretentious― his real self. Nezumi strode in front of him and continued to speak while he pulled on a pair of gloves.
“There’s a second example of your stupidity. Wanna hear it?”
“Sure. Tell me.”
“You made a promise for tomorrow.”
“Is there something wrong with that?”
“There’s no guarantee that there’s gonna be a tomorrow.”
Shion took a deep breath.
“So you’re saying that I can’t be sure that I’ll be alive tomorrow to read a book to those children?”
“Yeah. See, you’re starting to pick up on things more quickly. You’re on the Bureau’s Wanted list, and you went wandering around outside yesterday. I wouldn’t be surprised if the tracking satellites have got you already. Maybe the guys who have nothing better to do over at the Security Bureau’s Law Enforcement division are heading over here right now. If they are, then you can forget having a read-aloud tomorrow. At best you’d be in a solitary cell in the Correctional Facility; at worst, you won’t even be able to speak, because you’ll be dead.”
Shion was gazing at Nezumi’s leather-gloved hands. Even when he was speaking crudely, his movements were still graceful. Shion wanted to imitate him if he could.
“What?” Nezumi said. “You’re spaced out again.”
“Oh…. uh, sorry.”
“You really have no sense of danger, do you? I think even a newborn fawn would be more cautious than you.”
“I don’t want to hear it,” he said abruptly. “I’m going to work.”
“Do the city authorities really intend to capture me?”
“This place is adjacent to No. 6,” Shion continued. “If they really set out to catch me, it wouldn’t be hard for them at all… no, not even just me. You’re a VC on the run too, aren’t you? And unlike me, you go walking around outside all the time. No. 6’s tracking satellites are able to keep detailed surveillance on one location from their stationary orbit.”
“So I’m wondering why. The authorities aren’t serious about trying to catch us. They certainly haven’t gotten desperate about it, to say the least.”
Nezumi shrugged his shoulders.
“Shion, in both good and bad ways, the city you were born in isn’t interested in things outside of it. For them, everything’s complete within those walls of special alloy. The West Block is their garbage can. Here, they throw away their waste, their pus. If you’re pus to them, they probably think the West Block is an appropriate place for you. They’ve squeezed the pus out of their tiny wound, and thrown it away in the garbage. They’re not going to come back looking for it.”
“So I’d be safe as long as I stayed here.”
“Who knows? It probably won’t go that well, but there’s a chance you will be. ―You said you wanted to go on living here, didn’t you? Maybe your dream will come true.”
“Until spring, at least.”
He had a moratorium until spring. Once spring came, and the wasps entered their activity period, what would happen in the interior of the Holy City? Would the parasite wasps sweep the city with their dread? He had to do something before it got warmer, before spring arrived. He had to come up with a plan before they passed the winter through.
“The man-eating wasps have finally shown themselves,” said Nezumi airily. “You should just sit back and watch. It’ll be an interesting stage, to see what happens to No. 6. Our wasp will be the star of the stage. A tragedy like no other― or a comedy like no other. I wonder which one it’ll be?”
“Mother is still inside that city. I can’t stand by and be a spectator.”
“What, you’re planning on going home?”
“Once, before spring comes. I’m going to see if I can make a blood serum by then.”
“Using your own blood?”
“Yeah. It would be impossible to make a perfect one, of course, but it’s worth giving it a try.”
“Hey, you might be a genius, but what can you do without any beakers or syringes? You sure can’t get them here.”
“I’m going to try asking Rikiga-san. He might be able to get his hands on at least the bare minimum of equipment I’ll need.”
“The man won’t do anything unless it’s going to put money in his pocket,” Nezumi said flatly. “You might be the son of a girl he used to love, but try to get him to do free labour, and he’ll turn away as fast as anything.”
“You think so?” Shion said dubiously. “―But we’ll still need a serum. Yeah, I’ll tell him if it goes well, he could make some money off of it. I’ll convince him someh―”
Nezumi’s foot moved. Shion, chair and all, went flying across the floor. A pile of books collapsed. The mice darted away.
“What was that for?” He tried to get up. Before Shion could move, Nezumi’s knee was on his chest, and his hand was holding his shoulder down.
