If one's human soul
If one's human soul should completely disappear, one would probably be more likely to find happiness. But even so, the human inside oneself feels horror towards it like nothing else. O how so completely terrifying, grievous, and painful he thinks it! For one to lose his memories as a human.
-Nakajima Atsushi, Sangetsuki 
She had awakened.
Safu had awakened, and understood everything.
What have you done... what have you done... what have you done?
"Goodness, Safu. What's wrong? Look at the fluctuation in your emotions. How long do you plan on keeping up this agitation for? What a troublesome child. Your beauty is going to waste." He chuckled. "Ah, no, that was just a joke. A flat joke. Don't mind me. You are still beautiful, very beautiful. A huge success. Things are going exactly as planned so far. And of course, there will be no mistakes in the future, either." He chuckled again.
The man continued to laugh from his spot beside Safu.
So you were the Devil.
Why―why―why have you done this to me?
"You are not only beautiful. You are also resilient. You are my ideal, Safu, let me confess that. I cannot lie to you, after all. I... at first only collected you to use you as a specimen. I tried to treat you as I would any other sample. Oh, I hope you will forgive me. I don't want you to reproach me like that. I didn't know that you would be so beautiful and strong. Safu, you captivated me. I could repeat myself a million times. You are my ideal―you are what I've been looking for. That is why I will make you queen. No, I will make you into someone close to a goddess. A perfect existence. You and I, we will rule the world together. How does it sound? Exciting, isn't it?"
You are the Devil.
Don't come near me. Don't come near me.
Safu's voice did not reach the man.
The man continued to talk fervently as if he were possessed. Colour tinged his cheeks, and he paced in circles, back bent slightly forward.
He was like a fish in an aquarium. He went round and round, round and round, swimming in an enclosed space. Round and round. Round and round.
The man's feet trod silently on the floor as he continued talking. Perhaps he was speaking more to himself than Safu.
"I finally have you in my hands. The ideal materials. Oh, Safu, I'm no believer in fatalism. I don't believe in forces beyond the bounds of human power, or the heavens being in control of our lives. I have always laughed in scorn at it, calling it absurd. But―please don't laugh, Safu. After meeting you, I, well... I feel like I could believe a little bit in this so-called fate. Perhaps it is true. Perhaps there is a God, and He is trying to bestow me with an absolute power. If not, what could explain the fact that I met you like this? That is why I will make you a goddess. I have the power to do it. Oh, yes. Yesterday, I told you that you wouldn't need a name. Right, of course, of course. You should throw away your name from the past. I shall give you a name suitable for a goddess."
The man's feet and tongue showed no signs of stopping.
He kept walking. He kept talking.
"Yes, how about..." The man's feet stopped abruptly. A slow smile spread over his face. "How about... Elyurias?"
The man resumed pacing. The blissful smile still hung over his face. "A splendid name, isn't it? Indeed, a name fit for a queen. Perhaps it is all the more suitable for someone like you."
Safu's gaze locked onto him. For the first time, she got a good look.
His thin face looked gentle at first glance. His age―it was hard to tell. Depending on how the light hit him, he either looked very young, or considerably aged. The man had completely cut himself off from the external world and was wallowing in his inner realm, staring intently into the air and soliloquizing his feelings.
This man was completely absorbed in himself. He believed that his abilities were equal to that of God. He believed he was entrusted with everything, that he would be forgiven for anything. That... that was why he could do this.
"Just a little bit more. Just a little more, and my project will be complete. You were the last piece. Thanks to you, I have all the parts I need. They're complete, that's no mistake. I just need time. I just need a little more time. How do you feel? I want you to be comfortable, and for that, I would do anything. You are one of the most important things in my life right now, after all."
"What? Safu, did you say something?"
Set me free. Change me back to who I was. Let me see him.
Her emotions reared angrily. A wind roared in her heart, howling loudly. She wanted to scream from the bottom of her lungs. She wanted to cry.
I want to see you.
"Oh, what's the matter? Your numbers are going up. I guess you're having trouble adjusting to your new environment. Hmm, I thought the transition would be smoother. Oh, no, I don't mean to blame you for it. I wouldn't blame you for anything. You are my treasure. Will you sleep a little more? That should make things better. Hm? ―It looks like Mother agrees with my judgment. She says she will prescribe you some stabilizers. Oh, yes. I have to tell you about Mother. You and Mother are directly connected, you know. Mother will always monitor you to adjust your conditions for utmost comfort, so that you will have the best environment possible. So that's why, look, now she's saying that you need rest―"
A bell sounded shrilly. The tapered ends of the man's eyebrows shot up.
