Those in the Abyss
I was in it up to my neck by the time I realized the way things were going. What could I do? . . . if I refused to obey I would be killed. Or I could commit suicide. On three different occasions I thought of resigning, but it was impossible.
-Wilhelm Keitel, The Nuremburg Interviews 
Shion sucked in a deep breath and filled his chest with air―no, darkness. By doing so, he repressed his pain and trembling. He didn't want to cower. He didn't want to let out a cry of fear. And he didn't want Nezumi, who was beside him, to hear it.
Damnit if he ever hears me scream.
He didn't want to expose his unsightly self to Nezumi's eyes. Shion gulped in another breath, fully conscious of the pride within him which, even in these circumstances, nagged persistently at him.
Nezumi sniffed derisively inches from his ear. At the same time, the arm around Shion's waist grew tighter, pressing around his torso.
So much for trying to act tough, he thought he heard Nezumi whisper. But what actually reached his ears was:
"We're gonna fall."
It was a flat voice, stripped of all emotion. The emotionless voice became a frigid wind that wrapped around Shion's body. With his sense of pain, his fear, and his pride whipped away, for an instant, Shion was empty. Like a cicada shedding its skin, he became a hollow cavern that left only its outward appearance intact. He sometimes had this sensation when listening to Nezumi's voice. He didn't mind it much. In fact, it even felt refreshing. Exhilarating, even, to become empty.
When Shion tried to suck in his third breath, the floor disappeared from beneath his feet. With a heavy thunk it had split in two. It was like a gallows. It almost felt strange that he wasn't feeling the rope digging into his neck; hearing the sound of his cervical vertebrae cracking; feeling his body swinging limply in the air.
They were falling. Falling, straight down―at least they were supposed to be, but he couldn't grasp what was happening. He wasn't sure whether they were falling, floating, or rising. He couldn't distinguish between descent, suspension, or ascension. His senses were swallowed up by the darkness that surrounded him on all sides.
An impact hit him. He felt his whole body slam into something hard. His breath died on his lips. Whatever he had fallen on was slightly elastic, absorbing and mediating the force enough to avoid spraining his muscles or shattering his bones.
What did I land on―?
He had no time to check. He was yanked forcefully.
He was half-shoved into a roll by Nezumi. He turned over and over, thinking of nothing, feeling no fear. His shoulder hit something hard, and he felt a pain followed by tingling. He had evidently hit a wall. As he placed his palm on the floor to push himself up, he felt a tremor―like vibrations, like strange rumbling.
"Stand up. Push yourself up against the wall."
Shion stood up, and huddled close to the wall, which was rough on the surface―probably concrete. His thoughts, willpower, and senses were half-numb. He could only barely manage to follow Nezumi's directions and move as he was told. Nezumi's body overlapped his. It was hotter than usual. But the heartbeat Shion felt against his back was not even slightly out of rhythm. Crushed with such force, Shion couldn't help but cry out.
"I can't breathe."
But his voice, which came out as a gasp, instantly dissolved in the tremendous noise from behind them. He couldn't even tell if he had heard his own voice.
He squirmed slightly.
Never in his entire life had he heard sounds like this, voices like these.
What is it? What are they?
Groaning? Rumbling? Screaming?
A booming, thick and heavy sound roared at Shion and pressed in on him from all directions; it welled up from below, it came raining down from up top; it twisted and tangled with itself. A piercing shriek rang out. Then it rasped, cut off, and an eerie silence replaced it. But only for an instant. And again, it welled up, it rained down...
These were not sounds of a human world. They were not mere noises.
Unable to bear it anymore, Shion wrenched his body around. The force pressing against him relaxed. The heat of Nezumi's body drew away. Shion was grabbed by his hair, and turned around. His back was pressed against the wall this time, and his hair yanked roughly.
His chin jerked up. Nezumi brought his lips to Shion's exposed ear, and whispered as if to cram the words into it.
"Look if you want to. Listen if you wish. But―"
Nezumi's fingers released his hair, and slid down his neck. They traced the red band of his scar.
"But you'll be haunted with nightmares for your whole life. Be prepared for it."
Heh. His short laugh, almost a mere breath, seeped into Shion's body. It was a cold laugh. It may have been condescending. Nezumi freely controlled the various ways in which he laughed. Normally, this would have sparked Shion to anger. He would have reproached Nezumi, telling him not to laugh like that.
