Out, out, brief candle
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle.
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage . . .
-Shakespeare, Macbeth Act V Scene V
Just once, he heard footsteps approach. Someone was trying to run up the stairs. But the footsteps died along with a gunshot, a scream, and someone tumbling down the stairs. He didn’t have to see it to know what happened. The same stairs that Shion had flown up moments ago was probably spattered with someone’s blood.
Not only the stairs. The floor, the entrance, and the consultation room were probably smeared with blood and littered with broken objects in a horrific scene. A body or two probably lay on the floor.
“Don’t move.” Nezumi restrained his arm. “Don’t move yet.”
Shion, Inukashi, and Rikiga all held their breaths and tensed as if they were bound by his words. Even the dogs lay low to the floor, unmoving like boulders, save to growl softly at the footsteps.
One minute, two minutes, three minutes….
“Freedom for No. 6! Freedom for all of us!” A hoarse, high-pitched scream resounded, its gender indiscernible. Right afterwards, angry voices and the sound of fierce beatings were heard through the window.
It’s the same. Shion made a fist. His palm was damp with perspiration.
It was the same―no different from the Hunt in the West Block. The brutality he had seen under the thick snow clouds was taking place again right here.
Stealthily within the walls, openly outside of them―that was the only difference.
The sweat stung the countless cuts on his palm and made it throb slightly. Sweat streamed down his cheek, and entered his mouth.
In No. 6, he used to feel trapped and suffocated, like being forced to wear clothes that didn’t quite fit. But until Nezumi had saved him and they had begun to live in the West Block, he had never had much difficulty dealing with these vague doubts and feelings of suffocation. Not until he was given a chance to look at No. 6 from the outside. In fact, he had taken comfort in No. 6’s cleanliness and abundant lifestyle. It was true. He had been devouring this comfort and taking it for granted. Back then, the Security Bureau’s existence hardly crossed his mind. It never had to; the days still went by. On the surface, time passed peacefully without incidence.
When had it all begun?
Shion was wheeling his bike across the park after his shift. He was allowed to ride his bicycle in the park, as long as he didn’t go over the speed limit. But the spring sunset was so beautiful that Shion had felt like taking a stroll to take it all in.
The sky was divided into dark pink, red, and carmine. The streaming clouds caught the sun, their edges glittering golden. The sweet fragrance of the flowers blended with the refreshing scent of new leaves, enveloping the passersby.
“Ah, the end of another day.”
“It was wonderful, wasn’t it?”
“All’s right with the world, as they say. What do you say to topping it all off with a mouthwatering meal and some excellent wine?”
“Oh, how splendid. That sounds great.”
He could hear the lighthearted conversation of a young man and woman―were they lovers, husband and wife, or good friends?
They’re right. It’s a perfect evening to enjoy wine over a nice meal in the company of someone close, Shion had thought, feeling a comfortable sort of weariness and hunger himself.
All’s right with the world.
Neither Shion nor that man or woman had any clue about what lurked in the depths of that day. Most people didn’t. It wasn’t because of the dreamy spring evening. Through hot summer days, sleety mornings, in autumn sunsets, they had never noticed.
The majority of the citizens were neither concerned nor interested about the Security Bureau. They probably had no idea that it would bare its fangs so ferociously at the slightest voice of protest from the citizens. They thought of the Security Bureau as an organization that maintained and protected their safety―an organization for the people―were they not? And they believed in this clause―
No. 6 exists for its citizens. It exists to ensure a plentiful and comfortable life for its citizens. No one shall be permitted to threaten the safety, activities, and lives of the citizens in any way whatsoever.
They believed the city would also abide by this clause of its own City Charter. The people relied upon the city, left everything in its hands, and unwittingly allowed themselves to be pulled along by its flow.
And this was the result.
The sweat stung in his wounds. Nezumi’s hand was still restraining Shion’s arm.
If this was the result, then Nezumi―where did we go wrong? Do you know the answer?
No―I’m the one that needs to know the answer, not you. I was born as a No. 6 citizen, reaped all of its benefits, and lived without any concern for the outside or inside. I’m the one who has to reach out and grasp the answer, in exchange for always choosing the comfort of lending myself to the least resistant path, rather than struggling against the current.
I know. Meeting you has taught me, and so have the words we exchanged and the days we spent together. I need an answer that I’ve grasped with my own hands, rather than one that’s been prepared for me.
Mine, and not someone else’s.
Or else I’ll end up with the same result again.
“They weren’t after us, then.” Shion sensed Inukashi twitching his nose in the dark. “I was totally under the impression that… the doctor tipped the Bureau off. Looks like that wasn’t it.”
“No, it definitely wasn’t.”
Traitors. That was what the Bureau officials had said. The target of their sting had not been Shion, but the others―the doctor, and Yoming.
Inukashi twitched his nose again. “Nezumi… aren’t we safe now?”
“Wait. It’s still too early.”
“Tsk, paranoid as always.”
One minute, two minutes, three minutes….
“Don’t rush. But―alright, it should be fine now. Don’t turn on the lights. Leave them off, and move quietly.”
Nezumi pushed the door slightly ajar, and whistled softly. Hamlet poked his head out from Shion’s pocket, alighted on the floor, and dashed through the open crack.
Momentarily, a lighthearted squeak greeted them.
Cheep cheep, chit-chit-chit.
Cheep cheep, chit-chit-chit.
“Alright, let’s go downstairs. Avoid the elevator, just in case.” Nezumi swiftly wrapped the superfibre cloth around himself, and slipped into the hallway.
“What the hell was that?” Shion saw Rikiga’s mouth gaping open by the light that spilled in from the hallway. “Wasn’t he unconscious just now? Or was that an act, too? Playing the part of a prince on his deathbed?”
“He ain’t no prince. He’s an animal. Like a savage beast. No way he can sleep in the face of oncoming danger. He sensed the Security Bureau guys before my nose could sniff them out, damnit. Pisses me off.”
“I see. Now I have a good idea of how Eve could have survived this far. With instincts as sharp as those, and that cautiousness to boot…”
“Falling in love all over again, old man?”
“I just confirmed my notion that he doesn’t have an ounce of good in him.”
The humans, dogs, and mice crept down the stairs cautiously, step by step. There was a pool of blood in the stairwell. At the bottom of the stairs was the owner of that blood, a man in his forties or fifties lying on his back.
The lower floor was just as grisly as Shion imagined. Blood had sprayed the walls and the floor. There was broken glass and furniture strewn about, all soiled with dirt and blood. At the end of the hall, a blue-grey door was half-open. The room was dark and the air inside cold―a basement room, perhaps.
A man lay slumped against the door, and the nurse at his feet. A figure clad in a lab coat lay a few metres away. The three of them were perfectly still.
“Doctor!” Shion ran to him and lifted him up in his arms. The chest of the man’s lab coat was dyed in blood. “Doctor, answer me, please.”
His words felt painfully empty as they escaped his lips.
The doctor was clearly almost dead. There was no hope for him.
“Doctor, doctor! Open your eyes, please,” Shion continued to implore with empty words. That was all he could do.
