"Nezumi!" Inukashi yelled, stomping on the blanket. "This isn't what you promised. What the hell were you doing?"
"Hush, stop barking." Nezumi rummaged through the coat of the man he had just tied up, and extracted a leather pouch out of one of its pockets. "Take a cue from your dogs, Inukashi. Lie down and shut up."
"Stop shitting me," Inukashi snarled. "Why didn't you come out sooner?"
"You must be kidding me. Fucking. Kidding. Me. You half-assed fraud, you third-rate actor. You're more cunning than a fox, and more shameless than a pig. I'm never gonna trust you again. I hope you get bitten by fleas, and get all the blood sucked out of you so you wither and die."
"Stop yapping already, will you? It's not even something to get that angry about. Alright, I was two, three minutes late coming out. That's it."
"And in those two, three minutes I got licked on the neck and molested on my leg."
Nezumi flashed a gentle, wry smile, like one of a mother directed toward her whining child.
"Inukashi, it's the benefit of the experience. You've just had the precious experience of getting your neck licked by a high official of No. 6. You can store it away as a good memory."
Inukashi's clenched fist trembled. His black eyes glittered in his tan face.
"Besides," he said, "why me? Why couldn't you have done it instead?"
"Why do I have to do it?"
"Because you'd make the perfect prostitute. You lure men in, and make them completely weak and helplessly infatuated. A liar, a wanton, with a nasty personality to boot. You wouldn't even have to put on an act."
It was then that Shion finally spoke to Inukashi. Until now, he had been watching everything unfold in a daze, unable to keep up.
"Inukashi, that's going too far. Don't say any more."
"Same goes for you, Shion," Inukashi turned on him next. "Why didn't you come rushing out the moment that man sat on the bed? That was how we planned it, right?"
"Yeah, but―" He was right. In their briefing before the event, they had agreed to wait until Fura, the high official from the Central Administration Bureau, had been brought in by Rikiga. When he sat on the bed, they were to burst out from behind the partition and apprehend him. That was the plan, and Shion had intended to act on it.
But Nezumi had stopped him. He had grabbed him by the shoulder as if to say, "don't burst out yet." The bed was creaking unpleasantly. The man had inched closer to Inukashi. Shion could almost feel Inukashi's panic as if it were his own. But Nezumi still did not move. He remained crouched in the darkness, so silent that not even his breathing could be heard.
"I'm going home. Get out of the way!"
The man's hand drew something out of his pocket. And in the same soundless way, Nezumi's body glided forward. Shion was not able to sense Nezumi's movements at all. Although he had been squatting right beside him, he had not even been able to sense the air around him move as he shifted.
"Why don't you hang out with us a little longer? We'd give you such a good time, you'd melt on the spot."
Once he heard Nezumi's voice pierce through the multitude of layered wind-whistles, Shion finally stepped out from behind the partition and stood beside Inukashi. By this time, the man was already groaning quietly on the floor.
Inukashi clicked his teeth, with his nose wrinkled in a menacing scowl.
"'Yeah but'? 'Yeah but' what, huh? Is taking care of dogs all you're good for? You useless, airheaded idiot!"
Shion couldn't talk back. He was well aware of how unskilled and useless he was, once he had been cornered. Nothing was quite as painful as an insult that hit the mark with its grain of truth.
Nezumi bent down and picked the handgun off the floor. He moved it around on his palm as if to check its weight.
"It's a self-defense gun, latest model. It's pretty small, but if you got hit point-blank, it would be fatal. I just thought it'd be more trouble if we risked letting him swing this thing around."
"And that's why you decided to take your sweet time, and wait until this pervert took out his gun."
"It reduces the risk of danger."
"Risk? Why, isn't that just splendid," Inukashi said sarcastically. "While I was dealing with this perverted bastard over here, you two were busily discussing the risks. Guess great minds are just different from us, huh? I almost want to ask you to give a special lecture to my dogs, next time."
