"Nezumi!" Nezumi collapsed into his outstretched arms. Shion felt the heat and weight of his body. A low groan trickled through Nezumi's fingers. It's the same. It's the same as last time.
They had been talking about parasite wasps in their basement dwelling. It was just when their conversation had moved from emergent viruses to the mystery behind the parasite wasps. Nezumi had suddenly collapsed.
They had been drinking hot water. Shion remembered how Nezumi's cup had slid out of his hand and bounced on a stack of books before rolling across the floor.
"Nezumi―relax. Can you hear me?" Shion knelt down, supporting the boy's body with his arms. If it was the same as last time, then there was no need to panic. Nezumi had recovered just fine last time. If this time was the same...
"Ow!" A set of fingers dug fiercely into Shion's arm. Nezumi gasped, his chest rising and falling. The tremor of his fingertips agitated Shion's worry even more.
"Water," Shion muttered, glancing all around. No one moved. "Please, give me water. Anyone."
"Will he die?" a voice asked from behind. It was flat and cold. It belonged to Sasori, the sand-coloured man. He had drawn right up behind them without Shion noticing.
"Will he die? Then there is no need to bring water." Contempt wafted into Sasori's tone. "There is no need to give anything to the dying. Furthermore, he is one who has once left. No need. At all."
Shion turned around. He looked up at the man who had concluded the discussion with such terse words. No need.
"Bring it," Shion commanded. As far as he could remember, he had never given an order to someone in such an oppressive manner. But the words didn't feel strange leaving his mouth.
"Bring water to me. Quickly."
Sasori shifted uneasily. The rims of his widened eyes twitched. A single bead of sweat rolled down from a corner of his eye.
"Here." A wooden bowl was handed to him. It was about half-full with water. A small, thin child was holding it out as if it were an offering. "Mother told me to―take this."
"Thank you." Shion accepted the bowl from him. The child spun around, and trotted away into the darkness.
A small mouse scurried up onto Shion's shoulder. It stared at Shion's hands, twitching its nose.
"Nezumi... drink this." Supporting Nezumi's body with one arm, Shion slowly tipped the water into his mouth. Nezumi's throat contracted. He took a gulp.
"Nezumi, can you hear me?"
His eyelids lifted, and a pair of grey eyes peeked from underneath. Shion thought they were beautiful. They were the colour of the sky at the coming of morning. They absorbed light, yet released it softly at the same time.
They were beautiful like the dawning sky.
A lightening sky at morning conjoined somewhere with the hope of life. It was a glow that lauded people who had resolved to live, or at least try to live, through today. That was why it was beautiful.
I've gotten so much hope from the beauty of these eyes.
Shion clicked his tongue at himself. Idiot, now's not the time to be admiring him.
"Are you awake? Drink the water slowly―there―all of it. Then take a deep breath."
Nezumi obediently did as he was told. He drained the water, took a deep breath, and exhaled.
"Does you head hurt? Any nausea, or palpitation―"
"Three plus seven is ten. And since I'm at it already, twenty-one."
"Oh... three times seven." So Nezumi had remembered the questions Shion had asked when he'd woken up last time. Shion stifled a chuckle. Yes, reality was brutal and cruel. The past few hours had been filled with human despair, death, and screams. It was dyed through with the colour of terror, futility, and intense regret. But there had also been many heartwarming moments, moments where his pulse had quickened and his spirits had soared. Memories with Nezumi were always like that. They always brought excitement and warmth to his heart.
Shion straightened his back, and put more strength into his arms. Why did I just think 'memories', like he was someone of the past? Nezumi mumbled in Shion's arms.
"I heard the wind."
"The wind was singing. I heard its song." Nezumi raised himself. "I've heard it before. But this time it was... it was clearer. It was a gentle melody..."
"What kind of song was it?"
"Can you sing it?"
"Me? Hm... well. I wonder if I can."
"Let me hear it."
Nezumi blinked, and his lips moved. A song with a lilting melody poured forth.
The wind steals the soul away, humans thieve the heart
O earth, wind, and rain; O heavens, O light
Keep everything here
Keep everything here, and
Live in this place
O soul, my heart, O love, my feelings true
Return home here
The little mouse grew still on Shion's shoulder. It stopped moving as if rooted to the spot, and quieted its breath. Humans all around did the same. The people hidden in the darkness were also frozen in enthralment. Their eyes were closed, and their bodies were lent fully to the song. Everything grew still. It felt like even time had stopped. Nezumi's voice, and his song, seemed to soak into them, enveloping them, rocking them, and making them feel as if their bodies and souls were floating.
The wind steals the soul away, humans thieve the heart
But here I will stay
to keep singing
Deliver my song
Accept my song
The song ceased, and someone let out a gentle sigh. He was not the only one. Here and there in the darkness, soft sighs could be heard. Nezumi slowly shook his head.
