Sunday, February 5, 2012

[Novel] NO. 6 - Vol 5 Ch 3 (a)

These are English translations for the novel No. 6 by Asano Atsuko.

Those Whose Buds Bloom

Then shall I speak of the two primal Spirits of existence, of whom the Very Holy thus spoke to the Evil One: neither our choices nor words nor acts, not our inner selves nor our souls agree. [1]

The baby started crying. Lying atop a grimy blanket filled with holes, it flailed wildly, raising a voice loud enough to echo off the ceiling.

Geez, enough of you already.

Inukashi clicked his tongue, and put the coins he was counting back into the bag. It was his profit for the day, and it was a hefty sum.

A night had passed since the Hunt, and the West Block was still in the throes of confusion and anguish. Nobody knew how many had been killed, kidnapped, or had escaped, and no one had the energy or the means of finding out.

Early this morning, Inukashi took a dog with him to walk down the bazaar. More accurately, it was what had been the bazaar―the patch of land where it had once been until yesterday.

Most of the buildings―though it was doubtful whether those barracks even deserved such a name―had been destroyed, and were reduced to rubble. This Hunt had been particularly large and sweeping compared to the ones before. No, that was an understatement. Although they had destroyed homes before, even razed them completely for the sake of capturing people, they had never been in the habit of being bent on destruction like this. If Inukashi could get a bird's-eye view from the sky, he would probably have seen a strange scene―a crater in the middle of the market, with debris forming a ring around the edges.

The bazaar had once been filled with a raucous, though lively bustle, lined with store barracks of questionable nature, with prostitutes, pickpockets, starving children, old beggars, cockroaches and rats roaming about. But in mere minutes, it had all but vanished from this land.

It's mindblowing.

Inukashi stood atop the ruins, and sighed. It was not a sigh of despair. He was not so innocent anymore to feel anguish towards this catastrophe. Rather, he was astonished.

This is how far they're gonna go.

The people of the West Block were not enemies. They had not retaliated. They had merely gathered there, without power or weapons. What reason did they have to be crushed to this extent?

Rather than feel anguish, or wrath, he found himself simply astonished.

This destructive power, such thorough ruthlessness. It amazed him.

He bent to pick up a piece of debris at his feet. Although it was crumbled badly, it had no burn marks. So No. 6 had not used firearms in the Hunt this time around. Usually they used outdated high-calibre weapons like cannons or howitzers; sometimes they simply burned everything to the ground with flamethrowers.

Inukashi twitched his nose. Even with his olfactory senses, he could not smell the distinctive smoky smell of firearms. Only the overwhelming stench of dead bodies wafted over to him. An odourless weapon. It would leave nothing in the wake of its destruction.

Acoustic shockwaves?

He tried saying it out loud. He remembered hearing a little about it before from Nezumi. They had been talking about whales. He didn't remember how they got to talking about them. Inukashi had neither touched nor seen a whale before. He didn't even know what the ocean was like. The world that Inukashi knew was limited to the ruined hotel and its surroundings. For as long as he could remember, he had lived within those boundaries. He had never thought of travelling outside of the West Block. He was satisfied with his segment of the world, with the ruins, his dogs, and the market at the centre. He had no intention of going anywhere. But Nezumi was a wanderer. He was the kind to appear on a whim, and disappear on a whim. He would never settle in one place. Inukashi didn't trust wanderers, and he didn't want anything to do with them if he could help it. But he was attracted to the the tales of the world that were spun from his mouth. They were stories of worlds he had never seen and would probably never see. The ocean was one of these. A wide, blue expanse brimming with saltwater, and the enormous animals that lived within it―Inukashi's heart quickened with excitement just hearing about them. Although he had no intention of going anywhere, his heart was drawn to the unknown world that Nezumi told of. It was probably because of his skilful storytelling, and his beautiful voice―though "beautiful" was far from adequate in describing it, "beautiful" was often the only word he seemed to be able to come up with. And out of desire to hear his voice and singing, the residents of the West Block would scrape their meagre wages together, and would flock to the shabby playhouse.

Everyone falls into his trap so easily. But I'm not like that. Sure, I listened to his stories as if I were in a trance, but I wasn't tricked. I noticed. I still had enough wits to.

