"We never had a sovereign, at least I don't remember there being one. I've never even heard of the name before," Nezumi said.
"Naturally. I was the one who named her. Your people did not give her a name, but you did revere her. You revered her as you did the other trees, the sun, and the moon, and you feared her. Yes―you feared her. She had power. She had a power that neither we nor you had―probably a power no human could possess. That is why No. 6 desired her. They desired her power. Nezumi―your people knew everything about her power, and you feared and revered her. You never thought of using her as a device for your own prosperity. That is the difference between your people and us. However, I was not directly involved in that massacre. Nevertheless, I know that is no excuse."
"Let's just hear the truth. What role did you play?"
"I―I met Elyurias in the forest, discovered her power, and reported it. You could say I was entranced by her. I was obsessed with her, and I submitted a massive research report about her. The upper echelons of No. 6 expressed a strong interest, and contributed generous research grants to me. They called me a rare gem of a researcher. I had grown giddy with fame and fortune. Oh―"
The elder's words trailed off. Just for a moment, his gaze wandered in the air.
"No... I remember Karan saying to me around that time. She said she was afraid of me. She said there was a frightening, dangerous sort of look on my face. She said she was afraid of me, and she didn't know why... it was long afterwards when I finally realized why. Yes... I had not realized... the change in myself, nor in No. 6... I even laughed at Karan's fear. I had not realized that I had thrown my ideals away, and that I had wandered off the path I intended to walk. But―by that time, the dominant organizations of No. 6 had already been formed, and they were fast becoming concrete. A military was being assembled discreetly, and a skillful system of controlling and dominating people was nearing completion. I never knew―I had not realized in the slightest. I had still believed... I had still..."
"...that No. 6 was a utopian city?"
"Yes. A pacifist city with hopes of eternal peace at its foundation, interacting with the world, armed with no weapons whatsoever. A city that insured a humane life for each and every person; one that respected each and every person as a human being. No. 6 and the world, science and nature, ideal and reality would come together in harmony, with no contradictions. I believed in it. I believed it, immersed myself in my research, and... brought tragedy. I never imagined that No. 6 would have an army. I never imagined that they would mobilize their military and invade the surrounding realms. When I learned of the truth of the massacre, it was already a long, long time after the incident had occurred... but I panicked. It hit me with an impact enough to make my body go rigid. It was then that I finally realized the meaning behind Karan's words. I realized that I had been drunk with joy over the superficial successes of my work, and had become one who couldn't feel, one who was numb to the happenings around him, one who was more foolish and dangerous than anyone could be. I realized this, and I appealed to the uppers to clarify the truth of the massacre. It was my own way of protesting."
Nezumi let his shoulders shake, as if he couldn't find anything more funny about it.
"You thought they would listen to you?"
"I had thought they were on my side. I had thought of them as my own friends, fellow partners who shared the hope and ideology of creating a utopian city―not politicans, not researchers."
"So you made a fiery objection. And the result of that was your arrest and imprisonment as a rebel."
"That is about right... they did not go so far as to kill me, however."
"Even they still had some pity left."
"No... not that."
The elder slid his hand across his lap. "They probably decided that there was no need to kill me after what my body had undergone. Shion."
"Look at this." The elder stuck his arm out, and rolled up the garment covering it.
Nezumi shifted in his spot beside Shion. Shion also held his breath, and leaned forward. A red banded scar wound up the elder's arm from his elbow to his shoulder. It meandered like Shion's, but the colour was a little darker than his.
"This is... from the parasite wasp..."
"Now I can say so with certainty. Somewhere in my body, there are probably remains of a wasp that could not hatch. At the time, I was under house arrest by the authorities. I had collapsed suddenly in my room and gone unconscious. When I recovered fully, these marks were on my arm... and both my legs had lost all functionality."
"You lost the colour of your hair, I lost my legs. As the cost of survival, I suppose. However, at the time, no one could grasp the exact cause of this, including myself.... If the same thing happened now, I would have made a good experimental specimen, perhaps, but at the time, there was no such room for rational thought in the upper echelons. They were immersed in the work of building governing organizations. The Correctional Facility was still under construction. I managed to hang on by a thread, losing my legs in exchange, and was housed in the underground caves. And so they cast me off. Shion, I was the wasp's first host, and one who survived."
"Then, Rou―" Nezumi lifted his chin, and directed his gaze straight up at the elder. It was piercing, like an arrow.
