The Reason Why
When people built the public office
wasn’t the reason why
so it could take away their perils
and create a bright and peaceful world?
But the citizens suffer hardship, and the officials bloat with riches
On the vast earth, not a single one
of the citizens can voice their woe
So they take to their brushes, and entrust it to song.
-Chinese folksong 
Safu let out a scream.
This is me?
Why, why, why…
“Safu, are you awake? Good morning. How do you feel? Ah, I see all your cognitive senses have returned to normal. Splendid.”
This is me?
No, this isn’t me.
This isn’t me.
“What are you talking about? Look. You are beautiful. Not only beautiful―yes, soon you will have both beauty and power in your hands. And immortal life. Brilliant, is it not?”
Turn me back.
Turn me back to who I was.
“Safu. You cannot let yourself get over-excited. It hurts, doesn’t it? Yes, when your emotions are agitated, it causes pain. Headaches. So, calm. Calm down. Calm down, and think of the appropriate state you should be in. Yes… good girl. I will help you. Yes, calm down…”
Where is Shion?
“Forget him. You have been reborn. Forget everything from before. Everything. No people, no names, or memories are of use to you anymore, Safu.”
I don’t want to forget.
I can’t forget.
I… won’t forget.
“You know, Safu, tomorrow is a festival. A day to celebrate the birth of this city. A celebratory festival. It’s called ‘The Holy Celebration’. You know about it too, I’m sure. You were a former citizen, after all.”
Shion, where are you?
“Festivals are utter foolishness. Everyone makes a senseless ruckus and they don’t even realize what they’re celebrating for. Foolish, aren’t they? It would be troublesome if they weren’t, however. Ha ha ha…. The real Holy ones are right here. You and I. Shall we give a toast, Safu? Will you have wine?”
I will not forget.
I will not forget you.
I would never be able to forget you.
“Safu, why are you expressing sadness? I’m planning a very splendid gift for you, you know. Soon. I will lead you to become an existence everyone would admire.”
I will keep remembering you.
Because this is my own heart.
I will not… forget.
“How troublesome. I thought you would be less of an obstinate child. I’m a little disappointed, Safu. Very well, then. Soon you will see the extent of my magnanimity. Then you will prostrate yourself and feel gratitude for me. See, Safu? Oh, yes, we’ll no longer need this name anymore either. Let us throw it away. A new future is waiting for you, after all. See? Doesn’t it excite you just thinking about it?”
I will not throw away my soul.
I will not lose my memories.
My feelings will not be stolen from me.
“Come on. Come over here.”
Shion, where are you?
Shion finished talking. He recalled, in as much detail as possible, the past few years starting from the stormy night when he met Nezumi, to where he stood today. He knew no amount of talking could tell his whole story. He didn’t have the confidence that he could accurately tell all that had caused him such turmoil. But he told anyway. Rooting out the buds of countless emotions that had begun to sprout in his soul, to the best of his ability, he calmly and objectively told of his own experiences, what he had seen and heard, the scenery which spread before his eyes, and the sounds which had travelled through his eardrums. At least he had meant to.
But still, his voice shook at the end. He couldn’t help the plea from creeping into his tone.
I am weak. So powerless. I can’t even repress my emotions with my own strength.
He clenched his fist.
You knew, Shion. You’ve known this for a long time. You’ve been forced to face the reality of how weak you really are, over and over, before you came here. What’s the use being afraid of your own powerlessness and ignorance now? You can be ashamed, but you can’t be afraid. If you falter, you won’t be able to move forward again. You’ve come this far. You can’t turn back. You’re not that weak.
Shion took a deep breath, and continued his words.
“I want to help Safu. I’ll do anything to get her out. That’s what I’ve come here for. Nezumi brought me here. I can’t begin to imagine where this is, or how I can infiltrate the Correctional Facility from here. But no matter what, I have to accomplish it. That much I can be certain of. And… I’m the one that got Nezumi involved. Nezumi risked danger for me… that’s also the truth.”
The elder remained silent. They were wrapped in stillness. The silence was heavy on them, and Shion felt like he could even feel his bones creaking.
