"What are we supposed to do?" A voice questioned weakly from the crowd. It was a female voice. "Tell us what we're supposed to do."
"Keep waiting," Shion answered. "Wait just a little bit longer, and everything will come to an end. No one has to die anymore."
Wait, he says.
So we just wait here.
For half an hour or so.
Like a breeze blowing ripples across the surface of a lake, a silent wave spread throughout the crowd. Everyone gradually began to sit down on the spot. People in the square also squatted on the ground, hugging their knees.
"Thank you, everyone." Still holding the megaphone, Shion also spoke to the dumbfounded man before him. "You, too, Yoming. Wait here."
Yoming was speechless.
"I'm going ahead." Nezumi broke into a run, passing behind Shion.
"How on earth did you...." Yoming murmured as he gazed at Shion.
There was no one in front of the mayor's office. The guards had likely fled as well. What used to be the safest and most comfortable place in No. 6 was now highly dangerous territory.
Shion knocked on the door.
"Come in," a calm voice answered through the intercom beside the door.
The door slid aside soundlessly.
The room was warm, tranquil, and luxurious. The mayor was standing in front of a wide writing desk near the wall. He had a smaller frame than what Shion had imagined. And he was young.
This man... is the ruler of No. 6.
There was a leather sofa beside the mayor, and another man sat at the end of it. He was wearing a white lab coat. His neck was bent at an odd angle, and his arms dangled lifelessly. His hair had turned white before Shion's eyes, and his mouth hung open, having already taken its last breath. A tooth dislodged itself from the man's mouth and landed on the floor.
A wasp was sitting on the nape of the man's neck, moving its antennae busily.
"It's a newborn," the mayor whispered. He sounded like someone who was trying not to wake a sleeping baby. "I had no idea it was living inside his body, either. But I think he was the most surprised. He died without even getting over his astonishment. 'It can't be'―" the mayor smiled faintly. "Those were his last words. 'It can't be'. Hah, it must be decades since I heard something like that come out of his mouth. He believed that everything in the world could be explained by science."
"Mayor. Please open the window. We're going to use your balcony."
"What do you intend to do?"
"We want to speak with Elyurias. We need to meet her, and it's urgent."
"You kids know about Elyurias?"
The mayor's gaze shifted from Shion to Nezumi.
"Window, you say..." he muttered, and pushed a button on his desk. The window slowly opened out.
Nezumi stepped out onto the balcony. A wind blew up at them, ruffling Nezumi's hair.
A song flowed forth.
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
Nezumi's singing was picked up by the wind, and seemed to reach every corner of the square―and every corner of No. 6. The people sat perfectly still and listened in a trance.
It was like a voice that stole the soul away and thieved the heart.
Safu. Shion spoke to the girl in his heart. Just once―just once more, lend me your strength. Deliver this song to Elyurias. Safu, please. Lend us your power.
The wind steals the soul away, humans thieve the heart
But here I will stay
to keep singing
Deliver my song
Accept my song
The wind grew stronger. Nezumi staggered.
Inukashi stood still, rooted to the spot.
"Wh―What the hell―"
A golden ring appeared in the sky, squarely in front of Nezumi. The ring shrank until it became a blinding light. The light shimmered as it wavered, and turned into the figure of a wasp.
It has been a while, Singer.
"It really has." Nezumi turned around and beckoned to Shion.
Shion stepped out onto the balcony and drew up beside Nezumi. The crowd filling the square looked up all at once.
"Elyurias. Do you mind if I call you by this name?"
As you please. A name given by a human means nothing to me.
"Elyurias. We beg you. We want you to grant us one more chance―just once."
Shion heard the beating of wings. Four transparent wings glimmered as they beat the air.
"Please don't give up on us humans yet. Just once. Give us one more chance, Elyurias."
Creatures full of arrogance and deceit.
You are telling me to believe you?
"Humans are capable of both upholding ideals and succumbing to corruption. There are those who cling onto their power, and there are those who are pushed along by the majority. But there are those who uphold their ideals, live for others, and continue to fight against their own foolishness, deceit, and arrogance. Elyurias, hear our plea. Believe in us, just once more."
Is that what you wish for yourself, Singer?
Nezumi gave a slight nod.
As one of the Forest People, you will believe in the residents of No. 6?
"I won't believe the people of No. 6. The only one I believe is him. No―that's not it. It's not that I believe him. It's just―"
"I want to see what Shion will become. I want to see what he's going to build on the ruins of No. 6. I want to see with my own eyes what he'll create."
You want to see.
"O God―Forest God, you yourself aren't omnipotent. You can't see everything. There's no way you could predict whether he'll create a future that's different from No. 6, or follow in its footsteps. It's something to look forward to, isn't it? How far will humans fall? Where would they be able to dig in their heels and resist? See where it'll take them―that's just another way to enjoy it. I think you're jumping the gun if you think humans are hopeless because of a small example like No. 6."
