The singing stopped. Silence wrapped around them. Shion had closed his eyes without realizing. The silence seemed to gently urge him to lift his eyelids. He opened his eyes to see Nezumi still on one knee, about to take his hand off the man's face.
"Has he passed away?"
"Just now." Nezumi let out a long exhale, and slumped back against the wall. He took off his gloves, and clenched them in his fist.
"Piece of shit," he heard Nezumi swear under his breath.
"Fucking, idiotic piece of shit."
"Who're you talking about?"
The pair of gloves whizzed towards him. As if they had a will of their own, they attacked Shion, smacked him right on the face, and slid to the ground.
"You're hopeless. Foolish, clumsy, useless beyond all hope."
Shion picked the gloves up. Nezumi was right. He was foolish, clumsy, and useless. Powerless, and unskilled. No matter how many insults were hurled at him, he could only nod and agree.
"Not just you." Nezumi raked his bangs up, and looked down. "So am I, and the guy that just died. We're all pieces of shit."
"You're not!" Shion leaned forward to face him. Nezumi lifted his face, and furrowed his brow.
"We're the same. You and I."
"No we're not. We're totally different."
Shion drew his chin back, and looked directly into the pair of grey eyes.
"You saved him."
"Me? I just helped the guy stop breathing. Gave him a little push."
"Isn't that the same as giving him salvation?"
The rims of Nezumi's eyes quavered slightly.
It was a word he had not expected to hear. Nezumi blinked slowly, just once, in front of Shion's eyes, and extended a hand to him.
"Give me my gloves."
"My gloves. Give them back to me."
With the leather gloves back in his hands, Nezumi clicked his tongue irritably and muttered that they had gotten dirty.
"Now they've got that guy's blood and spit on it. These were my favourite gloves."
"Nezumi... what do you mean by murder?"
"Murder is murder," Nezumi answered brusquely. "What I did was kill that man. I covered his mouth while he was still alive, and suffocated him. People usually call that murder, Shion, just in case you didn't know."
"But thanks to you, he was saved. He was freed from suffering."
"So―" Shion stammered, "so you saved him. Now he's at rest. He was released from pain, he was able to repent his sins, and he was able to go peacefully. What you did wasn't murder. It was salvation."
Nezumi leaned against the wall and blinked at him again.
"That's arrogant of you."
"Yeah. That's arrogant of you, you know that? Arrogant enough to be able to call killing someone 'salvation'. Who are you, Shion? God? Are you mighty enough that you can preside over other people's deaths?"
"Nezumi, I just―"
"That man shouldn't have gone peacefully," Nezumi said savagely.
"He should have kept suffering until he died. He should never have repented his sins and gone in tranquility. He should have loathed and cursed his unfair death, and he should have gasped his last breaths writhing in pain. Look."
Nezumi jerked his chin.
"Just look at this room. Remember what the execution chamber back there looked like. How could you leave this world peacefully after being crushed, killed, and tormented like mere insects? You can't. Of course you can't. Most people who get caught in the Hunt don't escape. They're forced to die a gruesome death. And when those dying people leave, they ought to leave strewing words of suffering and hatred everywhere. Then at least their true feelings― even if it's just deep resentment or damnation... They should never have their true feelings stolen from them. A peaceful death would be a fake imitation. Getting treated like bugs, getting abused, only to die smiling? What salvation, huh? That's just a convenient excuse. It's a low, filthy excuse. Don't you agree? There's only gruesome death here. I trust even you would be getting the picture by now, I hope?"
"Do you really understand? Then―" Nezumi averted his eyes from Shion. His grey eyes had only shifted a little, but Shion felt like a shadow had been thrown over the light that had been shining on him dimly. It was impossible, he knew, but he could feel it.
"Then restrain your arrogance. Respect death as it is. Don't think so highly of yourself, and don't think you can be the one to give people a painless death. Don't ever put your fingers around someone's throat again."
Shion stretched both his palms. He could still feel man's neck on his hands. His fingertips were shaking.
If these hands had power, if they had the power to bring a peaceful death, if they had the power to steal souls away like Nezumi, what would I have done?
He asked himself, and Shion felt like his shaking fingers were answering him.
I probably wouldn't have loosened my grip... and if that's called murder, then I would have become the murderer. But―but―could that really be evil?
"Is it wrong to make excuses?"
"Is it wrong to be released from suffering in the last moment of your life? Is it wrong to die smiling?"