None other than Nezumi had taught him: condemn from your heart those who scorn, look down upon, and belittle themselves. He had taught him not only to be angry, but to hone all of the emotions he possessed, whether it was to cry, laugh, fear, reject, yearn, or love.
Don't let them go numb. Don't let them wither. Bare your fangs at all that threatens to desecrate your humanness.
Shion had definitely been taught. But right now, he was too overwhelmed to be angry. His emotions were falling, sifting right through him.
"Nezumi... what is this?"
"Reality." There was no hint of laughter left in his voice. "If you're gonna look, see it through 'til the end. If you're gonna listen, don't ever think of plugging your ears."
See this through... all of this?
Shion opened his mouth, and gasped for air.
Before his eyes was darkness. The bottom of this darkness was crawling with people. To him, it looked like they were crawling. The darkness had shades both dark and light, and his eyes, beginning to adjust, caught the darkest shades. It was a lump of overlapped people. The people who had been packed into the elevator had been smashed onto the floor, and were now squirming, crawling.
There was a blood-curdling scream. A shadow came dropping down. Someone who had been clinging onto some part of the elevator had finally spent his strength. Shion couldn't tell whether it was a man or woman. Like the roar of a beast, the scream echoed into the painted black darkness.
The sound of flesh hitting flesh. Its vibrations shook not his eardrums, but his entire body, making his skin bristle.
Shion tried to remember. He tried to remember each and every one who had been shut in with the elevator with him.
There was a man. There was a woman. There was an elderly lady with mussed grey hair. There was a young girl with tanned skin. There was a wiry merchant with sunken eyes. There was a deathly pale man, a surviving member of the Disposers.
Wasn't there a mother holding her infant? Wasn't there a baby in that mother's arms? There was. There certainly was.
Wrapped in a dirty white cloth, the infant was wriggling at his mother's breast... somewhere, in this mass of people―a stench came flowing into his nostrils. It was like all of his senses, numb and dormant until now, had opened themselves out to the outside world all at once.
He began sweating profusely. His teeth refused to come together, and they chattered incessantly. The stench of blood, fecal matter, body odour, assaulted his nostrils many times more viciously than inside the cargo container. He heard people being crushed. People were being crushed under the weight of others. Although it was a sound he was hearing for the first time, he could tell it was the sound of human destruction.
"This is hell," he heard himself utter weakly.
"This is reality," a mutter answered back. "This isn't any hell. This is the reality of the world you've been living in, Shion."
A wave of nausea washed over him. Leaning heavily on the wall, Shion covered his mouth with his hand. His stomach fluids spilled through his clenched teeth. The sweat stung in his eyes. Behind his closed eyelids, memories of his days in No. 6 floated and flashed by.
The roses of myriad colours that bloomed in the residences of Chronos; the evening sky; the powder-blue walls of his classroom; Safu waving her hand; early morning in Lost Town; the fragrance of bread that filled the house; Karan with her back to him; a little girl's footsteps―'Good morning, brother' 'Good morning, Lili'; Sampo's clunky round body; the ladies' hat that Ippo had squashed by mistake―it had been decorated with a pink flower pin―'Oh no, Ippo, that's not good―' Yamase yelling; the aroma of coffee at the café that he had stopped in with Safu; the tree branches rustling and swishing in the breeze―oh, the green―it was so vivid.
I want to go home.
He longed for it achingly.
I want to go back to No. 6.
He wanted to go back to the world within the walls. He wanted to return to his peaceful, fulfilled, quiet world. Even if it was a land ornate in falseness, he wanted to bury himself in beautiful artifice.
He gritted his teeth. He swallowed the stomach fluids inside his mouth. Shion slowly raised his heavy head. His face was drenched with perspiration.
"Nezumi..." He mustered as much strength as he could into his legs, and managed somewhat to keep himself upright. If he fell to his knees now, he would never be able to get up. He would have to dig his heels in and remain standing, even if he had to gasp for air. Nezumi would not extend a hand to him. He would not support him. If Shion was going to curl up here, if he was going to go mad, if he lost his ability to stand on his own feet―there was nothing left for him ahead.
"What should I do next?" Shion managed to speak, albeit in a raspy voice. He felt the presence in front of him give a short intake of breath.
"Can you move?"
If he didn't, he would die. And he could not. He had not come here to die. I'm here to save her, to live. Don't forget that. I'm going to survive this reality. A crack ran through the cross-section of No. 6 that was drifting in the back of his eyelids. It tore apart into shreds. It shattered and disappeared, along with his desire to flee and return.