"Don't be sarcastic. Here, look."
Nezumi turned the leather pouch upside-down, and shook it lightly. Five golden coins spilled out onto the table.
"Five golds, huh. Loaded himself down quite a bit for just one night of fun, didn't he, old man."
"Actually, not really," Rikiga opened his mouth. His voice was heavy and hoarse, a startling difference from his earlier cavalier tone.
"I told him I had a woman that was unusual, different from the prostitutes he usually has. I had to charge him considerably more than usual, or else he'd be suspicious. He's a cautious one."
Nezumi plucked a gold coin up.
"Here, Inukashi. Your share."
The coin was tossed into the air, bounced off Inukashi's fingers as he snatched at it, and fell on the floor at Shion's feet. Shion picked it up and handed it to Inukashi. His tan fingers were trembling.
His lips were pursed, and he looked like he was about to cry at any minute. Shion had never seen this expression on him before. His shoulders and arms were shaking slightly as well.
He must've been really scared.
Inukashi, who had several dozen dogs at his command, lived in ruins, and with fierceness and strength survived each day, was not able to restrain his shaking body. Shion tried to imagine just how much fear and humiliation he had gone through.
Shion didn't know how old Inukashi was. Inukashi himself probably didn't know either. Most of the West Block's residents were not certain of their age, parents, birthplace, nor whether they had a life to live tomorrow. But he could imagine that Inukashi was very young, much younger than himself at sixteen years. He knew that Inukashi engaged in fraudulent activities, theft, and even extortion without batting an eyelash. Inukashi was seldom bothered by being railed at or having insults hurled his way. But he had not been able to bear playing the bait in this farce, staged on the bed in a dimly-lit room.
He was still that young.
Inukashi's angry bellows and profanities were but the other side of the fear he really felt.
"I'm sorry," Shion found himself saying softly. "I've done a horrible thing to you. I'm really, really sorry, Inukashi."
Inukashi's brown eyes blinked. Their rims were red. His lips moved soundlessly. Shion placed a hand on his bony shoulder. He didn't think the gesture was nearly enough to soothe the other boy's anger or confusion. He knew he would not be forgiven. But he had remembered one thing. When he was still young, his mother Karan would often put a hand on his shoulder like this. He had remembered the comforting warmth that soaked into his body from that gentle hand, wordlessly placed. That was all.
Inukashi didn't resist. He shifted a little, and pressed his forehead against Shion's arm.
"Bastards... I hate you all."
"Mm-hmm," Shion murmured.
"I hated... hated it, so much..."
"I tried so hard not to scream ― scream for you guys, ask why you weren't coming out... I tried as―as hard as I could, you know."
Sorry, Shion murmured again, and gripped his shoulder firmly.
Agitation raced through him. He had felt in his fingertips, a softness of the flesh he had not expected at all. The shoulder was thin and bony, but soft. It was not hard, taut and bulging with muscle, but soft and rounded in a curve.
It reminded him of Safu's shoulders in the few times they had touched his own.
Could it be ― but how ―
At almost the same time that Shion gazed at Inukashi, Inukashi detached himself from Shion's arm, and Nezumi tossed another gold coin. This time, Inukashi's hand securely snatched it.
"How nice. Most honourable of you, Nezumi."
"You haven't done the work for free. You agreed to be the bait in exchange for money."
"No need to tell me, I already know."
"Then don't go yammering on about it now. Two gold coins for less than ten minutes of work. Can't find a job like this just anywhere."
"I told you, I know!" Inukashi repeated loudly. "But you can count me out of any future roles like this. You can step in for me, or this airheaded young master here."
"There won't be a next time."
Nezumi shoved the rest of the three gold coins in Rikiga's direction. "The rest is for the old man's taking."
"How about you guys?"
"Don't need it."
"Modest in your desires, aren't you?"
"You can say that."
"Or are you saying that because money's gonna be useless from here on anyway?"