“Shion.” Looking down into Shion’s face from above as he lay on his back, Nezumi moved his fingers from Shion’s shoulder to his throat. Through the leather of his gloves, Shion could feel the sensation of five fingers at his neck. They tightened their grip slowly.
“Aren’t you gonna resist?”
“No. It wouldn’t be any use. You’d agree,” Shion said calmly.
“Giving up pretty easily, huh? Don’t you care about your life?”
“Of course I do.”
“Or are you thinking that I’d never kill you?”
Nezumi smiled. His grey eyes, his thin lips, and well-shaped nose formed a beautiful but cruel and pitiless smile.
“Don’t think too highly of yourself,” he said softly. A knife appeared in Nezumi’s hand as if by magic. “I remember doing something like this four years ago too. I was holding you down like this on your bed.”
“I remember too,” Shion said. “That time, I was the one that went lunging at you. You dodged it like it was nothing, and then the next moment, you were pinning me down and I couldn’t even move.”
That stormy night. He remembered the wind howling outside his window. He remembered the sensation of Nezumi’s skinny body, feverish and hot. It had been four years since then.
It’s been four years, and I still have neither skill nor the heart to push this body aside.
“That time, I was holding a spoon. And I said― do you remember? ― that if this was a knife, you’d be dead.”
“Wanna give it a try?” His fingers moved away from Shion’s throat. In their place, the blade of a knife was pushed under his chin. It was cold. Shion felt a prick of pain.
“I won’t let you make a blood serum,” Nezumi whispered. “I didn’t save you so you could go around doing something like that. Keep your nose out of things you have no business in. Stay holed up here until the time comes.”
“‘Til the time comes? When’s that gonna be?”
“When I strike No. 6 with its fatal blow, that’s when.”
“When you strike No. 6…”
“Yeah. I’m going to choke its last breath out of it.”
The weight lifted off Shion’s chest. Nezumi put away his knife, and wiped the cruel smile off his face. He pulled a glove off, and stroked Shion under the chin with his bare finger. A small red smudge came off on his fingertip.
“This is your blood. Don’t even think of doing something foolish like making a serum. Put it to better use.”
“Nezumi.” Shion grabbed his wrist. “Why do you loathe No. 6 so much?”
There was no answer.
“What happened between you and No. 6? Why do you have so much hatred for it?”
Nezumi exhaled shortly. The muscles of his wrist flexed.
“Shion, do you still not understand what kind of place No. 6 is? It sucks the nutrients from the places around it, and while they grow lean, it only become more engorged. It’s a hideous―”
“Yeah. So you do know what I’m talking about. Humankind is becoming more and more intent on expelling parasitic organisms. What I’m doing is the same thing. I’m going to exterminate and wipe No. 6 off the face of the earth. Once that place is gone, the people here won’t have to live in a garbage can anymore.”
“But what I want to hear is your personal reason,” Shion persisted.
“I don’t have one.”
“You’re lying. You’re the one who told me only to fight for myself.”
Nezumi fell silent, and shrugged his shoulders.
“Is it revenge?”
Silence. Nezumi didn’t even bother to shake Shion’s wrist off, and gazed at him as they stood face-to-face.
“Do you want revenge on No. 6? If you do― then what happened?”
“I don’t need to tell you.”
“I want to hear it.” Shion clenched his fingers around Nezumi’s wrist. “I want to know, Nezumi.”
Suddenly, Nezumi started laughing. It sounded like a laugh that was genuinely full of mirth.
“Geez, you’re like a brat throwing a tantrum. Alright, Shion.”
“If I tell you, would you co-operate with me?”
“Would you aid me as I stab a knife into the heart of the city you were born and raised in? Would you help me bring destruction― not salvation― unto that city? I don’t need any blood serum. If parasite wasps do exist, then I’ll use them. I want to wreak havoc on No. 6 from the inside. I want to watch as the people that have always lived in safety fall into a panic, flee in confusion, and lead themselves to destruction. That’s the kind of thing I have in mind. Will you aid me, Shion?”
Shion shook his head from side to side. He dropped his gaze from the pair of grey eyes.
“I can’t do that.”
Shion’s fingers were shaken off.
“You’re always like that,” Nezumi spat. “You babble on about how you want to know, but you’re never prepared to handle it. To know means to be prepared to know. Once you find out the truth, there’s no going back. You can’t ever go back to being the way you were, blissful and unconcerned. Why can’t you understand that? ―Shion, let me ask another question.”