Shion extended his hand, fully prepared to have it shaken off. His fingertips felt a firm arm. He clenched his hand around it.
I'm not doing this to cling to your help. He wanted it to get across.
I'm alright. I can move. I won't squat and curl up here.
His clenched fingers were not shaken off. The cold and brittle arm only twisted slightly. An answer came to his unspoken thoughts.
"I got it."
Almost at the same time, an orange light blinked behind Nezumi. Shion widened his eyes. His heart trembled at the tiny, marble-sized light. He felt like crying. His arm stretched forward, and his fingers clutched at thin air.
"We're gonna run, following those lights. They'll stay on for a minute and a half."
Miniature light bulbs were attached to the wall at equal intervals. They were tiny, tiny lights, barely enough to water down the darkness that lay thick upon them. But it was still light. There was still something here that was not darkness.
Nezumi turned his back to him, and broke into a run. Shion also stepped out to run after him, but his foot slipped on something slimy. There was a pool of blood at his feet.
"Fucking hell," he snarled without thinking. Something that wasn't quite fear or shock was roaring in his chest, filling it up and pressing against it; and at the bottom of it, a spark was lit. Wrath. The flames of wrath circled its licking flames in a spiral, and came racing upwards.
This is reality. Reality. Reality.
I'll never forgive it. I'll never forgive this reality.
He moved forward. He moved forward, as if kicking the puddle of blood out of the way. He desperately ran after the figure that was threatening to melt into the darkness.
I'll survive. I'll live to destroy this reality.
Shion's anger became heat that coursed through his body. He was filled with energy right down to his toes. Nezumi turned around. It was too dark to see the expression on his face. He swung back around, and slackened his pace a little. Even in times like these, his movements were still graceful.
The light bulbs flickered. Before them was a narrow walkway, wide enough for one person to squeeze through. The walls were bare concrete.
"Move along the wall."
"Nezumi, where does this lead?"
"The execution grounds."
"Whatever's behind you and in front of you, you might as well call them execution grounds. The question is just how early or late the sentence is gonna be delivered."
A motor was humming behind them. It was an outdated model that rattled and screeched.
"Nezumi, wait. The elevator's moving again."
"Don't stop," Nezumi clicked his tongue irritably. "Keep moving forward. Don't stop walking."
"But the elevator―"
Shion's lips trembled. A cold bead of sweat rolled down his spine. Nezumi opened his mouth.
"But of course," he said stonily. "They're planning to cram all the people they've hunted in this underground chamber."
"There's gonna be more people falling?"
"They don't fall, they get dropped. Same mechanics as a gallows. The floor opens up. They fall to the bottom of the abyss. If they're lucky, they'll break their neck and leave this world painlessly for good."
"We have to tell them about this passageway."
"Everyone. There are still people that can move. We have to tell those people to escape here."
"And then what's gonna happen? Imagine."
"Yeah, there are people that can still move. Quite a few. But what'll happen if they all trample over each other to rush into here?"
A desperate mob would come swarming in. Each would jostle and shove, vying to get into a passageway that was barely wide enough for one.
What would happen?
One would fall, and others would fall on top of him. The passage would fill with more screams and groans.
"Now do you see?" Nezumi said. "Look behind you."
With a hand still on the wall, Shion turned around. Several shadows were coming this way, dragging themselves across the ground.
"Only the people who've noticed this passage and are able to break away get saved. Then they get to move to the next stage."
"Then this light―is that what it's―?"
Before he could finish his sentence, the light bulbs were extinguished. They were again plunged into inky darkness. Then, there was a sound. The air vibrated. The darkness trembled.
How many people were crammed into that elevator? Ten, fifteen, twenty... more? But gee, you could probably only see a transport elevator like that in a museum nowadays... judging by the annoying noises, the conveyor belt is probably worn pretty thin... wait, I have a feeling there might have been an elevator like that in Lost Town. Where was it again? It made annoying noises...
He was slapped across the cheek. The pain stung in the inside of his mouth. The empty rattling of his thoughts and perceptions returned to their normal state. But it also meant that his conscience was being pulled back into a hellish reality.
"There won't be a next time."
Next time, I'm leaving you behind. I'm not a saint who'll drag you along if you space out. You said you could move. Then use your own legs to escape.
Shion wiped the sweat dripping from his chin with the back of his hand.
"Follow me. Don't get separated."
Nezumi turned his back to him again. It was so dark, and yet Shion could see the outline of his figure clearly.
I won't leave you.