"Probably will be."
Nezumi's grey eyes studied Rikiga's alcohol-flushed face.
"What's wrong?" he said. "Why the grave face?"
Rikiga didn't answer.
"Gold coins, old man. Your favourite. Why aren't you accepting them? Not like they're smeared with poison, at least I don't think so."
"Probably not smeared with poison. We've got something much more troublesome."
The brown liquid sloshed around in his glass. The sharp smell of alcohol drifted into the air and assaulted the nose. Rikiga took another swig of the cheap liquor, and coughed weakly.
"It's money we've stolen from a high official of the Holy City, tricking him and tying him up. Get our hands on that, and it could cost us our lives."
Nezumi laughed softly.
"You're starting to get scared now?"
"I am," Rikiga nodded promptly. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "We're already knee-deep, but I'm starting to get scared. We've really done it, now we've ― we've really turned No. 6 against us."
"They've always been against us. That city has always been an enemy to us. Are you saying you haven't realized, or have you just pretended not to? Which one is it, old man?"
Rikiga drained the last of his liquor in one swig, and sighed deeply. The candle flame flickered, and their four shadows, half-blended in darkness, also shifted slightly.
"Eve." Rikiga called Nezumi by his stage name. The alcohol seemed to be working on him, for his speech was beginning to slur.
"―Aren't you afraid to die?"
"Die? Well, that question just came out of nowhere, didn't it."
"You're turning the whole Holy City against you. You don't possibly think you can brazenly keep living? You're not that naive."
"Old man." Nezumi's hand stroked the tabletop. The gold coins disappeared like magic. "Sorry, but I have no intention of bracing myself for death. The ones who live are the ones who win. They're the ones that are going to perish. We're gonna be the ones that survive. Are we not?"
"Are you serious about that?"
"You're mad. You've gone mad, and you're living in your delusions, Eve. There's no chance of us winning. Not even a fraction of possibility."
"You may be right."
"It's completely unfounded. Everything you're saying and trying to do, completely unfounded. Babblings of a madman. It's one percent. 0.01. You're willing to bet on this tiny fraction?"
"It's a tiny fraction, but it's not zero. Which means you don't know until you try."
"Prithee lend me your hand, your Majesty." Nezumi forcibly grabbed Rikiga's wrist and turned his palm upwards. He placed his own hand on top. Three gold coins appeared.
"Your share, old man. Don't forget to claim it."
The empty liquor bottle slid out of Rikiga's hand, and smashed messily on the floor. Drops of liquor flew in all directions, and stained the floor.
"Be more like Inukashi, and accept it humbly. We're in motion now. We can't turn back. None of us."
"None of us, huh..." Rikiga looked down at the gold coins in his hand, and his mouth twisted. "Accomplices to the very end, you might say."
"Right. Important partners. We each have our own role, and the curtain's long risen. You better not be thinking of ducking out now, old man, because it's way too late for that."
"What if I said I surrender my role? Would you kill me?"
"If you wish."
"Knowing you, you'd probably execute the kill beautifully," Rikiga said bitterly. "What, would you slit my throat with a knife? Give me a stab through the heart?"
"Don't give me too much credit. It's harder to wield a knife than an amateur might think, you know." Nezumi turned to Rikiga and smiled. Rikiga drew his chin back, and grew stone-faced.
"My hand might slip and miss the fatal spot. It happens every now and then. Pretty gruesome for the victim, huh? He has to writhe around and suffer because he can't die quickly. Gruesome, indeed. I'd hate to see one of my precious friends die that way."
Rikiga made a low strangled noise in his throat, and dropped the gold coins into his pocket. Then, he spat out one word.
Inukashi sniffed dismissively from his spot beside Shion.
"We've always known what a devil he is. No use throwing a fit about it now."
Shion balled his hand into a fist.