Whether it was just an excuse, or fake imitation, Shion, unlike Nezumi, wasn't able to reject the fact that people wished a peaceful death, and that there were those who wanted to grant that wish. Nezumi sighed.
"Shion, do you still not understand? If you think of the dozens―no, hundreds by now, if you think of the people who have been killed already... what happens to those hundreds of lives, their hatred, their resentment? Are you gonna make excuses, and pretend it never existed?"
"No. It wouldn't happen that way. That would never be tolerated. But that's what the survivors are supposed to do. They live, they remember, and they tell others. They tell the truth of what happened in this place. It's a job for the survivors―for us. We'll engrave it into our memory, and never forget. But―but at least―for those who are already dying... if only they could go without hatred, if only we could―"
"Grant them an eternal slumber?"
"Idealistic, aren't you."
"I don't think it's wrong. I don't think what you did is murder, at least. I just can't see it that way."
Nezumi's breathing quickened slightly. A shadow skimmed across his eyes. His gaze darkened as he looked at Shion, and wavered along with his breaths.
"Remembering is the role of the survivors, huh... convenient, isn't it? How can you be so sure that there'll even be survivors? No wait, I see, you're already assuming you'll survive. Quite the optimist, aren't you, young master?"
"We vowed together that we'd make it back alive."
"That we'd never die, no matter what?"
"Yeah. We'll live, and go back to that room together."
Back to that room. The basement room in which they lived flashed in the back of Shion's mind. It was vivid, as if it were right before his eyes. The numerous books he had taken a whole week to sort through; the bookshelves, which covered the wall and reached to the ceiling; the beautiful and lavishly-bound book―Nezumi had said it was a story of a far-off land; the tattered and faded, though sturdy, chair; the pitiful bed with its stiff mattress; the pot puffing steam over the heater; the little mice scampering about the room. Cravat, Hamlet, Tsukiyo.
Shion clutched at his chest. He yearned for them so much, he felt dizzy.
I want to go back, to that place. I want to live those days once more. Those images did not shatter like the phantom vision of No. 6. It didn't ripple and disappear. It stood firm, vivid and almost repulsively real. It brought to him even the smell of the books, and the chattering of the mice. The impulse to dig his nails into his skin and tear at himself, pressed on his chest. He longed, and desperately so. He wanted to go back.
That room was the only place he intended to return to alive.
Nezumi gave a little snap of his fingers.
"You should survive and write a reportage of your infiltration into the Correctional Facility. Who knows, it might sell."
"You told me a while ago I wasn't meant to be a writer."
"Did I? It's quite the difficult task finding the right job for you. But I do acknowledge that you have a way with handling dogs, and sorting books, for one thing."
"Speaking of which, I think I left a half-finished book on your bed."
"It's a story that takes place in some faraway land. About a man who sells his soul to the Devil."
"Ah." Nezumi closed his eyes for some moments, and muttered something under his breath. "Shion," he said.
"We've only just started this journey."
"I know. Everything lies ahead... right?"
"I'm sure looking forward to it."
"Watching you," Nezumi replied. "Remembering is the role of the survivors―your own words. I wonder how far you'd be able to act on them? I'll be sure to watch carefully whether you seriously try to remember everything you see from here on out, or force yourself to forget. I'll see it right through to the end, when those lips go from spewing pretty words to twisting into a scowl."
His tone was flat and regular. There was no hint of sarcasm, anger, or irritation. Though devoid of all emotion, his voice, for some reason, was heavy. Shion clenched his fingers, and posed a question.
"Do you not believe me?"
"If it's about your memorization abilities, then I have absolute faith in that."
"Which means you have doubts when it comes to my own humanity."
"Quite a few."
Nezumi's fingers reached out and pinched Shion's chin. His eyes narrowed, and their grey light intensified.
"I've always thought we could never live in harmony," he said, "that no matter how much we lived together, how many experiences we shared, I would end my life without ever having understood you. Shion, I'm going to tell you the truth. Sometimes... I feel hatred towards you to the point that I want to kill you. Just happens sometimes."
"I knew that."
"I kind of realized that you―hated me."
Nezumi's fingertips dug into his chin.
"You're like No. 6 itself. It flings pretty words and ideologies around, but its true form is something hideous. Like a cruel devil shrouded in a beautiful veil."
"And you're saying that's me?" Shion grabbed Nezumi's wrist, and wrenched his fingers free from his chin. "Is that my true form, as you see it?"
There was no answer. Shion gripped Nezumi's wrist tightly.