Nezumi squatted, and hooked a finger under Shion’s chin.
“Me, or No.6 ― which one do you choose?”
Shion’s breath caught in his throat. He knew he would be faced with this decision one day. He had felt it coming.
Which would he choose? If he chose one, he would lose the other. He didn’t want to go back to No. 6. In that sense, he had no attachments whatsoever left for that city. But with people, it was different. His mother, and Safu, who was off in another city now, and the residents of Lost Town were all within those walls. Within those walls were familiar scenery and fond memories.
If Nezumi harboured hatred toward the entirety of No. 6, its people, scenery, memories and all, then he couldn’t sympathize with that hatred.
Nezumi’s fingers withdrew from his chin.
“You love No. 6, and I hate it. That’s why― one day, we’re going to be enemies.”
It was a murmur. A murmur that stabbed at his heart.
“I have a feeling that we will,” Nezumi said quietly.
He had said something similar before. That time, too, Shion had said that he wanted to know. He had wanted to know how Nezumi grew up. I want to know about you, he had said. And now he was receiving the same answer as he did that time. We’re going to be enemies. But that time, there had still been laughter in Nezumi’s eyes, and his voice had been light with jest. But now, it was heavy. A darkness hung over the statement, and its weighty reality sank deeper into Shion. It was Nezumi’s honest answer.
Some day, we’ll be enemies.
Nezumi rose to his feet, and looked up at the clock on the wall.
“Crap, I’m late,” he said to himself. “The manager’s probably pissed off.” He turned his back to Shion. His voice and his eyes were wiped clean of any shadow of murderous intent. His grey eyes were bright, and his tone of voice was casual.
“Yes, yes,” Nezumi said unconcernedly. “Mama is going to work now. Little lamb, you are in charge of the house while I’m gone. A scary wolf is going to come by, but whatever you do, you aren’t allowed to open the door. Okay?”
“Don’t underestimate me,” Shion said quietly.
Nezumi’s expression hardened. He drew his chin back a little, and knitted his brow.
“What did you just say?”
“I said, don’t underestimate me too much.”
“Are you offended because I called you a little lamb? Then why don’t I give you the role of the Little Red Riding Hood? Cute and innocent Red Riding Hood. Oblivious to doubts and caution, she ends up being eaten by the wolf. A perfect role for you.”
I’m not going be provoked. You can condescend me all you like. But I have something I need to tell you.
“Sometimes there are things I can see that you can’t.”
“I don’t understand what you’re saying,” Nezumi said bluntly. “Oh wait, that’s supposed to be your usual line, right?”
“You put everything into dichotomies,” Shion continued, ignoring Nezumi’s comment. “You either love or you hate. You’re either friends or enemies. Outside the wall, or inside the wall. And you always say you can only ever choose one of them.”
“Of course. If I stood there at the fork in the road wasting time trying to decide what to do, I’d wither away. That’s what cowards and traitors do. You can’t run away forever. Some day you’ll have to choose one over the other.”
“Don’t you think that there could be a third way?”
“Shion, what you’re saying is incomprehensible,” Nezumi said irritably. “What ‘third way’?”
“Instead of destroying No. 6, what if you made it disappear? Don’t you ever think about that?”
Nezumi put a hand to his cheek, and took a deep breath. He was restraining himself from letting it show on his face, but Shion could tell he was agitated. Shion took a step forward.
“Tear the walls down. Get rid of them.”
“You mean No. 6’s barriers?”
“Yeah. Without its walls, No. 6 as a place will no longer exist. Everyone will be able to come and go freely. Take away the walls and gates. Then there will be nothing dividing No. 6 and the Blocks from each other, and―”
Nezumi burst out laughing. He bent over, holding his stomach. His hollow laughter echoed in the basement room. The mice huddled together fearfully and curled up into balls, making them smaller yet.
“Is it that funny to you?” Shion said tensely.
“It’s hilarious. It’s so funny, it’s bringing me to tears. You’re not just a little airheaded, are you? Do you also have delusionary tendencies? What third way, huh? Those are just pretty words, an unrealistic fairy tale.”