The door to the consulting room opened, and Aria appeared, evidently from the elevator.
“Vital signs: none. Vital signs: none. Vital signs―minimal. Minimal.”
The doctor’s eyelids slowly lifted.
“Vital signs: minimal. Commencing treatment.”
Several tubes extended from Aria’s torso, and connected to the doctor’s body.
“Aria… don’t. It’s no use…”
“No use. No use… cannot comprehend. Continuing treatment.”
“Doctor, what… why did this happen?”
“…He… broadcasting… from the basement of this clinic… calling… on his comrades to defeat No. 6 together…”
“Vital signs: minimal. Probability of recovery: one percent. One percent.”
“I wanted revenge… on No. 6… revenge…”
“Doctor,” Shion pleaded.
“I wanted to… destroy this world… and build it… anew.”
Suddenly the doctor dug his fingers into Shion’s arm.
“Shion,” the man called his name in a clear, strong voice. “I leave this in your hands.”
His eyes were open wide, fixed intently on Shion.
“I leave it… in your hands. Don’t ever make… No. 6… this kind of city… again. Please. I’m leaving it to you.”
The doctor’s fingers slipped out of his own. The light went out of his eyes as they glazed over. His whole body convulsed.
Then, it was over.
“Vital signs: minimal. Minimal. Unable to register. Unable to register. Aborting treatment.”
Shion laid the man down, and put a hand over his eyelids. With his eyes closed, the doctor looked peaceful and relaxed.
“Leave it to you, huh.” Inukashi let out a long sigh. “You guys are the ones who built No. 6 in the first place,” he said to the doctor’s body. “But once something goes wrong and it spins out of control, you just shove it off onto someone else? Not exactly a friendly gift to leave to someone, is it? A little selfish, don’t you think, doctor? I guess it’s none of my business, though.”
“Inukashi, what good is it to mouth off at a dead man? He’s not going to hear any of it. Poor guy.” Rikiga clasped his hands in front of his chest and bowed his head.
“The hell are you doing?” Inukashi asked.
“I’m praying to God, can’t you tell? O God, please forgive this sinful man. May you bless his soul and let him rest in peace by your side.”
“Hah, you don’t even believe in God. What an act. Oh, wait―you must be praying to God Moneybags Almighty, right, old man?”
“Rotten kid,” spat Rikiga. “You never get tired of spewing insults, do you? Once this settles down, you’re in for it. You remember that.” Rikiga unclasped his hands and rolled his shoulder joints.
“So, what now?” he said. “We’ve accomplished our big goal of destroying the Correctional Facility. As for me, I’m in the mood for heading back to the West Block and crawling into bed. I feel like curling up and dreaming about digging up gold from underneath the Correctional Facility. I’d wake up to the best morning ever. It puts me in a good mood already.”
“Old man, you can be sarcastic all you want, but Nezumi’s not gonna respond. I’d get a better response out of complaining to that corpse over there.” Inukashi chuckled spiritedly, his shoulders shaking with his laughter.
“But truth be told, I’m all for crawling into bed myself. And, well, there are a lot of things that I want to mull over. It doesn’t help that it’s kinda creepy being inside No. 6. It gives me a bad vibe, makes my skin crawl. Shion, don’t you wanna go home, too? It’s not too far from here, is it? Your mum must be waiting for you.”
“Yeah…” Shion’s house was within walking distance from here.
“Don’t you wanna see your mum again?”
“Yeah, I do.”
“Karan, huh. I’d like to see her too,” Rikiga murmured wistfully.
Mom, there’s no telling how much I’ve probably made you worry. I want you to see that I’m doing well. I want you to see that I’m safe. I want to say sorry. I want to apologize from the bottom of my heart. Mom, I’m sorry.
Shion was overwhelmed with nostalgia and love for his mother. He remembered the scent of freshly-baked bread. Yearning. Love. I wish I could see you.
But the only place he wanted to return to was that basement room littered with books. He wanted to go back to that room and its countless volumes, the bed, the stove, and the tattered chair.
I want to go home.
Shion burned with longing.
I want to bring back those days, those moments I spent with Nezumi in that room. I would give up anything.
But he would not return. Those days had long passed, never to come within his grasp again.
It was a premonition―a premonition which he almost certainly believed would come true. Shion purposely averted his eyes from it. He knew well it was a sign of weakness, but he did it anyway.
Shion stood up and turned to face Nezumi.
“Can you move?”
Nezumi lifted himself up from where he was leaning on the wall, and let out a long breath. A thin sheen of sweat covered his forehead.
“Aria, can you measure his blood pressure, pulse, and body temperature? Based on that, tell me what an appropriate treatment for him would be.”
“Understood. Understood. Blood pressure, pulse, body temperature, commencing measurements. Commencing measurements.”
“No need.” Nezumi shook his head in refusal. “It’s a waste of time.”
He brushed off Aria’s extended pipes, and sighed again.
“M’lady, with all due respect, allow me to politely decline your offer. We don’t have time for treatment.”
Aria blinked, and her eyes turned yellow.
“Due respect, decline, time. Cannot comprehend. Cannot comprehend. Aborting measurements.”
“Nezumi, you plan to go?”
Inukashi and Rikiga looked at each other.
“Go where?” Rikiga asked. Inukashi scowled in silence.
“To city hall,” Shion answered.
“City hall? You mean the Moondrop?”
“Wh―do you know what state that place is in right now?” Rikiga exclaimed. “I mean, I don’t know myself, but… it’s sure to be chaos. The Security Bureau is cracking down on citizens left and right―shot some of them, even. They’ve probably gotten word of what happened to the Correctional Facility. The rest of the people will find out about it soon―No. 6 doesn’t have the power to suppress the spread of information like it used to. The confusion is only going to get worse. It’ll be completely out of control.”
“That’s why we’re going.” Nezumi smiled wanly. Nezumi had countless deft ways to smile. This one was a cold smile with a hint of mockery.
“It’s our once-in-a-lifetime chance to see No. 6 perform its last dying shriek on stage. We better hurry, or we won’t even get standing seats.”
“With the state you’re in?” Rikiga replied incredulously. “You can’t do it, Eve. Sure, you might be stronger than you look, but you’re human. You have limits. Don’t do it. No. 6 will play its star role even if we’re not in the audience. It’ll pull off its role of the wretched, self-destructing giant with flying colours.”
“You’re telling me to throw away this chance and retreat with my tail between my legs?”
“Yes. You two destroyed the Correctional Facility, and that definitely helped trigger the demise of No. 6. That’s amazing, and you’ve done enough. More than enough. Eve, Shion, don’t go further than this. Back off and let nature take its course. It’s time for you two to retreat backstage.”
“Being backstage staff is not my style,” Nezumi said. “Neither is throwing away a chance that’s already in my hands.”
“Your greed is bottomless,” Rikiga said in disgust. “Listen to me, don’t make me say this again. Your part is over. It’s not worth it to risk your lives to stand onstage.”
Shion stood in front of Rikiga and shook his head.