"I'm different from No. 6. Absolutely different. You don't realize that."
He could feel Nezumi's pulse against his clenched fingers. He gripped harder.
"How are you different?"
"I would never deceive you. I wouldn't wear any veil. I'm laying everything before you, as who I really am."
"Shion, let go of my hand. It hurts."
"I'm laying it out right in front of you. Your eyes are the ones that are too clouded to see. You cling to the idea of No. 6, and don't try to see me without tying me to it. True form? You must be kidding me," he spat. "When have you ever honestly tried to see me as who I am?"
His anger boiled, and its heat scalded his body.
You're the one who never tries to take that step towards me. If you hate me so much you want to kill me, then why don't you? You only ever judge my crimes, or loathe me through the lens of No. 6. If you could hurl your emotions at me―me as a human being―then even if it was hatred so potent it was murderous, I would accept it. I've steeled myself to accept it.
Why don't you understand that?
Shion's anger passed its boiling point, and now frothed and steamed fiercely. Nezumi shook his head as if to push him away.
"Let go." He extracted his wrist from Shion's fingers. "Geez, don't just grip as hard as you can like that. That could've broken bones."
"You're not that delicate."
"I'm talking about your strength. If you had this kind of power, I wish you'd use it when you actually need it. Look, it's all red."
Nezumi's extended wrist now bore faint red bands. Shion had been gripping harder than he thought.
"Didn't know you had this much power, did you?" Nezumi asked.
"No, I didn't."
"See, you don't even know about yourself." Nezumi slid his gloves on, hiding the reddened part of his wrist. "You don't know what kind of human you are. Your Mama the talented baker probably doesn't know either. She probably thinks you're a gentle and adorable, well-behaved little boy."
"Not like you know either, right?"
"Me? Well, I dunno about that," he said lightly. "I probably know more than you or your Mama, to say the least. Shion, you're right: I was too caught up with No. 6 to see you clearly. But it's not always like that. Sometimes―just occasionally―I feel like I've been able catch your tail, grasp a piece of the human you really are."
"And that's when you want to kill me."
"No, no that's not it. I don't want to kill―rather..."
"I might even be―afraid."
"Afraid? What do you mean?"
Nezumi lapsed into silence. His lips moved slightly.
Was that the word his thin, shapely lips had moved to form?
Agitated, Shion opened his mouth to prompt him again.
But there were footsteps. Several sets of them. They were slightly more steady than the fallen man's. A couple men and a woman overtook them from behind, and sank onto the floor in the middle of the room. They were all out of breath, but were not on the verge of dying.
"It's all over," Nezumi said.
He meant that the task was complete. From the crowd of unfortunate people caught up in the Hunt in the West Block, they had eliminated the ones who had fallen on the way to the elevator; then, they had hurled everyone into the dark depths of the underground. They had tossed them away: the elderly, infants, men, and women, without distinction.
"Well, let's go, then."
"Don't 'huh' me, I'm saying we have to move our chess piece forward. Nothing will get done if we hang around chatting. About time anyway, since we're probably both getting sick of it."
"Nezumi, wait. What you were saying bef―"
Words were cut off by more words.
"Unfortunately this isn't exactly a situation where we can indulge in idle conversation. Damnit," Nezumi swore, "I'm always thrown off track when I'm with you. This is what I mean by piece of shit. Come on. We can wait forever, but no one'll bring us afternoon tea. Break time is over. Get moving."
"Where are we going?"
"We're going back along this passage, opposite of how we just came. Now isn't that easy? I think even you might be able to manage it."
"Go back! What for?"
"To move forward."
Nezumi started walking. Shion followed behind him once again. The passage reeked of blood. He wondered if odours could have weight to them. The smell of blood that still flowed from the bodies was heavy, and seemed to slither over the floor, and crawl up from his feet.
He realized he was getting used to this smell. Compared to when he had walked down this path the first time, the queasiness in his chest and the impulse to cover his nose were not as strong. He was getting used to the smell of blood. Did that mean he was becoming stronger, or turning numb?
Shion took wider steps as if to tear apart the stench that swathed him.
The word that had slipped voicelessly from Nezumi's lips: what did it mean? Even if he asked, he would probably not get an answer.
Shion lifted his face. Nezumi was close enough that if he stretched, he could touch his shoulder. The stench of blood grew thicker. The groans and screams of people who could not die came pressing on him. Shion was faced anew with the reality that he was standing at the brink of life and death itself.