Beside him, Nezumi crouched. He picked up the shirt which had slid from Shion’s hand without him knowing, and handed it back to him.
“Your manners don’t leave you in this situation either, do they, young master? Maybe add ‘ignorant brat who thinks highly of himself’ to that nickname, while you’re at it.”
“Me? Think highly of myself?”
“Yeah. I didn’t come here for you. Don’t flatter yourself too much, young master.”
Before Shion could respond, Nezumi turned aside. His expressionless profile rejected Shion’s gaze and words.
“Rou.” The elder didn’t respond to Nezumi’s call. He remained unmoving, with his eyes closed. He looked like he was either meditating, or reciting a prayer in his head.
“Rou, there’s nothing false about Shion’s story. It’s all truth. There have been casualties in No. 6 from parasite wasps. Shion was spared. But most of everyone else won’t be. They all die strangely―” Here Nezumi shut his mouth, and glanced at Shion. A shadow of doubt wavered in his eyes, though only very slightly.
“Rou? Are you listening to me?”
The elder’s head nodded slightly. “I am. Your voice projects well, and reaches the ears of your listeners very clearly.”
“Has it reached your heart?”
“Then I want you to answer me. I want you to tell me.”
“The fate of No. 6?”
“No, I don’t need to ask anyone to find that out. I know what’s gonna happen to it: destruction and extinction. I’ll be the one to pull the trigger.”
“Then… what do you wish to ask?”
“What the parasite wasps really are.”
Shion let out a soft cry. He looked at Nezumi’s profile wide-eyed, and then shifted his gaze to the elder.
“You are telling me to divulge the truth about the parasite wasps?” the elder said.
“Why… do you ask me this?”
“Because you know,” Nezumi answered. “I have a feeling you do. I’ve been thinking all this time: maybe, just maybe… you know most of everything I’d want to know.” Nezumi exhaled. The stiff angles of his profile gave way, and doubt shaded his face even more darkly.
“You know, because you were formerly of No. 6, as a citizen… no, as a creator. Am I wrong?”
This time, no voice escaped Shion’s lips. It was caught in his throat.
Creator? This elderly man?
“Is what I’m saying incorrect? Rou.”
The elder didn’t reply. Nezumi turned his face up at the ceiling. There was only a pool of dusky gloom. But Nezumi blinked at it rapidly, as if he were staring at something blinding. Then with an unusually languid movement, he raised his arm up.
“This.” He was holding a square piece of paper between his fingers. He passed it to the elder. It was a photo, an outdated one that was still printed on special photo paper.
“The alcoholic old man had it. Your mama’s in it too,” he said to Shion. “I took the liberty of borrowing it from his files.”
“Oh, that…” It was one of the photos that had been mixed in with the jumbled contents of several folders. They had been strewn about on the floor when the two had last visited Rikiga from the directions on Karan’s memo. In the photo were his mother and her friends, several decades younger. He remembered hearing Rikiga, a former journalist, say that this was the photo he took the last time he ever entered into No. 6.
Back in those days, No. 6 hadn’t been as closed off. There was no law yet that required a city-issued permit to enter or exit, and it wasn’t like now where anyone who didn’t possess a permit was prohibited from entering under any reason or circumstance. The special gates and alloy walls also hadn’t been completed yet. Rikiga had said that it was still a time when travelling to and from No. 6’s surroundings had been relatively easy.
“The young woman in the centre is Shion’s mother. Her name is Karan.”
“You know her, don’t you? You’re in the picture with her. Or have you long forgotten her?”
“With her? This man, with my mother?” Shion was surprised. He could tell his mouth was gaping open. He couldn’t help but stare openly at the snowy-haired elder. He knew how insolent his gaze was, but he could not avert it.
He knows my mother? To think that this man who had settled in these underground caves, was called “elder” by the others, was connected to Karan. It was unbelievable, if nothing else.
Unbelievable, how can that…? For an instant, the surprise hit him so hard he felt like the core of his brain was tingling.
