This was Elyurias.
That which I say I saw
Gracious my lord,
I should report that which I say I saw,
But know not how to do it.
-Macbeth, Act V Scene V
They were falling. Falling, almost straight down.
It was faster than anything Shion had imagined. He knew it was impossible, but he heard the sound of the wind. It was the same wind from that stormy night.
It was September 7, 2013―Shion's twelfth birthday. The Holy City of No. 6 had been directly hit by a hurricane. The rain was pounding on the ground, and the wind was roaring. The trees in his yard careened wildly, and leafy branches broke off and whipped through the air. It was an extremely large and severe hurricane, a kind not seen in recent years, but he was sure that no one living in Chronos felt threatened or anxious. Shion and his mother, Karan, had been the same.
This was No. 6. A utopian city, the results of human wisdom and cutting-edge technology. And in that utopia, Chronos was in the highest ranks among the luxury residences, a town where only the chosen ones were allowed to live. Mere natural disasters could not disturb it.
Everyone had believed so without a doubt. They had been allowed to believe otherwise.
That stormy night, I opened my window.
Why? he sometimes thought. Why did I open that window? Was it because I was excited at nature's madness, and I was stimulated, or I was stirred by a violent impulse―was that it? I certainly did open the window, and I yelled. I screamed as if I were pouring out all of the ferocity inside me. If I didn't scream, I felt like I would shatter to bits. In my own way, I felt a fear that I would be entrapped and tamed into domesticity by No. 6.
A vague fear―maybe something that you wouldn't be acquainted with, Nezumi.
I felt like I was suffocating. I was scared. I wanted to scream.
That was why I opened the window―wasn't it?
That's not it.
You called to me.
I heard that voice―your voice―calling me.
It ducked through the wind, tore through the rain, and came to me.
You called me, and I was called by you.
That's why I opened the window. I flung it open wide to the outdoors.
I extended my arms in search of you.
Would you laugh? Would that breathtaking smile cross your face as you sneer at me? Would you shake your head with exasperation in that graceful way of yours?
'Meaningless fancies. An intolerable mass of self-consciousness, like a half-baked artist's work'―would you spit those words at me? You probably would. Go on and laugh. You can dismiss them as my delusions; I don't care.
But it's the truth.
You called me, and I listened. I reached out, and you caught my arm. I opened the window so I could meet you.
That's our truth, Nezumi.
A noise was ringing in his ears. It wasn't the whirl of the wind. It was the sound of sliding through a plastic tube. But what if this tube was not a garbage chute, but a steep slope that led straight to Hell?
Suddenly his consciousness began to fade. All the wounds he had suffered on his entire body grew hot and throbbed. The strength left him.
Going to Hell doesn't seem so bad when it's with you. Should I stop resisting, then? Why don't I just give up on struggling, on fighting, on wanting to live?
If I let myself black out now, I'll be free from this pain, this weariness.
Shion closed his eyes. Darkness fanned out before him.
Just like this... just like this....
"Ugh," Nezumi groaned softly. It stabbed Shion's eardrums. Like lightning flaring up in a night sky, it tore the darkness away from his consciousness.
Damnit. Shion bit his lip and inflicted pain on himself. He scolded himself severely. You bastard, what were you thinking? You can't give up now. Live. Survive. We have a place to return to, and we have to get there in one piece.
He had made that vow. He had vowed to himself that he would protect Nezumi through to the end, and survive this ordeal together.
His hand slipped. Nezumi's blood was caked on his palms. A black mouse leapt out of his pocket and ran along the garbage chute wall. It wasn't falling; it was definitely running.
Tsukiyo, I'm counting on you. Tell Inukashi that we're alive.
Shion jammed both feet against the wall and gritted his teeth. He focused all the strength in his body on his legs. His bones creaked. Their falling speed decreased somewhat. His bones continued to creak as if they were screaming from the pain.
Damnit, I won't give in yet. Shion chewed his lip still harder. He did not taste the blood. His tongue was already numbed to its rusty metallic taste.
Inukashi―Inukashi, help us.
