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The Place of the Gods
Then the goddess Hannahanna decided to use her last resort. She gathered not several, but hundreds, thousands of bees, and said, "You are small and nimble, and fly as swift as the light, so you shall surely be able to find the god Telepinu. Now, go." 
- The Disappearance of Telipinu, Hittite Myth
There was a person collapsed at the foot of a spindly tree whose bark was whiter than the rest. He was a little boy, even smaller than the girl in size. He was writhing in pain. Shion took him in his arms and sat him up. Even in the settling dusk, he could tell that the boy was deathly pale. He was clawing at his throat, and his mouth was open, but his lips were bloodless.
Suffocation. He was choking from something stuck in his throat. There was no time to waste. Supporting the boy's belly with one arm, Shion thumped his back with the palm of his other hand.
"Spit it out. Come on," he urged. Twice, then a third time, he kept hitting the boy's bony back. Four times, five times...
The boy wretched, and vomit spilled out of his mouth. There was a dark, round object mixed in with it. The boy twitched slightly.
"Water! Bring water!" Shion commanded Nezumi again. He lay the boy down, and brought his own cheek to the boy's mouth. He could feel definite breathing. He's alright, he's breathing. He didn't need to clear the boy's airway, or give him artificial resuscitation. But his consciousness―
"Call his name."
The girl responded quickly to Shion's words. She bent over the boy, bringing her face close to his, and called his name.
"Rico, can you hear me? Rico."
"Rico, can you breathe?" Shion called after her.
The boy's chest swelled largely. His eyelids fluttered and opened. A tear spilled over and rolled down his cheek.
"Rico!" Shion gently restrained the girl as she tried to throw her arms around the boy. He slowly raised Rico's upper body off the ground, and brought a cup of water to his mouth.
"Can you drink this?"
"Good boy. Drink it slowly. So your name is Rico, huh?"
"Rico, can you hear your sister's voice and my voice clearly? Can you see us just fine?"
"Yeah― and the water tastes good."
"You're a good boy," Shion enthused. "You've done a really great job. Does your stomach feel alright? Does your chest hurt at all?"
"My throat hurts..."
Rico had probably torn at his throat in pain, for it was covered in scratches which were beginning to bleed. Shion retrieved some gauze and rubbing alcohol from the emergency kit. They were four years old, but now, this was all they had.
"This is going to sting. Don't cry."
He swabbed the wounds, pressed a fresh piece of gauze to them, and wrapped Rico's neck with a bandage. Shion could only give him the most basic of emergency procedures. This was the best he could do. If he had said anything along the lines of 'to the hospital', Nezumi would have laughed in his face. Shion knew very well that in this area, the West Block of No. 6, there was no such thing as a decent medical facility. From what Rico had vomited out, Shion picked out what appeared to have been blocking his airway.
"A nut?" It was small and round. "Why would this be―"
Rico hung his head. Nezumi folded his arms as he stood, and gave a short sigh.
"He was hungry."
"He was probably so hungry he couldn't bear it anymore. That nut― if you grind it into flour, it's― well, it's edible. He was probably in the middle of gathering them when he got hungry. He got so hungry he decided to put one in his mouth, which was all good until he swallowed it by mistake― is my guess of what probably happened."
"Rico's always hungry," the girl said. "Even if Mum gives him part of her bread, he's still hungry."
"It's such a tiny piece of bread," Rico protested. "One bite, and it's all gone." He dissolved into a fit of coughs. His voice was raspy, and his face was still pale. Shion wrapped his body in a blanket.
"Keep warm. If your neck still hurts, I'll treat it for you. Come again anytime."
"Take them home."
Shion raised his face at Nezumi's words.
"Yeah, you. You helped them, so finish your job and see them through. They live in the house down this slope, it's not too far. Their mother is probably getting worried right about now."
That meant he would have to show himself to an adult. Shion stood up. He didn't know why, but he had started to shake.
"You'll have to go out there one day anyway. If you're getting scared now, you'll never be able to walk the streets. ―Well, not that it's any of my business. But if we stay out here in the rain any longer, someone's going to catch pneumonia."
He had forgotten that it was raining. Shion finally noticed its coldness. It seeped right into his bones, and reminded him that winter was approaching.
"Well, I'm off. The prince can do as he pleases." Nezumi turned his back to them and descended down the steps below. Rico sneezed. The girl extended her small hand and grasped Shion's fingers.
"Thanks for saving my little brother."
"Oh― no, I― It's not―" Shion stammered. "You don't have to thank me. What's your name?"
"Karan? That's the same name as my mother."
The girl smiled. Shion could feel the warmth of the girl's hand as she clasped his fingertips. He scooped Rico up, blankets and all.