Since meeting Nezumi, the boundaries of his world had broken. The world he had lived in before had all but collapsed. Everything was full of surprises. Things he had believed in, had never had a doubt about, inverted and showed an opposite face. He experienced this heart-stopping realization many, many times.
Astonishment, awe, stunned silence, perplexity, and pain. He had experienced so many emotions and sensations. But he was also being forced to come to terms with how ignorant he had been before he met Nezumi, and how he had lived not knowing anything, and not trying to know.
That was why it hurt. It hurt enough to make him gasp in pain. But even so―he vowed not to hesitate at being surprised and perplexed.
Shion, in his own way, hoped to see the truth about himself and the world he lived in. He had also resolved to see through it all. He didn’t hesitate at being surprised or confounded; on the contrary, every time he was surprised or confounded, he felt a layer peel away, and a new facet of the world unfold before his eyes. He had even come to revere the experience.
But this time, he was simply astonished. He fixed his eyes on the elder with his mouth open. Nezumi’s fingers touched his lips. Why were his fingers always so cold? A feeling most distant from surprise or perplexity flitted across the back of Shion’s mind. Nezumi clicked his tongue softly.
“Shut it. You have the most unbelievably idiotic expression on your face right now.”
“No way…” Shion whispered. “This is what’s unbelievable… Nezumi, what’s going on? How does my mother factor into this? This man and my mother know each other… what does it mean?”
“How should I know?” Nezumi retorted. “I’m asking you because I don’t. See that photo the alcoholic had: the one standing beside your mama is―” Nezumi swallowed. “It’s Rou.”
The photo slid from the elder’s fingers. It fluttered to the ground like a flower petal.
“I was surprised too, when I first saw this photo,” Nezumi said. “I probably had the same kind of expression on my face, though probably not as idiotic as yours.”
Nezumi picked the photo up, and held it out for Shion to see. Shion leaned forward, and squinted at it. It was a rather aged photograph. Several young men and women were standing in front of a grey building. Karan was standing in the middle of them. Her hair was grown out long, and she was smiling shyly. Her smile still carried a sort of girlishness. On her right was a tall man with a long face. He was clutching a lab coat in one hand, and had gentle eyes. Even from the old photo, Shion could make out the deep intellect that resided in those eyes.
My godfather. Nezumi had pointed at this man, and said those words. He’s my godfather.
Shion knelt down in front of the elder.
“Please tell me.” His voice was raspy. His throat was painfully parched. “Please tell me the truth. That’s all I ask.”
The elder’s torso swayed slightly. It reminded Shion of swaying silver grasses. His white hair, which shone dully in the candle light, was almost like the ears of the silver grasses themselves.
“Knowing the truth, and rescuing your friend: do you think the two are connected, Shion?” Shion shook his head slowly in answer.
“I don’t know.” He answered truthfully. He really didn’t know.
He had to do anything to rescue Safu even a minute sooner, a second sooner. But what did he need? Did he need to know the truth about the parasite wasps, the relationship between his mother and the elder, and No. 6’s future… did he really urgently need to know these things? Shion didn’t have an answer.
He did wish to know. He desperately yearned to know. But the most important thing right now was to save Safu―was it not?
“I don’t know… Maybe my knowing the truth and rescuing Safu are two completely different things. But…”
“But I―or should I say we―we residents of No. 6, including myself, have been kept away from the truth all this time. We’ve lived our lives hidden from the face of reality, the true form it embodies.”
“You’ve just never tried to see it,” Nezumi remarked, emotionless. “If you squinted, you would have seen. If you searched for truth, you would have found it. But you didn’t. You got drunk and giddy on your false idea of abundance, and settled yourselves into blissful laziness. You didn’t try to look through it to see reality. Your foolishness allowed No. 6 to burgeon into the monster it is today.”
“I’m sure you’re right.” Shion inhaled. Nezumi was right. But you know what, Nezumi? In the time I’ve lived with you, I’ve been able to touch the sprouting ears of truth. I touched them with my own hands. That was my starting point. That’s a truth in itself, too.
I started off there, and now, I’m here.