"I feel like I've heard it before. Like I've heard it over and over, since a long time ago. Someone's taught me this song before."
Shion lifted his head and posed a question at the seated elder.
"Is this song somehow related with Elyurias?"
"Do you think so, child?"
"Yes." The moment he had blurted the answer, he felt certain. Nezumi and Elyurias were connected. The elder narrowed his eyes, and his gaze wandered in the air.
"It has been a long time since I heard it. I was convinced it had long disappeared from this land. I see―there still remains a person who can sing."
"The wind sings." Nezumi wiped his wet lips with the back of his hand. "Or maybe someone's singing in the wind. And I... hear it. I've come to hear it."
The elder nodded. "Since when?"
"A little while ago. Yeah―a little while before the Hunt. This is the third time. When it happens, my consciousness fades, like a stage in a blackout... and then green scenery appears... and then..."
Nezumi's eyes turned to Shion. His gaze wavered. Shion remembered that stormy night, the night he and Nezumi had met. The boy had appeared before him, soaked and blood-stained. He was so fragile, Shion had felt like he would make the boy fall apart just by touching him. Drawn to that fragility, and those vibrant eyes which were so much the opposite, Shion had extended his hand.
"I'll treat your wound." Those words had escaped his lips without a shadow of doubt, without resistance. He had felt like he had to do something. He had felt like it was his duty to protect this boy. He had never felt this protective of anyone, neither before nor after this incident.
A sharp, vivid moment. One that had burned an imprint into his life. Every time he recalled it, his heart quickened.
The fragility that had stirred Shion's protective instinct―the same fragility that had been completely wiped clean when they reunited four years later―returned into those eyes again.
His heart quickened.
"I don't know," Nezumi continued. "I was still young, and I was wading through the grass. And I could see... the sky."
"An ultramarine sky. It was a really beautiful blue. And wings buzzing... and a song. I couldn't tell whether it was man's or woman's voice. It was a strange voice. It almost sounded like the wind, crossing the plains, or crawling across the ground, or showering down from the heavens. I... I was always just standing there... listening to that song..."
A song of the wind which crawled across the ground, and showered from above. Maybe...
"Was it a song of offering?" Shion said. It was mostly instinct. The spark of an idea turned into words, and spilled from his lips. "A song offered to Elyurias... either to praise or appease her... am I right?"
The elder's chest swelled and deflated. It looked like he was taking several deep breaths. Is he agitated? Confused?
"Sasori," the elder called. The sand-coloured man materialized like a blot in the darkness. "Provide these two with food and rest."
"They will probably not have much time to rest... but that cannot be helped. Provide them whatever they wish for, to the best of your abilities."
"Why?" Sasori yelled angrily. "Why do you help them? Nezumi is one who has once left this place. He left, vowing never to return again. He was forbidden to return, was he not?"
"But he did return. Bringing a demon with him, nonetheless. Rou, can you not understand? He is evil itself. He brings calamity and destruction." Sasori's finger pointed squarely at Shion.
"Did you see his eyes just now? Those are the eyes of evil. The eyes of wicked darkness. Nezumi is being puppeted by this demon."
"Now you listen." Shion was now feeling more than cross. "You've been repeating yourself all this time. I only glared at you a little, and you're making me sound like I'm some monster. Kind of rude, don't you th―"
Sasori cut Shion off by shaking his head. His face contorted, as if every word Shion uttered was a curse.
"The very picture of a monster. Rou, I am fine with Nezumi. If you command me, I shall obey. I will provide him rest and food. But I cannot do that for him. If we do not kill him now, then he will bring misfortune upon us. He may obliterate us entirely."
"Sasori." Nezumi stood up. "Sometimes poison and medicine can come from the same plant. Sometimes you can't tell if it's going to be poison or medicine until you drink it. Right?"
"...What is your point?"
"There's no need to reveal Shion's so-called true identity, whether he's a demon or not. His identity doesn't matter. Right now, all I care about is that he's kept alive. That's all."
Nezumi's fingers grasped a handful of Shion's hair.
"Inside this head, Sasori, is information about the inner structure of the Correctional Facility. The most up-to-date stuff. I can bet it's probably as accurate as computer data. I wouldn't be able to destroy the Correctional Facility without it."
"Destroy the Correctional Facility―" Shock spread across Sasori's face. Just for an instant, it the expression made the sand-coloured man actually look human. This man had shown the same reaction to Nezumi's words as Rikiga and Inukashi did. Ah, I see, Shion thought.
His skin and eyes were a strange colour, but those were the only differences. This man was made of flesh. Blood coursed through his body, and he gave off heat. He would feel pain if he was wounded, and he had both emotions and intelligence. He was a human, just the same. Skin and eye colour were such small differences, they didn't even seem to count.