“Rikiga-san, we have to go. We have to go, no matter what.”
“Shion, you too? Why? What for? You were able to escape the Correctional Facility, a damn miracle it was. Why won’t you retreat to where it’s safe? Doesn’t your life mean anything to you?”
“We’re not going because we want to die,” Shion said firmly. “We’re going because he’s the only one who can stop Elyurias.”
“Elyurias?” Rikiga’s eyes darted about. “What is that? Someone’s name?”
“She’s the queen who once ruled over this land. I don’t know if ‘queen’ is the right name for her―she never tried to dominate her subjects or drain their wealth like humans do. She only protected the rules of the forest, and the workings of nature.”
“Shion… what are you talking about?” Rikiga drew his chin back. A bead of sweat rolled along his jawline, across his five-o’clock shadow.
“Humans―the humans who attempted to build No. 6 on this land trampled Elyurias’ land and tried to reign over everything within it. They burnt the forests, massacred the Forest People, and tried to build a world that was solely for themselves. Only their own abundance, their own wealth, their own safety and prosperity was their concern. They built a disconnected utopia on a foundation of others’ sacrifices.”
“Shion,” Nezumi called. It was a quiet, beautiful voice. “You know everything?”
“No. What I know is probably only a small part. I only read what was in Rou’s chip.”
Nezumi sank to the floor. He curled up, and muttered, “I see.”
“Hey, keep going,” Rikiga said. “I still have no idea what you’re talking about. Sounds like complete gibberish. So how is Elyuri-what’s-her-face related to what’s happening to No. 6? What do you mean when you say Eve is the only one who can stop her? Shion, give me the details.”
“I’d love to hear all about it, too.” Inukashi clicked his tongue lightly. His hands were full with numerous bags.
“What―where did you go? What is all that?”
“Clothes and food. Bland soup and bread just doesn’t do it for me. And besides, if we’re going to watch a play, I think we need to look a little more decent. They wouldn’t even let us in the standing seats.”
Inukashi dug out a chunk of meat and a roll from the bag, and tossed it at the dogs. The dogs promptly pounced without even raising their voices. The mice skilfully stopped a tumbling roll, and lined up to nibble at it.
“Good. Eat,” Inukashi said proudly. “Eat as much as you want. You guys worked hard. You did a good job. This is your reward. Heh heh, that’s the amazing thing about No. 6. Even a clinic in the middle of nowhere like this has a kitchen full of food. Not to mention expensive-looking clothes. Heh heh, heh heh heh heh, this place is full of top-notch items. I could get a good price for this in the West Block.”
“You’ve come this far and you’re still thieving?” Rikiga said.
“Who cares? The doctor is dead. Dead people don’t need food or clothes.”
“Well… I guess you’re right. Hey, pass me some ham, bread, and those blue pants.”
“I’ll sell them to you for one silver piece.”
“Inukashi, you bastard, you just said goodbye to your ride,” Rikiga snarled. “You can walk back to the West Block.”
“I was kidding, yeesh! Old man has no sense of humour. That’s why all the women trick you out of your money. Anyway, come on, let’s eat. We gotta prepare for the road ahead.”
Inukashi turned a bag upside down. Ham, apples and bread tumbled out.
“Let’s have a banquet while we listen to the story Shion The Great has got to tell. Sounds like an interesting one.”
Inukashi’s eyes glittered from underneath his long bangs. His pink tongue flitted across his lips again and again.
“Maybe he’ll tell us who Nezumi really is. This is bound to be interesting. In fact, I’m way more interested in this than a drama starring No. 6, to be honest.”
Shion scooped up an apple.
“Nezumi, can you eat?”
“Ah, I haven’t recovered to that point yet. I’m not hungry.”
“I figured as much. Aria, can you give him some glucose solution?”
“Understood. Understood. Commencing glucose transfusion.”
“I’d like a transfusion of wine,” Rikiga chimed in.
“You’ll have to settle with grape juice. There were two bottles in the fridge.” Inukashi handed a bottle of reddish-purple liquid to Rikiga.
“Alright, Shion. We’re all ready. Spit out everything you know.” His pink tongue flitted across his lips again. Shion peered at Nezumi, apple still in hand.
“Nezumi… is it alright?”
Nezumi inclined his head very slightly. He propped his knees up, and put his face down on his arms. He looked like he was either crying, or bearing a wind that was blowing against him.
Shion took a bite of the apple. Its tart juice burst inside his mouth.
Inukashi and Rikiga leaned forward, Inukashi clutching a piece of bread and ham in each of his hands, and Rikiga gripping a bottle of grape juice.
The two had put their lives in the balance for Shion and Nezumi. They had acted on Shion and Nezumi’s word with next to no knowledge of what they were doing. In other words, they had believed in the two boys. They had invested their lives into their belief. Telling them everything was the only way to match the leap of trust they took, and to answer to their dedication.
He knew Nezumi must feel the same.
Shion began to speak.
I don’t think I need to tell you about how No. 6 was created. Humankind tried to build a utopia once again on this planet, which was half destroyed by human hands.
Before No. 6 was born, this area was a miraculously preserved stretch of beautiful, abundant forest. I said miraculous, but this land―its forests, woods, and lakes― was actually meant to survive. Elyurias and the Forest People protected this realm. It was because of her that this land’s wildlife was spared damage.
No one can explain who or what Elyurias is. Even the name Elyurias was given to her by a researcher. ―I met him, in the basement of the Correctional Facility.
“Basement of the Correctional Facility?” Rikiga choked on his juice and had a coughing fit. “So there was a basement in there, after all!”
“How about gold bullion? Was there gold bullion in there, Shion?”
“Gold? No. There were people living underground. Back when the Correctional Facility wasn’t such a brutal and vigilant incarceration facility, people who escaped but couldn’t return above ground began to build their own underground world in secret. The leader of this group was called Rou.”
“…So there was no gold, after all.” Rikiga hunched over, clearly crestfallen. Inukashi guffawed, baring his teeth.
Rou was a member of a revival project team chosen to design and build No. 6 on this land. Before No. 6 was created, there used to be a small, pretty town at the edge of the forest. People who survived through the waste and decay lived modestly here in a tightly-knit community. This town was the mother of No. 6.
Bright young people were chosen from that town to form a team to build a utopian city.
“My town.” Rikiga drew himself up. “That’s the town I was born and raised in. It used to be called the Town of Roses―that’s how beautiful it was. Karan also used to live there.”
“No one asked you, old man.” Inukashi bared his teeth even more. “If you’re not gonna shut up, I’ll tear apart your throat for you.”
“I’d like to see you try. You can rip my throat out, but I’ll still keep talking. Oh, yes, that revival project team. I heard about them. Back in those days, I was still a pimply youngster chasing after girls and blushing at their ankles. They were holding some kind of selection exam to gather skilled young people from the science fields to make a brighter future for humankind. Yes, yes, I remember.”
Rikiga folded his arms and nodded enthusiastically.
“That was how No. 6 began. And not long after that, No. 6 was born as the sixth and best, most optimal utopian city. It grew at an astonishing speed.”