“Safu getting kidnapped, and parasite wasps appearing… No. 6 turning into a monster, all happened because we’ve averted our eyes from the truth this whole time. The crime we’ve committed is grave; I’ve realized that. But that’s why I want to know. I want to see true form of the world, with my very own eyes―”
Shion bit his lip. No, he almost said out loud. It didn’t feel right. It wasn’t that he had lied to the elder. But he had decorated his words. Regret and resignation about the past weren’t the only things that lay behind the reason for his wanting to know the truth.
Curiosity. No, it wasn’t such a casual feeling; it was a deep-rooted desire. It roved in circles deep inside his chest.
It was intrigue towards a world his imagination could not render. Interest in the unknown. And more than anything… it was the expectation that he could acquire some piece of knowledge that had to do with Nezumi.
The part that Nezumi showed him was only a small fragment. In fact, Nezumi had many faces which Shion could not see through. And he felt it, painfully, everywhere, every time.
Where did you come from?
Where were you born?
How did you used to live until that stormy night when we met?
What have you thought about, believed, and rejected in your life up until then?
And there’s the promise of telling me your real name, which you haven’t fulfilled yet.
His soul was stirring restlessly. It stirred from wanting to know, and not for anyone else but himself. But he had put on an act. He had pretended to be the friend, the innocent youth who longed to know the truth.
His heart and words turned away from each other. How beautiful and rational were the words that spilled from his mouth. They were rational and beautiful to the point of sounding fake. His own words deceived his heart.
He bit his lip. He chewed on it hard.
Can I only speak in these kinds of terms?
Why can’t I speak like Nezumi? I can only use empty, superficial words. Why do I keep putting on an act? Why do I still speak, when I’m not even prepared to reveal my true self?
Even though I’ve lived by his side for months…
He had directed his gaze at Nezumi without even thinking. There was no way he couldn’t have noticed the decoration in Shion’s words, but Nezumi’s profile showed no hint of disdain, scorn, or pity. He had lowered his chin slightly, and was staring off into the dark void.
Nezumi never toyed with his words.
Safu was the same.
Like a flash of lightning in the night sky, an idea sparked in his mind. Safu had never manipulated her words. At least, any words she had directed at Shion were true. He had received her straight and earnest words numerous times.
He realized he ought to be ashamed of himself. Both in the face of Nezumi and Safu, he ought to be ashamed of himself.
“I… want to know.” He squeezed out each word painstakingly. “There are too many things I don’t know. That’s why… I want to find out. That’s it.”
The elder’s body swayed once again. “Just because you know, it does not mean it will make you happy. You may end up wishing you had never known at all. Such a reality may be waiting for you, Shion.”
“I’m prepared for it.” He would rather suffer from the knowledge than being blissfully ignorant. He preferred the pain and hardship of truth rather than fake happiness. With this as his fuel, he could move forward. He couldn’t keep leaning on this illusion, which didn’t even serve as a foothold.
He clutched his chest. He confirmed his feelings.
There was no doubt about it. My feelings are here within me. I am not deceiving anyone.
“I’m prepared. At least, I think I can prepare myself. Though―I can’t say for sure that I won’t regret it… I’ll probably regret it a number of times… but I feel like it would be much better than going without knowing. That much I feel is true… so, ah, I…” As soon as he tried to speak in earnest, his tongue refused to co-operate. His words refused to run smoothly as they had just moments before.
Earnest words were heavy things.
They bore the weight of the speaker’s beliefs, emotions, and honest feelings.
The elder suddenly smiled. At least to Shion, it seemed like he did. The elder let his momentary smile fade, and slowly lowered his eyelids. He fell silent.
“Rou, why are you silent?” Nezumi asked harshly in impatience. “Rou!”
“Elyurias.” The elder’s lips moved, and a whisper, like a breath, escaped. It was a word Shion couldn’t understand.
“Elyurias?” Nezumi furrowed his brow. Apparently, he hadn’t understood either.
“That is the name.”
“Nezumi, your eyes.”
“Close your eyes. Shion, you also.”
Shion and Nezumi looked at each other. The elder’s voice was low and placid, and carried no hint of a command. But he found himself obeying it nevertheless. He felt like he had let himself go limp on the gentle flow of a river, and he was being born to the sea. Shion closed his eyes.