Nezumi was still in full control of himself. He was able regulate his emotions and reason. Shion wiped his tears with the back of his hand, and clenched it into a fist. Nezumi had said that they couldn't be the same. Perhaps it was so. But he could still try to bring himself closer.
I want to be resilient like he is. I want to preserve myself. I want to stay as who I am.
I won't hope, or pray; I'm going to make a vow to myself. One day, I'll become strong. I'll have the kind of strength that will keep me from endlessly making excuses to myself.
Nezumi pointed a finger to the heavens.
"Then, Rou, aren't the higher-ups gonna summon you sometime soon? Maybe they've finally found out about the incidents occurring in the city, and have got no idea what to do about it. It's about time their arrogant gaze started seeing reality for what it is. Don't you think they'd come to you for help?"
"That will not happen. All of my research was confiscated. They have probably analyzed all they could. My power is now next to useless. I have grown old. I will live the remainder of my life underground, and die―that is my wish. I have neither the power nor will to change reality. But I do know this much: what is about to happen in No. 6 is many times more fearsome and destructive than you presume. Many people will die. Neither I nor No. 6 can stop it. But you can."
"Stop it? The death and destruction? What do I have to stop it for? I couldn't wish for a more splendid outcome."
"Nezumi, the citizens will be the ones dying. Children and adults will die indiscriminately. Are you saying you will merely watch it happen?"
"What's wrong with that?"
"You said that Shion was not guilty of any crime. That is true. In just the same way, with what crime could you accuse the children inside the walls? If you will fold your arms and watch, knowing that children will die... if you will let it happen and do nothing... you, and any who do the same―"
The elder straightened his back, and returned Nezumi's gaze steadily.
Nezumi made a small strangled noise in his throat.
"It is not something for me to say. However, I must say it. Nezumi, you are the survivor of a massacre. That is why you cannot stand on the side of the murderers. You must not let yourself become the same as those whom you hate."
Nezumi fell silent. Shion stepped forward.
"What should we do? What can we do?"
His mother was inside the city. There was also Lili, the girl from his neighbourhood. There was her family. There was the student who came to buy a roll every morning; there was the worker he exchanged greetings with on the way to his job.
A fleeting resemblance of Kalan―the girl he had met in the West Block―overlapped with Lili's face. He didn't know why.
I can't. I can't kill them.
"I do not know," the elder said. "I cannot foresee what we can do to prevent this tragedy. Nothing presents itself to me. You must act as your hearts tell you to. You―your hearts―will be able to lead the people away from destruction to salvation. To me that is how it seems, and I cannot see it any other way. Shion."
"Take this." The elder slid his hand along his armrest. A small drawer appeared. He plucked something small from it, and offered it to Shion, giving another one of his numerous sighs. He looked like he had rapidly aged. The boyish glint in his eye had faded.
"This is... a chip."
"Yes. Almost the entirety of my research is in it. Parasite wasps, Elyurias, the Forest People... everything. After you have saved your friend, please try to decode it."
"I entrust it to you. Now... I am a little tired. I have not spoken this much in a long time. I am tired. I wish to rest."
I entrust it to you. You must find the answer. Please find an answer―one where no blood will be shed. Shion heard the elder's unspoken words.
There were so many more mysteries: how this underground realm came to be; how Nezumi found his way here; his reason for leaving; all the things that happened which led up to their meeting―he itched to know, but for now, he would suppress those words of questioning inside his heart.
This was the time to act, not learn.
The mice were suddenly buzzing with noise. A rat at Shion's feet raised its voice in apprehension.
Shion had heard this voice before. It was―
"Tsukiyo. Nezumi, Tsukiyo's here."
"I know. Geez, how can you differentiate them like that?" Nezumi put his fingers to his lips, and whistled shrilly.
Screech, screech! A small black mouse came half-tumbling down the rocky wall.
Skrit, skrit. A sewer rat leapt up, and pounced on Tsukiyo.
The sewer rat froze at Shion's command.
"He's not prey. He's one of us. Let him go." The sewer rat lifted its paws which had been pinning Tsukiyo down. The black mouse leapt to its feet as if on a spring, and scurried up Nezumi's body.
"Good, you made it. A message from Inukashi?"
Tsukiyo nodded. There were wounds all over its tiny body, and they were beginning to bleed. Nezumi lent an ear to Tsukiyo's squeaking, and swallowed.
"Looks like everything is ready to go above-ground. We have to act quickly. Rou, I would have wanted to hear a little more of your story, but it looks like we don't have time for that. We're gonna go."