“Nezumi, I was serious when I said―”
“I’ll have none of it.” There was not a remnant of a smile left in his face as Nezumi said those words. “We can’t have that place disappear so easily just yet. We have to let it keep being the way it is, let it dress itself up and eat a bellyful of good food, let it grow fat. I can just imagine how great it must feel to slice that belly open with one blow. I’m going to pull out all of its gorged innards and expose it to the light. I can’t wait. Yeah, spring is going to be great. I’m quite excited.”
Shion lifted his chin, and clenched both hands into fists at his sides.
“I don’t care if you laugh at me, I still think it can be done,” he said defiantly. “I want to believe that it’s possible.”
“You’re just looking for an escape route,” Nezumi shot back. “You’re looking for a way to avoid getting hurt. Say if you do get rid of the walls: you won’t get any kind of heaven. It’ll be hell. Tumult, disorder, fighting, looting― you don’t know how much these people have been oppressed until now. You don’t know how many people have been sacrificed so that city can be where it is. You don’t know, and that’s why you can spin fairy tales like that. Shion, it can’t be done. It’s not like mixing paint, you can’t mingle them together and make them one. Either one will have to destroy the other, that’s the only solution. That’s what fate has set out. Love and hatred, friends and enemies, those within and those outside the wall― and you and I. They can never be as one, and neither can we.”
“You don’t know until you try. For one thing…”
“For one thing?”
“―I know I wouldn’t become your enemy. Ever. No matter what happens, even if I’m killed, I would be on your side.”
“Just pretty words.”
“It’s my resolve.”
It was his will, and it was unwavering. In order to know, you had to try it first. He believed that human souls, when faced with a dilemma, would ultimately choose peace over war, songs and scriptures over weapons, and love over hatred. It wasn’t a fantasy. It was hope. I still haven’t abandoned hope. I want to find a road that you can’t see, and point it out for you.
Nezumi averted his gaze. He kicked the chair leg with the tip of his shoe.
“It pisses the hell out of me sometimes, when I’m with you. Your head’s full of naive and idealistic theories, and you talk as if you’re actually serious about them.”
“You wouldn’t listen if I wasn’t serious about it.”
“That’s enough,” said Nezumi curtly. “Just shut up.” He began working at setting upright the chair that he had kicked over, and lightly thumped the faded cushion seat. “An idealistic armchair theorist like you should just sit here all day long. Ignore the world outside, and mull over this and that all inside your head. Don’t talk to me anymore. Don’t make me any angrier than this.”
“Nezumi―” Shion began.
“I don’t want to hear it. Listening to you makes me sick. Sick and tired. Damnit, if I knew you were such a chatterbox, I would never have brought you here in the first place.”
“I’m not a chatterbox. I actually don’t like speaking to people much.”
“Then all the more reason for you to shut up.”
But I can’t just shut up. I can’t sit here, close myself off in my own world and sever myself from the world outside. I have to talk to you, listen to your story, and search for a way that we can go on living together.
I don’t want to live like this anymore― plugging my ears, keeping my mouth shut, closing my eyes. Nezumi, you were the one that made me feel that way. Pry your hands away from your ears, you said, open your mouth, and will your eyes to see. Those were your words. And now you’re telling me to shut up? You’re telling me you don’t want to hear it?
“Who’s the coward now?” He muttered out loud without thinking. Nezumi’s expression hardened.
“What did you say?”
Is this gonna end in a fight? The thought flitted in a corner of his mind. Then he decided he wouldn’t mind if it did. Nezumi would probably easily wrestle him to the ground. Four years ago, and even now, this hadn’t changed. Shion had no chance against him. But it wasn’t about winning or losing.
He wanted to charge at Nezumi with his own body, his own flesh. He wouldn’t mind if he were to be pushed to the ground, punched, or pinned so that he couldn’t breathe. If even for a moment, he wanted to collide with Nezumi as equals.
But Nezumi averted his gaze again. He made for the door without even looking at Shion. But before Nezumi’s hand closed around the doorknob, there came a muffled scratching sound from outside. Something was tearing at the door. A moment later, there was a bark. Nezumi and Shion looked at each other.
“Sounds like a dog.”
Nezumi opened the door. A large, dark brown dog was sitting in the doorway, wagging its tail. It had a white parcel in its mouth.