“And before you knew it, you dropout failures were shoved outside the walls. Pity,” Inukashi said nastily.
“You should be the one keeping your mouth shut, Inukashi. I’ll yank out that long tongue of yours and turn it into mincemeat. In those days, I’d just become a journalist. The fact that the city-state was walling itself in, trying to build a barrier around itself, just seemed really shady to me. I wrote a whole slew of articles that talked about it. It was natural that I was thrown out of the city. It was around that time that No. 6 became more and more intolerant and domineering.”
It was precisely that.
No. 6 grew at a stunning rate. Its infrastructure, governing bodies and regulations were swiftly and skilfully laid out. In the midst of it all, Rou met Elyurias.
Rou himself wasn’t able to define Elyurias well―was she a forest spirit? Or a species of animal unknown to humankind?
The only thing he knew for sure was that Elyurias existed long before the birth of humankind, protecting this land. The Forest People worshipped her, revered her, and lived in harmony with her.
“Right, so who are these ‘forest people’ that you keep talking about?”
“Will you shut up, old man? Can’t you listen quietly for once? Geez.” Inukashi gave an exaggerated sigh.
Shion turned and glanced at Nezumi slumped against the wall. His eyes were closed. His profile was beautiful, but it looked somewhat artificial.
“Glucose transfusion, 50% complete. 50% complete. Continuing transfusion.” Aria’s eyes blinked green.
Nezumi said nothing. His eyes remained meditatively shut, his body perfectly still.
According to Nezumi, the Forest People are those who have made the forest their home. Since ancient times, they’ve lived in harmony with the wind, the earth, lakes and rivers, and the sky.
To borrow Rou’s words, the forest is a place both of their birth and upbringing. They nurtured, respected, and continued to protect the forest. They lived peacefully within the bounds of nature without desiring prosperity or development. Even those who lived in the Town of Roses had no idea about their existence.
Elyurias’ power wasn’t what allowed the abundant forest to survive on this land. It was because the Forest People protected it. Through the long, perpetual flow of time, they continued to protect the forest.
Rikiga let his empty juice bottle roll across the floor. It continued to roll until it hit the doctor’s arm, and stopped.
Nezumi is a descendant of the Forest People. He’s also a descendant of the “Singers”.
“Yes, Singers―those who had the power to appease Elyurias and converse with her. There were always a number of Singers among the Forest People.”
Neither Elyurias nor nature were embodiments of pure compassion and generosity. On the contrary, they could easily turn terrifying. The Forest People knew this.
Both nature and Elyurias could bare their fangs and attack suddenly at any time. Their power was absolute―no human could compare. That made them all the more dreadful.
Yes, the Forest People knew fear. They knew how to fear as well as revere. Singers could appease Elyurias’ wrath with their voices, and were able to exchange words with her. They had the ability to mediate between humans and nature. Nezumi had this ability, and so did his mother.
Rou ventured deep into the forest, met Elyurias and the Forest People, and reported their existence to No. 6. He had no idea that this had planted the seed for the Mao Massacre.
“The Mao Massacre?” Creases appeared between Rikiga’s eyebrows.
“Yes. ‘Mao’ apparently refers to the area near the lakeshore where the Forest People lived. They had a settlement there. It’s where the airport is now. Apparently the lake was drained to build the airport. I had no idea.”
“I didn’t know, either,” Rikiga said. “I was already kicked out when they started building it. A massacre, huh… which means No. 6 must have invaded the Mao area and tried to wipe out its residents?”
“What for? Did they need land for the airport?”
“No. What they really wanted was Elyurias.”
What for. Rikiga kept repeating the same question.
What for, what for. Really, what was this for? What made people this brutal, this ruthless?
Shion looked down at the doctor’s body. It had lost all its human warmth and was now a cold corpse. The nurse lay beyond it, and beyond her lay an unnamed man.
What made them capable of taking the lives of others so easily?
In the short instant that he closed his eyes, he could see the Hunt unfold again behind his eyelids. He could hear the groans of the people loaded onto the truck’s cargo bed. In his ears rang the screams of the people who had died, piled on top of each other in the basement of the Correctional Facility.
Perplexity―not anger―snagged Shion and would not release him. Also, fear.
What set him apart from the central figures of No. 6? Hadn’t Rou said so himself? Everyone was young; everyone had hopes to build a utopian city.
It had taken mere decades for these hopes and ideals to mutate. Mere decades. Shion swallowed his breath.
What kind of person will I be in a few decades? Would I still be able to hold the same hopes and ideals that I have now, at age sixteen? Would I be connected in any form with this kind of brutality?
The terror was enough to make him shiver.
What did they want Elyurias for? Her special powers.
“Special powers?” Inukashi’s mouth fell open as he stared at Shion.
“Yeah. Elyurias embodies the form of a wasp.”
“Wasp? Like those things that fly around flowers and stuff?”
“Those would be honeybees. Elyurias is a parasitic wasp. She lays eggs in her hosts.”
Inukashi’s mouth fell open wider. No words came out.
The eggs hatch inside the host’s body. They grow without the host’s knowledge, become pupae, and emerge as adults. They tear through the host’s body to escape, leaving him behind like an empty shell. This is what’s happening to No. 6 right now.
Elyurias’ children are all beginning to hatch. They’re children who fed off No. 6 citizens in order to grow.
I told you earlier that Elyurias looks like a wasp. But she isn’t one. No one knows who or what she really is. Rou has recorded that he thinks she might be between a human and a god. That’s why she―since she lays eggs, I’ll call her a ‘she’, but I don’t think there’s much meaning to distinguishing her sex. Maybe she’s taken the form of a wasp because it was a convenient form for her to lay eggs inside the hosts. Maybe she only appears as a wasp to human eyes.
She has an enormous intellect―and intellect that far surpasses that of humankind. And she had the power to exert perfect control over the hosts.
Because of that power, the hosts were programmed to take actions that were favourable to the children of Elyurias, oblivious to the fact that they were being leeched from. For example, their instincts for sensing danger were honed, and they became increasingly sensitive to their nutrition. They were controlled to take every effort to maintain a healthy body; their personalities turned gentle; they began to avoid disputes. It makes sense that No. 6 citizens were the only targets. Think about how malnourished the West Block people are, coupled with their substandard environment… as hosts, they were out of the question. Nezumi mentioned before that the parasitic wasps have gourmet tastes. He turned out to be right.
“Ironic, ain’t it,” Inukashi muttered. “We starved, we froze, we didn’t know when we would die… but because of that, we West Block residents were spared.”
“These were the absolutely necessary conditions for the eggs: the host needed to be alive when they hatched, and the host needed to be healthy. Even Elyurias couldn’t turn the West Block into a paradise. But she didn’t need to.”
“You’ve already got the best hosts you could ask for in No. 6.”
“The wasps controlled the humans?” This time, it was Rikiga who opened his mouth. He breathed raggedly.