He pressed a hand to his cheek, now hot and stinging.
I'll never leave you. I'll sink my teeth in, and latch on no matter where you go.
He would never lose sight of that back turned to him. He would crawl across the ground to follow him if he had to. That was the only thing in his mind. He had no room to think about No. 6, his mother, Safu, or the parasite wasps. He slapped his own cheek this time. He finally knew first-hand that pain could be a sign of being alive. His throbbing cheek was telling him, you can live, you can still walk.
Apparently the lights only reached a short distance in from the entrance of the passage. It was relatively straight, and uniform in width. Just this motion of continuous walking seemed to be awakening his thought processes.
This passage―it's man-made.
The thought occurred to him, and Shion smiled a little. He would never have believed he could smile, but he felt the corners of his mouth tugging up. It was a bitter smile, aimed at himself.
Of course it was man-made, he was smiling at himself. This was the Correctional Facility. It was a building into which No. 6 imprisoned the people it deemed as criminals. Naturally, every path, every wall was man-made. The scene that Shion had witnessed in the darkness just now was the same. It wasn't hellish wreckage generated by some natural disaster. Was it not a reality that had been created by human will? Everything here was made by the human hand.
This is the reality of the world you live in.
He repeated Nezumi's words in a corner of his mind.
This is the reality of the world I live in. Then who made it happen, and for what purpose?
He tried to visualize the mayor's face. He used to see photographs of his gently-smiling face everywhere on the streets. He remembered seeing him on television. "I don't like his ears. They're so vulgar." That was what his mother Karan had spat, but no one ever criticized the mayor of No. 6. He had close to one-hundred percent support from the citizens.
Him―is it him? No, but... is it possible for such a catastrophe to occur under one person's command? None of the No. 6 residents knew of this gruesome reality. Why don't they know? Why... his thoughts creaked haltingly like the outdated elevator. They caused an unpleasant racket. But he still had to keep thinking.
Why didn't any of them know?
"Because they don't try to find out," Nezumi said, with his back still turned to him. His feet stopped, and he twisted the top half of his body to face Shion. Shion didn't know whether his eyes were getting used to it, or if Nezumi himself was deflecting the darkness, but he could see the expression on his face clearly.
"Nezumi, how did you know what I was thinking?"
He was genuinely surprised. He was so startled, he had almost lost his train of thought for a moment. Nezumi shrugged.
"I told you before, didn't I? You're easy to understand... well, parts of you are. Everything else about you just baffles me."
Nezumi's tone of voice changed. It took on a hint of softness and rang out clearly. It was a beautiful voice. Shion couldn't express what exactly it was, or how it was so beautiful. He couldn't put it into words, but he could feel the comfort slowly seep into him. It was like the comfort of lying in soft grass. He even thought he caught a glimpse of clear blue sky.
"No, I can still walk."
"I'm asking you if you're hungry."
He tried to remember the last decent meal he had. He couldn't. But he was not hungry. He didn't feel any desire at all to put anything into his mouth. Considering what he had just slogged through, he wasn't so tough that he could still feel hunger.
"I'm not hungry at all."
"But you're running low on energy, aren't you?"
An arm reached out to him. Nezumi's fingertips lightly touched Shion's chest in a soft and languid gesture. But Shion felt his body tipping over.
He staggered, and fell down on his bottom. He had no strength in his knees.
"See?" Nezumi said. "You can barely stand. At least make sure you can assess the state you're in."
Shion was grabbed by the arm and pulled upright. A pain racked his chest. His heart was palpitating; he couldn't breathe. He broke into a sweat again.
"It's a considerable amount of trauma. Careful your heart doesn't decide to quit. I don't think there are any doctors who are attentive enough to come all the way here to examine you."
"Throw physic to the dogs, I'll none of it."
"What was that?"
"Canst thou not minister to mind diseas'd;
Pluck from memory a rooted sorrow;
Raze out the written troubles of the brain;
And with some sweet oblivious antidote
Cleanse the stuff'd bosom of that perilous stuff
Which weighs upon the heart?" 
Nezumi shifted uneasily. Shion could hear a deep sigh.
"Stop that, will you? The way you're butchering his lines, Macbeth is probably spinning in his grave."
"Are you saying I'm not cut out for acting?"
"Astonishing lack of talent. You probably couldn't even be an extra in a Shakespeare play. I'd advise you to give up any fruitless hopes, Shion."
"I guess I will. It's too bad, really."
"There's a good boy."