The tiny infant I remember seems to have grown into an insolent one.
"People grow up. For better or for worse."
Singer, are you sure? You do not need to keep loathing No. 6?
"No. 6 doesn't exist anymore. You destroyed it. But if No. 6 were to appear here again, I'd hate it with my heart and soul, and wage another war."
Elyurias' antennae quivered left and right. Golden powder scattered from them.
I have a message from Safu. She says, "I leave everything in your hands".
Everything in your hands. They were the same as the doctor's dying words. Shion clenched his hand into a fist, and nodded.
"Please tell Safu that I've gotten her message. And please tell her that I'll never forget her for as long as I live."
"Elyurias, wait! Please, for us―"
Just once. This one single time, Shion.
The golden light disappeared. The wind ceased.
Shion went back inside the room, and sank onto the carpeted floor.
"It's finally over."
"Over? This is just the start, Shion. Your battle is beginning, and it's going to be an arduous one."
"What kind of world will you build here in the place of No. 6? Would you be able to build a real town, where humans can live as humans―and not some parasitic city wearing the mask of a utopia? Shion, your battle has just begun. You haven't finished. The one whose end is nigh is―"
Nezumi turned around and stared at the mayor.
"I know." The mayor sat down in his chair, and quietly closed his eyes. "Could you excuse yourselves? I would like to be alone."
"Going to think about what to do with yourself, Mayor?" Rikiga growled.
"That has already been decided. I'll put an end to my own affairs. So, please, if you will."
"Let's go. Everyone deserves to have their last wishes respected." Nezumi started to walk out.
"You have my thanks." The mayor raised his hand.
The door closed.
A gunshot rang out almost at the same time. Rikiga shook his head slowly.
Hamlet squeaked from Shion's pocket.
A cerulean sky.
The sky that unfolded over the small hill in the North Block was crystal clear.
"Nice weather. Perfect for travelling." The wind tousled Nezumi's hair, and he smoothed it down with his hand.
"Shion, right here is fine. You didn't have to come out to see me off."
"...You're set on going?"
"I have to."
"When are you coming back?"
"Coming back? I don't have a place to return to."
"Nezumi, can't I... can't I go with you?"
"You and I are different. I'm a drifter; you're stationary. That's what it boils down to. When you're incompatible, you can't live together. You should know this already."
Nezumi let his gaze wander over the scene that spread below him.
Here was a city once called No. 6. From where he stood, it seemed no different than how it had always been.
"Are you crying?"
"I'm not―geez, I'm not a girl―"
"I'm afraid of you."
"I can't seem to grasp anything that's inside you, that's why. You're a mystery. You had the power to put all the people at the Moondrop in the palm of your hand in two seconds flat, yet here you are crying like a girl. You can be utterly ruthless, courageous, and noble all at once. And that's all part of who you are, isn't it? I can't understand it, and that's why it's terrifying for me. Maybe sometime in the future, it wouldn't be so bad for me to drop by to see... yeah, to see what kind of person you've become. Your mama's muffins are also hard to resist. But I didn't expect to get a hug from her right after being introduced."
Shion grasped Nezumi's arm. He felt like he could endure no more.
"Don't go, Nezumi. I want to be by your side. I want you to be by my side. That's all I wish for."
"It can't happen."
"How many times are you going to make me repeat myself? You have to stay here. You have a job to do."
"I can just let someone else―"
"You can't let anyone else do it. Shion, you have to do this. Did you forget your promise with Safu? What about the doctor's last words? You said you'd take it. Shion, don't run away. You have a battle to fight. You have a job to do here. You can't turn your back on it."
Shion looked at his feet.
He tightened his grip around Nezumi's arm.
I know. I understand. But―
"Nezumi, the world means nothing to me without you. Nothing."
A finger hooked on his chin, and yanked it upwards.
A set of dark grey eyes were right in front of him.
"Won't you listen, my stubborn child? Act your age." It was a woman's voice, softened with laughter.
"Nezumi, I'm serious―"
Their lips overlapped. It was a searing, but gentle, passionate kiss.
"Was that a... goodbye kiss?"
"A vow." Nezumi smiled. "Reunion will come, Shion."
Nezumi turned his back to him. Hamlet and Cravat hopped onto his shoulder, and chirruped at each other.
The wind blew.
The clouds panned out.
Nezumi's figure grew smaller and smaller.
He never turned around once.
"Nezumi." I never found out your real name. But―I don't need to know.
To Shion, Nezumi had always been Nezumi. His one and only, irreplaceable person.
Nezumi, I'll keep waiting. No matter how many years it takes, no matter how old I get, I'll keep waiting for you right here, on this land.
The drifter and the stationary one―their paths were bound to intersect again. And when they did, Shion would not let him go again so easily.
Nezumi, I'll keep waiting for you.
The wind blew.
Sunlight streamed down―on Shion; on the city about to be reborn; on Nezumi's vestige.
The light streamed down, and encompassed everything.
Read the Epilogue.