[summary] No.6: Beyond ~ Part 3 of 414
Type: Novel Summary
Title: No.6: Beyond
Author/Circle: Asano Atsuko
It’s raining outside; only a light rain, almost just fog, but rain is rain, and if you’re caught without an umbrella, you’re bound to find yourself soaked in short order.
Before he enters the house, Shion slides his fingers through his hair, and droplets of water fall to the ground–he’s wetter than he expected.
The chilly early spring rain will set a cold upon him if he doesn’t get warmed up soon, but he stalls before the door. He’s cold, he’s dispirited, and seeing his mother right now would just pain him.
The wooden door he stands before is old, and the paint is peeling, but Karan refuses to change it to a more resilient steel door no matter Shion’s urging. It hasn’t changed a bit since they moved here to Lost Town after being run out of Chronos.
It’s been more than a year now since the city-state known as No.6 was brought to destruction, and there’s still confusion, everyone doing their level best to figure out how to deal with these new conditions laid upon the former citizens of No.6 and those outsiders. While those who had lived inside the wall deemed themselves strong and resilient and welcomed their freedom from the city’s oversight, they didn’t want to relinquish the comfortable life they’d lived thus far and fear it being taken away. In contrast, those from outside the wall blamed No.6 for all of their troubles and sought retribution for the sins committed by the city.
Now, the Reconstruction Committee sits at the center of everything, working to ensure the continued safety and wellbeing of No.6 (while there have been suggestions to change the name for the new city, there’s no time right now, and given that the other city-states recognize the name, it’s staying that way for now). West Block has been designated a special ward, and emergency efforts are underway to set up supply provisions.
The Reconstruction Committee is comprised of 12 members, former citizens of No.6 as well as representatives of the respective blocks, and beneath the main committee are 12 subcommittees–the elected heads of which form the main committee. Shion is the youngest Reconstruction Committee member.
Everything has changed. Like surging waves, like a muddy flood, like an avalanche, swallowing everything in a whirlpool, shattering it, twisting it–and it’s only going to get worse from here.
But this old door, the faded brass doorknob, the little window with dim light bleeding through… Yeah, there are some things that never change.
No matter how the world may shift and transform around us, there are definitely some things that never change. Within us…and around us.
“I want you to stay just the way you are, Shion.”
He recalls these whispered words of Nezumi’s.
“Fight it, Shion! Fight…against yourself!”
It hadn’t been an order or a command or anything–only a plea. With those words, Nezumi had told him no matter what, never to change.
‘I wonder…if I can live up to what Nezumi asked of me…’
Shion closes his eyes, and his mind drifts back to a day at the market–he can still remember the day of the manhunt as clear as anything, can still hear the cries of pain and despair, everything that happened after that…
He opens his eyes and looks up at the starless sky–drops of rain sprinkle over his cheeks and lips, sliding down–he’s alive, and he wants to scream it.
I’m alive I’m alive I’m alive I’m alive I’m alive I’m alive
“Nezumi, I’m alive,” he calls out to the dark sky above.
‘I’m alive, and I’m waiting for you. Even within deepest depths of hell, I was drawn by, supported by your gaze, your words, your gestures, your feelings. And that’s why I was able to survive. That’s why I’m alive right now.
Can you hear me, Nezumi?
From inside the house, a dog barks loudly–could it be…?
Shion is jerked back to the present and steps inside, where he’s greeted by Inukashi and Rikiga, who are the same as always, bickering and fighting, but without the teeth and claws from before, and Shion releases a loud belly laugh for the first time in a while. Karan enters shortly, amused at the high spirits in the room but asking them to keep it down a bit–nodding to the baby in her arms.
“He looks so much bigger than the last time I saw him…”
“That’s because he is bigger! He’s running around with the dogs and everything now. Soon he’ll be gnawing on bones before you know it,” Inukashi declares, laying a soft kiss on little Shion’s forehead.