There was no answer. His right shoulder only rose slightly.
"On the floorplan of the Correctional Facility, apart from the newly-built area, there was another large blank space underground, wasn't there?"
"Is this that blank space?"
A clear answer bounced back to him.
"You knew about this place, didn't you?"
"What if I did?"
"Then what was the line that was extending further down from the space?"
This time, Nezumi did not even turn around. But his gait slackened.
"You noticed?" he said.
"Well, it seemed out of place..."
It was an odd line. Especially because the map was filled with layers of electric circuitry, barriers at equal intervals, and countless rooms that made up the complicated interior structure of the Correctional Facility, the two blanks were eye-catching. The first was the newly-built area on the topmost floor; the other was this basement area. From here, there was a white line drawn that extended still further downwards. A straight line. It wasn't the symbol for a circuit or pipe; in fact, it looked like a passageway. But there was nothing at the end of it, not even a blank space. It abruptly ended in the middle. In the Correctional Facility, every minute detail was carefully calculated to cut off any possibility of escape; it was designed to maximize its functionality in the most efficient way possible. Amidst all of that, this line was a queer and unnatural existence.
Nezumi stopped. Turning only partly towards Shion, he threw a glance at him.
"What do you think it is?"
"Is it something I would be able to figure out?"
"No. No matter how much you put your pitiful imagination to work, you could probably never guess. I bet this place was off the radar of your imagination too, by quite a bit."
If there was such a radar, it had long been shattered to pieces. He had never imagined that a world like this could exist.
He had known nothing. But now, he knew.
The two blanks: with his flimsy imagination, he could not perceive what could be on the topmost floor. But he understood now what was in the basement. He knew now, down to the marrow of his bones. This place, which had been a vacant space on the floorplan. was the Hell that the Holy City had materialized in this world. No. 6 was a city state: this meant that humans made it function. Then did that mean it was possible for humans to become this brutal? Then how heartless could they ultimately become? Then how could they stop themselves from becoming so? Then....
Shion chewed his lip. While chewing, he gave his head a shake.
It was no good to think now―he had neither the time nor the strength. But someday, someday surely, he would find the answer.
How heartless could humans become?
How could they stop themselves from becoming so?
Someday, he would seek it out.
Shion sucked in a breath, and smelled blood. He had confidence. The confidence was firmly seated deep in his breast, that someday he would grasp the answer with his own hands. Like an unshakable boulder, it existed. It was also the conviction that no matter what situation may befall him, he would still be able to keep a foothold and remain within the range of humanity.
Nezumi was still twisted around, looking at Shion. Shion fixed his gaze directly on Nezumi.
Yes, Nezumi. I'm confident. As long as I'm beside you, I can say with conviction that I can remain human.
"What?" Nezumi blinked. "What're you grinning about?"
"Grinning?" He brought a hand to his cheek. Sweat and blood had mingled, dried, and left a crust on his skin. "Was I grinning?"
"You sure were. Really, would you smile in this kind of situation? I thought you'd finally lost it."
"I'm still sane. Probably."
"I sure hope so. In a place like this, you could probably hop the border between sanity and insanity with one leap."
"If I went mad, would you toss me away here?"
"Of course. I can't have you being more of a burden than you already are."
"I figured as much."
Heh. Nezumi's lip curled. He was also smiling, in this kind of situation. It was a smile neither bitter nor cold. It was somewhat mirthful, even.
"I wouldn't toss you away, Shion."
Shion drew his chin back a little. There was no way it would be followed by any sugary line like, "I'll take you there if I have to carry you myself."
"I'll slit your throat in one resolute stroke."
Still smiling, Nezumi lifted a single finger. His grey eyes were not smiling at all. They were still, like the surface of a frozen lake.
Shion clutched at his throat without thinking. There was a scratch that Nezumi had left a few days ago. He had made a shallow cut on his skin with the tip of his knife. The scar from the wound, which had bled only slightly and had closed up long ago, was thudding with a pulse.
"Relax," Nezumi drawled. "Even I take pity on people. I'll end it all in an instant. I would never make you suffer."
"Thanks," Shion said, for want of anything else to say, still clutching his throat. "That's kind of you."
"I'm always kind to you. Sometimes I think I'm spoiling you too much. It's something I regret nowadays."
"It could be a temporary state of confusion."
"Make sure you can distinguish whether I've actually gone mad or if I'm suffering temporary confusion from shock. Then you can decide if you still want to slit my throat. It shouldn't be too late for the decision."
