In my lusts
Who am I? A man seeking happiness. I sought it in my lusts and did not find it. And all who live as I did fail to find it.
-Tolstoy, "Walk in the Light While There Is Light" 
It was summer, and I had just turned twenty when I was chosen as a core member of the rebirth project.
When I was born, this planet was already in the midst of danger. Due to numerous wars, pollution, and environmental destruction, over half of the territory on earth had been devastated to the point of becoming inhabitable for human life.
Global warming had sparked a spread of whole new contagious diseases; weather patterns were abnormal and unpredictable; wars between nations and tribes were neverending; nuclear weapons were being used.
By the time we realized it, humankind had driven itself to the verge of extinction. We survivors only realized after being this close to the edge that we had to reflect on the foolishness of our actions.
Our national framework had long crumbled away. So we thought, why not live life over again? This time, let's live our lives proper, and not make the same mistake.
The people who had managed to survive on this planet crossed the borders of race, nationality and ethnic origin, and vowed to live humbly upon the foundations of peace and harmony.
And so six cities were born.
There were not many regions left which were suitable for human life. Half of humankind had died out. People gathered in those limited regions, and gradually began to build their own cities.
There was once a city here as well. It was a beautiful city. There was an almost miraculous amount of abundant nature still left intact on this stretch of land. Admittedly, there was no ocean―but there were deep forests, lakes and marshes, and plains. Yes: it was indeed miraculous. It was a place of miracles, like the rose that blooms in the midst of blasted pieces of rubble.
The city was established, and the people lived quietly, abiding by their vow. I was born in that city. I was born, I grew up, and I became a researcher. So did your mother, Shion.
Having said so, the elder smiled.
"Yes. Karan grew up in the same town, and she lived there too."
"What kind of relationship did you have with my mother?"
The elder's smile widened. It carried a hint of boyishness. "We were childhood friends."
"Karan and I were childhood friends. I was much older than her, but we often played together. Karan was very skilled at climbing trees, and she could scramble up any of them, no matter how big. It often made me nervous, how daring she could be sometimes. Yes, I remember. She was a beautiful and free-thinking girl. To think she is now a mother with a grown son..."
"I don't care about Shion's mother," Nezumi interrupted. "Or did you and Karan fall in love, and was Shion born? Is that how it's gonna unfold? That would be an interesting twist."
"Nezumi!" Shion said sharply.
Nezumi shrugged, throwing a glance at him. "Third-rate plays are usually written like that. Rou, I want you to speed it up. You said so yourself: we don't have time. There was a city, and you were born and raised there, and became a researcher. Then you were chosen as a member of the rebirth project. From there... things started going haywire."
The elder drew a breath. "Is that what you think?"
"I do. Just look at the name, 'rebirth project'. It sounds phony already. What are you gonna rebirth? What were you planning on reviving, anyway? No wait, I already know the answer. The city got repaired, albeit only barely. Life was getting back on track for most people. They were freed from their days of being bedmates with death and extinction. Then after a few more years down the road, you were ready to forget your past mistakes. You wanted to abandon your vow, and dominate over the land again. That was what the project was for. They were probably gathering intelligent young people. It was the start of a project to become more developed, more powerful, more wealthy. Am I right?"
Nezumi knitted his brow. Hatred and loathing were chiseled into his refined profile. He spat the words from his mouth.
The elder's body trembled and grew rigid as if the word had struck him like a whip.
"Repeating your past mistakes: it's the epitome of foolishness. But you wanted to dominate. You contrived to make yourselves more plentiful by using the people and things around you as stepping stones. As a result, a hideous monster was born in a land that was once like a rose in the ruins. That was No. 6."
More developed, more powerful, more wealthy. Was No. 6 what towered at the end of this desire? Shion also felt himself tremble.
"It was in a blink of an eye," the elder sighed. "The city grew at astonishing speeds. Sometimes I wonder if it hadn't all been a nightmare."
"It's reality. It's unmistakable, and you guys created it. Rou, weren't the people at the centre of the rebirth project the same people who are at the administrative core of No. 6 right now?"
"They were all there. Everyone was young and intelligent. Each one of them had his own strong ideal."
"All the faces in this photo?"
"Yes. However, they are not the entire group. That―is from when Karan came to visit my lab. I remember, the person who took this photo was a young journalist who was here to do research. He also had his own ideals and sense of duty as a journalist."
"Well, he's just an alcoholic geezer now. He probably has less sense of duty left than the dirt under his nails. But even he's a hundred times better than you people. He let the alcohol get to his head―but not his ideologies. Each had his own strong ideal, huh? And this is where it took everyone in the end?"