Karan smiles, “You’re quite good with raising children, Inukashi. I’ve seen many babies in my time, but this is the first one I’ve seen to look so happy even when he’s asleep.”
“Y’think so, Karan-mama?”
“Absolutely. He obviously trusts you implicitly, and you serve it right back to him. That makes you a wonderful parent.”
“At first…I really hated Shion for pushing a kid on me. Thought it was just useless baggage and thought about ignoring him.”
“…I’m sorry. I knew it was selfish of me, but…you were the only one I could ask. I felt that if it was you, I could ask you to take care of him.”
Inukashi turns dark eyes on Shion. “Shion, does that…mean you trust me?”
“It does.” It’s not a lie, not pretension. Inukashi had been the only person Shion could think of when he took the baby from the woman during the manhunt.
“So–you trust me, and I turned that trust right back to you, is that it?”
“Yup. And probably–”
‘Probably…that’s how it was with Nezumi, too. He believed in you, trusted you.’
Shion swallows his words; for some reason, he doesn’t want to bring up Nezumi here.
Rikiga gets a bit offended at Shion seeming to trust Inukashi with little Shion more than him, and Shion hastens to allay any fears. Inukashi accuses Rikiga of probably selling little Shion if he’d been entrusted with the baby, and Karan is taken aback. While he quickly corrects that he never would have taken part in child trafficking, he does admit that he engaged in some less-than-nice lines of work now and then. Karan seems to accept this, and Rikiga announces that she’s the only one whose trust he cares about earning.
Karan is a bit taken aback, as Rikiga was never the sort of person to say that kind of thing before, instead being a much more tactless, deliberate person.
Inukashi whistles and snickers at this. “Way to go, Karan-mama. Hit ’em where it hurts!” This prompts a new round of bickering between Inukashi and Rikiga, and while Karan attempts to calm them down, settling onto the sofa and placing little Shion into a cradle, Shion’s eye is drawn to a small golden plate hanging from the cradle.
To my beloved son, Shion.
Karan relates that this cradle was one of the few things she smuggled out of Chronos when they left–and had been hiding it in a panel about the storeroom, secret from Shion. Why? Because Shion’s father made it for him.
Shion’s breath stops in his throat. “My…father? He was a craftsman?”
Karan averts her gaze, pursing her lips. “No–he was a geologist. An excellent man, chosen as part of the Reformation Team.” The team that placed No.6 on this earth, made up of the mayor who’d yearned to become an all-powerful ruler of No.6, the scientists who’d tried to control the God of the Forest, Elyurias, even Rou…
His own father had been part of that team.
Shion is confused–Karan had always told him he was a man who loved women and money, but who’d been very kind and truthful as well. Karan repeats that that was all true–he used up money as soon as he earned it, dove into relationships with any woman who struck his fancy if they were his type…even had lovers on the side after he married Karan, a fact which Rikiga protests vocally. Inukashi pipes up that Shion’s father sounds as bad as Rikiga, and this prompts Rikiga to defend himself.
“Hey, you dog-brat, just what part of me is depraved–I’m single, and that’s why I messed around with all those chicks–erm, women. But if–if–I were to marry… I’d live with and love my partner for the rest of my life. As if I could have eyes for any other woman! Oh, and it goes without saying I’d stop drinking, too. I mean, I know how it sounds, coming from me, but I’d be a good care-taker, really.”
Inukashi is less than convinced, and even more so, finding it hard to believe someone like that could be Shion’s father. Karan clarifies that Shion inherited his nimble, skilled fingers from the man, who knit the blanket little Shion is wrapped in and even some baby clothes.
It’s the first time Shion’s heard so much about his father–mostly because he thought it would pain her too much to be asked about it. Inukashi tactlessly asks if those women were the reason Shion’s father left, and after some arguing with Rikiga, Karan admits that that might have been part of the reason. They had both been young, and Karan had been all but fed up with his ways, but then the man changed after Shion was born, stopped drinking, stopped seeing other women…so she’s sure there must have been some other reason he left.