“Yes. They can make people act according to their every whim. It’s not unusual for parasitic organisms. A certain schisotome blindfolds the human immune system and makes it think that it’s harmless. A species of parasitic wasp injects its DNA into the caterpillar that it chooses as its host, and disables the caterpillar’s immune system completely. But I don’t think there’s any other example of a highly-functional parasitic organism like Elyurias, who chooses humans as her host and controls them completely without the host’s knowledge.”
“…And No. 6 wanted that power―the power to completely control and dominate over humans.” Rikiga made a choked noise in his throat. It was a dry, brittle sound, similar to the frigid winter wind.
No. 6 had tried to attain Elyurias’ power.
They came to know of this mystical power through Rou’s investigative reports, and tried to use it in building their government.
Elyurias’ characteristics remained a mystery; however, everyone in No. 6 thought of her as a mere insect, a mutant species. They did not think of her as a being halfway between man and god, like Rou did. Not one of them saw her as such. Every person believed firmly that no being more superior than man existed.
Elyurias was nothing but a queen bee with an unusually large intellect. It would be no large task training her and controlling her according to their needs―that was what they believed.
An investigative squad was formed for the capture of Elyurias, and they set foot into the forest. There, they met adamant resistance by the Forest People.
Elyurias did not constantly reside in the forest. She appeared once every few years, or once every few decades―always unexpectedly. Everything about her―what the necessary conditions were for her appearance, when she laid eggs, and how long she lived afterwards―was a mystery. After she laid her eggs, Elyurias always disappeared. She withdrew from human eyes. A new queen bee emerged from one of the eggs she laid. It was never clear whether that was going to be a few years or decades later.
No one has seen Elyurias’ body. From the time this forest appeared on this land, Elyurias had been repeating the same routine, but not a single person had ever seen her corpse.
Among the Forest People, it was said that Elyurias was immortal, that she revived endless times―that her corpse decayed somewhere where no eye could see, and became the forest itself.
When Elyurias appeared, the Forest People appeased her with song. They prayed and pleaded with her that they would not become hosts. They carried out rituals, and offered a Godly Bed. The Godly Bed was a type of man-made host, prepared from animal brains. It was an offering for implantation. Led on by the song, Elyurias would lay her eggs there. After the eggs were laid, the Godly Bed never seemed to rot or dry out; instead, it maintained an adequate level of moisture and freshness until it rotted away with the emergence of the adult wasp.
Yes, it was the same―the same way in which human hosts aged and died within the blink of an eye immediately after the adult wasps emerged.
The Forest People protected the Godly Bed with their bodies and souls. It was part of their promise with her. This rule had been passed on for ages. As long as the Forest People continued to protect the Godly Bed, Elyurias did not inflict any harm on them. She not only protected the people, but the forest and its land.
That was the rule.
No. 6 had burst onto the scene and wrenched everything from them. They had burned down the settlement of the Forest People when they resisted; they had massacred women, children, and the elderly indiscriminately. They had taken the Godly Bed back to No. 6.
The Mao Massacre―the demise of the Forest People.
This incident took place just twelve years ago.
Shion sucked in a huge breath, and exhaled. He felt like there was no other way to let the air reach every corner of his body.
“From here on is my guesswork, not Rou’s records. I’m positive that it’s true.”
Rikiga leaned forward as if to encourage him. Inukashi, on the other hand, shrank back. He grimaced as if he had smelled some unbearable stench.
“The upper echelons of No. 6 probably attempted to hatch Elyurias’ eggs artificially in the Godly Bed that they’d brought back, and failed. They had no Singers, and therefore couldn’t maintain the Godly Bed. Nonetheless, they refused to acknowledge anything other than scientific proof. But through their countless failures, one thing they realized was that the most suitable place for the eggs to hatch and grow was inside the human brain.”
“Brain?” Rikiga grabbed his head.
“Yes. Not a cow’s, pig’s, or monkey’s. They got as far as determining that Elyurias’ eggs hatched if they used a human brain, and that one of them would be born the queen bee, as another Elyurias.”
“And then, what…?”
“They implanted eggs inside a number of citizens secretly―just like a wasp would use its ovipositer to lay eggs inside its host. It was easy enough to give a needle during scheduled check-ups, saying it was only part of the procedure. They chose sample citizens who differed in gender, age, build, and environment. I was one of them. Rou was also chosen as a host, but it seems Elyurias’ will had some influence in this case. Both of us survived because the parasite’s development was incomplete. The host always dies if the adult emerges successfully. That means Elyurias’ eggs were effective also as assassination weapons. The upper echelons would do anything to have Elyurias in their power. They were desperate to have her under control. Maybe they already had a faint premonition that cracks would start to form in No. 6. Maybe they knew that their selective and exclusive government would some day break down, no matter how skilfully it was camouflaged. That was why they wanted definite control over others. They wished to be the queen bee, and to reign as the absolute, sole ruler.”
“Were front-line research facilities set up in the Correctional Facility to, um, research those… wasps?”
“Yes. They couldn’t figure out what kind of conditions Elyurias required to emerge as an adult. I think any human effort would have been fruitless―it would always be a mystery. But they built a research facility anyway, to unravel a mystery that couldn’t be unravelled. In it… there were rows of countless brains, contained in special cases. I’m sure eggs were planted in every one.”
It came back to him.
The rows of brains trapped in cylindrical cases; Safu, trapped in its innermost depths―it all came back to him.
“I see.” Rikiga stroked his chin. “In the Correctional Facility, you could have as many brains as you wanted. Couldn’t ask for a better place.”
“Makes me sick.” Inukashi clutched his chest. He looked truly nauseous: all the colour had receded from his face. He tossed his piece of bread aside.
“I’ve been starved enough to eat grass and caterpillars off the ground, but I’ve never felt this sick before. I don’t see whatever it is you’re seeing. So―was this Hunt a massive harvest of human brains?”
“Yes. They probably wanted to experiment on human brains that have survived harsh conditions. They wanted brains affected by various things, like large amounts of stress, or the will to live, or fear, or excitement.”
“I… I think I’m really going to be sick.” A dog nuzzled up to Inukashi. He buried his face in its coat and sniffed.
“These guys are… are a hundred times, a thousand times, ten thousand times better than humans. Shion, I’m glad I’ve got dogs on my team instead of humans. I really am.”
“Yeah.” You’re right, Inukashi. Dogs are a hundred times, a thousand times, ten thousand times better than humans. I can see why you’d feel that way.
Inukashi sneezed softly. He sniffled.
“So, what, Nezumi? Are you really a surviving descendant of the Forest People or whatever?”
Nezumi raised his face. The colour had returned to his cheeks, perhaps thanks to Aria’s care. It made Nezumi into a glowing, living being rather than a beautiful doll.
“So you survived that Mao Massacre, or whatever it is. Looks like your lucky streak takes you way back, huh.”
Nezumi’s eyes focused on Shion. Shion returned his gaze without blinking. After a moment of hesitation, Nezumi began to speak.
“I was really young then. To tell you the truth, there’s not much I remember about the Mao area. I just remember Gran carrying me on her back as she ran frantically through the flames. I don’t know if Gran was my real grandmother, or if she was a total stranger. But she rescued me and raised me. After we escaped from the forest, we moved constantly around in what’s now called the West Block.”
