Sunday, October 14, 2012

[Novel] NO. 6 - Vol 9 Ch 3 (a)

This quintessence of dust

What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god – the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me . . .
-Shakespeare, Hamlet Act II Scene II [1]

The doctor was much older than how Shion remembered him. The tall, liberal man used to come to Karan's shop once or twice a week to buy a sandwich or meat pie. A handsome beard and moustache adorned his face, and he spoke in a beautiful, clear baritone.

He had also once invited Shion to specialize in medicine and work at his clinic.

"You'd have no problem with picking up the necessary specialized knowledge and technique. I recommend taking the certification exam if you're interested."

It was an attractive offer, but Shion did not take it up. There was no way someone like him, who had been stripped of all his privileges and exiled from Chronos, would be able to pass the exam. But he was happy that the doctor had looked out for him―a stranger and a mere baker's son―and offered him a path in medicine. He was also grateful.

In the months that Shion had not seen him, the doctor had transformed so much he hardly looked like the same person. There were white streaks in his beard and his hair, and he looked like he had shrunk a size. But in terms of appearance, Shion admitted he had probably undergone a more drastic change. His hair was completely white, and his face was smeared with blood, dirt, and soot.

The small clinic in the outskirts of Lost Town was run by the doctor, a nurse, and a nursing robot. The nurse screamed as the bloodied, dirty group burst in. Shion yelled over her shriek.

"Doctor, please―please, he needs treatment!"

"You... could you be―"

"The baker's son. Doctor, please. Treat him."

The doctor's eyes shifted to Nezumi. His gaze trained on the blood that dripped from him.

"Prepare for an emergency operation."

The nurse sprang into action even before the doctor finished speaking. She hastily disappeared into a room adjacent to the examination room. A robot came pushing a stretcher.

"Please place the patient here."

Shion laid Nezumi down on the stretcher.

"Nezumi," he called tentatively. His eyelids remained tightly closed. "Nezumi..."

"Please remove your arm. Please remove your arm from under the patient. Now transporting the patient to the operating room."

The robot urged him, but Shion's arms were stiff and unyielding, still holding Nezumi as he had all this time. Only his fingertips shook violently.

"Shion!" Inukashi grabbed his arms and yanked them for him.

"Now transporting the patient. Now transporting the patient. Entering emergency operating mode. Commencing oxygen intake. Commencing measurements. Now measuring blood pressure, pulse, heart rate, blood type."

The doctor swiftly cut Nezumi's clothes away. Several pipes grew from the robot's torso and connected to him.

"Transporting the patient. Transporting the patient." The stretcher and robot entered the operating room.

"Doctor." Shion grasped at the doctor's white coat. "Doctor, please... save him. Please..."


He did not expect to be called by his name. Shion lifted his face.

"I'm a doctor," the man said firmly. "If someone is in need of treatment, I will do everything in my power to give it to him. But this is Lost Town. I don't have the equipment it takes to perform delicate surgery."

Shion knew. But as he had told Rikiga, he had no choice but to rely on this doctor.

"I see that he's already gotten temporary treatment. Was that you?"


"What kind of wound is it?"

"A gunshot. A rifle bullet pierced him."

"Pierced, you say," the doctor muttered as he strode briskly into the operating room. Shion bowed his head deeply to the man's retreating back.

He felt faint. He sank to the floor.

"Shion..." Inukashi sat beside him, and put an arm around his shoulders. "Shion... I just want to ask you, do you... do you, by any chance, want me to be with you?"


"Listen," Inukashi said brusquely, "I've never comforted anyone before. I used to think it wasn't worth a crumb of bread. Still think so. But... but if you want me to comfort you right now... if I can comfort you somehow by being here, then... then, I'll be here."

Inukashi gently rubbed Shion's arm. The tension gradually loosened, and blood began to course through his veins again. Shion closed his eyes, and let his head droop onto Inukashi's chest.

He felt an almost imperceptible soft bump. If this was the usual case, he would jump up in a confused panic. But right now, he only felt soothed. Right here, there was a body to support him, arms to hold him, a voice to murmur to him, and the warmth of another to comfort him. This was happiness that could not command a price. Was it not?

"Inukashi... thank you."

Oh, but... Shion bit his lip with his eyes still closed. But this is not the warmth I long for. Not this body, these whispers, nor these arms.

Something warm flitted over his eyelids. Inukashi had licked them. Inukashi was gently licking off the blood that had dried and caked on them. The little mice were curled up in Shion's lap, and the dogs had lain down in a corner of the room.

"It'll be alright," Inukashi said. "There's no way he'd die. He's not wuss enough to give in just yet. I've seen my share of bad people in the West Block, but no one was as cunning, conniving, and dangerous as Nezumi. I told ya before, didn't I, that the guy is the devil himself. You just don't know his true face. And I'm still right. He's still the devil he always was, and devils aren't done in so easily. Tomorrow, he'll wake up as if nothing happened, and go right back to setting traps for us. He's that kind of guy. He'll be alright, don't worry."