“Because of the changes in No.6,” Shion speaks, and Karan blinks several times in confusion.
“So you realized?”
“I get that feeling.”
Karan goes on to express that yes, he’d realized that No.6 was transforming at an alarming rate, and other members of the Reformation Committee had already dropped out…or been forced out. Maybe he had just been scared. Then one day, not one month after Shion had been born, he’d told her they were leaving No.6 together, that there was still time, but eventually they’d be trapped there–he’d looked so serious, so he must have known the truth at that time.
“…But you turned him down, didn’t you?”
“I did. I couldn’t leave with him–I just couldn’t trust what he was saying. When I asked him where we would go, he didn’t know. And then…he smiled, saying it might be nice to wander like the wind, wherever we wanted.” Wandering around outside of the city-states when there’s hardly any livable areas with a child not even a month old? She couldn’t trust that he’d protect them from the harms of the world any more than No.6.
“Even now…I still can’t be sure if I made the right decision or not that day. I was already relying on No.6 by that time, trying to live my life dependent on it.” And now, she hasn’t a clue where he is, if he’s dead or alive…but knowing him, he’s probably living as he pleases. Her voice drops. “Shion…do you want to see your father?”
“No…ever since I can remember, you’ve always been all there was to me. I don’t feel like I miss him or anything, it just…feels a bit strange.”
“Strange…the way you suddenly told me about him just now out of the blue. You’ve been quiet about it all this time.”
Rikiga speaks out here, “S–so you ah, you…can’t forget about your ex-husband, is that it? You’re umm, still uh–waiting…for him to come back? Is that…how you feel right now? Just…”
“No–I’m not waiting at all, Rikiga. He’s simply a person from my past now. Though of course, I hope he’s alive and well.”
“Exactly! People shouldn’t be tied down by the past–if you’re gonna be tied down, be tied down by the future! Tomorrow’s much more important than yesterday!”
Karan values those with her now and tomorrow more than those in her past, and that’s why she’s invited them all here for dinner tonight–they’re all Shion’s precious friends, and so they’re precious friends of hers as well. She goes into the kitchen to get the meal ready, and Inukashi and Shion rise to help, but Rikiga seems troubled.
“She…called me a friend, a companion. So I guess that’s all I am to Karan, huh…”
Inukashi and Shion share a concerned look, and question if Rikiga was actually serious about proposing–to which he replies that yes, actually, he was. His work’s coming together, and he’s got a bit of money saved, so he’d been sure he could make her happy…
Shion, for his part, compliments Rikiga on his hard work, and Rikiga is relieved that Shion seems to have accepted his efforts and deemed him a suitable marriage partner for Karan.
“Eh? Wait–no, I, that’s not what I… Umm, well, I just think maybe my mother has no intentions to remarry? She even said a while back that she was happy the way things were now and wanted to live as a baker for the rest of her life.” No matter how the world should change, Karan will still be here baking delicious rolls and muffins for the residents of Lost Town. This is something else that will never change.
“Your mother…is amazing,” Nezumi had said murmured once in a rare show of admiration. It had been the day he’d woken up.
The day everything ended–or rather, began–they’d stumbled back to Karan’s place, bodies bruised and battered and exhausted. Reunion hugs were hurriedly had, and then they both collapsed together onto the bed, slipping into a deep slumber, not waking until well into the next day.
Nezumi had been gone when Shion woke, the single blanket folded neatly beside the bed–and Shion had laid a fist on top of the blanket, sobs unconsciously seeping from his lips.
Just like four years before, when the storm had ended, Nezumi disappeared from Shion’s side. Back then, they’d only just met, not knowing hardly anything about one another, but this time it was different.
Sure, there were still some things Shion couldn’t grasp, things he couldn’t understand–but he knew. He knew this, he knew it, and knowing it, they’d still lived together. Not the past or the future but now.