Rikiga fell into a fit of coughing. He recovered and breathed raggedly.
"Inukashi, I can't do it anymore. I'm at my limit."
"Limit of what?" Inukashi said tersely.
"I can't breathe. Are you planning on suffocating me like this?"
"What good is it to me if I suffocate you, old man? You gonna leave me a giant inheritance? The most you'd probably leave behind is a pile of empty booze bottles."
"Hmph. See if I even leave you that."
But even while griping, Rikiga did not try to flee. He was still stacking mattresses under the opening of the garbage chute. With each mattress he stacked, he had a coughing fit, gasped and wheezed, and griped some more.
Smoke had saturated the hygiene management room. The collection area was no exception; it was almost engulfed by thick, grey smoke. The dogs lay low on their bellies, their breathing hushed. Even the little mice who had been squeaking clamorously at each other were now huddled motionless.
The limit―Rikiga was right, the limit was near. Inukashi himself was choking on the smoke, and the air wasn't passing through his throat well. His heart pounded frantically.
The air is stuck in my throat.
But he was not miserable. He was not in despair. On the contrary, a part of his heart was pounding, soaring in anticipation.
What is this smoke? This hot air that blows at me from time to time? The restless buzz that comes with its snarl?
A clear precursor to destruction. The Correctional Facility is raising its last dying shriek.
Many times Inukashi felt like barking out of excitement. He wanted to bark and howl until his throat trembled. Just once, he opened his mouth wide, but he only choked on the smoke that rushed into his mouth.
He licked his lips while carrying the mattresses. If I can't bark, the least I can do is lick my chops.
What he thought was absolute was crumbling before his eyes.
Will you look at that. Is that what life is, Nezumi? Shion? If it is, that means you guys taught me what it is to be alive. You never know what happens. There's nothing absolute about what humans create.
I won't thank you; you guys have caused me too much hassle. You'll never hear a word of thanks come out of my mouth.
But I owe you praise. I'll give you my best compliments. I'm actually impressed that you guys turned out as decent as my dogs are. You guys are really something. I have new regard for you. I'm impressed―just a tiny bit.
The smoke assaulted his eyes, his throat, and his nasal passage. A tear rolled down his cheek. It was just the smoke stinging his eyes.
You come back, you hear me? If you don't, I can't praise you. Hurry, hurry, while my breath can still last me. Hurry.
Inukashi! Someone called him. He whirled around. Rikiga was kneeling on the floor. He was holding a white cloth to his mouth, and coughs were racking his bent back.
"Did you call me, old man?"
"What would I... do that for?" Rikiga wheezed. "You want me to... give you one last kiss or something?"
"Knock it off. That's creepy, even for a joke."
"I'm... past the point of... caring whether it's creepy. Really, I can't... stand this anymore..."
"That's a shame. My heart goes out to you, man. But it's a bit too late to repent. A man as corrupted as you isn't gonna get any closer to Heaven, no matter how hard you try."
"Damnit... still smart-mouthing me... are you?"
Explosions. Smoke pouring into the air. The dog with patched fur raised its head. Terror swam in its eyes. But the dogs did not move. They did not try to flee.
They're waiting for my orders. They were waiting for Inukashi's command, fighting their fear of death. Dogs never abandoned their master. They never betrayed him.
I can't murder them like this.
"Go." Inukashi pointed at the entrance door. "Escape by yourselves."
But the dogs did not get to their feet. They remained lying on their stomachs, watching Inukashi.
"What? I'm telling you to leave. Get out of here, quickly." He met the eyes of the patched dog. Its eyes were serene. The shadow of fear that had crossed his eyes moments ago was wiped cleanly away.
"I see..." You won't move if your master doesn't.
"Aren't you gonna... tell me?" Rikiga coughed and wheezed. "Aren't you gonna... tell me to run?"
"You? You can get the hell out of here if you want to. You wouldn't be any use if you stayed."
"Do you... plan to die here?"
"Die? Why would I?"
"There's barely any... chance that those two... Shion and Eve... are going to come back. If you're gonna gamble on that slim chance... if you're gonna gamble and choose to stay... that's like killing yourself."