Shion opened his eyes, and lifted himself up.

"Inukashi, I'm grateful. Thank you so much."

"I was only insulting Nezumi, dumbass. What're you feeling grateful about? You're a hopeless idiot, you know. Hopeless."

Inukashi turned aside obstinately. But he did not move away from Shion.

Ungh, nghoaaaar, nghoaaar.

A snore rang out, making the very air of the room vibrate.

"Whoa! Will ya listen to that racket."

Nghoaaaar, nghoaaaar, nghoaaaar, ungh, ungh.

Rikiga was fast asleep, lying on his back on a bench.

"Just now he was saying he wouldn't be able to sleep without some drinks in him, and now look at the guy. Like a log. I'm surrounded by hopeless people." Inukashi sighed theatrically. Then, he gave a short whistle. The dogs got to their feet and approached. They nestled close to Inukashi and Shion, and lay crouched on their bellies.

"These guys can make the best sleeping quarters out of any hole. It's time for us to catch a wink, too."


"We need to sleep, Shion." Inukashi pulled at Shion's shirt. "We won't be able to fight tomorrow if we don't. You don't think our fight is over yet, do you?"

He did not. Nothing had been solved yet. The fight would still continue tomorrow. But if I lost Nezumi, if I had to face a tomorrow without him, then I wouldn't be able to remain a soldier.

You're weak. Unbelievably frail, he could hear Nezumi say in derision. Laugh at me, Nezumi. Look on me with contempt. Make fun of me. Give me a scornful laugh, a cold laugh. I just want to hear your laughter. Let me hear it, please.

"Sleep," Inukashi said, almost like an order.

The Correctional Facility was burning. The flames roared up around it as it crumbled. This is a dream, his reason told him. You've escaped the Correctional Facility. You're already in Lost Town, No. 6. That's why―this must be a dream.

This is an illusion.

The flames roared. They were revoltingly real. He could clearly see the tip of each writhing flame. His skin smarted at the scorching air that blew at him. The acrid smell stung his nose.

This is a dream? This is an illusion? Absurd. This is unmistakably reality.

But does that mean I've come back again? Have I slipped back in time to right after I escaped the Correctional Facility?

The flames burned with even greater vigour. They roared, wavered, and overlapped. He saw them stretch out into thin strips before a black streak slashed through it.

Shion stood stock-still with his breath held. All confusion, agitation, and astonishment fell away. He simply stood in a trance.

The black streak kept widening. The flames split into two.

"A wasp..."

The rest failed to materialize as words.

It had a coal-black body, a slender curved torso, a long belly, transparent wings embroidered with thin golden lines; golden antennae and compound eyes; three simple eyes that shone a dull silver.

A giant wasp appeared out of the flames. It was a wasp, coloured coal-black, gold, and silver―light and darkness. Shion took a step backwards. Its beauty was almost terrifying. He was so overwhelmed, he was almost brought to his knees.

What... is this?

"Elyurias," a mutter touched his earlobe.


Nezumi was standing right beside Shion. He stared unblinking at the flames. No―he was not looking at the flames engulfing the Correctional Facility, but at the enormous wasp. Nezumi was holding his ground against it.

"Elyurias? This wasp?"

Nezumi did not answer. He did not stir. He was almost like a statue. For an instant, the wasp in front of Shion faded in his consciousness. Nezumi was standing there. His eyes were open wide. His profile expressionless, but blood coursed through that face.

"Nezumi, you really did―" You really survived.

Nezumi inhaled. His lips moved very slightly. A melody flowed forth. Gentle music found life as it left Nezumi's lips.

Shion smelled the lush scent of greenery. The sound of the rustling canopies reached his ears. He felt the beating of wings. The buzzing of small insects echoed in his eardrums, until even that melted into music, forming its ebb and flow.

His body was being lifted up. He no longer knew where he was. His body and soul were suspended in Nezumi's music. Shion let his whole body relax as he lent himself fully to it.

He could hear singing.

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
And stay

The wind steals the soul away, humans thieve the heart
But here I will stay
to keep singing
Deliver my song
Accept my song

Shion had broken into a thin sheen of sweat in the midst of his ecstasy. A bead of sweat slid down his forehead.

Suddenly, he was blasted by hot air.

He was slammed to the ground. Charred pieces of debris grazed his cheeks, his body, as they bounced and tumbled across the ground.

"Don't get up." Nezumi's hand pressed on his back. "Keep lying low."

The wind kept blowing. Fragments of rock and debris rolled over the ground in front of Shion as he lay face-down on the ground.

Chuckle chuckle chuckle.

Chuckle chuckle chuckle.

Laughter welled up from deep underground. Or was it raining down from the heavens?

Chuckle chuckle chuckle.