"If I have the time."
"Hey, wait a minute," Shion said indignantly. The scar was still throbbing under his fingers.
If he was going to be killed by Nezumi, he had no complaints. True to his promise, Nezumi would probably slash his throat without causing him any pain or suffering at all. Shion had just seen for himself how welcoming a peaceful death was. He would not complain. But he did not want to die a meaningless death. He wanted to live and return to that room, no matter what it took.
"It might be hard, but I want you to check for me, just in case. Please."
"Just throw water on me. If there's no water... then no choice, I guess, you can slap me across the face like you did back there. They say with fits of hysteria, people can recover with a shock as little as that―"
"I'll give you a kiss."
"Before I slit your throat, I'll give you a kiss," Nezumi said softly. "You'll find out exactly how much better I am at giving farewell kisses. Then you can go off to heaven."
He was probably bright red in the cheeks, right down to his ears. He felt hot. Even his forehead was damp with sweat. Nezumi spoke in a joking tone, but he was most likely not joking at all.
Whether you go mad, or get wounded, if you can't move anymore, then that's the end of you. So I'll give you a farewell kiss, before I slit your throat.
A kiss of death. The innermost part of Shion's body pulsated in response. He shook his head. No matter how seductive, he had to reject anything that tried to lead him to death.
"That's no good. I need you to find another way, or else I'd be in trouble."
"My panic attack would get worse."
Nezumi snapped his eyes open for an instant, then turned his face aside to snort. Although he was trying not to laugh, his body shook with the effort, and he couldn't quite restrain himself.
"You―" he gasped, "You really―don't get it, do you? To think you'd... give me a serious answer... I... you're really dense."
"Is it that funny?"
"Couldn't have done better." Removing his gloves, Nezumi wiped at his eyes with his fingers. "I would never have thought I'd... laugh for real in a place like this. Really funny."
"I didn't really mean it as a joke."
"Alright, Shion, spare me. I understand now. You'll never go insane, yeah?" Wiping his eyes again, Nezumi drew a short breath. "Humans are more prone to laughing than I thought. New discovery."
The smile vanished from Nezumi's face. With a stony expression that reminded Shion of a mask, Nezumi slowly motioned with his chin.
They were at the end of the passageway. They were standing in that place again. It seemed as if the darkness had turned a deeper colour since their last escape from it.
The mountain of casualties had grown higher. It was natural, since the third group had added their numbers to the pile. But nevertheless, Shion found himself backing away unconsciously. To think the mound of fallen and crushed people would grow even larger...
"Hmm, I think this would do," Nezumi muttered, standing amongst the torrent of darkness, stink, and the groans of people unable to die. Shion felt a faint chill around his back.
"Nezumi, what are we about to―?"
"We're gonna climb."
"Have you any experience with hiking or rock climbing?"
"Nezumi... what are you talking about...? By climbing, surely you don't mean―"
"I sure do mean it. There's gonna be no path. No signs, map, or portable lights. You only have your body to depend on. Got it? Make sure you keep up."
Nezumi swung a foot onto the black heap. Shion stood stock-still, with his mouth hanging half-open.
"What are you waiting for? Hurry up." He could hear Nezumi's voice raining down on his head. It didn't contain a smidgeon of irritation or contempt, but the voice hurt him. He felt like he was being struck with a whip.
I won't allow any hesitation. There's no option left for us to go back, to delay, to look for another path. We have no choice but to move on. And I won't allow you to hesitate here, Shion.
I know. I know. I know.
Shion reached out into the black heap. His fingers were shaking violently. He couldn't grasp properly.
He knew. He wasn't allowed to cower. He thrust his knuckle in his mouth, and bit down hard. The shaking stopped. The sound of the earth rumbling came from somewhere in the mound. He froze. It wasn't the earth rumbling. They were the voices of people. This mound was made up of people. Don't forget. Live, and commit everything to memory. Live through it, and pass our story on.
I won't let myself hesitate.
He reached out. The trembling in his fingers had stopped completely.
The Nuremburg Interviews: A record of interviews conducted by American psychiatrist Leon Goldensohn with Nazi war criminals at Nuremburg, the first place where core Nazi war criminals were tried. Individuals interviewed included Rudolf Hoess, commandant of the Auschwitz concentration camp; Wilhelm Keitel, chief-of-staff of the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces (OKW); and Hermann Goering, commander-in-chief of the air force.
Read Chapter 3.