Inukashi threw his chest out, although there was no one to boast to on this pile of rubble.

But he had not missed it.

Inukashi had noticed Nezumi's tone of voice change slightly during his story about whales. It had grown flat, losing all of his softness that usually stroked the listener gently as if with a feather. It was just when Inukashi had picked a flea from one of his dog's furry collars and tossed it into his mouth.

"Acoustic shockwaves?" Inukashi licked his fingers, and echoed Nezumi. "What's that?"

"A sound beam. They turn sound waves into shockwaves to numb the prey and capture it."

"Those... spleen whales, or whatever?"

"Sperm whales."

"Hah," Inukashi ejected. "Catching food with sound waves, huh. That's pretty impressive. If there was a sperm whale in front of me right now, I think I'd want an autograph."

"Humans might do it too."


"I'm saying humans might start using it too."

"Those acoustic shock-whatcha-ma-callits?"


"To catch food?"

"For destruction."

To destroy with sound waves? Inukashi didn't understand. But then again, more than half of what Nezumi usually said was incomprehensible to him. Nor did he want to understand. But it was also true that many of those words he could not understand left a mark in his mind.

For destruction.

"Did he..."

Inukashi clenched a piece of debris in his hand.

Was he predicting that this would occur? Did he know that this destruction, this catastrophe was coming?

The wind was blowing. As if to mock what had happened, today was a bright, sunny day, and a beautiful blue sky spread out over his head. How alluring the colour was. It stung at his eyes.

Inukashi took a deep breath. His body trembled at the joy that he was alive, right this moment, and breathing. Many had died. Nezumi and Shion were missing. They were either buried under this rubble, or had succeeded in sneaking into the Correctional Facility―either way, they would never meet again. He was sure they wouldn't.

Everyone's dead. Everyone's disappeared. But I'm still here, and I've survived. He licked his bottom lip. He was smiling, though at no one in particular.

I'm alive.

A triumphant glory raced through his body and made him want to let out a cry; it shook his body and soul with an even greater force. Loss? Listlessness? He had no time to be feeling those. Those who live are the winners. I lived. I win. Aren't I right, Nezumi?

A dog barked. It dug at the rubble with its front paws, nudged at it with its nose, and scrabbled at it again.

"Find anything?"

The dog, which had a grey coat and drooping ears, gave a proud bark, and trotted over to Inukashi to drop the contents of its mouth onto his palm. It was a silver coin.

"Good boy." He patted the dog on the head. "Now dig some more. We gotta find more cash."

The dog's tail wagged furiously at being complimented by its master.

"Listen. This is where the meat shop used to be. Dig, and you'll find meat. That'll be your dinner tonight. Meat and money. Make sure you find both."

This time, a small white dog gave a bark. In its mouth was a cloth pouch.

"Whoa, nice!"

There were no gold coins, but there were several silvers and plenty of loose change. Inukashi felt like jumping up and down. Frankly, he had not expected to find this much booty this easily.

I'm lucky today. Might be the best luck I've had yet.

He encouraged his dogs to dig more, find more.

He had already heard that the owner of the meat shop had a fat sum of money stored away. He had just confirmed that owner of the meat shop was lying lifeless underneath the rubble. A familiar hairy arm had been poking out from a gap in a crumbled wall. It was the same arm that used to throw twigs and stones at kids loitering in front of the store, or at beggars. Inukashi himself had nearly been punched by that arm once. The man had worn large golden rings on his thumb and index finger, and every time he swung his arm up for a blow, they used to glitter. Inukashi made away with the ring on his index finger. It didn't go as well for his thumb, for it had been blown off entirely.

He was a stingy, greedy bastard. But too bad. Once you're a corpse, you can't spend your money, much less save it.

After the meat shop, Inukashi planned to dig up the used-clothing stall next door. If he did it well, maybe he could get his hands on two, three wearable pieces of clothing. He wanted a thick jacket preferably, but he would take even a single shirt, a single cape. After that was the food stall. If he could find the large soup pot that they used to stir leftovers in over the fire, it would come in handy.