"I'll take you two home. Kalan, lead the way."
There was steam rising out of the pot on the kerosene heater. Inside it was soup. As he stirred the broth of vegetables and meat, Nezumi gave a sigh. He flinched when he realized he had sighed without thinking. A few droplets of soup splashed out of the pot, and hissed as they hit the RDF heater.
He hated sighing. Sighing on purpose was a different matter― but this kind of sighing, the kind that escaped his lips without his knowing, irritated him.
"Never sigh in earnest. Never cry. You'll be taken advantage of by demons." He had been told that by an old woman, so far in her years that age seemed not to matter. "Sighing creates an opening, a vulnerability. If you want to stay live, keep your mouth shut. Never let anyone see your weak spot. Let your heart warm to no one. Never trust anyone but yourself."
They were her dying words. She had been shot through the chest and was frothing bloodily at the mouth, but her words had rung clearly in his ears. Nezumi didn't think of ever forgetting them. Even if he did, her voice would not let him. It clung tenaciously to his mind, and refused to let go.
But he had turned his back on it. He had let an unheeded sigh escape his lips without even realizing. All thanks to him. He tsked his tongue in frustration.
Maybe it was a mistake to bring Shion here. He seriously thought so. Shion had opened the door without hesitation. He had thrown it open wide, without even checking what was on the other side, or concealing himself in shadow. If they had been unlucky, he would have lost his life. Even if the visitor had not been an armed soldier, it may as well have been an armed robber using a child as bait. Here in the West Block, it would not be an uncommon thing. But that was something Shion didn't know. He didn't know how to be suspicious or cautious, or to be afraid. It was the ignorance and recklessness of one who had grown up in safety and security.
He honestly felt that he had taken a dangerous and troublesome burden under his wing. No one had forced him to. He had born the burden of his own will, because he wanted to return the favour he owed. There was no way he could have let him die ― Shion, who had saved his life, expecting nothing in return.
There was no way of returning a favour to the dead, and Nezumi didn't want to carry a debt that he would never be able to repay. That was why he rescued and brought Shion here. But now he thought it may have been careless for him to do so. Maybe he had brought with him a bigger risk than he had imagined. An oblivious and careless, dangerous and troublesome―
He threw a glance at the door.
But if Shion had not opened the door that time, Rico would not have been saved. It didn't take a lot of time for a choking young child to lose his life. Swift action and appropriate treatment ― thanks to that, Nezumi hadn't had to see a small body with its face permanently contorted in pain. A life had been saved. It was the same as the stormy night four years before. That time, it was him― this time, it was Rico. Shion, both times, had taken them in recklessly and as a result, saved them.
Shion knew the world only through theorems and rationales. He was naive and hadn't even learned how to doubt the trustworthiness of others. He was naturally oblivious, he was clueless, idiotic, and didn't even know who Hamlet was. But Shion was also definitely above him in some ways. Not in knowledge or skill, but ― but what?
"I'm drawn to you."
Was it the power to attempt at this embarrassing confession, and to believe that his sincere feelings would actually get across? Was it the power to lend a hand to a total stranger without thinking of the risk it reflected on himself?
He didn't know. All he knew was that Shion was, indeed, dangerous and troublesome. He was very― there were footsteps. Knocking. The door opened soon afterwards. Shion had come home.
"If you're gonna knock, wait for an answer before opening the door," Nezumi said curtly.
"Not like you would answer anyway, right?" replied Shion lightly. "But I noticed you left the door unlocked for me."
"The lock. I thought you'd lock the door, but you kept it open."
He was right. He hadn't locked the door. How reckless of him.
"Look at me, I've fallen under your horrible influence," Nezumi said woefully.
"What's that? ―Hey, look, I got some grapes as a thank-you gift."
The grapes were small and the whole bunch was rather pitiful.
"She offered me dried fish too, but I told her no thanks."
"Oh?" said Nezumi sardonically. "So even you felt bad about receiving handouts from the poor."
"No. It was because you don't like fish."
"Me? I'll eat fish. I'm not fortunate enough to be picky about my food."
"But you told me once you didn't like it much."
"What I said was that I can't eat raw fish. Meaning, this place is way too unhygienic to even think about eating fish raw."
Shion blinked, and put a hand to his hair.
"Oh. Oh well. ―But I'm glad, though."
"Kalan's family― oh, Kalan is the girl's name, by the way―"
"Oh, you knew? It's the same name as my mother's."
"Your mother's name isn't any of my concern, but.... So? Did it bring back memories of your Mama and bring you to tears? Poor thing."
He had meant it as a sarcastic remark, but Shion shook his head gravely.