And still…you left without a word.
But Shion had shaken his head sharply–no, that couldn’t be true. Not with all the time they’d spent together, everything they’d been through–there was no way Nezumi would leave without a word. That’s not the sort of relationship they had.
It was then that he’d smelled the scent of coffee and bread baking, and he carefully entered the living area.
“Well well, the prince finally awakes,” Nezumi grinned, a cup of coffee in one hand. “Granted, I only just woke up myself.” It takes all of Shion to remain calm, and he asks how Nezumi’s body feels, to which Nezumi admits he’s still recovering, but feeling better. They take in their condition–still dirty and bloody and tattered clothes, and it feels strange to be so calm now after everything that happened.
“Now then, your majesty, will you take a bath? Or would you rather I prepare you a cup of coffee?”
“It’s quite an honor to have you pour me coffee.”
“Your lovely mama treated me to some delicious bread earlier. I can certainly treat you to my pouring you some coffee.”
Karan had been out and about, convinced that since all she could do was bake bread, then bake bread she would do. A very Karan thing to do, Shion confirms.
Nezumi set down his cup and directed his stare to the white wall–there was no longer a hint of a smile in his eyes, only darkness. “Your mother…is amazing,” he’d practically whispered, voice steeped in admiration. He’d been amazed that someone as strong as her had been able to survive within No.6, as a citizen.
Nezumi had poured him his coffee and they’d settled in for brunch, urging Shion to just rest today and not think of anything. They chat amicably about spending lazy days in Lost Town eating bread and sleeping, even the ‘cravat’ pastries that Nezumi’s keen to try.
He’d pressed the coffee toward Shion and urged him to drink. “It’s a slightly darker blend with plenty of milk, just how your majesty prefers.”
“Huh? But–we’ve never had coffee together before; how do you know how I prefer it?”
“I just do. I told you before, didn’t I? That you’re helplessly easy to read, and equally difficult to understand.”
“I could say the same for you.”
“I’m not nearly as annoying as you.”
“You’re one to talk. You’re the last person I want to hear how annoying I am from.”
“And just what part of me is annoying?”
“It’d take til tomorrow morning for me to list them all.”
“Fine–I’ll stick with you til tomorrow morning, so I’m all ears.”
“Sounds good to me.” He’d taken a sip of the coffee–and it was indeed as delicious as Nezumi had pronounced. “You get irritated at the slightest things, but just when I think you’re going to be as stubborn as a child, you turn around and think things through properly and obsess over things. Your mood changes at the drop of a hat, and one minute you’ll be in a good mood and the next in a bad one. That’s the very definition of ‘annoying.'”
“Oh I see. So we’re being that sharp, are we? Then if you’ll permit me, Shion?”
“By all means. I’m proper at all times.”
“Uh huuuuh… There’s never been a proper person who’s actually claimed to be proper, you know.”
“So you don’t think you’re a respectable person?”
“Huh…well, I think I’m a respectable human being, but… Tsk, you’ve gotten too good at comebacks.”
This meaningless banter back and forth, the calm atmosphere between them, the setting sunlight streaming in through the window…it was all beautiful. The calm between the storm that had passed and that still to come…was a precious memory that Nezumi left with him.
But Nezumi moved on, and Shion stayed put. The fates which had been entwined, piled up together–broke apart into two, and there was no telling when they would see each other again.
“Hey, Shion… Will you help me out?”
“Help you out?”
“Yeah, I just…I want you to try and convince Karan that I’m a suitable marriage partner.”
“EH? But that’s, I really…”
“I’m serious, here! I want to propose to her because I’m confident I can make Karan happy! She can continue this shop for as long as she pleases–yeah, we can do a real renewal on this place!”
“Ah, actually, I really don’t think she wants that. She likes it just the way it is.”
Rikiga slumps in defeat–there’s nothing he can give her that she wants, it seems, and he and Inukashi break into bickering once again before they retire to the kitchen to help Karan finish prepping dinner.