Inukashi felt a presence. His eyes darted around, and he clicked his tongue quietly. Quite a number of people had appeared out of nowhere, and were beginning to dig up the piles of rubble as well. Some unearthed something and raised a cry, like Inukashi had just done. A gaggle of dirty children were fighting over a piece of cloth, presumably a blanket. For the time being here in the West Block, physical items would probably be more cherished than money. Money was useless in a destroyed place like this. But within a month, this place would turn back into a market again, unchanged from before. It would be lined with the same haphazard shops, people would come and go, and the place would fill with bellows, cheers, laughs, and smells of every kind. Prostitutes would stand in the dim alleyways, and beggars would wander about. Gold and silver would speak, and speak loudly.

More and more people flocked to the debris. They seemed to spring up out of the destroyed buildings themselves. If Inukashi dawdled any longer, all the valuable items would be carried off. He had countless competitors.

What pain-in-the-asses.

Inukashi clicked his tongue again before laughing voicelessly. He lifted his face, and threw a glance at the dim outline of No. 6's fortress walls in the distance, the walls of special alloy.

No. 6, this is who we are. No matter how many times you step on us, we'll raise our heads again. We'll never be destroyed. We'll crawl across the ground, we'll set our roots down, and we'll live. We're a lot tougher than you think.

He narrowed his eyes. The special alloy caught the streams of light coming from the sky, and glittered. Inukashi had always averted his eyes from that light. It had been too blinding for his eyes. But not today. The glittering wall looked as cheap and flimsy as the rings on the meat shop owner's hand.

"Maybe you're the one that's fragile." He startled himself. He glanced around, wondering if someone else had muttered it, but there was no one else around, other than his dogs, within hearing distance. Inukashi was the only one who spoke a human language.

He pressed a hand to his mouth, and scowled.

He wasn't supposed to think about No. 6. He wasn't supposed to have anything to do with it. The Holy City had always reigned over their heads. It was a tyrant. It possessed absolute strength, and crushed the West Block beneath its feet. But on the other hand, it was also true that people and merchandise trickled out of the city into the West Block through smuggling routes. It was also true that Inukashi himself gained a share of the profits that came from it.

He would latch onto No. 6 like a flea or tick, and live on. After all, their existence was nothing more than fleas and ticks to No. 6―though city residents had probably never seen a flea or tick before.

That was what he had thought all along.

The Holy City reigns; as for us, we're as good as insects.

Thinking like that did him no harm. He had long discarded any pride or shame. Once he did away with useless things, and told himself that was just how things were, he could live anywhere.

This was Inukashi's philosophy, which he had built up during his life. He had lived by it, with his dogs, and done decently more or less.

But these days, he felt a little strange. The axis of his philosophy was beginning to wobble. The fortress walls of the Holy City, which were supposed to be absolute, sometimes looked to him like a cheap toy. Here he was, mumbling things like, 'maybe you're the one that's fragile'. There was something wrong with this. It was clearly odd.

He thought maybe―what if―but shook his head.

It was an absurd story. Absurd, indeed. A tick was a tick. As long as he minded not to get squished and could manage to suck a little blood in the process, it was good. It was wise not to even think about whether he could tear through the other's vulnerable spot.

Inukashi told himself so, and grimaced again. His mind was frantic, urging him to dig out things of worth instead of leaving it all to his dogs, but his hands remained still.

With his hands dangling, Inukashi furrowed his brow, and turned his scowling face to the city walls.

The Holy City reigns.

As for us, we're as good as insects.

But too late, the thought had occurred to him: he could shake the foundations of that relationship. He could tear through that artificial wall, and lay No. 6 exposed and naked. It was their fault. Those two―Shion and Nezumi―poisoned my mind.

Suddenly, Shion's face flashed in his memory. It was so sudden, Inukashi arched his back and stumbled over, almost touching the ground behind him with his hand.

Shion. The boy whom Nezumi had brought with him. He was a resident of No. 6, hopelessly dense, and―hard to believe―a first-rate criminal.

It was utterly unbelievable. Speaking of fleas and ticks, could he even bring himself to kill any? And that hair. Despite being young, his hair was pure white. It was too weird. Well, maybe his hair wasn't so bad. It was shiny, and not the kind of hair you'd see anywhere. If Inukashi could somehow manage to peel his scalp off, perhaps it would sell for a good price―but never mind, his appearance wasn't the only weird thing about him; in fact, he was weirder than his appearance.