“You’re from Inukashi’s―something happen to him?” Nezumi retrieved the package from the dog’s mouth. It was a letter. Nezumi read it, and the corners of his mouth relaxed.
“Shion, there’s a job request for you.”
Shion ran his eyes through the letter that was passed to him. It was nearly illegible. The paper itself was yellowed, old, and wet with dog saliva, and the handwriting meandered all over the place. But it thrilled Shion’s heart more than any other letter he had received.
“It’s just how it reads. You wash dogs― the ones that Inukashi lends out for heating. They’re the big, quiet ones with long fur. There must be about twenty of them altogether. He gets customers sometimes that don’t pay because they complain the dogs are smelly or have fleas, so once a week on a sunny day he takes them out for a wash. So what are you gonna do?”
“I’ll go, of course,” Shion glowed. “He’s asking me if I want to come work. It’s my first job. I actually have a job now.”
“Will you stop gushing?” Nezumi said with a grimace. “Man, you really are easy to please, aren’t you?”
“Nezumi, should I take anything with me? Do you think I’ll need soap?”
“You probably won’t need anything. Just beware of men and women who might pull you into alleyways, I guess. If that dog is with you, I don’t think you need to worry. I’ll go with you partway.”
“Speaking of which, I do want to see your workplace one day. And see you on the stage.”
“Don’t get your hopes up.”
The dog barked.
“Thank you,” Shion told him. “Thanks to you, I’ve been able to get my hands on my first job. I’m all yours, take me there.”
The dog wagged its tail as Shion crouched down toward it, and licked him under the chin.
“You’re licking my wound for me? You’re a nice boy.”
“Dumbass, he only licked it because he smelled blood.”
“I don’t think so. He did it because he was concerned about me. But whatever the reason, he’s certainly nicer than you,” Shion said wryly.
“Don’t compare me with a mutt,” Nezumi said sullenly. He looked genuinely disgruntled. The way he stuck his lip out brought back a fleeting image of his face four years ago. It somehow made Shion want to laugh, and for some reason, made him feel nostalgic.
“What?” Nezumi said. “What’re you grinning about?”
“Nothing,” Shion said mildly. “Just noticing you’ve still got a childish part left in you. It made me kind of happy.”
“Never mind. Alright, then,” he said briskly, “lead the way.” He petted the dog lightly on the back. Picking up the cue, the dog bounded up the stairs. Shion followed after it and exited the basement room.
The sun was bright in his eyes. I see― a day like this would be perfect for washing dogs. He tilted his face up to the sky and breathed in deeply.
It looked like Shion’s figure was being sucked into the light. Whenever Nezumi crawled out of his dark hole, the light always stabbed at his eyes. He didn’t like bright places. Places filled with light always turned easily into areas of danger. He knew this well from experience. He couldn’t be like Shion and fully accept the light without hesitation.
Friends and enemies. Outside the wall, and inside the wall. Love and hatred. Light and dark.
I told you, didn’t I? They can never co-exist. I’ve told you so many times, and you still don’t seem to get it.
He swallowed a sigh that was halfway up his throat. The lump sank deep down into his chest again.
As Nezumi was about to lock the door, a mouse came rubbing itself against his foot.
“You’re back.” He scooped it up in his hand. The mouse seemed exhausted. Its grape-coloured eyes were bleary.
“You’ve worked hard. Rest up.” The mouse shook its head, and spat a capsule onto Nezumi’s palm. There was a light blue piece of paper inside.
“A reply, huh.” If it was, Shion would rejoice. Today must be a lucky day for letters.
Just for an instant, a blackness flitted across his heart. A black thing. It had no form― it was only dark. Uncertainty, a bad premonition. A dull pain throbbed in the back of his head.
His ability to smell impending danger or calamity was something he had had since birth. Thanks to this ability, he had been able to escape numerous times, in some instances by a mere hair. The contents of this capsule carried a bad smell. It smelled like the first step toward something that would chase him into destruction….
He opened the capsule. The paper was scribbled with what looked like Karan’s handwriting.
The pain got worse. Nezumi screwed his eyes shut, and leaned heavily against the door.