Dinner was wonderful–full of chatting and laughing, really really enjoyable, but Shion can’t help thinking If only Nezumi had been here…
If he’d been here, he probably would have sat across from Shion, complimenting Karan on her skills in the kitchen and snickering at Inukashi’s and Rikiga’s antics. He would have gracefully wielded his fork and spoon, tidily eating up everything on his plate to Karan’s delight.
‘Where are you right now, and what are you doing, Nezumi? I haven’t seen you in a whole year…’
As they clean up together after Inukashi and Rikiga leave, Shion asks Karan why she invited them over this evening. Karan claims she didn’t have any particular reason–she just thought it wouldn’t hurt to have a pleasant meal together once in a while. After all, Shion’s been so busy and hasn’t had time to really sit and enjoy a meal lately. Shion feels as if she’s putting herself out for him, but she refutes it.
“That’s not it at all, but–have you not noticed, Shion? You’ve stopped smiling lately…”
“It’s been a while since I’ve seen you smile as much as you did tonight. I’m sure it’s rough being on the reconstruction committee.” Shion relates that there’s just a lot going on lately, and Karan suspects that things must not be going well with Youmin’s group, with Youmin also being on the committee. She admits at length that…she doesn’t really think Youmin is fit to be on the committee, given what happened to his wife and child, how much he absolutely loathed No.6. His hatred had driven him and helped him bring down No.6, but now…it won’t help him rebuild this city.
Her words seep into Shion–if one can’t discard their hatred, if they can’t overcome it, they won’t be able to build anything new. Hatred can never be used to fuel reconstruction.
Karan goes on to admit that there’s a lot she doesn’t understand, that she never even tried to, and maybe if she’d been smarter, she would have been able to save Safu–and here Shion cuts her off and directs her back to speaking about Youmin, because to get caught up in memories of Safu is just a bottomless bog. Nothing can change what happened, no matter their regrets or prayers. He’ll remember her, the wish she left with him, until there is no longer breath in his body.
Karan regrets that Youmin lost faith in humanity, that he wanted to be a hero remembered throughout the ages, and she feels as if he’s governed now by base desire to that end. Youmin had once told her…that changing the world sometimes required sacrifice. Chalking up people’s lives to a matter of balancing numbers seems just wrong to her.
“Shion…will you fight Youmin?”
Fight him? Is Youmin someone he’s supposed to fight? Is he an enemy? It’s true that Youmin’s group is gaining power in the committee and already disregarding others’ points… He has to do something, anything.
“Shion…you’ve lost weight.” Karan sounds more like a mother worrying about her son now. “If it’s too much, you ought to just quit the committee. There surely must be some other way for you to make a living–didn’t you mention before that you wanted to work with children? Why not search for something in that field?”
But Shion shakes his head. “No… There are still things I have to do. I was told not to run away, that I had to stay here, that there was work I had to do. I don’t want to turn my back on those words.”
Karan doesn’t ask who told him that, just stares at her son in silence.
The wind beating against the window grows stronger, and Karan sighs. “…Things probably would have been easier if you’d been more like your father and lived life as you pleased.” And Shion realizes that this must be why she brought him up earlier.
‘It’s no use… I can’t live like my father did.’
“Shion–don’t run away.”
‘Nezumi’s words give me strength. He didn’t run away, after all. He didn’t pull back from his fate or the truth–I was right there beside him the whole time. And Safu and the others entrusted this to me. I can’t run away. I can’t betray them. This isn’t for anyone else–it’s so I can stay myself that I have to fight.’
He leans down and presses a kiss to Karan’s cheek. “I’m going to bed. Good night, mom.”
“Good night,” she returns, and maybe she had to force it out, for her lips purse ever so slightly.