"Yeah." Shion's clear answer reverberated in his ears. Are the people of No. 6 the same humans as us? Inukashi had asked. Shion had given a clear answer.


Inukashi had scoffed at him, but the instant he had heard those words, his chest had thumped loudly.

The same humans. So the people who lived on this side and that side of the wall were the same?


Inukashi could tell more than easily that Shion wasn't just saying this for the sake of saying it; he honestly believed it. According to Shion, it didn't matter where you lived, what colour skin or hair you had; any person fell into the category of "human". It was weirder than anything he could believe. I should've asked him where he learned that.

And Nezumi. He was no good, either. He was mysterious, much more dangerous than Shion. Some day, he was planning to utterly destroy No. 6. He was planning to slash No. 6 and tear it apart, like he would slit open a person's belly and drag out their organs with his skilful knife.

Inukashi rubbed his arms. He had goosebumps. It wasn't because of the cool air. Every time he thought of Nezumi, he got these. He was afraid. He would've rather died than admit it, but Inukashi felt a horror towards Nezumi. From the first time they'd met, he had been afraid of him. Those grey eyes, that soul-snatching voice, his way with the knife: it wasn't normal. It was impossible to get a big picture of him. He couldn't place a finger on him. For some reason, it was horrifying. But what was strange was that Nezumi was afraid of Shion. Inukashi wasn't completely sure, but he could feel it. Inukashi trusted his instincts.

Nezumi was afraid of Shion. The reason was beyond him, but this was no mistake. Both of them were weirdos. Odd. But I―I let myself get poisoned by those two. And I believed them―that we could one day shatter those walls, and bring them down.

A dog barked. It had apparently found some meat. Drool was dripping from the sides of its mouth. It looked up at Inukashi in a pleading way.

"Eat." Inukashi jerked his chin. The three dogs pounced on the hunk of meat. A hollow-cheeked boy was was staring at them intently. Inukashi sniffed loud enough for him to hear.

Too bad, kid. Here, you gotta find your own food. No one's gonna give you a handout.

The boy left. The dogs latched onto the meat, and sunk their teeth into it. The sky was blue, and there was not a single cloud in the sky.

Shion, Nezumi.

He looked up at the heavens.

Have you really gone away? Will we really never see each other again? Have you guys really left? Am I the only one here?

The glory that had raced through his body only moments before showed no sign of bubbling up again.

How am I supposed to face that wall here in this West Block, without you guys here?


A dog whined. It wasn't any of the dogs he had brought with him. Inukashi could distinguish each of his dogs by their bark.

This voice was―

Inukashi leapt off the wreckage, and gave a short whistle. A large, tan dog came bounding out of the shadows of what remained of the meat shop from yesterday. It pounced on Inukashi.

"You made it alive, huh."

If the Hunt was close, it would be dangerous to roam the bazaar. But if he shut himself up in the ruins, he wouldn't be able to do business. So Inukashi had ordered this dog to scout the bazaar out. Since it had not come home last night, he had given up, assuming that the dog had been rounded up in the Hunt. Inukashi hadn't expected it to be alive.

"Good job, you pulled through it. But why didn't you come straight home? Hm? You hurt or somethin'?"

Inukashi ran his hands quickly over the dog's body. No blood came off on his hands. It didn't seem to be in pain. It was dirty, but not hurt.

"Well then, what were you up to?" he said sternly. "If you were alive, you should've come straight―" he stopped mid-sentence. He could hear crying. It wasn't the dog. It was― a human? And it sounded like a baby. The dog clamped its jaws on Inukashi's sleeve, and yanked.


The dog was telling him to follow. Inukashi had a bad feeling. He never had good feelings about anything, and if he did they often weren't right, but he always had bad feelings. And they often turned out to be right.

Oh come on, don't tell me....

The dog led its master between the ruins of the meat shop and clothing store. It turned back, and flicked its ears proudly. Inukashi stood still, and stared at the thing that was nestled in the crack between a crumbled wall and the ground. His gaze wandered for an instant once, then he blinked, and scrutinized the space between the wall and the ground.