Nezumi was no devil. He knew this more certainly than anyone else. Again and again, his life had been saved, and been rescued from pressing danger. He had clung to the hand that was extended to him, and it had pulled him up. His life was not the only thing that had been saved ― his soul, in the form that it was meant to be ― had also been saved. He believed so.
Nezumi had pulled Shion up to the heights, and taught him how to gaze at the world from there. In contrast to a world circled by fortress walls, isolated and complacent, he had shown him a world which expanded to limitless horizons, where many forms of human life jostled in one place, where lifestyles, values, gods, and justice were never the same for everyone. If he had not met Nezumi, he would have continued living without knowing a thing about it, and gone on to grow old. He would have lived peacefully in the Holy City of No. 6, privileged with artificial vivacity and abundance , never casting a single thought to the world outside the wall.
Nezumi had told him. Crawl out of your artificial world, and come over here. He had told him to see with his own eyes. To think for himself. Think. Think with your own head what's right, what's meaningful, what you want, what you believe ― not the values, morals, and justice that have been fed to you, imposed upon you.
He had been told countless times. At times passionately, at times coldly, with his voice, his gaze, and his actions, Nezumi had told him again and again.
Since meeting Nezumi, he had thought about all these things. His feelings, his desires, his thoughts, his sensations, his hopes, his beliefs, what he desired to believe. There were many things he could still not grasp, but to wrestle with his thoughts, and to keep pondering, had revived Shion's soul and pumped living blood back into it.
That was what living meant.
To make one's soul one's own. Not to hand it over to anyone else. Not to be dominated. Not to fall into submission.
This was what it was to live.
Nezumi had taught him this. He had injected new blood into his soul.
And Shion himself was the one who had gotten everyone involved. It wasn't Nezumi. Shion had gotten the other three involved, solely for the purpose of rescuing Safu, who had been apprehended by the Security Bureau and imprisoned in the Correctional Facility. He had dragged them into a dangerous battle, where the chances of winning were less than one in a hundred, as Rikiga had said.
"What's up, Shion? You look kinda scary ― not like yourself," Inukashi cocked his head in a puzzled way. Shion shook his head.
"That's not it."
"That's not it, Inukashi. Rikiga-san, too. All this, it's all my―"
His eyes met with Nezumi's. Or, rather, it was more like his eyes had been pulled at and forced to meet the other's strong gaze. Nezumi's lustrous, dark grey eyes always glittered with energy, and were beautiful. But despite that, they never showed any hint of emotion. They had not changed at all from when Shion had first met him. They were still the same as the pair of eyes he had peered into once, pushed up against the wall with a set of cold fingers at his throat. Nezumi slowly dropped his gaze, and murmured as if in song.
"I am the spirit that denies. Yes, I am all things which you call Sin, Destruction, or Evil." 
"What's that?" Inukashi twitched his nose. "Shion, what the hell is this deranged actor saying?"
"Huh? What's that? Is it edible?"
"He appears in the book Faust. He's ― a demon."
"So a devil is just reciting a devil's lines. Perfectly fitting."
"No, like I said, Nezumi isn't―"
The man suddenly groaned. His bound body gave a twitch.
"Looks like our guest has awakened from his slumber." Nezumi extracted his leather gloves, and flapped them nonchalantly. A faint smile played on his lips.
"Let us begin Act One Scene Two, then, shall we?"
Rikiga looked up at the ceiling, and exhaled. Inukashi gave an exaggerated shrug of his shoulders. He glanced at Shion.
"Shion," he said.
"He is the devil."
"He's the devil, and you're the one who doesn't know the real deal. At least, that's what I think."
Read Chapter 2.
- A loose paraphrasing. Reference used:
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von. The Tragedy of Faust. Web. [link]
Mephistopheles: The spirit I, which evermore denies!
And justly; for whate'er to light is brought
Deserves again to be reduced to naught;
Then better 'twere that naught should be.
Thus all the elements which ye
Destruction, Sin, or briefly, Evil, name,
As my peculiar element I claim. (back)