Nezumi’s tone was brisk and seemed to contain no emotion.
“Gran taught me a lot of things. She was also the one who found a room that used to be a library vault, and suggested that I live in it. I buried myself in those books, and I grew up listening to Gran tell tales of the Forest People. These guys―”
Nezumi snapped his fingers. The three mice scurried up to him, squeaking.
“―were born in that room. They’re intelligent and can feel emotion. So could their parents, and their grandparents. Those kinds of animals just seemed to gather around the Forest People. These guys and Elyurias were both―well, we didn’t call it Elyurias. We just called it the Forest God. But I was too young to know what the Forest God was, anyway. I was taught that only Forest People like us had a connection to these little mice and the Forest God. But they seem completely used to having Shion around, and they seem overjoyed that they’ve been given names. It was the same with the rats in the underground realm. I was surprised, to tell you the truth.”
“Same with my dogs, come to think of it. They’ve taken such a liking to Shion. They didn’t even bark at him.”
Nezumi smiled serenely.
“You’re a mysterious one, Shion. I thought so since the first time we met―you’re a mystery.”
“You’re talking about the night of the storm.”
“Yeah. The night we first met. But let’s go back to the topic for now. I was ten when the special gates of the Correctional Facility were completed. The mayor was scheduled for a visit. Gran said it was our first and last chance for revenge. Revenge―Gran said it was the only thing she’d been living for. But a ten-year-old kid and an old woman were no match for him. Gran had a knife hidden on her, but she was shot on the spot trying to get near the mayor. I was caught along with captives of the Hunt and thrown into the basement of the Correctional Facility. It was a miracle that I didn’t die. I climbed the wall of rock as if my life depended on it, and I got to those caverns. That was where I met Rou. Maybe that was a miracle, too. Rou gave me even more knowledge than Gran, and when I turned twelve, he ordered me to leave the underground realm and face a new world. At the time, Rou still had a thread,―a thin one, mind you―of communication leading to the core of No. 6. Once in a while, No. 6 delivered just enough food and living supplies for us to survive. I guess in the back of their minds, their conscience still nagged them to help the man who was once their colleague. Through that route, Rou sent in a suggestion that I be transferred to the Moondrop. He proposed to have me examined in detail as one of the last surviving Forest People. The mayor and his associates agreed. They’d probably reached a roadblock in their research about the Forest God. They were eager for any potential lead, so they jumped on the chance. On the day of my transfer, Rou handed me a special knife that wouldn’t get caught by the metal detectors. He told me to find my own path. I wouldn’t survive if I let myself be taken into the Moondrop. There was a good chance that I’d be dissected there. My only path of survival was to break free and run before I reached the Moondrop. As for the rest―I don’t think I need to go into details. I was able to survive, thanks to you rescuing me.”
Nezumi looked up at the ceiling and exhaled a long breath.
“Like I said before, on that stormy night, you threw open the window and welcomed me in. It was a real miracle. To me, you were more of a miracle than the Forest God ever was. I felt like I was being told to live―to live on, not give up…. If you hadn’t been there, I wouldn’t have been able to survive that night. Shion, you―only you―were the one who saved me. This time, too.”
Nezumi stood up carefully.
“Glucose infusion completed. Infusion is complete.” Aria retreated silently like a meek maiden.
“You saved my life,” Nezumi said.
“It goes both ways. If it hadn’t been for you, I wouldn’t be alive, either.” Shion stood up as well.
“Hey, hey, wait a minute here. If you’re gonna overwhelm yourselves with gratitude, it should be for us. Right, old man?”
“Of course. Eve, you’ve just made yourself a hell of a debt. You better be prepared.”
Inukashi and Rikiga nodded in unison.
“Practically finishing each other’s sentences now, aren’t you? You’ve sure gotten close.” Nezumi smirked as he wrapped himself in the superfibre cloth.
“If you’re going to keep tabs on my debt anyway, mind giving me a ride and dropping me off close to the Moondrop?”
“Are you really going to go?” Rikiga said in disbelief.
“Yes, we are,” Shion answered. “We have to. Nezumi is the only one who can stop Elyurias.”
“Don’t get ahead of yourself. We don’t even know if my singing is going to work on her yet.”
“It will. Even on that cargo bed on the way to the Correctional Facility, people still wanted to hear you sing.”
Rikiga swung his arm around. His weary and bloodshot eyes blinked repeatedly.
“Why, Eve? I thought you were going to sit back and enjoy the show as part of the audience. Weren’t you going to laugh the whole way through while you watched No. 6 give its last dying shriek?”
“I was planning to, but it looks like my career as an actor will be the death of me,” Nezumi said ruefully. “Seems I can’t stand being out of the spotlight for more than a short while. I guess I’m not made to sit in the audience, after all.”
“This isn’t the time to be showing off,” Rikiga said bitingly. “Take it seriously. I thought you loathed No. 6. Just leave it alone, and it’ll destroy itself. There’s nothing more you have to do except sit back, watch, and laugh.”
Nezumi’s face contorted for an instant. It did not look like an act.
“I would if I could. But Rou told me―what about the children within the walls? What are they guilty of? He said those who twiddle their thumbs while they watch children die are no better than the murderers themselves.”
A sigh. All emotion vanished from Nezumi’s face.
“Old man, I do loathe No. 6. This destruction is what I’ve been longing for. In fact, it’s everything I could have wished for. If I ended up bloodying my hands to attain it, so be it―that’s what I used to think, and I still think that way. But I want to avoid killing children at all costs. I’m a survivor of the Mao Massacre. The last thing I want to do is be on the side of the murderers. I don’t want to become like No. 6.”
Rikiga fell silent. He sighed like Nezumi, and took out his car keys.
“Inukashi, what are you doing to do?”
“I’ll go. Don’t got a choice, do I? I’ve got my own baby to worry about. I can understand what Nezumi’s trying to say. Heh, but I didn’t expect to be completely convinced. I must be getting old.”
“Oh―Inukashi, by baby, do you mean the one I entrusted―”
“Shut up. He’s my baby, and it’s none of your business. A little slow to notice, huh, uncaring prick? You can beg on your knees asking to see him, but you won’t get a chance.” Inukashi neatly gathered up all the leftover food and stuck his long tongue out at Shion.
Confusion was reaching its peak around the Moondrop. The army had fired further shots into the knots of people, resulting in even more deaths. At the same times, several soldiers also fell to the ground, growing old and dying within minutes.
A roar of fear erupted from the soldiers. As some threw their guns aside and attempted to run, their superiors shot them dead from behind.
“Obey your orders. Suppress the rioters. Disperse them.”
“No! Our lives are precious to us, too!”
“Don’t even think about fleeing. Desert the battlefield―the penalty is death,” a senior officer barked. Suddenly, he bent backwards and collapsed. Blood spurted from his forehead. A bullet had ricocheted and hit him, perhaps―or had someone shot him? Even while his body convulsed, the soldiers trampled him with their military boots in an attempt to escape.