“Elyurias,” the elder whispered again. “She was a great sovereign. She was a rare existence.”
Nezumi sucked in a breath from beside Shion.
“Looking back, it seems a thing of the distant past,” the elder continued. “It was still a time when this land… yes, this land was still without walls. Instead of walls, there was a lush green forest. There were lakes, marshes, and grassy plains. Myriad things intertwined and maintained a harmony. A paradise… it may have been the last remaining paradise on this planet. A paradise that had escaped the destruction of humankind. A land of miracles. A place that could nurture life and put death to rest. She resided there. She really existed. I was the one who found her.”
The elder’s voice dropped even lower.
“Ah, no… that is an arrogant way to put it. I did not find her. I met her. We met by chance… as if God had drawn us together. Elyurias―she was a great sovereign. She would likely be one to this day. She still reigns.”
“Elyurias.” Shion said the name under his breath, imitating the elder.Elyurias. It was a sound unfamiliar to his ear and tongue. He couldn’t imagine what kind of appearance or voice a person with that name would have. Not to mention someone who was a “great sovereign”… Shion cocked his head in disbelief. It sounded too grandiose, too phony. He sensed domination. Had a kingdom existed here in the past? Just like how No. 6 dominated this land now, this sovereign called Elyurias had governed all…
‘She’, the elder had said. Then that would make her a queen. A paradise governed by a queen? That sounds like a cheap drama. I find it hard to believe.
The air shifted just slightly. He heard a hoarse groan. As Shion lifted his eyelids, the first thing that jumped into his vision was Nezumi covering his face with his hands. He was about to buckle to his knees.
“Nezumi!” Nezumi collapsed into his outstretched arms. Shion felt the heat and weight of his body. A low groan trickled through Nezumi’s fingers. It’s the same. It’s the same as last time.
They had been talking about parasite wasps in their basement dwelling. It was just when their conversation had moved from emergent viruses to the mystery behind the parasite wasps. Nezumi had suddenly collapsed.
They had been drinking hot water. Shion remembered how Nezumi’s cup had slid out of his hand and bounced on a stack of books before rolling across the floor.
“Nezumi―relax. Can you hear me?” Shion knelt down, supporting the boy’s body with his arms. If it was the same as last time, then there was no need to panic. Nezumi had recovered just fine last time. If this time was the same…
“Ow!” A set of fingers dug fiercely into Shion’s arm. Nezumi gasped, his chest rising and falling. The tremor of his fingertips agitated Shion’s worry even more.
“Water,” Shion muttered, glancing all around. No one moved. “Please, give me water. Anyone.”
“Will he die?” a voice asked from behind. It was flat and cold. It belonged to Sasori, the sand-coloured man. He had drawn right up behind them without Shion noticing.
“Will he die? Then there is no need to bring water.” Contempt wafted into Sasori’s tone. “There is no need to give anything to the dying. Furthermore, he is one who has once left. No need. At all.”
Shion turned around. He looked up at the man who had concluded the discussion with such terse words. No need.
“Bring it,” Shion commanded. As far as he could remember, he had never given an order to someone in such an oppressive manner. But the words didn’t feel strange leaving his mouth.
“Bring water to me. Quickly.”
Sasori shifted uneasily. The rims of his widened eyes twitched. A single bead of sweat rolled down from a corner of his eye.
“Here.” A wooden bowl was handed to him. It was about half-full with water. A small, thin child was holding it out as if it were an offering. “Mother told me to―take this.”
“Thank you.” Shion accepted the bowl from him. The child spun around, and trotted away into the darkness.
A small mouse scurried up onto Shion’s shoulder. It stared at Shion’s hands, twitching its nose.
“Nezumi… drink this.” Supporting Nezumi’s body with one arm, Shion slowly tipped the water into his mouth. Nezumi’s throat contracted. He took a gulp.
“Nezumi, can you hear me?”
His eyelids lifted, and a pair of grey eyes peeked from underneath. Shion thought they were beautiful. They were the colour of the sky at the coming of morning. They absorbed light, yet released it softly at the same time.