Shion was smiling. It was no ugly twist of the lips: he felt a faint but genuine smile spread across his face. At the same time, he could feel an expanse of sky spreading out over his head.
Invited along by Nezumi's voice, Shion had smiled, and seen the sky.
It was that deepest hue of blue he had seen, lying in the grassy field. The colour of the heavens was spreading across the darkness. True, this world was ridden with brutality and falseness. Indeed, it was rife with it. But that wasn't the only thing that existed. Because, look―in this world, and in people's souls, there definitely existed beautiful things like the blue of the lofty skies.
Nezumi's voice became a bubbling spring that quenched Shion's body and filled him to the brim. It was a strange voice. It melted the soul, and regenerated people to life.
"Just a little more, and we'll be able to catch a breath."
Nezumi half-twisted to look at him. Shion could see a dim light over Nezumi's shoulder. It didn't flicker like the light bulbs. It was dim, but it wasn't the kind of dimness that made one uneasy about when the light would go out.
"A resting place. A temporary one."
"Resting place... we can rest there, huh."
He had felt like he could go on walking forever. He thought he would have to keep thinking like this, else they would not be able to escape.
But we can rest.
He exhaled. He wanted to spring forward, but his knees were weak, and walking was the best he could manage.
They emerged at the end of the passageway. Shion gulped. The scenery changed abruptly.
It was a room with white walls and a white floor. It was quite spacious. Thanks to the man-made light attached to the ceiling, the thick inky darkness had lightened into a dusky evening shade. Although hazy, Shion's vision could now capture things clearly.
Ahead of the passage, he could see a greyish door. There was no furniture or windows in the room. There was no stench of blood, or groaning voices. It was a white room, filled with nothing. There were a few shadowy figures curled up in a corner of the room. They were presumably the ones who had been crammed into the first elevator load, and had managed to survive and make their way here.
Shion buckled near the entrance. All the strength was leaving his body.
"Don't go to sleep." Nezumi knelt down beside him. "We don't have time for that."
"We're heading somewhere else again?"
"Why, it would be no fun if this was our final destination. I thought you came here to see that certain cute girl of yours?"
He clenched his fists. He let his gaze dart around. Just as he thought, he was not met with the gaze he was looking for. She had been kidnapped, after all, by the Security Bureau, and imprisoned inside the Correctional Facility.
"I wonder if Safu's safe?"
"Who knows?" Nezumi answered. "But if she's alive, she's probably in a much better situation than we are. She might even be enjoying a luxurious afternoon tea. If she's alive, that is."
"Safu is alive."
"You're trying to believe that she is. Your own selfish wishes."
"You must believe it too. If you didn't, you wouldn't have come with me."
"Am I wrong?"
"Shion, why don't you rewire your brain once in a while to get out of that naive thought pattern, hm?"
"Nezumi, but... oh―"
Shion shut his mouth. A man was staggering across his path on unsteady feet. He swayed forward, and crumpled face-first onto the floor. The man behind him tripped over the body, and also fell. Neither of them moved. However, Shion could tell that they were still breathing. Their fallen backs were still rising and falling slightly. But the man who fell first lay still moments later.
"Aren't you gonna help him?"
Shion fell silent this time in answer to Nezumi's question.
"What's wrong? Usually you'd be there in a flash, helping him up."
His hands and feet felt like they were tied to lead weights. Even moving a finger took a large effort. It took all this energy to keep his body standing. He wasn't able to extend a hand to to others. And besides....
If he reached out and helped the man up, what would he do then? He wouldn't be able to treat his wounds, or console him in his grief, or even give him water to drink.
Suddenly, the man let out a groan. Then he began coughing violently. Once it passed, he groaned again. He was probably gravely wounded. His groan was fraught with pain, as if his innards were being twisted.
"Somebody... help me..." The man moaned. He gasped for air like a wounded animal. "Somebody... please...."
Shion plugged his ears. He closed his eyes. He knew he was being a coward. Hadn't he learned so many times over how cowardly, how shameful it was not trying to see, not trying to listen?
Look. Listen. Don't try to make excuses. Fight with anything that tries to make you. Your enemies aren't only outside of you. They're inside you, too. You have to fight with your own self who tries to avert your eyes from what you don't want to see, and cover your ears from things you don't want to hear.
I know. I know, Nezumi. But I can't do it now. Right now, I'm more powerless and fragile than anything. I can't bear seeing, or hearing, any more.
