“I suppose life would have been a little less burdensome if you’d been whimsical like your father.”
“Oh,” Shion said in realization. “That’s why you suddenly decided to tell me about dad.”
It was one way to live: taking nothing upon oneself, casting off any troublesome loads, turning one’s back on everything.
Your father chose to live that way.
A mother, watching her son struggle with reality, had told him the truth about his father.
Shion... don’t run away.
Nezumi’s words are supporting me. Nezumi never ran away. He never retreated in the face of fate, or from reality. And I was there beside him.
Safu passed her legacy on to me.
I can’t run away.
I can’t betray them.
I have to fight―not for anyone else, but for me to remain as who I am.
He crouched and kissed his mother on the cheek.
“I’m going to sleep. Good night, mom.”
Karan’s fingers gently stroked Shion’s white hair.
Her lips twisted slightly, as if she were forcing herself to smile.
A tiny mouse was curled up on the bed.
It raised its head at the voice, and squeaked softly. Shion offered some crumbs of bread and cheese to Tsukiyo, putting them right up to his nose. Tsukiyo twitched his whiskers two, three times, but did not touch any of it.
When Shion petted Tsukiyo’s back with the tip of his finger, Tsukiyo closed his eyes dreamily.
Hamlet, Cravat, Tsukiyo. Out of the three mice Nezumi kept, only this Tsukiyo remained with Shion. He was a small creature, but possessed both wisdom and intelligence. He was likely a descendant of the wild mice that lived deep in the forest alongside the Forest People.
Shion had simply assumed that because this mouse was no ordinary mouse, it would have the same lifespan as a human. But these days, he could see Tsukiyo ageing and beginning to weaken.
The average lifespan of a mouse was anywhere from a year and a half to two years. Even a pet hamster would live to three years at most.
Tsukiyo was slowly nearing his end.
“Tsukiyo, hang in there. You have to live to see your master come home.” Shion stroked him gently with the flat of his finger.
Tsukiyo chirruped contentedly, and closed his eyes.
“What is this?” Deep creases formed between Yoming’s eyebrows.
They were on the first floor of the Restructural Committee headquarters, the former city hall which used to be called the Moondrop.
Shion and Yoming were sitting across the table from one another in a small meeting room. Shion had called Yoming out. An electronic sheet was laid out on the table. Yoming had just glanced down at the screen and furrowed his brow.
“This is proof that you diverted the funds of former No. 6.”
“What? What are you on about?”
“You have always been, and still are, in the post of managing the enormous resources of former No. 6. You took advantage of your position to claim much of that money as your own. I’m talking about embezzlement.”
“Absurd,” Yoming sneered. “I’m busy. I have no time to be playing along with a little boy’s joke.”
“Joke? Is it?” Shion pressed. “No. 6’s resources were left exposed for some time because management simply wasn’t functioning. In that time, a third of the funds have disappeared. Gold especially―about sixty percent has been lost.”
“And you’re saying that’s my fault?”
“Don’t you dare. Yes, I may be in charge of managing the funds. But how did you expect me to keep guard over the gold on top of everything else during that chaos? I shouldn’t have to be responsible for that.”
“The gold wasn’t simply stolen. It was smuggled out, and it was premeditated. If it wasn’t planned beforehand, how do you explain the fact that the other forty percent still remains? Thieves would take all the gold away. Not only that, the gold was in the innermost part of the underground vault. No matter how bad the confusion, it would have been exceedingly difficult to carry out several tonnes’ worth of gold without being noticed. Even professional bands of thieves wouldn’t have managed it. In fact, it’s outright impossible. Yoming-san, let me say this again. The gold wasn’t stolen. It was smuggled out, and it was premeditated.”
“And you’re saying the smuggler is me?”
“I can’t think of anyone else.”
Yoming drew his chin back and smiled blandly. “Are you calling me a thief? What an accusation. If you don’t take that back soon, I’ll sue for libel.”