It was a baby. No matter how he looked at it, it was a human baby. Wrapped in a dark cloth, it was wailing. It was a clamorous, energetic voice, almost unsuited for this place.

"Were you here with this kid the whole night? Warming him up so he wouldn't freeze?"

You bet, the dog's impressive brown tail seemed to say, as it wagged side to side.

"Idiot," Inukashi snapped at him. "What are you gonna do, picking up a human baby? What good is he, if you can't even sell or eat him? What were you thinking?"

Although probably not due to Inukashi's bellow, the baby's wailing escalated to a shrill scream. It was a voice loud enough to make Inukashi wonder for a second if the wall would collapse from its sheer volume. He hastily turned his back to it.

Nothing good came out of mingling with babies. Pigs and goats served as meat, and produced milk as well. There was nothing to lose in taking care of them. But human babies were nothing but hassle, and useless baggage. But then again, it was also possible to sell him off after raising him to a certain age. Indeed in the West Block, there were merchants who bought and sold children.

No thanks for me, though.

Inukashi usually never turned things down if it brought him money. He dirtied his hands with almost any trade. This place wasn't nice enough to let you live on pretty ideologies. Yes. He did anything to stay alive, and he would continue doing so. But trafficking children was one thing he didn't want to do. Only those who had stooped to the lowest of the low laid their hands on that business. Inukashi wasn't trying to preach morals. But he didn't want to fall that low. But that didn't mean he was going to save the baby that was wailing behind him. He liked to think he wasn't prone to the kind of softness that would make him extend a hand out of pity or sympathy, especially if he knew it would be nothing but a burden.

If he left this child as is, without a doubt, it would die. The flighty sky was already starting to turn cloudy. Perhaps it would snow in the afternoon. The ground would freeze over along with the coming of night, and would easily nip the life of that powerless bundle.

But what was it to him? If the baby was going to die, it may as well be sooner than later. If it could leave the world without having to know what suffering was like, maybe that was happiness in a sense. He would make a grave for the baby, at least. It would only take a small hole to bury it. It would be much easier than burying a dog.


The dog barked, and rammed into Inukashi, almost making him fall over.

"Hey, stop! That's enough fooling around," Inukashi shouted at it. Their eyes met. Even among the other dogs that lived in the ruins, this one was particularly smart. It was also a descendant of the female dog that had raised Inukashi.

He has the same eyes as my Mum.
Peaceful, intelligent eyes.
If only all the humans had eyes like my Mum's....

At times, those thoughts crossed Inukashi's mind.

If everyone had eyes like my Mum's, maybe the world would be a somewhat better place.

The dog was dragging the baby out from under the wall. It pawed the ground lightly.

"What the... hell..." Inukashi gulped. He recognized the cloth that the baby was wrapped in. He picked the baby up, and realized that the cloth was a coat. It was second-hand, but of considerable quality.

"Shion..." It was what Shion had been wearing. It was a coat that Rikiga had bought and forced onto him. "Why did Shion...."

The dog lay down at his feet. Inukashi remembered now, that this dog had loved Shion. Shion had loved it too, and would brush its fur almost every day. Both of them were smart; maybe like minds got along.

"Did Shion leave this baby to you?"

Just a single bark―woof―an affirmative.

"Th-This must be some kind of joke," Inukashi said, flustered. "Why do I have to end up with some baby? No way in hell am I gonna take care of this. Geez, you must be kidding me."

The baby wriggled in his arms. It wasn't crying anymore. Two watery eyes were fixed on Inukashi. They were black, with a tinge of purple. Depending on the way the light hit them, the purple shone through more strongly. Maybe it was the tears: those eyes reminded him of the surface of a lake at night, brimming with still water. He thought they looked a lot like Shion's eyes. They were similar. Maybe exactly the same.

"Hey, you wouldn't be Shion's kid, would you? He probably doesn't even know how to have children." Inukashi found himself speaking to it. The baby suddenly broke into a grin. Still looking up at Inukashi, it had raised its voice in an ecstatic giggle. Inukashi felt like something had reached into his chest yanked violently. He felt like he was going to cry.

What the hell, man.

Inukashi was agitated at the laughing infant, and also at himself, about to cry. He didn't know what to do.