No way. Heaven and earth can turn upside-down, but I'm never gonna kill myself. I'd be missing the spectacle of a lifetime. The destruction of the Correctional Facility was only the beginning. It was only the preamble. The devastation of No. 6 itself was what came next.
No. 6 was falling apart.
I'll get to see the very moment with my own eyes. And you're telling me I intend to die? You must be kidding me. You bet I'll live to see No. 6's last. I'll thoroughly enjoy its final act.
Heh heh heh.
Lighthearted laughter rang at his ear. No, it was in his ear―inside his head. Someone was laughing. It was carefree and joyful, yet an icy laughter.
"Who is it?"
His gaze darted about instinctively and caught a small black shadow passing by.
The shadow was soon swallowed up by the smoke as it disappeared. The laughter ceased. Were they both hallucinations? There's no way a bug could be flying around in this smoke.
Shiver. A chill ran down his spine.
Screech, screech, chit-chit!
Suddenly, the mice began to cause a commotion. They raised their voices again, but much higher this time, and dashed around on top of the mattresses.
Inukashi held his breath.
A small object came tumbling out of the chute. It was not trash. It was a small black mouse.
"Tsukiyo." Inukashi tried calling it. The black mouse flew through the air; it leapt straight for Inukashi. It latched onto Inukashi's hastily extended arm, and squeaked insistently.
Cheep cheep cheep cheep! Cheep cheep cheep cheep!
It was Tsukiyo; there was no doubt about it. It was the same little mouse that Inukashi himself had commanded to go to Nezumi. His blood stirred. His body grew hot.
"Wake up, old man."
Rikiga blinked feebly, still squatted on the ground. His eyes were bleary and red. His face was sooty, his hair was mussed, and he looked like he had aged a good decade.
"They're coming back."
"Coming back. Hold onto the mattresses."
"R-Right." Rikiga got to his feet in a surprisingly swift move.
The wind was howling.
As Inukashi and Rikiga held the mattresses down, they felt a heavy impact almost simultaneously. The mattress sank, almost sending Inukashi's slender frame flying. He summoned all the strength in his body to cling onto the mattress.
He had instinctively closed his eyes, but now he opened them carefully. He saw two bodies lying in a heap.
"Shion, Eve!" Rikiga yelled before Inukashi could speak. "You alright? Hey! You alright?"
"Gh..." Shion's arm jerked. A part of his white hair was dyed with his blood. Blood was streaming from his shoulder and his leg. His clothes were torn, ripped, and hanging in places. Inukashi couldn't tell if the dark flecks all over his clothes were from blood or the trash in the chute.
Horrible. Inukashi kept his eyes wide open as he swallowed his spit, which smelled like smoke. You guys are a mess. I think even the undead would look a bit better crawling out of their graves.
"...Inukashi." Shion lifted himself up and turned his face to Inukashi. His cheeks were streaked―whether it was with sweat or tears, he didn't know, but they engraved prominent marks on his skin.
"Shion, you're alive." You made it back alive.
"Inukashi, save Nezumi..."
"Nezumi? What about him? What―" Inukashi was barely able to hold in the scream that threatened to burst from his throat.
Nezumi was lying on the mattress, totally still and unmoving. His clothes were soiled reddish-black from his shoulder to his chest, and he gave off the smell of blood.
"Nezumi, hey, what's wrong?" Inukashi asked tentatively, but there was no answer. On his pale, bloodless face, only his lips were vividly red. To Inukashi, they did not look human at all. Nezumi had always had a face that was somewhat otherworldly, but the face in front of him was one of a doll. A skillfully and meticulously crafted piece.
But dolls don't bleed.
"To the hospital―hurry," Shion screamed, as if wringing the voice from his throat. Explosions rocked the foundations of the building. The whole room shook with its impact. A draft was coming in from somewhere, and the smoke wavered and thinned slightly. The shaking did not stop.
"We need to get out of here! This place is coming down!" Rikiga yelled as he wrenched Nezumi away from Shion's arms. He slung the boy over his shoulder.