"Nezumi―I want you to believe this much. We tried to found an ideal city here, a Paradise free of war and poverty... where we could have gone wrong, I don't know..."
Nezumi laughed scornfully. "People can't become God. Humans can't create Paradise. You guys thought you could be God, an almighty Creator. You thought you were all-powerful. That moment is when you fell. You began to corrupt. The cogwheels started turning backwards. You stopped paying heed to people's feelings, and their suffering and brutality were no longer in your line of sight. All you had was your greed to satisfy your ideologies―no, your own selfish desires. In order to achieve that, you thought you would be forgiven for doing anything. You didn't even need to beg for forgiveness―begging was below you. What Paradise? All you did was create an arrogant and ruthless monster surrounded by alloy walls, and turn everywhere else around it into Hell."
There was no heat in Nezumi's words. They rang out coldly, and at a measured pace. But Shion could perceive the stormy emotions whipping about inside Nezumi. He could hear the inferno raging.
"By the time I had realized it―" the elder said, "the change in No. 6 had already begun. The walls were built, which isolated it from its surroundings. It leeched the wealth of everything around it, and tried to sustain itself solely within its walls. An absolute authority was born, and organizations to support that absolute authority sprang up and established themselves."
"Were you too engrossed in your experiments to notice anything? That doesn't make you any less guilty."
"Of course. My crime is grave. I was, after all... on the side which massacred your family and friends."
"What?" Shion sat up without thinking. He looked back and forth at the faces of Nezumi and the elder.
"So it's true," Nezumi murmured. His tone was almost the opposite of before, somewhat frail and uncertain. "So it's true. That's how it is, then. I knew that you'd been exiled from No. 6 and become part of the underground people. I had a sneaking suspicion that you played a central role in the birth of No. 6. But to think you were part of that massacre... I didn't want to think that could be true."
"Massacre? Nezumi, what's this about?"
"The history of No. 6. The Mao Massacre. Over a hundred people were murdered."
"Bet you've never even heard of it."
"No, I haven't... this is my first time."
"Nothing to be embarrassed about. No one knows about it, except for the perpetrators and the victims. It's probably the incident in which No. 6 revealed its hideous rearing head for the first time. That's why it was covered up. There are no records. But it's in my memory, and it'll never fade. It's burned an image that'll never disappear."
"When did it happen?"
"Twelve years ago."
"Twelve years! So I was already born."
"Long born. You'd already been certified as an elite, and you would have been living in your mansion in Chronos by that time. What an active and adorable little boy you must have been."
Shion found himself grabbing Nezumi's arm.
"Tell me. What happened? Who got killed? Is it the Hunt? Is it something that happened in the West Block?"
"In the forest."
"Forest? You mean the woods that spread to the north?"
Nezumi brushed Shion's fingers away. At the same time, he turned his body and dug his own fingers into Shion's arm.
"Listen." Nezumi's breath was on his earlobe. It was cold. "I'll tell you." His fingers drew away from Shion's arm and pressed against his throat, slowly tracing the red mark that snaked around it.
"You have a red scar, a gift from the parasite wasp, right?"
"Not a gift I was happy to get."
"I have one too. A gift from No. 6, if you will."
Nezumi cast off his shirt. He half-turned to show his back. Shion felt his throat close up. His breath caught.
There was a raised scar on the smooth skin between Nezumi's shoulders and hips. It was about the size of an adult palm. That spot was coloured pale pink, and was taut like a burn scar. It looked even more out-of-place because of the smoothness of the skin around it. It looked like a gigantic spider was splayed over his back.
"Yeah. Graciously given to me twelve years ago."
Shion stretched out his hand to touch the spot which looked like it could be the spider's head. He slid his fingertip along the scar as if to trace its outline. Nezumi did not resist. He stood like a statue as if to give in to the movement of Shion's fingertips.
"I never... noticed." Shion let out a sigh almost without thinking. Not once four years ago, when he had treated the graze wound on Nezumi's shoulder, nor in these past few months they spent together, did he notice. Had Nezumi skilfully hidden it from him?
"Of course." Nezumi crouched suddenly, and retrieved his shirt. "What reason do I have to show you? I'd have to get naked. You wouldn't wanna be stark naked in front of me either, would you? Even though I've had the privilege of seeing it once already."
"Well... but..." He wished Nezumi would have revealed it. He wished Nezumi had revealed this scar earlier. He wanted Nezumi to speak about the past which surrounded it. Shion didn't have the right to accuse him of why he had hidden it up until now, and why he had said nothing. But that was why he wanted Nezumi to open up and tell him. If only he had earlier...