A shadow crossed the sun. Clouds were coming in. The wind whipped around his body. He felt something icy on the nape of his neck. Inukashi finally realized that he'd been sweating.

I'm gonna go home.

Inukashi firmly dug his heels into the ground. The gravel beneath his feet crunched.

I gotta get home. Uh―so what do I do now... yeah, I'll throw this baby back where it belongs, and I'll wave goodbye. And then, and then... I gotta hurry back to the ruins... oh, before that, I gotta dig out what I can find at the clothing shop...

He glanced at the rubble beside him, and almost raised a cry. Almost three times as many people from a few minutes ago were swarming around the rubble, digging through the remains of the buildings with their bare hands. They didn't care if their hands bled, or their fingernails peeled off. In this season of brutal cold, warm garments were next to food in necessity. They didn't carry the risk of breaking like dishes, or being crushed, like fruit; if they dug out, washed, and mended the clothes, they could be resold.

Got a late start.

Inukashi clicked his tongue. Even if he joined that crowd now, he probably wouldn't be able to find anything much. Could he use his dogs to chase them away? The thought flitted across Inukashi's mind, and he quickly brushed it away. It was too dangerous. The residents of the West Block were always on the edge as they clung to their lives, but today they were even more desperate. No. 6 had, along with the marketplace, blown away the little morals and order that had set their roots down on this land.

If Inukashi set his dogs on them, the people would disperse temporarily. But what would happen afterwards? He would be surrounded and lynched. People didn't forgive people who tried to monopolize living necessities amidst destruction and confusion. If they allowed it to happen, their own portion would not come around. There was no way they would tolerate anyone who endangered their own lives. The kind of people who did were not to be tolerated.

Inukashi knew very well how violent someone could become if cornered. It was no different from a hungry wolf. But Inukashi also knew that once the confusion settled, order would be restored as well, at least to the minimal level. Order existed even within wolf packs.

But with all that aside, today's work was done. He would have to be satisfied with what he had managed to reap from the meat shop. It was idiotic to risk getting lynched for instant gratification.

Knowing when to make a clean break was also a skill you needed to have in order to survive here.

"A-bah," the baby sputtered, stretching its hands toward him. Its soft palms touched his cheek. Perhaps it wanted milk: the baby puckered its lips and started making suckling sounds. It had been brought up more or less with care, and was not pitifully thin. For a baby in the West Block, this was a rarity.

He felt a definite warmth and weight in his arms as he held the baby.

Inukashi sighed, and gazed at it. He had taken it in his arms. They had made eye contact. He had felt this warmth and weight in his arms, and now there was no going back.

Oh, geez.

He wanted to throw his head back and cry anguish into the heavens.

What am I gonna do with even more baggage? What the hell am I gonna do?

Clouds began to cover the sky above him. The wind grew even more chilly.

What am I gonna do, Shion?

The dog at his feet gave a great swing of its tail, as if to encourage him.

Inukashi had no experience with raising babies. But as for puppies, he had raised a countless number of them. He told himself he would manage it somehow.

Humans and dogs weren't all that different.

From his experience, Inukashi felt it was true. The only difference between them was whether one had two legs or four legs, whether one had a tail or not.

I've taken it on myself to do it. I'll raise it.

He had picked it up in his arms, and carried it home―there was no abandoning the baby now. He would raise it, in his own way. If he was lucky, it would grow. If it wasn't... well, that was not much to worry about. It would only die.

Two of his dogs had given birth out of season. Births in the wrong time of the year were often stillborn. Each dog had four puppies, and half the litter of each had already been dead when they came out of the mother.

"Well, hang in there, little guy. It's up to how lucky you are, whether you'll live or not. If you're unlucky, then don't blame me. You got God to―no, you got Shion to thank for that. Got it?"

He laid the baby down beside a female dog with black fur, so that it nestled against the dog's belly. The mother dog, which had lost its puppies recently, gave a great sigh as it lay on the ground. The baby was looking up at Inukashi wide-eyed.

They were eyes like a lake surface at nighttime. They reflected nothing, but they looked like they would suck everything in. Inukashi averted his gaze, and swiftly backed away. He had to go over what he had collected today. Inukashi was soon engrossed in the silver coins that were piled on his table.