"Shion, can you run on your own?"
"Right, then run. Get outside."
One more sound, more violent than before, rang out, and the door to the Correctional Facility was blasted away.
"Run, run! This place won't hold much longer!"
Rikiga broke into a run, bearing Nezumi. Tsukiyo dove into Shion's pocket, and the two mice, Hamlet and Cravat, leapt onto a dog's back.
"Get out, goddamnit! Get out of here!" Rikiga's bellows slammed into him.
His back was blistering hot. Inukashi turned around to the flames filling his vision. Beyond the blown-open door, the Correctional Facility was burning.
The door blew apart? Wasn't the door between the Correctional Facility and the Hygiene Management Room supposed to be made of some special alloy that even a small missile couldn't penetrate? And it's been blown apart like it's nothing?
For less than half a second, he stood stupefied. Flames slithered. A fire-coloured monster was writhing on the floor. It writhed and twisted towards the corpse of the black dog and swallowed it whole. It was the same dog that had been shot to death protecting Inukashi, but Inukashi was unable to give it a proper burial.
"Inukashi, hurry!" Shion grabbed his arm.
"Get out, get out! We have to get out of here!" Rikiga continued to bellow. He seemed to be turning his yelling into energy to move forward. Inukashi was pushed along by the heat and the hot air from behind, and quite literally stumbled into the outdoors. Fresh air flowed into his body.
Oh, I can finally breathe.
"Not yet. We can't stop yet. Keep running." Shion's grip tightened. Inukashi was dragged along by his arm. The gravel crunched under his feet.
"Ow! Shion, that hurts! Stop―" Inukashi abruptly closed his mouth. His eyes had met with Shion's.
His eyes, dark with a wash of purple, were the same as always. They were completely unchanged. They were bloodshot, and the eyelids were swollen, but they were Shion's eyes.
Yet Inukashi closed his mouth and felt his body stiffen. He did not know why. The boy in front of him telling him to run seemed a complete stranger. He was someone Inukashi did not know.
No. Those aren't Shion's eyes. Shion, what's gotten into you?
But the confusion and foreboding vanished in an instant. Shion was right―he could not fall to his knees just yet. His instincts sounded the alarm. This physical sensation was much more reliable than any cutting-edge security device.
Get out of here, run. Get out of here.
Inukashi leapt to his feet, and ran as fast as he could. From behind, he could hear the roar of a beast. Yes, those were not just explosions. A monster was baying. It was raving madly.
Get out of here, run. Get out of here.
Run and survive.
Tsukiyo had crawled out of Shion's pocket and was clinging onto his neck. It had opened its tiny round eyes as wide as it could, and was staring over at Inukashi.
You're kinda cute.
Dogs' eyes and mice's eyes were alike, and all such innocent beings were loveable. Inukashi thought of Shionn. He had not forgotten about him for a moment. He had only pushed the infant to a corner of his heart so as not to remember him when he was not supposed to.
Shionn was innocence itself. He was so small, yet he had so much inside him.
The dogs are probably managing alright. I left him with a dog that's birthed and raised a ton of her own puppies. Apart from her, there are a few other caring females in waiting. He's probably sleeping right now, protected by his loving nurse.
"Shionn, my baby," he murmured. Just then, Rikiga, who had been running in front of him, disappeared. He heard a shout, and the sound of a body falling over.
"Whoa!" Shion tripped over Rikiga's fallen body. In turn, Inukashi's feet were swept from under him by Shion, and he was slammed to the ground. The pain racked him to his very core.
He could not speak. Lying on his stomach on the ground, he could only draw strained breaths. He could feel the frozen ground on his cheek. It was soothing. It had not the iciness of winter, but a cold that harboured a faint hint of warmth and softness.
Spring was coming. A late spring was starting to arrive in the West Block.
No. 6 was probably fully furnished with flowering parks and streets lined with cherry blossom trees, but one would be hard-pressed to find even a single flowering tree in the West Block. But the weeds growing on the shoulders of the road faithfully opened their petals year after year. Flowers usually sparked no interest or intrigue in Inukashi since they were not edible, but once in a while they pulled at his heartstrings.