Shion knew he would have done so. He would expose his body, his mind, his scars, and where his heart lay. He had done so before. Nezumi doesn't trust me completely. He hasn't acknowledged me as someone who is worth exposing everything to. What can I do to bridge this barrier between us, this chasm?
He gritted his teeth.
That's enough. This isn't the time to be wallowing in my emotions. This isn't such a forgiving situation, I know that much.
Keloids. Abnormal raising of the scar. Due to a burn?
"We were burned," Nezumi said, as if he had seen right through Shion's heart. His voice was brittle. It became a force of impact that slammed into Shion.
"Burned? ...What do you mean, burned?"
"That's what happened. One day, some soldiers came in with firearms, and cleared us out by burning us down."
Raging flames swirled before his eyes.
They cleared us out by burning us down.
Nezumi stood in front of Shion, and began to speak. His tone was regular and emotionless.
"My people, Shion―we were once called the Forest People. Even before No.6... no, even before the Town of the Rose, which would become the beginnings of No. 6, we lived in the forest, and it was our home. We were in harmony―true harmony with the wind, the earth, the water and the sky, and with animals and plants. For all of that time."
The elder raised his hand shakily.
"Yes, Shion. The Forest People used to inhabit this land. That is why so much nature has managed to remain miraculously intact."
"What kind of people are the Forest People?" Shion's heart raced; he was about to step further into Nezumi's truth.
"They are born in the forest, and they lived there," the elder said. "They made the forest thrive, treated it with respect, and protected it. They were able to converse with the wind, water, trees, and grasses, and align their hearts with them. They lived in a totally opposite manner from how we do. They did not wish for growth nor development; they only lived quietly within the laws of nature. This land has always been protected by these people... that is how it has been."
The elder let out a long sigh, and lowered his head. As the sigh left him, his body seemed to deflate and shrink in size.
"It was a lush forest... there were all kinds of animals and plants, large and small. Seasons passed, flowers bloomed, fruits ripened, leaves thickened, and life pulsated as it was nurtured and passed on."
"And No. 6 destroyed it all." Nezumi's voice was now reduced to a whisper. His beautiful murmur rocked Shion's eardrums and heart.
"Shion, you probably had no idea it was happening, but No. 6 was still burgeoning when you were born. They tried to swallow every single piece of land which was suitable for their habitation and make it their own. They concluded that we were in the way. We were people of the forest―we obeyed the laws of the forest, but refused to worship anything else. We refused to become part of No. 6. Back then, the wall was finishing up at a considerable speed. Only those on the inside of the silver wall were to be treated like humans. As for those outside, they could invade it or destroy it however they liked―that was becoming No. 6's stance. And in accordance with it, they invaded the entire forest, and stole it from us. You understand what I'm saying?"
"Can you imagine what I'm going to say next?"
Shion nodded. He could feel his neck creak. "No. 6's army... invaded your village. They thought, if you weren't going to comply... they would destroy you all..."
"Yeah. Nice, you've learned to see through things better."
Shion clutched at his chest. His heart wasn't just racing―it was palpitating, and he couldn't breathe properly.
"And then, that time... what were you doing...?"
"I was sleeping. It was nighttime. I was still young. I was too young... to remember a lot of things. I don't remember my mother's face, nor my father's voice. I just remember it was hot. And the viciousness of the flames which devoured everything... I remember. I remember it, Shion."
"They burned down... the whole village."
"They burned it down and killed everyone off. Indiscriminately. They burned down houses with people still in them, and shot those who tried to flee. Can't you just see it? You've already experienced the Hunt. No. 6 has repeated that Hell many, many times."
He could see it. He could see vividly the scene of the massacre. Even though he himself had been captured in the Hunt, thrown down into darkness, come this far, always by Nezumi's side; even though he had been amongst the abused, in the scene he watched now, Shion was on the side that was perpetrating the murder. He was pointing the flamethrower and the fire which spurted out of it at the elderly, children, men and women.
Sweat soaked his skin. He felt ill.
"But you were saved. You suffered burns... but you survived."
"An old woman―I don't know whether she was my real grandmother. But an old woman took me in her arms, and made a desperate escape. Thanks to her, I was able to survive."
"Your family, were they―"
"None of them lived."
He swallowed the spit in his mouth. It was bitter. Very bitter.
"So No. 6 invaded your forest, destroyed it, and went on extending its territory."
"That's right. It was around where the airport is now. The woods that dot the place are the remnants of the forest. They must've wanted land to make a runway on. A few years after the massacre, No. 6's walls stretched out into the form they are today."
A bead of sweat rolled down his cheek. There was still a bitter taste in his mouth.
"There's more," Nezumi said. "It's about how I got imprisoned into this underground part of the Correctional Facility."
"Right―let's hear it."