It was more than he had expected. He still regretted that he hadn't gotten any clothes or a pot, but he had no complaints with this amount of profit.

One, two, three... that meat shop geezer, I can see how greedy he really was, look how much he's saved up. Don't worry, I'm in charge of all of it now. You have nothing to worry about in your afterlife.

When he had the silver coins between his fingers, shining dully, he couldn't help but grin. I sure wish that baby came with his own pouch of money.

But―he thought, as he clenched the coin in his fist. I've sure gone soft.

He was sighing again. He sighed, and lapsed into thought. Why? Why did I bring it here?

Inukashi swept up the coat that had been flung onto the floor. It was Shion's coat. He had heard the rough gist of things from the dog. Shion had wrapped the baby in his coat, and left it in the dog's care. Or, rather, he had left it in Inukashi's care.

Inukashi, please take care of him.

Even before hearing it from the dog, as soon as the baby had gazed at him, Shion's voice had echoed in his head.

Inukashi, please take care of him.

He could almost see the figure of the white-haired boy in the midst of the Hunt, in the midst of utter chaos in the market, hiding the baby underneath the rubble. That was why Inukashi could not resist. He could not abandon what Shion had left him at the border of his own life and death. If Inukashi let this baby die, then Shion...

Shion probably wouldn't blame me, he thought. He would only be crestfallen. The purple of his eyes would deepen, and a heavy sorrow would cross his face. Seeing him like that pained Inukashi. I don't... want that to happen.

He drew a breath. The silver coin rolled out of his hand onto the table. Hey, he scolded himself sharply. Are you supposing you can see them again? See them alive?

His own self answered.

No, I... no, of course not.

Yeah. It's impossible. Right? As impossible as waking up tomorrow morning to see the whole ruins in full bloom.

Yeah... you're right... that might be true, but....

But? Hey, what're you thinking? This is the Hunt we're talking about. You saw the mountain of rubble, right? How can you be sure that Shion and Nezumi are buried somewhere in there? Well, I can't imagine them being buried so easily if Nezumi's around. The meat shop geezer is the one who got flattened under his own house, haha. But still―if they escaped being buried alive, then what? They probably got rounded up and carted off. To the Correctional Facility.

Taken to the... Correctional Facility.

Yeah. Correctional Facility. Once you get through the gates, you can never get out again. They passed through those gates of death, man. They've gone to hell. They won't come back. There's no way they could. They'll never appear in front of you again.

Inukashi bit his lip. He thumped his chest hard, with his fist.

People who went through the gates of death never returned to the world of life. He knew. Of course he knew.

His mind knew. But this―this here, refused to comply.

He opened his palm now, and rubbed his thin chest.

His heart was raising an objection. It was screaming that it wasn't convinced.

They had said so many times. We're going to hell, but we'll come back alive. Nezumi with Nezumi's own ways, and Shion with his own, they had said they would definitely return. Yes, and―and besides, Nezumi had promised.

If you're overcome with unbearable pain one day, I promise I'll always rush to your side. No matter where you are, I'll deliver a song to your soul.

Inukashi couldn't forget his serious tone as he had whispered those words. Although he resented it heartily, those words had supported him. If he could be wrapped by that beautiful singing voice, all suffering would disappear, and the peaceful death he had always hoped for would come. To be unfearing of death meant he could be unfearing of life. Thanks to Nezumi, Inukashi was able to be relatively unafraid of life or death.

He made a promise. I'm gonna believe it.

One was an airheaded little boy, and the other was a highly dangerous fraud, but neither of them ever went back on their word.

They would come home.

He stood up, and turned around. He realized it had been unusually quiet behind him.

The baby had brought its lips to the dog's nipple, and was suckling. The black dog raised its head and was staring curiously at the human child clinging onto its nipple.

"Wow," Inukashi mused. He had to admit he was surprised. "You're a tough one."

He had not expected the baby to be able to feed from a dog so well. But it had been one to escape the carnage of the Hunt: perhaps it was blessed with a strong and good fortune.

Fate decided between life or death. God presided over it. But the ability to cling to life and snatch it came from human power.

"Well, good luck giving life a try." Inukashi nudged the baby's bottom with his toe. He hadn't kicked it. He had really only poked at it as if to tickle it. But the baby began to cry. It flailed its limbs, and broke into sobbing. And soon, that turned into a full-out wailing.