They were beautiful like the dawning sky.
A lightening sky at morning conjoined somewhere with the hope of life. It was a glow that lauded people who had resolved to live, or at least try to live, through today. That was why it was beautiful.
I’ve gotten so much hope from the beauty of these eyes.
Shion clicked his tongue at himself. Idiot, now’s not the time to be admiring him.
“Are you awake? Drink the water slowly―there―all of it. Then take a deep breath.”
Nezumi obediently did as he was told. He drained the water, took a deep breath, and exhaled.
“Does you head hurt? Any nausea, or palpitation―”
“Three plus seven is ten. And since I’m at it already, twenty-one.”
“Oh… three times seven.” So Nezumi had remembered the questions Shion had asked when he’d woken up last time. Shion stifled a chuckle. Yes, reality was brutal and cruel. The past few hours had been filled with human despair, death, and screams. It was dyed through with the colour of terror, futility, and intense regret. But there had also been many heartwarming moments, moments where his pulse had quickened and his spirits had soared. Memories with Nezumi were always like that. They always brought excitement and warmth to his heart.
Shion straightened his back, and put more strength into his arms. Why did I just think ‘memories’, like he was someone of the past? Nezumi mumbled in Shion’s arms.
“I heard the wind.”
“The wind was singing. I heard its song.” Nezumi raised himself. “I’ve heard it before. But this time it was… it was clearer. It was a gentle melody…”
“What kind of song was it?”
“Can you sing it?”
“Me? Hm… well. I wonder if I can.”
“Let me hear it.”
Nezumi blinked, and his lips moved. A song with a lilting melody poured forth.
The wind steals the soul away, humans thieve the heart
O earth, wind, and rain; O heavens, O light
Keep everything here
Keep everything here, and
Live in this place
O soul, my heart, O love, my feelings true
Return home here
The little mouse grew still on Shion’s shoulder. It stopped moving as if rooted to the spot, and quieted its breath. Humans all around did the same. The people hidden in the darkness were also frozen in enthralment. Their eyes were closed, and their bodies were lent fully to the song. Everything grew still. It felt like even time had stopped. Nezumi’s voice, and his song, seemed to soak into them, enveloping them, rocking them, and making them feel as if their bodies and souls were floating.
The wind steals the soul away, humans thieve the heart
But here I will stay
to keep singing
Deliver my song
Accept my song
The song ceased, and someone let out a gentle sigh. He was not the only one. Here and there in the darkness, soft sighs could be heard. Nezumi slowly shook his head.
“I feel like I’ve heard it before. Like I’ve heard it over and over, since a long time ago. Someone’s taught me this song before.”
Shion lifted his head and posed a question at the seated elder.
“Is this song somehow related with Elyurias?”
“Do you think so, child?”
“Yes.” The moment he had blurted the answer, he felt certain. Nezumi and Elyurias were connected. The elder narrowed his eyes, and his gaze wandered in the air.
“It has been a long time since I heard it. I was convinced it had long disappeared from this land. I see―there still remains a person who can sing.”
“The wind sings.” Nezumi wiped his wet lips with the back of his hand. “Or maybe someone’s singing in the wind. And I… hear it. I’ve come to hear it.”
The elder nodded. “Since when?”
“A little while ago. Yeah―a little while before the Hunt. This is the third time. When it happens, my consciousness fades, like a stage in a blackout… and then green scenery appears… and then…”
Nezumi’s eyes turned to Shion. His gaze wavered. Shion remembered that stormy night, the night he and Nezumi had met. The boy had appeared before him, soaked and blood-stained. He was so fragile, Shion had felt like he would make the boy fall apart just by touching him. Drawn to that fragility, and those vibrant eyes which were so much the opposite, Shion had extended his hand.
“I’ll treat your wound.” Those words had escaped his lips without a shadow of doubt, without resistance. He had felt like he had to do something. He had felt like it was his duty to protect this boy. He had never felt this protective of anyone, neither before nor after this incident.
A sharp, vivid moment. One that had burned an imprint into his life. Every time he recalled it, his heart quickened.