"What is it? An urgent call now? How uncouth― yes, it's me. What's the matter? Today is the Holy Celebration, are you not busy with your own―what? What's that? What do you mean? In the city? This is happening in the city... no, that can't be... right, send the video over to me. The samples, too. Everything you've collected... yes, I'm about to right now... what? Thirty bodies already? In the space of one day... so that's what's happened... I understand. That's enough. I'll go over there myself... yes, immediately. Immediately."
All the blood had receded from the man's profile. His lips were bloodless, white, and parched. They trembled uncontrollably.
"It's a mistake. It must be a mistake. That... that couldn't have happened. It just isn't possible," the man practically spat, as he exited the room. He was agitated to the point of it being unnatural. All the ease and eloquence he had a minute ago were gone without a trace.
This is happening in the city, the man had said. Had something happened inside No. 6? Something that exceeded that man's predictions...?
No. 6, where I was born and raised. But there was always unrest squirming below the surface. It was such a comfortable and beautiful place, and yet it was always precarious... the lingering feeling that something was about to happen... at least, I thought so...
Safu could feel her rage gradually begin to quiet.
She was sleepy. So sleepy, she could melt. Had she been dosed with a sleeping drug? She was connected to the Mother―what did that mean? The Mother... oh, I'm so sleepy.
Her consciousness blurred. It became hard to think. And in these moments, there was always a figure which rose in her mind.
She tried calling his name. Shion smiled, and gave a slight nod. It wasn't an illusion. He was so vivid, so concrete, as if he were standing right in front of her.
Hey, Shion. When was it again? I remember the sun was setting. The wind was a little nippy, right? It had snowed for the first time the day before, and the path was wet. We were walking side-by-side. Do you remember? You haven't forgotten, have you?
And I called your name, didn't I?
She called his name again. And Shion, again, smiled at her.
"What's wrong, Safu?"
"No... I just―"
"I just wanted to call your name. I was giving it some hard thought, and I actually realized that 'Shion' is a nice name. It's a flower."
"You had to give it a hard thought to notice it was nice?"
She had giggled. "So, what kind of flower is a 'shion'?"
"Uh... a perennial flower that's part of the Asteraceae family, if I remember correctly. The stem grows up to 1.5 metres high, and it blooms with light purple flower heads..."
"Shion, I don't want to hear an explanation about the flower. I can get that kind of information easily."
"Then what do you want to know?"
"Something that I can't get easily."
"Can't get easily... hmm, that's almost like a riddle. If you don't want to hear about the aster flower, then... nope, I have no idea. What do you want to know, Safu?"
I want to know about you, Shion.
I wanted to know you. Who named you that? Do you like it? When was it that I first called you by your name? And when was the first time you called me....?
Shion, I still don't know anything about you.
I know your habits, the food you like, how you talk, your gentleness and strength... yes, I do know. I know it very, very well. But, Shion―
Who were you chasing? Who did you long to be beside? Who were you yearning for? Who stands at the other end of your outstretched fingers? Couldn't it have been me? Did it have to be that person? I don't know anything. So tell me. I wanted you to tell me, Shion.
She heard a voice. Sparks burst in the haze of her consciousness. Scarlet flowers opened their petals. A wind scattered the fog that hung over her eyes, and in the same way that the scenery would unfold before her, Safu's consciousness came back to her. The voice had called it back.
Who is it? Who called me?
It wasn't Shion's voice. Nor was it her deceased grandmother, or her parents. It was a voice she had never heard before―no, sound? Melody? A breeze in the canopies, the gentle splash of water, the pounding of rain on the ground―it sounded similar. But it was different. It was a sound she was hearing for the first time.
Is it a song―? A beautiful, song-like...
Who is it? Who's calling me?
It's me, Safu.
Who? Who are you?
I am Elyurias.
"Shionn, stop squirming!" Inukashi clicked his tongue as he lowered the baby into a large pot full of warm water. The baby grinned. He flapped his arms and legs, squealing with glee. Warm water splashed everywhere, wetting the hem of Inukashi's shirt.