"No, that's not it. There was another child there, a girl, younger than Rico. I think that fish was supposed to be their supper. One dried fish, for the three of them. It would have been alright not to accept that, right? But their mother insisted that I accept the grapes. She was really grateful. It kind of made me happy."
"You really think so?"
"If that kid had died, there would be more to eat for Kalan and the other girl. Even for Rico― wouldn't you have thought it would be better for him to die rather than grow up in constant hunger? Maybe you haven't actually done them a favour at all."
Shion sat down in front of the heater. His white hair, leaning more on transparent, was tinged red with the colours of the flame. His youthful hair had lost its colour, but still retained its shine. It's beautiful, Nezumi thought.
Shion's head of hair glimmered as it reflected the light of the things around it, and Nezumi extended his fingertips to touch it. His hair felt slightly coarse, but ran through Nezumi's fingers easily. It felt like ordinary hair, no more, no less.
"You told me to live," Shion said quietly, his face still turned to the flames. "Nezumi― you said there's meaning to being alive, and that's why I should live. That's what you said."
"I just said whoever lives wins."
"That's the same thing, isn't it?"
"How should I know?"
The dead could not speak. All they could do was lay there as a corpse, and return to the earth from which they came. They had no way to speak of the hatred, the cruelties, anguish, loathing or grief they went through. That was why he had to live. He would live, preserving everything in his memory, and pass it on.
It was like an artificial flower that left no seeds behind. It bloomed on the blood and corpses of a countless number. I'll pull you right out of the ground one day. Then you'll have no choice but to hear the voices of the dead, their hatred, their hardship, their anguish, their loathing, as it wells up out of the very ground and soaks the earth. I'll make sure you hear, even if you plug your ears. Until then, I'll live and remember. To forget is not a choice. His own self didn't allow him to.
"I got complimented." Shion looked up at Nezumi, and grinned.
"Complimented? For what?"
"My hair. Kalan's mother said it was nice. She said it was really unique, and really pretty."
"Well, it's unique, for sure. There are tons of kids around here that have white hair from malnutrition, but no one with a whole head of snowy hair like you."
"She didn't just say it was unique. She said it was pretty."
"Are you gushing about how someone complimented your hair? What are you, a girl?"
"But― well, you know, it gives me a bit of confidence," said Shion happily. "For when you show me around town tomorrow."
"Who said I was going to show you around?"
"You said so."
He did say so. He had said that he was going to show Shion around. Nezumi felt like a sullen child. He averted his gaze from Shion.
"I'm going to go about my own business. You go about yours."
"Okay. I'll mind my own business and tag along. Oh, and one more thing―"
"I promised Kalan and Rico I'd read to them when I have time. I found a lot of picture books in your stash, so―"
"You're gonna read to them here?"
"If it's sunny, I can take them outside."
Nezumi came close to sighing again, but he caught himself in time to seal his lips and hold it in.
"Are you trying to make this place a kindergarten?"
"Are there that many children around here?"
"Oh yeah, tons. But this is my place. Don't go around doing things without my permission, and don't think you're entitled to everything."
His words turned crude. There was a stinging irritation within his chest. Being with Shion irritated him. He felt like his restraint would snap any minute. It wasn't because Shion was being reckless or imposing, he admitted that Shion wasn't― it was because he couldn't see through him. There was no way to predict what Shion was thinking or what he would do. His actions and words always seemed to hit Nezumi out of the blue. It was tiring.
Shion was setting plates out on the table. The soup was finished, and its gentle aroma filled the room.
"I wasn't thinking I was entitled to anything― it's just that, since Kalan, Rico and I are friends now―"
"Friends," Shion repeated. "They're the first friends I've made since coming here. Well, not that I had many friends back in No. 6," he added as an afterthought. "I think Safu was the only one."
"She said she wanted to sleep with you. You don't call that 'friends'."
He remembered the ends of her short hair that draped prettily on the back of her neck.
Shion, I want to have sex with you.
She had put her all into this confession, and Shion had not been able to handle it. What a guy you've fallen for, huh, he remarked in his mind to the girl he barely knew. For some reason, he was suddenly overcome with the urge to laugh.
Shion cocked his head to the side. Two mice sitting atop a pile of books tilted their heads too, as if to imitate him. Nezumi burst out laughing. He squatted to the ground, and gave in fully to the wave of mirth that bubbled up inside him.
- This is a translation from the Japanese. There were discrepancies in the number of bees with the English source I consulted. For reference, here it is:
Hannahanna sent a bee: "You go search for [my son] Telipinu. When you find [him], sting his hands and feet and make him stand up. Then take wax and wipe him off. Then purify him and make him holy again. Then conduct him back here to me."
Hoffner, Harry A., Jr. trans. Hittite Myths. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1991. 18. (back)