“You needed a very large amount of capital to expand and maintain the power of your group. That’s why you turned to No. 6’s funds. It was the easiest, quickest way.”
“Are you really trying to accuse me?”
“This data―” Shion jerked his chin at the table. “Is a copy of your application and authorization forms that you submitted in the Committee’s name to rent out a cargo jet. Both have your own handwritten signature. This cargo jet was used in a trip to No. 4 and back. And this―”
Shion swiped the screen with his hand, and new data appeared. Yoming stared intently at the series of numbers without even blinking.
“This is a list of your personal assets provided by No. 4’s bank. Quite large, isn’t it? Fit for a king. I think it’s safe to assume that these assets have all been converted from gold. The numbers add up. And there’s more.”
He moved his fingers.
“These figures are special benefits that you handed out to your group members. This is also quite a lot. Not even the executives of former No. 6 received this much.”
“...We members placed our lives on the line to fight with No. 6,” Yoming said quietly. “We are perfectly entitled to that amount.”
“That is for the Committee to decide, and not for you to make your own judgements about. Many other people fought with their lives in the balance. Many did not live through it, either, Yoming-san.”
Shion stood up and began to roll the electronic sheet up.
“You misused public funds by handing out compensation on your own sole judgement and pocketing money for your own use. It’s unmistakable treason. You’ve betrayed every single citizen.”
The door burst open. Two men stepped inside. They were second and third in command in Yoming’s group. They were both in their mid-thirties with dark brown hair.
“You’ve gone and done it now, Yoming.”
“How could you have perpetrated such evil behind our backs? Shame on you!”
“Behind your backs?” Yoming retorted. “That’s ridiculous, you all were well aware that...” Yoming’s breath caught. He chewed his lip. The colour rapidly receded from his face.
“Shion, you tricked me.”
Shion maintained a steady gaze at the man’s pale face, and said nothing. Shion’s eyes did not budge.
“...I knew you were dangerous,” Yoming said softly. “I underestimated you because you were still a young boy. That was my mistake.”
“We all make mistakes in life, Yoming-san. But yours just ended up costing you your life.” He snapped his fingers. A door slid open leading to the next room, and two more men came in. They were of such an enormous stature that one would have to crane his neck to see their faces.
“What do you suppose you can do with me?” Yoming said defiantly. “Give me a public hanging?”
“Of course not. You were a distinguished member in the fall of No. 6. I won’t be so unforgiving. On the basis of the Committee’s judgement, we will grant you a bonus for your deeds, and a public pension until you die. But we will seize all of your personal assets in No. 4. You are, of course, dismissed as a member of the Restructural Committee, and you will be stripped of all of your qualifications. There will be limitations implemented on your activities and place of residence. You are prohibited from moving out of your designated residence, regardless of what the reason may be.”
“If I don’t comply―”
“Then, I cannot guarantee your safety.”
“Heh, so it’s basically an outwardly-unoffensive imprisonment. A modern version of exile. If I get shot through the head for acting without permission, no one will blame you. No one would be able to blame you.”
The gigantic men moved to stand behind Yoming. Yoming strode toward the door, half-shoving them out of the way. Then he stopped, and turned around.
“Shion, you have potential to be a leader like no other. I, or even that mayor, couldn’t compare. Someday, you’ll try to dominate over all, try to have everything within your grasp. You’ll reign as a cold, ruthless, and exceedingly good dictator.”
Laughter―dry laughter rang out and echoed inside the room.
“And when that happens, I wonder how Karan would look at you? What kind of eyes would she behold her son with, the son who’s turned into a monster?”
One of the men placed his hand on Yoming’s shoulder. Yoming brushed it away, and walked out into the hallway. The door closed.
“Can’t even go out without a last bitter complaint.”
“He doesn’t know when to stop.”
Number 2 and 3 looked at each other and shrugged comically. They simultaneously turned back to Shion.