"Then go you shall. Do you wish for anything?"
"Water and food. I'm so hungry, I feel like I'm gonna pass out."
"It will be prepared immediately. Sasori, give them whatever they wish."
"Before that―" Sasori drew up beside Nezumi. "Nezumi, I want to ask you something."
"Surely you are not thinking of blowing up the door with a micro-bomb? If you do that, this place will collapse as well."
Nezumi furrowed his brow and looked at him in exaggerated bewilderment. "Sasori, we've come through the back gates of the Correctional Facility here. An old bomb detector is still a bomb detector, and that gate's got them. We could get knives or small firearms past them, but not micro-bombs. If we could, we would've sneaked in with at least a hundred on our backs."
"Fine. As long as you do not bring us into this mess."
"You doubting me?"
"Who knows what you will do. You are dangerous."
"Hey, I thought Shion was the demon here?"
"Demons do not cry." Sasori glanced at Shion. "Demons do not cry... like that."
Shion felt his face burnt up at the man's words. He felt painfully embarrassed.
"I found it strange," the man said. "To be able to cry so unreservedly... very strange."
"Well, no," Shion stammered, "I―I was just really tired, and... my nerves―stretched thin―that was it, really, it's not like I cry like that all the time―"
The air shifted.
Sasori had laughed. It was the first smile Shion had seen on him.
"You are interesting. You may be, perhaps... far more decent than Nezumi."
A sewer rat sat on Shion's shoulder and nudged him with its nose.
"He says so too," the man said, indicating the rat. "He says you are more decent."
"The hell is that supposed to mean?" Nezumi clicked his tongue. Then he jerked his chin slightly.
"Let's go, Shion."
"Rou. This is good-bye. It's probably the last I'll see of you. This time, I won't come back."
"That is for the best. You are one who must live above-ground. You are someone who must live in the light and wind. I pray that we will never meet again. Ah, but you are not in need of prayers, perhaps?"
"Oh―Rou, I'm going too," Shion said. "I wish I could have heard more of your story."
"I trust that the rest will come through your own hands. Thanks to you, I have been able to relive memories of Karan. But you do not need to tell her about me. You should also forget about me yourself. This is farewell, Shion."
"Good-bye. Thank you for everything."
They started walking.
When Shion turned around, the candle had already been extinguished. Darkness shrouded all that was behind him.
The emergency lamp flashed and the buzzer rang.
The door to the Correctional Facility rolled up slowly in front of Getsuyaku. He set a foot inside. White walls and a white hallway spread before him, the picture of cleanliness itself.
"What in the world is this, eh?" Getsuyaku was met with a torrent of abuse as soon as he entered the monitoring room. "What's wrong with these cleaning robots? They're spouting odours and strewing trash everywhere instead of cleaning it up. Have you even maintained them properly?" The man was practically a giant, almost one-and-a-half sizes bigger than Getsuyaku in height and berth.
"I'm sorry. They've been acting up. I didn't even imagine something like this would happen."
"Enough excuses. Clean it up, and quickly."
"Oh, it stinks," said a woman with long hair, grimacing as she pinched her nose. "I can't work in this stench." She left the room, her voice congested. She trampled Getsuyaku's toe on her way out, though whether she had meant to do it or not, he didn't know. She gave him no apology, nor did she even spare him a glance.
The room was divided by transparent walls into several sections. The sections were arranged in accordance to priority level, and the higher priority rooms were placed further in. Getsuyaku was in a space near the door, commonly called the Mannequin. This section dealt mainly with monitoring ventilation. It was a department relatively low on the priority scale, and that was probably another reason why he had been let in without much trouble.
"I'm very sorry." He went around with a vacuum, sucking up the trash scattered over the floor.
"You're utterly useless. I can find a dozen replacements for janitors like you, you know. Next time you mess up, you're fired on the spot. Ugh, it smells horrible. I can't stand it. Hm? What are you looking at?"
"Nothing, sir." Getsuyaku lowered his eyes.
"Do you have something to say? A complaint? A Lost Town resident acting high and mighty now, eh?"
Getsuyaku felt a firm kick in the shins. He staggered, and struck his hip hard on a corner of a desk.
"Well? Don't just stand there. Hurry up and work!"
A wind was dancing inside his head. No, it was whirling fiercely. It was whipping up a tremendous noise.
Damnit. He was mumbling. Damnit, damnit, damnit, damnit.