The fragility that had stirred Shion’s protective instinct―the same fragility that had been completely wiped clean when they reunited four years later―returned into those eyes again.
His heart quickened.
“I don’t know,” Nezumi continued. “I was still young, and I was wading through the grass. And I could see… the sky.”
“An ultramarine sky. It was a really beautiful blue. And wings buzzing… and a song. I couldn’t tell whether it was man’s or woman’s voice. It was a strange voice. It almost sounded like the wind, crossing the plains, or crawling across the ground, or showering down from the heavens. I… I was always just standing there… listening to that song…”
A song of the wind which crawled across the ground, and showered from above. Maybe…
“Was it a song of offering?” Shion said. It was mostly instinct. The spark of an idea turned into words, and spilled from his lips. “A song offered to Elyurias… either to praise or appease her… am I right?”
The elder’s chest swelled and deflated. It looked like he was taking several deep breaths. Is he agitated? Confused?
“Sasori,” the elder called. The sand-coloured man materialized like a blot in the darkness. “Provide these two with food and rest.”
“They will probably not have much time to rest… but that cannot be helped. Provide them whatever they wish for, to the best of your abilities.”
“Why?” Sasori yelled angrily. “Why do you help them? Nezumi is one who has once left this place. He left, vowing never to return again. He was forbidden to return, was he not?”
“But he did return. Bringing a demon with him, nonetheless. Rou, can you not understand? He is evil itself. He brings calamity and destruction.” Sasori’s finger pointed squarely at Shion.
“Did you see his eyes just now? Those are the eyes of evil. The eyes of wicked darkness. Nezumi is being puppeted by this demon.”
“Now you listen.” Shion was now feeling more than cross. “You’ve been repeating yourself all this time. I only glared at you a little, and you’re making me sound like I’m some monster. Kind of rude, don’t you th―”
Sasori cut Shion off by shaking his head. His face contorted, as if every word Shion uttered was a curse.
“The very picture of a monster. Rou, I am fine with Nezumi. If you command me, I shall obey. I will provide him rest and food. But I cannot do that for him. If we do not kill him now, then he will bring misfortune upon us. He may obliterate us entirely.”
“Sasori.” Nezumi stood up. “Sometimes poison and medicine can come from the same plant. Sometimes you can’t tell if it’s going to be poison or medicine until you drink it. Right?”
“…What is your point?”
“There’s no need to reveal Shion’s so-called true identity, whether he’s a demon or not. His identity doesn’t matter. Right now, all I care about is that he’s kept alive. That’s all.”
Nezumi’s fingers grasped a handful of Shion’s hair.
“Inside this head, Sasori, is information about the inner structure of the Correctional Facility. The most up-to-date stuff. I can bet it’s probably as accurate as computer data. I wouldn’t be able to destroy the Correctional Facility without it.”
“Destroy the Correctional Facility―” Shock spread across Sasori’s face. Just for an instant, it the expression made the sand-coloured man actually look human. This man had shown the same reaction to Nezumi’s words as Rikiga and Inukashi did. Ah, I see, Shion thought.
His skin and eyes were a strange colour, but those were the only differences. This man was made of flesh. Blood coursed through his body, and he gave off heat. He would feel pain if he was wounded, and he had both emotions and intelligence. He was a human, just the same. Skin and eye colour were such small differences, they didn’t even seem to count.
“Surely you are not really thinking of doing that?” he said in disbelief.
“I am,” Nezumi said promptly. “In fact, that’s probably all I’ve been thinking about. The Correctional Facility isn’t just a prison. It’s also a research organization that’s connected to the core of No. 6. If we destroy it, it’ll put a crack right in No. 6 itself, for sure. We’re going to use that crack as a foothold to throw No. 6 into its grave. And to do that, I need Shion. I told you before, Sasori, I won’t let you kill him that easily.”
The elder opened his mouth before Sasori could.
“There may already be a crack appearing.”
“What? What do you mean?”
“No. 6 may disintegrate even before you strike a blow, because of Elyurias.”