“Shion, we’ve been tricked, too. We didn’t even dream that he’d embezzle public funds.”
“Really? This data lists your two names clearly as the recipients of a large sum of benefits.”
Shion smiled serenely at the two men, who had begun to turn pale.
“But I’ve erased that part. Without your co-operation, we would not have been able to bring Yoming-san’s crime to light. I’m grateful.”
“I myself have nothing to reprimand you about.” Shion extended his hand towards the two. “Please continue to work hard for No. 6. We must join all our forces to overcome this difficulty. We need your help. I hope you’re willing.”
The colour rose in the cheeks of the two men. They grasped Shion’s hand and nodded enthusiastically.
“See you in this afternoon’s meeting, then,” said Shion. “I plan to report this incident in detail from the top. I’m counting on your assistance.”
“Yes, we’ll testify properly. We’ll also show our respect for your swift response and impressive judgement in the matter. You’re really an incredible leader for the next generation.”
“It’s an honour. But it’s a little embarrassing to receive such glowing praise.”
“You don’t have to be modest. Not anyone can prepare such detailed data to prove a misdeed. Even Yoming didn’t have anything to argue on.”
“He was underestimating us, I think. He thought once he became the leader of the Committee, he’d be able to forge and rewrite data as much as he liked. That was why he fought to get to the top as soon as he could. His desperation allowed careless blunders to happen left and right.”
“Ah, now I see. Incredible.”
“Indeed, it was,” agreed the other man. “Impressive. Now, I think we’ll wrap up here and get to our jobs. We will see you later, then?”
The two men lined up and exited. Shion was left alone.
“Detailed data, huh.” He unravelled the computer and cast his hand over it. The image on the screen crumbled, and the numbers and words vanished.
There was no such data that evidenced the crime. It likely existed―but Shion had neither the method nor the time to acquire it. If it did not exist, he simply had to create it. Create the data that would leave Yoming with no choice but to admit his crimes. It was not easy, but it was not such an arduous task, either.
It went well. He had been able to remove one obstacle from his line of sight. He would remove, drive away, destroy, his obstacles―and then what?
Shion glanced out the window.
What am I doing?
Creating a state in this world that is different from No. 6―one that is for humans.
Make a country where no one kills, and no one is killed.
Is that even possible?
Yoming’s derisive laughter burst in his ears.
What is going to happen to me?
Tap, tap. He heard the sound of the wind. No, not the wind―was someone knocking at the window?
Shion ran to the window and threw it open. The wind tousled his bangs. There was no one there. It had just been a passing wind. Shion dropped to the floor and squatted, covering his face with his hands.
Nezumi... why won’t you come home? Why aren’t you beside me? I just want to look into your eyes and see that I am me, that I can continue to be who I am. They are my only anchor.
Nezumi, I want to see you.
There were no tears. A growl escaped through the crack between his lips. It was an animal growl, in a voice he could hardly call his own.
An alarm went off. It continued to ring. Shion stood up, and pushed the intercom button.
A young man’s voice quietly came through.
“Member Shion, I’d like to hear your orders on the draft of No. 6’s new policies that we will be submitting at today’s meeting.”
“Understood. I’ll head to Conference Room 3 immediately.”
“Much obliged, Member Shion.”
There was a note of excitement in the young man’s voice.
“It’s almost coming, isn’t it? We’re going to clear out the old political powers and make way to build our ideal state. It’s finally beginning.”
Shion took a breath, and called the man’s name.
“Torey, I want you to watch what you say. For us, there is no such thing as old power or new power. We want to gather the wisdom of each and every person to progress forward, a little bit at a time. We have no other way.”
“Oh... right. I’m sorry.”
“You don’t need to apologize, but―” You should at least be wary of wire-taps, Torey. Shion switched off the intercom, and exhaled one more time.
He turned around to glance out the window.
A piercing blue sky spread out overhead.
Shion closed the window, and turned his back on the endless expanse of blue.
Read Chapter 4.