Heh. Nezumi laughed without warning. It was a carefree, yet somehow ironic smile, unique to Nezumi only.
"You don't look like you want to. You've gone all pale. Like a sheet."
"I'll listen. I want to. Nezumi, I want to hear your story until the end. I think I have the obligation... to hear it."
Nezumi's fingers pinched Shion's chin.
"Is that how you really feel?"
"I promised. I said I would never lie to you again. I'll keep the promise. And―if it's possible..."
"If what's possible?"
"I don't want to lie to myself, either."
"A fine challenge."
The fingers retreated. A smile graced the face which had fallen sombrely a moment before. There was no more irony or coldness in his face. Shion even thought it looked gentle. When he saw that smile, he felt the strength suddenly leave him. He felt dizzy. He felt like the ground had disappeared under his feet, like he was floating in the air. His whole body grew cold.
He was fainting.
"It's nothing." He spread his feet apart, and supported his crumbling posture.
I'm not gonna fall here. Everything's starting. It's only starting. I have to listen... I have to hear him say the truth. He closed his eyes. Just as he expected, the raging inferno was still swirling behind his eyelids. People rolled about on the ground, burning. He could even hear the bloodcurdling screams and smell the stench of burning flesh.
Am I on the side of the murderers?
Twelve years ago, I was in Chronos. In my comfortable room, I enjoyed sumptuous meals, and slept in a clean bed. Even while Nezumi was being burned and nearly killed, I was given everything, and was living a life I didn't deserve.
Who could say that this wasn't a sin? Even if I was a young child, I was still living in the same world as those who were doing the massacring. It's an immovable truth: I was on the side of No. 6, not Nezumi. Could anyone say this wasn't a sin? Could I―and I'm not anyone―I'm no one.
The darkness wavered. Nezumi's figure blurred. All sounds faded away. Then, a pair of arms slid underneath his armpits.
"That's enough. Shion, this is as far as I'm gonna go." Nezumi tightened his grip. The sensation brought Shion back to his senses.
"You're―well, I am too―we're both exhausted out of our wits. We've managed to drag ourselves through this gruelling experience, not to mention we were on our toes for the whole time. We're probably both as tired as we can possibly get. It's alright. Rest. Take some time to wind down. If you don't, your heart's gonna give."
"...I can't... hear any songs."
"Even if I start to lose consciousness, I can't hear... songs, like you do..."
"I can't... do it."
"Shion, look at me."
He shifted his gaze, and looked up at the pair of grey eyes, which were calm and peaceful.
"I told you before. I'm me, and you're you. We can't do the same things. We can't be the same. But we can support each other like this. Both of us. Back there, you supported me, and gave me water. You were probably thirsty as hell yourself, but you saved every little drop for me. Shion... you were born inside the walls, and I've been living outside of them. That's the reality of it, and we can't help it. No one can change the fact. But when the other is about to fall, we stretch our hand out without even thinking, and try to support him. We can't help it. We give him water. We try to protect him. That's another truth about us."
"I didn't mean to make you feel guilty. I didn't mean to accuse you of any crime. I―can't even imagine wanting to hurt you. I'm sorry. I should have thought a little more about your situation."
Something hot pushed at the back of Shion's eyes. Even before he could vocalize it, tears streamed down his face.
How embarrassing. How pathetic, to be crying like this.
He clamped his teeth over his lip, and tried to hold the tears that welled up. But sobs managed to push their way through between his clenched teeth.
Don't be kind to me. Don't apologize. I wouldn't have minded if you blamed me, hurt me, accused me of any crime. If you didn't, I would keep taking advantage of it. I would lean on this reality you speak of, and I would keep excusing myself to no end. I'm still that weak.
He couldn't control his emotions. His nerves, which had been on-edge until now, had a hard time bounding back once they gave way. They ignored Shion's will as they let the tears fall freely.
"Don't cry." Nezumi's hand patted his back. "Don't you cry. You were just a tiny kid. You're not to blame for anything. The guys who should pay for their crime are the adults. The adults who gave birth to that creature and let it grow this large should be the ones to pay the penalty. Isn't that right, Rou?"
"Yes. The crime rests entirely with us."
"Then what's your personal crime? What have you committed?"
"I created the seed of the massacre."
It was like the air had frozen over. Nezumi's arms trembled softly beneath Shion's armpits.
"That massacre was not carried out to acquire land for a runway. It was to acquire Elyurias."
Elyurias. The great sovereign.
- Tolstoy, Leo. "Walk in the Light While There Is Light." Walk in the Light and Twenty-Three Tales. Trans. Louise & Aylmer Mau. The Bruderhof Foundation. 20. (back)