"Huh? Hey hey, what's wrong?" Inukashi hastily picked it up in his arms, and the crying instantly stopped. "Don't cry, stupid. I still got money to count. I'm busy. I have no time to be playing with you."

He put the baby down, and it instantly erupted into tears again. When he picked it back up, it stopped, and even smiled.

So Inukashi had to roam about the room with the baby in his arms. The baby remained in a splendidly good mood as long as it was being held. Eventually, it began to lapse into quiet breaths as it fell asleep in Inukashi's arms.

He gently laid the baby down on a blanket, and covered it with Shion's coat. The tan-coloured dog nestled alongside it. After a moment of hesitation, the black female dog also sprawled out beside the baby, as if to hold it to its belly.

What's up with him? He's just a kid, and the dogs are already starting to like him.

The dogs around Inukashi were midway between wild and domesticated. They lived in the world of humans alongside them, but they did not trust humans. They were apprehensive, fearful, and even attacked humans at times. They were cautious and aggressive. It was highly unlikely for them to accept any human apart from Inukashi so easily. Sure, it was a defenseless baby, but Inukashi couldn't believe that they had taken it under their wing so promptly. He had even been prepared for the baby to receive two, three bites at least....

Geez, what's up with this kid? Maybe he really has some of Shion's blood in him. Don't tell me he's gonna grow up to be an airhead like him, too.

It was kind of funny when he tried to imagine it, and he laughed. But now, the baby had no fear of freezing. It had filled its belly, and was now able to sleep, free of the cold. It was something to be thankful for. For Inukashi, this would have been the most fortunate circumstances he could ever be in, But yet the baby still cried. Whatever it was that made him unhappy, made him start crying not even five minutes after being laid down. If he carried it, it stopped crying and went to sleep; if he put it down, it woke up and cried. This repeated itself. Counting money was the last thing he could do.

"You idiot. I'm the one that wants to cry here. If you don't knock it off soon, I'm gonna throw you in a pot and make you into dog food," he griped. It had apparently not gotten across to the baby, for it squealed and giggled enthusiastically, its voice bouncing off the walls.

If this was Nezumi, he'd probably sing it a gentle lullaby, he thought. A super-special one that would lull the baby into a deep sleep that would not make him wake until morning.

Inukashi didn't know a single lullaby. Raised by dogs, only thing that lingered in his ears was the sound of the wind and the growling of the dogs. Both of them stirred unsettling feelings rather than invite sleep.

Could I get my hands on food tomorrow?
Could I avoid freezing to death tomorrow?
Could I avoid getting beaten up too badly tomorrow?
Could I still be alive tomorrow?

The wind brought snow, and growling brought news of danger. It had always been like that.

Danger, danger. Be careful. Don't let your guard down for even a second. See, that vulnerable moment could cost you your life. Look out, it's dangerous. Look out, be careful.

The dogs and the wind had always whispered those words. No one ever sang to him, told him, relax and rest, sleep peacefully.

Inukashi stopped pacing, and rocked the baby in his arms.

When I see Nezumi next time, I'll request a lullaby for this baby. Of course, for free. This kid is Shion's business anyway, he wouldn't be able to say no.

I'd want to hear it too, he thought. I'd want to hear Nezumi sing a lullaby, even just once.

He touched the baby's cheek. It felt plump. It wasn't hard or taut, and had a smooth elasticity. It was comforting to the touch.

Might be tasty to eat.

The thought crossed his mind, half-serious. His stomach, empty save for leftover food, contracted, squealing insistently. His mouth watered. In the end, it was meat over lullabies. He needed a full stomach more than sleep. He swallowed his saliva.

Geez, am I hungry.

The air shifted. The air that surrounded the ruins hummed. The barking of dogs resounded throughout.

Who is it?

Continued in PART B.

  1. Hinnells, John R. Persian Mythology. P. Bedrick Books, 1985. 42. (original text)

    The entirety of the quote is taken from the following due to not being able to acquire the original text (as far as I can tell it is exactly the same):
    Boyce, Mary. Textual sources for the study of Zoroastrianism. University of Chicago Press, 1990. 36. (back)