Safu― it was that girl. Why was she― wasn’t she an elite? Just like Shion… just like Shion… which means― she was taken in place of him? The second scapegoat? But he didn’t know for what reason. Why do they need a sacrifice? Shion was framed as a murderer to cover up what the parasite wasp did. They should only need one perpetrator. So why― why did the authorities want another sacrifice? Why―
Either way, if that girl is the second sacrifice, she hasn’t been taken to the Security Bureau. She’s headed for the Correctional Facility. A mouse takes half a day to get back from No. 6. There’s no more time. She’s probably been imprisoned in the Correctional Facility already.
Why were they eliminating so easily a Gifted Curriculum student that they had measured, carefully selected, and spent considerable funds and time to raise?
Why? Why― what was going on? What are they hiding? What’s about to happen?
Nezumi slowly brought himself upright.
He didn’t know. It was a mystery. But now was not the time to be solving puzzles. He had an important decision to make.
What to do with this?
If he showed this scribbled note to Shion, he would probably head right for the Correctional Facility, without even knowing what kind of place it was. He would go, with the single intention of rescuing Safu. A sheltered simpleton of a little boy like him would never be able to let a friend’s death go unheeded. If he could prevent it, it was reason enough for him to go diving head-first into a nest of venomous snakes. He would willingly embark to his own death.
Or do I crush it?
It was very easy to do. This girl, Safu, had nothing to do with Nezumi. She was a stranger. It wasn’t any of his business what should happen to her. He could leave things be, and it wouldn’t matter. Nothing would change.
But if Shion died, something within him would change greatly. He didn’t want to see Shion die. He would probably suffer. Not Shion, but he― Nezumi― would suffer, from having to live and stand before Shion’s corpse. He would be experiencing the same suffering again, of being broiled alive in hellfire.
You’ve gotta be kidding me. I’ve had enough of this already.
He didn’t want to lose him. He didn’t want to experience the remorse of having been the one that lived.
I don’t want to lose him? I would suffer?
He was clicking his tongue in frustration.
So this was what he had come to. He almost felt like curling up on the ground.
He had rescued Shion from the hands of the Security Bureau to return the debt that he owed him. That was it. He never wished to be attached to him. Shion wasn’t the only one― he had never wished to be attached or to share his heart with any other person. Feelings for others were even more dangerous than the light. He was not to share a connection with anyone. Whether it be with a man or a woman, he was only to develop relationships that could be severed easily.
Never open your heart to anyone. Don’t believe in anyone but yourself.
The last words of the old woman. He was turning against them again.
I don’t want to lose him. I would suffer.
Nezumi carefully folded Karan’s memo again and stuffed it inside the capsule.
He was used to loss, he was used to suffering. Wasn’t he? Even if Shion did die, perhaps he wouldn’t moan in agony over his gaping loss. Even if he did, perhaps it would only be for a short while.
He would be able to use his bed and shower freely. He wouldn’t have to worry about making enough soup. He wouldn’t be pelted incessantly with questions, or be spoken to. He would be released from having to look up halfway through a book to lend an ear to the other’s words, and to give an answer while trying to restrain his irritation.
He would go back to his normal life. That was it. He should just pass the memo, capsule and all, to Shion, and then turn his back on him.
On a whim, Nezumi opened his door again.
Before him was his room, filled with books and sparse furniture. The basement chamber, surrounded by thick walls, was a nest that suited a rat like him well.
The room looked barren and dark, and larger than usual. Its coldness, darkness and vacant space seeped into his bones.
That was what being attached to someone meant. He would no longer be able to live alone anymore. It was one of many artfully-set traps that lurked at every corner of his life. And to this one, he had fallen victim.
Have I still got a chance?
“Nezumi, what’s wrong?” Shion called from the top of the stairs, the entrance that led to ground-level. “The dog’s pulling at me. Hurry and come on up.” His shadowy figure floated up against the glare of noon.
Have I still got a chance? Shion, will I still be able to live without you? After some amount of suffering, would I be able to detach myself from the trap you’ve become?
Would I be able to sever you?
“Nezumi?” The voice from above dropped apprehensively.
“Nothing― I’m coming.” He closed the door. He heard the dog bark. There was light. The rustle of a breeze.
Nezumi wrapped the superfibre cloth around his neck again, and ascended the stairs step by step. He kept ascending to the ground above.