"Stop horsing around. Geez, you're really round, aren't ya?"
The baby's hands and feet, his belly, his whole body was plump and soft. Every finger, every hair was brimming with the energy of life.
Strange guy. He's different from any baby I know. Way different. So different, sometimes he just makes me stop and stare.
The kind of babies Inukashi knew always had Death curled up and ready to spring at their feet. Their life was wrenched from them before they even had a way of protecting themselves. Those were the kind of babies he knew. Malnutrition, plague, the frigid air; sleeping quarters not much better than a garbage dump. What was the fraction of babies in the West Block who lived to turn five? Fifty percent? No, maybe even thirty. Some kids were killed by their parents so that they would be one less mouth to feed. Inukashi knew swarms of them whose only purpose in life seemed to be to come into this world, only to die. For a short time, Inukashi had done infant burials as a job. But his "burials" literally only consisted of him digging a hole and burying the baby. It was no different than digging a grave for a dog. He thought babies who were sent off with the mourning of a father and the grief of a mother were still lucky. Oftentimes, Inukashi was the only one to see the baby off. No one ever left prayers, much less a single flower for the simple grave, a raised mound of dirt with a rock placed on top. In time, people forgot that it was a grave in the first place.
Babies usually died with their mouths slightly open. Sometimes, through their eyelids which had not quite closed, he could see a set of startlingly clear eyes staring vacantly back at him.
Of course. They couldn't even stand on their own feet. They'd have no way of becoming tainted. Of course they'd still be innocent.
His heart had never ached as he piled dirt onto the small corpses. He had never experienced sorrow, nor spilt any tears.
Good for you to have died early. You're a lucky one. You didn't have to suffer any more than this. These were the only words he's speak to them.
Hey, little guy, how many months did you get to live for? Two? Three? You've lasted half a year? That should be enough, then. Don't even think about being reincarnated. You'll just end up with the same fate anyway. If you still want to that badly, then come back as a weed that grows on the edges of the path, or as a puppy. You'll be a hundred times happier. You listen, alright? Never, ever be born again as a human. That was another thing he'd say to them.
It was Inukashi's own way of sending the dead off.
Nezumi would sing. He would probably sing a sending-off song, for the soul that had expired while it was still innocent―though Inukashi didn't know if such a song existed, he knew Nezumi would sing it. But you know what, Nezumi? Dead people don't need songs. Dying people might, but not the dead.
The dead return to the land, and turn back into soil. Babies do, and so will you and I.
Inukashi shook his head vigorously when he realized he had been absent-mindedly thinking about Nezumi. He crossed his left middle and index fingers. It was his charm to ward off demons.
For Inukashi, Nezumi was something close to a demon. Even more detestable than Death.
You could avoid Death to a certain extent, as long as you didn't let your guard down. You could ward it off, you could trick it. But what about him? He thinks nothing of driving people until their backs are against the wall. He gets you involved in danger. He doesn't give a damn about your convenience or your own matters. He'll make use of dog shit if it serves him a purpose. He's cunning, frightfully thorough, and can wrap you around his finger as easy as anything. Ugh, enough, enough. If Nezumi didn't have his power as a singer, I would never have associated with him. Never. Oh―damnit, I'm thinking about him again. I shouldn't even devote a second to thinking about that guy, or else I'll be sucked in by his evil. I should know this―what's wrong with my head?
"Come on, Shionn. You do the charm, too. Then the demon won't come getcha. You're beyond all hope if you end up like your Papa, completely under his spell. See, stick your fingers together like this."
"Bah-booohh, boo-boo!" Shion raised a joyful cry from his bath. He was strange―a very strange baby, indeed. Not even a shadow of Death crept up on him.
In their room in the ruins of the hotel, the walls were crumbling, the windowpanes were shattered, and a cold draft always blew in. It was a place only marginally better than outside. Rikiga was able to provide them somewhat with milk, but it was nearly not enough. Inukashi made up for what he didn't have with dog's milk and vegetable broth.
The baby was probably more fortunate than most in the West Block, but it didn't change the fact that he was still severely deprived.
But Shionn was always in high spirits, swinging his hands and feet, laughing, and babbling to Inukashi. His skin had a healthy glow, and he was plump, round, and full of energy. Inukashi could even swear that the baby had grown in these past two, three days.