Oh, I've lived through another winter, he would think. Then, for a fleeting instant, in the back of his mind he saw faces of those who had frozen to death that winter―the old beggar lady he had been familiar with; the man who had hung around the ruins for a good while; the woman who was so emaciated, it was hard to tell her age―but they disappeared as quickly as they had come.
Spring was coming. Would those flowers bloom again on the side of the road?
"Nezumi," Shion gasped. He lifted himself up, and crawled over to Nezumi's side. "Nezumi, Nezumi. Can you hear me? Nezumi―"
Inukashi also lifted himself up. They were lying in the shadow of some shrubbery. When was it that he had hidden himself here, witnessing Getsuyaku being shot to death?
It felt like it had happened only minutes ago, but at the same time a thousand years back.
"Nezumi, open your eyes. We're out. We were able to get out."
Shion's voice sounded like the wind that whistled through the ruins. It was mournful. It froze the hearts and ears of those who listened.
Inukashi peered over Shion's shoulder at Nezumi's face, and compressed his lips into a hard line.
Is he dead? The statement pushed his lip up and threatened to spill out. Shion, is Nezumi dead? Or is he just acting? Who's he playing? Macbeth, Hamlet, or some other weird name that you guys used to mention?
Hey, Shion. Don't tell me Nezumi is really―
"Gh―" Nezumi's eyelashes trembled very slightly.
"He's alive," Shion shouted as he lifted Nezumi in his arms. "He's alive! Hurry, to the hospital!"
Yeah, you're sure alive. You can't trick me, Nezumi. There's no way you would be wiped out that easily.
"Old man." Inukashi called to Rikiga, who was squatting on the ground. His car was parked beyond the shrubs. It was a piece of junk, a step away from scrap metal, but it could still chug along with a couple passengers. They had taken this gasoline-fuelled car to get here, after all.
"Old man, hurry up."
"―I know, but―"
Rikiga held a hand to his mouth, and stuck his head into the bushes. The sound of retching reached them.
"Dumbass! This is no time to be puking! Hurry the hell up, come on!"
Inukashi grabbed the man by the belt of his trousers and dragged him out of the bushes. Almost as if in answer, an even larger flame burst out of the window of the Correctional Facility. It threw a bright light on the surroundings. Black smoke formed a thick stream as it rose into the sky. It engulfed and blacked out the stars.
Can you see these flames from No. 6, too? What would West Block residents be thinking right now as they watch the flames burning the night up?
Look at it, it's falling. A place that used to mean Hell for us is collapsing. It's gonna be wiped out, just like that, even quicker than our marketplace.
Rikiga got to his feet unsteadily. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and wiped the sweat on his brow while he was at it.
"Why do I... have to go through this? Besides, you know, I―"
"Enough crap," Inukashi interrupted. "No one's listening. If you've got time to bitch and moan, get the car moving."
"Moving where?" Rikiga snarled. "Eh? Answer me this, Inukashi. Where are we going to take someone who's hurt so badly he's as good as dead? Answer me, I'd like to see you try! If you can give me an answer, boy, I'll take you wherever the hell you want."
Inukashi drew his chin back and fell silent. He could not answer.
He was not intimidated by Rikiga's angry outburst. He genuinely did not know. 'To the hospital,' Shion had said, but there were no medical facilities in the West Block. There were seedy witch doctors and questionable medicine shops, to be sure, but they had all been blown clean off their foundations during the Hunt. But even if they were still around, they would probably not have been of much use.
Rikiga continued his furious tirade.
"Someone who's bled this much is going to need a decent amount of medical equipment. Where do you suggest we find that, huh? Nowhere here, for sure. You can scour the whole West Block and you won't find a single damn syringe. You should know that best, Inukashi."
Inukashi looked down at Nezumi. His lips were parted slightly. He was breathing. But―
This is the end, huh? The strength withered in his legs, and he felt like he would collapse. This is it, Nezumi. There's nothing more we can do.
- Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005. 157. (back)