Chuckle chuckle chuckle.

The wasp spread its wings wide open. The flames streamed sideways, crawling across the ground.

Chuckle chuckle chuckle.

Chuckle chuckle chuckle.

The wasp took flight. It ascended to the sky without a sound, leaving only the wind behind. A piercing buzz of wings rose all around. Thousands of small black specks took flight after the giant wasp. The swarm of them formed a wide band as they rose.

"Elyurias," Nezumi murmured again.

He couldn't breath. There was something weighing down on his upper torso.

Shion awoke. Inukashi's head was on his chest. He was asleep with his ear pressed to Shion's chest as if to check his heartbeat. He was breathing softly. Two dogs were nestled close on either side of them.

I see what he meant. You definitely wouldn't freeze to death like this.

Another dog was curled up beside Rikiga. Despite his grumbling, Inukashi had also looked out for Rikiga to make sure he didn't freeze. Perhaps that explained why Rikiga's snores had turned into peaceful breathing.

They were in a small hospital room, Lost Town, No. 6. There was no mistake: time had not turned back. But that was not a dream. What he had seen was reality.

Elyurias―was that it? A wasp born from a cocoon of flames?

Shion gingerly touched the nape of his neck. He thought about the wasp that had tried to tear through that spot and crawl out of it. He thought about Yamase. He thought about the thousands of wasps which had taken flight in a dense black stream. If those were all parasitic, what would become of No. 6?

He did not know.

He slipped a couch cushion under Inukashi's head, and stood up stealthily so as not to wake him. He had probably only been asleep for a short while―not more than thirty minutes. But his body felt surprisingly light. Was it because he was relieved?

Nezumi survived. He was certain. His heart, which was fraught with tension until then, gradually began to unwind. Shion took several deep breaths.

He was concerned about where the wasps were going, as well as what kind of fate awaited No. 6. But his relief at not losing Nezumi trumped it all.

He inhaled once more, deeply, and exhaled.

A computer was embedded in the doctor's desk. He pressed a button, and the screen silently began to load. He dug into the pocket of his sweater.

"There it is." The chip had been given to him by the man called Rou. He wondered what was going to happen to that underground area now that the Correctional Facility had crumbled. What had happened to Sasori? Or the boy who had handed him a bowl of water? The girl who had stared at Shion in wonder? And Safu?

Rou had said that the chip contained the entirety of his research, and that he entrusted it to Shion.

"After you have saved your friend, please try to decode it." His voice had been hoarse and feeble. After you have saved your friend...

Safu. I couldn't save her. She had been his precious friend, and he had abandoned her.

His last glimpse of Safu had been of her smiling. She looked a little more mature than Shion remembered, and she was beautiful.

I couldn't save her. In the end, I couldn't save her.

He made a fist and struck his chest. I've made another wound here. A wound that'll ache for the rest of my life. I'll never forget. I won't be able to forget.

Safu. You're forever out of reach, no matter how strongly I feel for you. But you'll still be in my heart. I'll continue to think of you, and of what you left behind for me.

He inserted the chip. He was not asked for a password. Shion bent forward and stared intently at the screen.

Everything to do with No. 6 during their underground conversation with Rou was written here. Elyurias, the Mao Massacre, the Forest People, destruction, predation and parasitism....

As he read on, wading through the mix of unintelligible technical language and numbers, he felt his fingertips growing colder.

Shion finished reading, and extracted the chip. His mind was half-numb and in a daze.

So this was No. 6.

This was Elyurias.

The door of the operating room opened and the doctor walked out.

"Doctor." Shion stood up, and the man nodded at him.

"He'll be alright. He's hanging in there."

"Thank you so much, doctor. Thank you."

The doctor removed his mask and grinned.

"You mentioned that you were the one who stemmed his bleeding and gave him temporary treatment?"


"You did a very nice job. He was also lucky that the bullet hadn't remained in his body. It pierced him, but thankfully it just missed the fatal spot. He's very fortunate, indeed."

"I told ya so."

Shion had not noticed Inukashi standing behind him. Inukashi had a hand on his hip, and shot a quick glance at Shion.

"Nezumi has a notorious amount of good luck when it comes to getting out of bad situations. You don't need to worry about him."

"And I think I need to worry about the rest of you," the doctor smiled crookedly. "Where were you hit, Shion?"

"You know my name?"

"I do. It did make the headlines when you got arrested and taken to the Correctional Facility."

"I see..."

"Everyone who had any knowledge of you was surprised. I don't think anyone could believe that you were the 'fallen elite turned murdering monster' or the workplace murder suspect that the authorities made you out to be."

"You too, doctor?"

"You could say that. I was more pained than surprised. I'd caught on that the authorities were trying to paint a false picture of you as a criminal."

The doctor then let out a long breath.

"It was the same with my younger brother," he said.

Continued in PART B.

  1. Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003. 75. (back)