Those eyes shined with life, his skin was smooth, and his voice was strong. It was almost like the infant was encased in a transparent shield that protected him from the many dangers and toxins of this world.
A strange baby.
"Hey, Inukashi," a gravelly voice called out to him. A deep, muddy-sounding voice.
Geez. I'm not asking you to change your face, but can you at least get some class into your voice?
"What the hell are you doing? Stop it!" There was scramble of footsteps, and Shionn was snatched from Inukashi's arms. The pot wobbled, and warm water spilled out.
"What's your problem?" Inukashi whined.
"You must be kidding me. Stop this!" Rikiga hugged the naked baby to his body, retreating slowly. "Inukashi―this is going too far. This isn't what humans do."
"Aren't you ashamed of yourself? Sure, you might be more dog than human. But that doesn't mean you don't have a shred of reason in you."
"Reason? That crap isn't gonna do any good for me, will it now? But I guess I might have a little more of that than you, old man."
Rikiga screwed his drunken flushed face into a scowl, and retreated another step.
What the hell is this old man doing?
"I thought you'd have more decency for a dog boy. Inukashi, I don't know how hungry you are to want to do this, but eating a baby? You must be a monster. Have you thrown away your human heart, too?"
"Huh? The hell are you talking about?"
"Don't play dumb with me. You―you were trying to boil Shionn and eat him."
Inukashi fixed Rikiga with a long stare. He didn't even blink. He could feel laughter welling up and prodding inside his chest.
"What's so funny? You inhuman bastard."
After Inukashi had bent over double and laughed for a good while, he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
"I laughed so much, I'm drooling. Ah, old man, you missed out. If you'd come even thirty minutes later, I would've treated you with some good soup taken from baby broth. As much as you could eat."
"L-Like I would ever eat something like that! I'd rather starve to death. Besides, what were you―"
"I was giving Shionn a bath."
"In a pot?"
"Yeah. This is the pot I use to make food for my dogs. It's the best size for giving a baby a bath. Of course, if you insist on delivering me a high-quality baby bathtub, old man, I'd be delighted to use that instead."
"Uh... I, well..."
Inukashi shrugged exaggeratedly.
"But I gotta say, I'm flabbergasted to find out you care so much about Shionn, old man. I thought you were only nice to your money, your booze, and young women. What a surprise."
"Of course I care," Rikiga said indignantly. "I'm not like you. I still have a decent human soul. Don't lump me in with you people."
"You people? Am I part of that group, too?"
"You and Eve. Who else?"
Inukashi shrugged again. "Fine. If you're so bent on it, then take him."
"Tuck that baby into your coat and take him home. I can just imagine the fine young man he'd grow up to be, raised by such a gentle old man like you. Just like airheaded Shion, who you love so much."
Rikiga shook his head hastily.
"No can do. I can't do it. Inukashi, I'm sorry. You're not an inhumane bastard. I'm sorry for lumping you in with Eve, that wiley fox. I apologize. I'm sorry. There must've been something wrong with me. Hahaha―I see, yes, a bath. Babies love baths, right? Isn't that nice, Shionn, aren't you glad to have been picked up by such a nice person? You lucky guy."
Rikiga rubbed his cheek against Shionn's. Shionn burst into tears. He opened his mouth wide, and his stretched arms and legs went rigid. An old dog who had been sleeping underneath the table raised its head and narrowed its eyes suspiciously.
"Oh―hey, come on, don't cry. Stop flailing around! He'll drop you."
The baby didn't stop crying. He wailed, stretching his hands towards Inukashi. Inukashi almost reflexively snatched the baby back into his own arms. He wrapped both arms firmly around the small body. The crying stopped instantly.
"Geez, he'll catch a cold like this. If he gets sick, it's your fault, old man. You'll be paying for his medicine bills. Must've been cold, huh, Shionn? I'll get you inside the bath again. Go on, warm up."
A plump arm reached out, and its fingers touched Inukashi's cheek.
Tears had left their streaked marks on his smooth cheeks.
Inukashi felt like his heart was being wrung. Something twisted deep inside his body. He almost stopped breathing at this huge, scalding, twisting emotion that had reared inside him.
Yeah, I know, Shionn. It was a joke. A lame, stupid joke. Forgive me. It's alright, I'm here. I won't give you away to a drunkard like him... no, I won't give you away to anyone. I promise. I swear.
- Translated by me from the Japanese. (back)