What makes him think he can be so arrogant? What have I done to be insulted by him? I'm just doing my job. I've done my job all this time―honest and hard work. ―Well, I might've done a little smuggling, but still, I haven't caused anyone trouble. You guys would've been buried in trash if it weren't for me. Don't like the smell? Dirty, you say? It's all stuff you guys have produced. Don't give me this shit. Treating me like a dog. It doesn't matter where I live; I'm still a human. I'm no mongrel.
His injured pride swelled into anger, and wiped clean from Getsuyaku's breast any hint of uncertainty that had lodged itself there.
He saw a fleeting image of Inukashi's tan face.
They go around acting cocky like that, and they've got no idea how hard your work is, and how much it's worth. They're looking down on you. So? How about you give those cocky guys a piece of your mind? Not a bad idea, is it?
You're absolutely right, Inukashi. It's not bad at all.
He threw a glance at the digital display on the wall. Within No. 6―and this building was no exception―time passed by with not so much as a 0.1-second delay.
A capsule lay on the floor at his feet. It had not disintegrated.
Damn it all to hell.
He stepped on it softly with his right foot. There was another one. He did the same―
"What in the world―" The man stood up. His face was contorted. "What is this horrid smell?"
"I have no idea..." Getsuyaku replied vaguely, "it smells like rotting meat... I think it must've been mixed in with the garbage..." He was right. The smell was horrid. It wasn't an overpowering odour, but it was enough to grate on his nerves. Even Getsuyaku, who was used to smelling decay, felt ill.
"I can't stand it. Ugh―out of the way!" The man covered his mouth and exited the room. He trampled Getsuyaku's foot on the way out, just like the woman had.
"That hurts, what was that for?"
"Shut up. Move it!"
The man shoved his hand against Getsuyaku's chest. He staggered, and bumped into the control panel.
Stop. It was the designated time.
Getsuyaku pretended to hold his hip and groan in pain, and pressed the green button on the far right. While he was at it, he pressed the changer switch. Now, this stench would travel through the air ducts and waft into the Facility. Getsuyaku didn't know what the green button was supposed to do. He had only followed Inukashi's directions. He raised himself unsteadily, and picked up the vacuum. He began to clean.
He was breaking out into a cold sweat.
How had he looked to the surveillance camera positioned in the middle of the ceiling? Did his move seem unnatural?
I've done it.
There was a melting capsule underneath the desk. Fumes rose up thickly.
Getsuyaku strengthened the grip in his trembling fingertips, and kept hold of his vacuum hose.
I feel it. You're close by.
I can feel you.
Don't come. Please, don't come.
I don't want to be seen by you.
Don't come, Shion.
want to see you.
Another casualty. Over thirty in total, now. Social class, wealth, history of illness, residence, sex, age, build, lifestyle, all unrelated. Who was next―?
Fear, uncertainty, and agitation mounted inside No. 6.
"What are the authorities doing?"
"Investigate and disclose the causes."
"Why aren't you taking any effective measures?"
"Dispatch the medics, hurry."
"Mayor, your emergency press conference."
What has happened to our No. 6? Our city, our No. 6, what―
Nezumi's fingers tapped the door connected to the Correctional Facility. Safu was beyond this door.
"It's almost time. We'll be launching the flashy fireworks soon, Shion."
"No. I've been thinking."
"What could you possibly think of at a time like this?" Nezumi said incredulously.
"I was thinking about Safu. I want to see her."
"No need to jump the gun."
"And―I was wondering, just for a tiny instant."
"Whether it was possible to know everything about you."
"Idle thoughts, huh."
"You think so?"
Nezumi's fingers yanked at Shion's earlobe. A sharp pain shot through it.
"Shion, listen. From here on out is your stage. Once the door opens, we'll be inside the Correctional Facility. Get that brain working full-throttle. I'm gonna be acting on your orders. You're my lifeline. Don't you dare break."
"Of course I won't. You don't even need to say so."
Nezumi smiled wryly, and stretched his hand out palm-up. Shion placed his own hand on top.
There was a sound.
Click click click.
The automatic locks were being released.
"Perfect. I need to give Inukashi a reward later."
Click click click. Creak.
"Let's go, Shion."
The door opened.
A white light stabbed at his eyes.
It was blinding.
The light was overpowering.
The place overflowed with light, and glittered.
It was unmistakable―it was the world of No. 6.
Read Volume 7 Chapter 1.