“Rou!” Nezumi barked irritably. “Speak in a way I can understand. So far you haven’t clarified a single thing.”
“Nezumi, perhaps it is fate that you have returned with Shion. Perhaps it had already been decided beforehand.”
“Beforehand?” Nezumi retorted. “Who the hell can decide how I’m going to live? I’d like to see anyone try. I’ll never bow down to cheap words like God or Fate. That’s enough, Rou. No more word-play. Stop your mysterious nonsense and answer my question. You were involved in the birth of No. 6, correct?”
“Be seated. You too, Shion. Be at peace. I will give you water. You are probably thirsty.” Before the elder even finished his words, a pair of slightly bigger bowls were being handed to them. They were filled with clear water.
Shion felt a powerful thirst return to him.
He hadn’t realized how badly he had wanted water. He felt like all the moisture had been wrung out of him in the numerous experiences leading up until now. He was so thirsty, he felt like his throat was chafing. When he had fed Nezumi water earlier, he had not wanted any for himself. He had completely forgotten his thirst. But now it was like his parched state was a reaction to that; he felt like he was burning up.
“Water―” Shion held the bowl in both hands and greedily gulped it down. It was cold and delicious, like the water that Nezumi had fed him over and over during his battle with the wasp―the water that ran near Inukashi’s ruins. It had the same taste. It was delicious, and it quenched him.
He drained it in a single draught. More water was poured into his empty bowl. Shion was so grateful he felt he could cry.
“Good, isn’t it?”
Shion found himself nodding vigorously in answer to Nezumi’s question. It was too good to put into words.
“There’s an underground lake here. Lots of minerals. ―Geez, you must have been thirsty.”
Shion finally stopped to take a breath after he had had several bowls of water. The elder must have been waiting for him, for now he opened his mouth to speak.
“This will take a rather long time. I had intended not to tell anyone for my whole life… but I must tell it now. However, before that… Nezumi.”
Nezumi lifted his chin.
“There is a path leading to the Correctional Facility, but it is only connected partway. The Facility has built a door from their side sealing the way off. It has not been opened for decades.”
“There is no other way into the Correctional Facility unless you open it. You know that too, I presume?”
“It is impossible to open it from this side. Nor will it ever open from the Facility’s side. It absolutely will not happen.”
“The thing with doors―” a wan smile spread across Nezumi’s lips, “is that you don’t just wait for them to open politely by themselves. You force them open.”
“Have you a plan?”
“I’m not unprepared.”
“I would not have expected you to act without some strategy. But I cannot imagine how you would open the door.”
“Shion.” Nezumi crouched down, and put a firm hand on Shion’s shoulder. The startled mouse hastily hopped down out of his way. “The door we’re talking about: it’s the only point on the map that connects the blank space underground to ground-level. You know where it is, right?”
“Yeah.” The floorplan appeared in his mind, the one of the Correctional Facility that Nezumi had commanded Shion to memorize as if his life depended on it.
“It’s in location po1-z22. From the Facility’s side, it was labelled Point X.”
“You remember the energy circuits which were connected to that point too, right?”
“Yeah. It was a single circuit, an old system. There are no auxiliary circuits.”
“The unopenable door doesn’t need a carefully-crafted backup system,” Nezumi said. “Efficiency is paramount. Remove everything else that isn’t absolutely necessary. Both people and machinery.” He chuckled. “Sounds like something they would think of. But this is where it works to our advantage.”
Nezumi snapped his fingers.
“The unopenable door opens. We’ll pry it open. Rou, we’ll fight our own battle. You have nothing to worry about.”
“Only death is waiting.”
“For many people. Many more people will likely die, more than you can imagine. Perhaps you are the only ones who can stop that. Nezumi, fate does exist. Fate has brought you together, and you are here because of fate. It was fate that Elyurias and I met. Let us begin with that story first. Listen well, and make haste, or else it will be too late. You must hurry….”
Then the elder began to speak. It was a story of No. 6.
Shion and Nezumi huddled together and grew still, like children listening to their grandfather tell a tale of the past. Only their ears strained hard to listen.
It was a story of No. 6.
A tale of destruction and creation.