The crowd swarmed into the Moondrop. In their midst, each gate of the city exploded and dissolved in flames. Cracks appeared in the special alloy barrier as it, too, fell apart. The Correctional Facility was already half-demolished in a cloud of black smoke.
The bigscreen monitors in the square displayed each of these scenes.
“Shion, what the hell is going on there? Why are they playing that? Is No. 6 showing everyone its demise on purpose?” Inukashi asked with a shiver.
“That must be surveillance footage from the cameras installed in each part of the city…. But that should be playing on the screens in the monitoring room of the Security Bureau. This footage is being forwarded to public screens… which means the computer’s controls have gone completely haywire.”
“And that must be….”
“Yeah, you’re right. Only she can scramble No. 6’s controls like this.”
Chuckle, chuckle, chuckle.
Chuckle, chuckle, chuckle.
He could hear lighthearted laughing. It reached his ears, threading its way through the roar of the mob, footsteps, screams, and the sound of something being beaten like a drum.
Chuckle, chuckle, chuckle.
Chuckle, chuckle, chuckle.
She’s laughing. She’s trying to destroy No. 6, laughing all the while.
“Nezumi, can you sing?”
“…Not here. It’s too packed with people. I’ll be out of breath before long, especially in this condition.” Nezumi looked up at the night sky, his face shining with perspiration.
“She’s laughing,” he muttered.
“You hear it?” Shion asked.
“Yeah. She sounds like she’s enjoying herself. Arrogant humans thought they were the rulers of the world, and now look how easily they destroy themselves―she’s relishing every minute of it.”
“Is she punishing human hubris?”
“Or it might be fate,” Nezumi answered. “No. 6 was fated to become like this. A balloon will always burst if it’s blown up too much. Maybe she just sped up those cogwheels of fate a little bit.”
Chuckle, chuckle, chuckle.
Chuckle, chuckle, chuckle.
A man clutching a boy of about five ran past Shion.
“Help me, help me!” he cried through his tears.
“Nezumi, let’s go to the top floor of the Moondrop.”
“The mayor’s office?”
“Yeah. Your voice will reach the entire square from there. Not only will Elyurias hear your song, so will the rest of the people.”
“A song won’t calm the confusion.”
“It’ll be more effective than guns. That much is for sure.”
They went along with the flow of people and entered the Moondrop.
“Where’s the mayor? Bring him out!”
“This is the end of No. 6! We’re done for!”
“The wall has crumbled! The gates have been broken!”
“Bring out the vaccines! Mayor! Mayor!”
Suddenly, one man dashed up the stairs. With a megaphone in hand, he bellowed in the stairwell.
“Comrades, I am here! I am Yoming! I once urged you to rise for freedom!”
The crowd buzzed.
“It’s Yoming! Yoming!”
“Yes! Comrades, just moments ago, I was attacked by the security squad and I was almost killed. But yet I still stand here in front of you. I will not die until I finish rebuilding No. 6 with my own two hands. I will not die―I am immortal!”
The buzz grew louder. A mass of fists were raised triumphantly towards the man.
“Yoming! Yoming! Our hero!”
“Comrades. No. 6’s destruction is near. We’re almost there. Let us defeat No. 6, come together as one, pool our strength, and build a new utopia. We will make our bright future a reality, with our hands, comrades!”
“Yeah! That’s right!”
“Three cheers for Yoming! Three cheers for a new No. 6!”
“Comrades, let us drag the mayor and his people out before us. Here we will sentence and obliterate them. Let that be the first step towards a new world!”
Cries of assent melded together into one roar. It shook the very air.
Shion also dashed up the stairs to stand beside Yoming. “That’s wrong. What he’s saying isn’t right.”
Yoming’s eyes bulged as he gritted his teeth.
“Everyone, listen to me: there is no vaccine here. What’s happening right now isn’t going to be stopped by the likes of any vaccine.”
“Hey, what are you―”
“I survived.” Shion took off his shirt and flung it aside, exposing his red banded scars. “This is proof of my survival. Everyone, please. Give us a little bit―ten minutes―of your time. Don’t worry, we’ll settle this somehow. I survived. There’s nothing stopping you from surviving, too. But for that to happen, we need time.”
“What are we supposed to do?” A voice questioned weakly from the crowd. It was a female voice. “Tell us what we’re supposed to do.”
“Keep waiting,” Shion answered. “Wait just a little bit longer, and everything will come to an end. No one has to die anymore.”
Wait, he says.
So we just wait here.
For half an hour or so.
Like a breeze blowing ripples across the surface of a lake, a silent wave spread throughout the crowd. Everyone gradually began to sit down on the spot. People in the square also squatted on the ground, hugging their knees.
“Thank you, everyone.” Still holding the megaphone, Shion also spoke to the dumbfounded man before him. “You, too, Yoming. Wait here.”
Yoming was speechless.
“I’m going ahead.” Nezumi broke into a run, passing behind Shion.
“How on earth did you….” Yoming murmured as he gazed at Shion.
There was no one in front of the mayor’s office. The guards had likely fled as well. What used to be the safest and most comfortable place in No. 6 was now highly dangerous territory.
Shion knocked on the door.
“Come in,” a calm voice answered through the intercom beside the door.
The door slid aside soundlessly.
The room was warm, tranquil, and luxurious. The mayor was standing in front of a wide writing desk near the wall. He had a smaller frame than what Shion had imagined. And he was young.
This man… is the ruler of No. 6.
There was a leather sofa beside the mayor, and another man sat at the end of it. He was wearing a white lab coat. His neck was bent at an odd angle, and his arms dangled lifelessly. His hair had turned white before Shion’s eyes, and his mouth hung open, having already taken its last breath. A tooth dislodged itself from the man’s mouth and landed on the floor.
A wasp was sitting on the nape of the man’s neck, moving its antennae busily.
“It’s a newborn,” the mayor whispered. He sounded like someone who was trying not to wake a sleeping baby. “I had no idea it was living inside his body, either. But I think he was the most surprised. He died without even getting over his astonishment. ‘It can’t be’―” the mayor smiled faintly. “Those were his last words. ‘It can’t be’. Hah, it must be decades since I heard something like that come out of his mouth. He believed that everything in the world could be explained by science.”
“Mayor. Please open the window. We’re going to use your balcony.”
“What do you intend to do?”
“We want to speak with Elyurias. We need to meet her, and it’s urgent.”
“You kids know about Elyurias?”
The mayor’s gaze shifted from Shion to Nezumi.
“Window, you say…” he muttered, and pushed a button on his desk. The window slowly opened out.
Nezumi stepped out onto the balcony. A wind blew up at them, ruffling Nezumi’s hair.
A song flowed 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
Nezumi’s singing was picked up by the wind, and seemed to reach every corner of the square―and every corner of No. 6. The people sat perfectly still and listened in a trance.
It was like a voice that stole the soul away and thieved the heart.
Safu. Shion spoke to the girl in his heart. Just once―just once more, lend me your strength. Deliver this song to Elyurias. Safu, please. Lend us your power.
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 wind grew stronger. Nezumi staggered.