The man lifted his face. Their eyes met. To his utter misfortune, their eyes had met. Shion shrank back. The man was dying. He was on the brink, but unable to die completely, and writhing in the suffering of it.
Perhaps his bones were broken; perhaps his innards were crushed: bloody foam was spilling out of the man's mouth. His whole body was convulsing in small jerks. For the man, death was the only path out of his suffering. But even Death was laughing scornfully at him. It would not visit him so easily. His residual life came back to lash the man again and again.
He came crawling towards them. His gaze never left Shion. His eyes were like a murky swamp, and at the same time, like a bottomless cavern.
Please. Save me. Save me and raise me from this eternal suffering. Let me rest―oh, please―let me be at peace.
Shion swallowed the saliva in his mouth. Before he knew it, he was kneeling down beside the man who was lying on his back. His long neck protruded from his shirt which was reduced to rags. It was a thin, stringy, pitiful neck. Even above ground, he had probably not led a hospitable life. It was admirable for him to have come this far.
The man was looking only at Shion. A murky swamp, a bottomless cavern. Its clouded depths reflected nothing, harboured nothing. His eyes did not even blink. Only his bloodstained lips were moving.
"Why... did I have to..." he croaked.
Yes. What did this man ever do? Why did he have to go through something like this? He was a West Block resident: why, for that reason solely, did he have to be crushed like an insect? For what reason did he have to endure so much suffering?
The man's lips never stopped moving. Wringing the last strength from his body, he repeated his question, over and over and over.
Tell me. Why? Why? Why? Why?
Shion, stooped above the man's face, slowly shook his head.
I can't answer that. I can't give you any answer at all.
"I'm sorry," he whispered. If there was anything he could do, it was....
He put his fingers to the man's throat. It was damp, yet cold. All he had to do was put a little strength into these fingers. His weakening breathing would probably stop without any pain. Then he would be at peace. If there's anything I could do, it would be to flex these fingers, and choke him.
On his palms, his fingers, he felt the sensation of raw flesh and bone. His slight convulsions, and his pulse. The man's mouth opened, and bloody foam and a groan poured forth. The tip of his tongue was wiggling. Shion's arms trembled. He couldn't put any strength in them.
"Stop, that's enough."
He was pulled back by the shoulder. The neck slid from Shion's fingers like it was coated in sticky ooze.
"He'll never go easily like that."
Shion turned around, and gazed at Nezumi. For an instant, a shadow flitted across his glittering dark-grey eyes. It was a pitying shadow.
"You can't do it." A quivering sigh escaped his shapely lips. "I think Executioner might be an even worse job for you than Actor."
Shoving Shion aside, Nezumi stepped forward. The man was lying on his back, breathing raggedly. With every breath, there was a gurgling at the back of his throat. His fingers bent, and clawed at the air. His suffering was not allayed even a little. The man only lay and gurgled, as if he had even lost the strength to writhe in pain. Nezumi knelt down on one knee, crouched low, and whispered in his ear.
"Does it hurt?"
Only the sound of breathing answered him.
"It'll be alright. You'll feel better soon."
"Yeah. You hung in there well. There won't be any more suffering for you. Relax, and close your eyes."
"I committed... a crime...."
"I beat... a little child... once..."
"I tricked... an elderly... and st-stole... money...."
"I told lots... and lots... of lies..."
"I b... betrayed... so... many people..."
Nezumi slid a pair of leather gloves on. Then, he gently stroked the man's cheek.
"Good. I've heard everything. It's alright now, everything is forgiven."
"Yeah. All your crimes are now forgiven. There's nothing to be afraid of."
Nezumi's hand rested over the man's mouth and nose.
"You endured. You lived. I admire you from the bottom of my heart, and dedicate a song to you."
"A song... for me..."
With the bottom half of his face covered, the man narrowed his eyes. He was smiling. Shion couldn't believe what he was seeing. He stared transfixed at the man's softened eyes.
"Close your eyes softly. See, all the suffering... it's going away."
A quiet melody flowed through the air. Soft, lilting, the sounds overlapped. Shion felt like his own body was rising up. It was weightless, like cotton fluff, and bobbed and drifted on the breeze. Like a bird, he faced the stream of air, and soared. Released from myriad things, he was free.
His song steals away souls that are struggling because they can't die. Just like how the wind scatters flower petals, his song cuts the soul away from the body.
Inukashi had once said those words. It was not a lie. Indeed, his soul was being led off. To some place that was not here, it was being carried effortlessly. It was being thieved away.