"Surely you are not really thinking of doing that?" he said in disbelief.
"I am," Nezumi said promptly. "In fact, that's probably all I've been thinking about. The Correctional Facility isn't just a prison. It's also a research organization that's connected to the core of No. 6. If we destroy it, it'll put a crack right in No. 6 itself, for sure. We're going to use that crack as a foothold to throw No. 6 into its grave. And to do that, I need Shion. I told you before, Sasori, I won't let you kill him that easily."
The elder opened his mouth before Sasori could.
"There may already be a crack appearing."
"What? What do you mean?"
"No. 6 may disintegrate even before you strike a blow, because of Elyurias."
"Rou!" Nezumi barked irritably. "Speak in a way I can understand. So far you haven't clarified a single thing."
"Nezumi, perhaps it is fate that you have returned with Shion. Perhaps it had already been decided beforehand."
"Beforehand?" Nezumi retorted. "Who the hell can decide how I'm going to live? I'd like to see anyone try. I'll never bow down to cheap words like God or Fate. That's enough, Rou. No more word-play. Stop your mysterious nonsense and answer my question. You were involved in the birth of No. 6, correct?"
"Be seated. You too, Shion. Be at peace. I will give you water. You are probably thirsty." Before the elder even finished his words, a pair of slightly bigger bowls were being handed to them. They were filled with clear water.
Shion felt a powerful thirst return to him.
He hadn't realized how badly he had wanted water. He felt like all the moisture had been wrung out of him in the numerous experiences leading up until now. He was so thirsty, he felt like his throat was chafing. When he had fed Nezumi water earlier, he had not wanted any for himself. He had completely forgotten his thirst. But now it was like his parched state was a reaction to that; he felt like he was burning up.
"Water―" Shion held the bowl in both hands and greedily gulped it down. It was cold and delicious, like the water that Nezumi had fed him over and over during his battle with the wasp―the water that ran near Inukashi's ruins. It had the same taste. It was delicious, and it quenched him.
He drained it in a single draught. More water was poured into his empty bowl. Shion was so grateful he felt he could cry.
"Good, isn't it?"
Shion found himself nodding vigorously in answer to Nezumi's question. It was too good to put into words.
"There's an underground lake here. Lots of minerals. ―Geez, you must have been thirsty."
Shion finally stopped to take a breath after he had had several bowls of water. The elder must have been waiting for him, for now he opened his mouth to speak.
"This will take a rather long time. I had intended not to tell anyone for my whole life... but I must tell it now. However, before that... Nezumi."
Nezumi lifted his chin.
"There is a path leading to the Correctional Facility, but it is only connected partway. The Facility has built a door from their side sealing the way off. It has not been opened for decades."
"There is no other way into the Correctional Facility unless you open it. You know that too, I presume?"
"It is impossible to open it from this side. Nor will it ever open from the Facility's side. It absolutely will not happen."
"The thing with doors―" a wan smile spread across Nezumi's lips, "is that you don't just wait for them to open politely by themselves. You force them open."
"Have you a plan?"
"I'm not unprepared."
"I would not have expected you to act without some strategy. But I cannot imagine how you would open the door."
"Shion." Nezumi crouched down, and put a firm hand on Shion's shoulder. The startled mouse hastily hopped down out of his way. "The door we're talking about: it's the only point on the map that connects the blank space underground to ground-level. You know where it is, right?"
"Yeah." The floorplan appeared in his mind, the one of the Correctional Facility that Nezumi had commanded Shion to memorize as if his life depended on it.
"It's in location po1-z22. From the Facility's side, it was labelled Point X."
"You remember the energy circuits which were connected to that point too, right?"
"Yeah. It was a single circuit, an old system. There are no auxiliary circuits."
"The unopenable door doesn't need a carefully-crafted backup system," Nezumi said. "Efficiency is paramount. Remove everything else that isn't absolutely necessary. Both people and machinery." He chuckled. "Sounds like something they would think of. But this is where it works to our advantage."
Nezumi snapped his fingers.
"The unopenable door opens. We'll pry it open. Rou, we'll fight our own battle. You have nothing to worry about."
"Only death is waiting."
"For many people. Many more people will likely die, more than you can imagine. Perhaps you are the only ones who can stop that. Nezumi, fate does exist. Fate has brought you together, and you are here because of fate. It was fate that Elyurias and I met. Let us begin with that story first. Listen well, and make haste, or else it will be too late. You must hurry...."
Then the elder began to speak. It was a story of No. 6.
Shion and Nezumi huddled together and grew still, like children listening to their grandfather tell a tale of the past. Only their ears strained hard to listen.
It was a story of No. 6.
A tale of destruction and creation.
Read Chapter 4.