Inukashi stood still, rooted to the spot.
“Wh―What the hell―”
A golden ring appeared in the sky, squarely in front of Nezumi. The ring shrank until it became a blinding light. The light shimmered as it wavered, and turned into the figure of a wasp.
It has been a while, Singer.
“It really has.” Nezumi turned around and beckoned to Shion.
Shion stepped out onto the balcony and drew up beside Nezumi. The crowd filling the square looked up all at once.
“Elyurias. Do you mind if I call you by this name?”
As you please. A name given by a human means nothing to me.
“Elyurias. We beg you. We want you to grant us one more chance―just once.”
Shion heard the beating of wings. Four transparent wings glimmered as they beat the air.
“Please don’t give up on us humans yet. Just once. Give us one more chance, Elyurias.”
Creatures full of arrogance and deceit.
You are telling me to believe you?
“Humans are capable of both upholding ideals and succumbing to corruption. There are those who cling onto their power, and there are those who are pushed along by the majority. But there are those who uphold their ideals, live for others, and continue to fight against their own foolishness, deceit, and arrogance. Elyurias, hear our plea. Believe in us, just once more.”
Is that what you wish for yourself, Singer?
Nezumi gave a slight nod.
As one of the Forest People, you will believe in the residents of No. 6?
“I won’t believe the people of No. 6. The only one I believe is him. No―that’s not it. It’s not that I believe him. It’s just―”
“I want to see what Shion will become. I want to see what he’s going to build on the ruins of No. 6. I want to see with my own eyes what he’ll create.”
You want to see.
“O God―Forest God, you yourself aren’t omnipotent. You can’t see everything. There’s no way you could predict whether he’ll create a future that’s different from No. 6, or follow in its footsteps. It’s something to look forward to, isn’t it? How far will humans fall? Where would they be able to dig in their heels and resist? See where it’ll take them―that’s just another way to enjoy it. I think you’re jumping the gun if you think humans are hopeless because of a small example like No. 6.”
The tiny infant I remember seems to have grown into an insolent one.
“People grow up. For better or for worse.”
Singer, are you sure? You do not need to keep loathing No. 6?
“No. 6 doesn’t exist anymore. You destroyed it. But if No. 6 were to appear here again, I’d hate it with my heart and soul, and wage another war.”
Elyurias’ antennae quivered left and right. Golden powder scattered from them.
I have a message from Safu. She says, “I leave everything in your hands”.
Everything in your hands. They were the same as the doctor’s dying words. Shion clenched his hand into a fist, and nodded.
“Please tell Safu that I’ve gotten her message. And please tell her that I’ll never forget her for as long as I live.”
“Elyurias, wait! Please, for us―”
Just once. This one single time, Shion.
The golden light disappeared. The wind ceased.
Shion went back inside the room, and sank onto the carpeted floor.
“It’s finally over.”
“Over? This is just the start, Shion. Your battle is beginning, and it’s going to be an arduous one.”
“What kind of world will you build here in the place of No. 6? Would you be able to build a real town, where humans can live as humans―and not some parasitic city wearing the mask of a utopia? Shion, your battle has just begun. You haven’t finished. The one whose end is nigh is―”
Nezumi turned around and stared at the mayor.
“I know.” The mayor sat down in his chair, and quietly closed his eyes. “Could you excuse yourselves? I would like to be alone.”
“Going to think about what to do with yourself, Mayor?” Rikiga growled.
“That has already been decided. I’ll put an end to my own affairs. So, please, if you will.”
“Let’s go. Everyone deserves to have their last wishes respected.” Nezumi started to walk out.
“You have my thanks.” The mayor raised his hand.
The door closed.
A gunshot rang out almost at the same time. Rikiga shook his head slowly.
Hamlet squeaked from Shion’s pocket.
A cerulean sky.
The sky that unfolded over the small hill in the North Block was crystal clear.
“Nice weather. Perfect for travelling.” The wind tousled Nezumi’s hair, and he smoothed it down with his hand.
“Shion, right here is fine. You didn’t have to come out to see me off.”
“…You’re set on going?”
“I have to.”
“When are you coming back?”
“Coming back? I don’t have a place to return to.”
“Nezumi, can’t I… can’t I go with you?”
“You and I are different. I’m a drifter; you’re stationary. That’s what it boils down to. When you’re incompatible, you can’t live together. You should know this already.”
Nezumi let his gaze wander over the scene that spread below him.
Here was a city once called No. 6. From where he stood, it seemed no different than how it had always been.
“Are you crying?”
“I’m not―geez, I’m not a girl―”
“I’m afraid of you.”
“I can’t seem to grasp anything that’s inside you, that’s why. You’re a mystery. You had the power to put all the people at the Moondrop in the palm of your hand in two seconds flat, yet here you are crying like a girl. You can be utterly ruthless, courageous, and noble all at once. And that’s all part of who you are, isn’t it? I can’t understand it, and that’s why it’s terrifying for me. Maybe sometime in the future, it wouldn’t be so bad for me to drop by to see… yeah, to see what kind of person you’ve become. Your mama’s muffins are also hard to resist. But I didn’t expect to get a hug from her right after being introduced.”
Shion grasped Nezumi’s arm. He felt like he could endure no more.
“Don’t go, Nezumi. I want to be by your side. I want you to be by my side. That’s all I wish for.”
“It can’t happen.”
“How many times are you going to make me repeat myself? You have to stay here. You have a job to do.”
“I can just let someone else―”
“You can’t let anyone else do it. Shion, you have to do this. Did you forget your promise with Safu? What about the doctor’s last words? You said you’d take it. Shion, don’t run away. You have a battle to fight. You have a job to do here. You can’t turn your back on it.”
Shion looked at his feet.
He tightened his grip around Nezumi’s arm.
I know. I understand. But―
“Nezumi, the world means nothing to me without you. Nothing.”
A finger hooked on his chin, and yanked it upwards.
A set of dark grey eyes were right in front of him.
“Won’t you listen, my stubborn child? Act your age.” It was a woman’s voice, softened with laughter.
“Nezumi, I’m serious―”
Their lips overlapped. It was a searing, but gentle, passionate kiss.
“Was that a… goodbye kiss?”
“A vow.” Nezumi smiled. “Reunion will come, Shion.”
Nezumi turned his back to him. Hamlet and Cravat hopped onto his shoulder, and chirruped at each other.
The wind blew.
The clouds panned out.
Nezumi’s figure grew smaller and smaller.
He never turned around once.
“Nezumi.” I never found out your real name. But―I don’t need to know.
To Shion, Nezumi had always been Nezumi. His one and only, irreplaceable person.
Nezumi, I’ll keep waiting. No matter how many years it takes, no matter how old I get, I’ll keep waiting for you right here, on this land.
The drifter and the stationary one―their paths were bound to intersect again. And when they did, Shion would not let him go again so easily.
Nezumi, I’ll keep waiting for you.
The wind blew.
Sunlight streamed down―on Shion; on the city about to be reborn; on Nezumi’s vestige.
The light streamed down, and encompassed everything.