There’s a little mouse curled up on the bed. “Tsukiyo…” He chirps softly at Shion’s greeting, but makes no move to eat the cheese or bread crumbs Shion has brought. Shion strokes his back and remembers the three little mice Nezumi had kept as pets. Shion had assumed that since they were descendents of the mice that had lived in the forest like Nezumi’s people, that they’d live as long as humans…but lately, Tsukiyo has seemed to be almost withering away.
Most mice live a year and a half, maybe two, and pet hamsters live at most for three–Tsukiyo is slowly but surely winding down his life.
“Just hang in there, all right, Tsukiyo? You have to live at least until your master comes back.” Tsukiyo chirps softly and closes his eyes contentedly as Shion gently strokes him.
“What’s this?” Youmin furrows his brow as he glances down at the screen before him.
“Evidence,” Shion clarifies, “That you’ve been misappropriating funds from the former No.6.”
“I’ve been what?”
“You’ve been using city funds for your own personal gain.”
Youmin is taken aback, “That’s preposterous. I’m a busy man, son, and I don’t have time to play along with your childish games.”
“Game? Funds from No.6 have been unregulated for a while now–because the maintenance system was deactivated. During that time, nearly 1/3 of the funds have disappeared. In particular, 60% of the gold bullion.”
“And that’s my fault?”
“You must be joking. Sure, I was in charge of keeping watch on the funds maintenance, but you could hardly expect me to keep track of gold bullion given everything that was going on at that time!”
Shion goes on to clarify that it wasn’t stolen, but rather systematically removed, otherwise there’s no way to explain why a good 40% is still remaining. Robbers would have surely taken it all. Youmin is the only person he can find to blame for this. Youmin needed those funds to finance his group’s efforts–and stealing from No.6 was the quickest and easiest way to do so. He lays out the data as evidence, clearly showing how Youmin transferred the funds out of No.6 into personal banks in No.4, a masterful plan. More so, Youmin’s group members are receiving more in compensation for their compliance than even top officials in No.6 did, despicable.
Youmin allows that those who risked their lives fighting No.6 deserve that much–but Shion returns that that’s not for them to decide, but the Committee, and Youmin’s actions have betrayed the whole city relying on him.
Two of Youmin’s fellow subcommittee members enter and accuse Youmin of committing fraud under their noses, but Youmin returns it was all with their approval, that they’re setting him up, but Shion is silent. “…I’d always thought you were dangerous. I was wrong to underestimate you just because you’re young.”
“Everyone makes mistakes in life, Youmin-san. Yours is just going to cost you dearly.”
Two more men enter at a snap of Shion’s fingers, both broad and large-built.
“Wh–what’re you doing?! You’re not going to have me publicly executed, are you?!”
“Hardly. You helped take down No.6, so we could never be so cruel to you. On the committee’s approval, you’ll receive a reward for your services and a yearly pension until you die–but you’ll forfeit all funds stored in No.4 and will only be allowed to live and move about in places we allow you to.”
“…And if I refuse?”
“Then I can’t guarantee your safety.”
Before he leaves, Youmin leaves him with the accusation that he’s fit to be the new all-powerful overlord, one that Youmin and the previous mayor can’t even compare with, holding all within his grasp–and then what will Karan think of him, when her son’s become a monster?
At Youmin’s dramatic exit, his two colleagues hasten to reassure Shion that they had no knowledge of Youmin’s doings, but the data doesn’t lie, and they’re found to be complicit–still, Shion assures them that he’s deleted that data now and has no intention of pressing charges, as they helped bring Youmin down. He urges them to work hard to ensure that the new No.6 flourishes. They shake his hand and offer their support of any proposal he puts forth, announcing that he’s setting himself up to be the next great leader.
Shion thanks them for the compliment, but clarifies that such unabashed praise embarrasses him. They go on to say that his skill with drawing up the data evidence against Youmin isn’t something everyone can do, and Shion just thinks that Youmin underestimated everyone, thinking that if he stood at the top, he could manipulate things to how he wanted, and his harried efforts to rise up the ranks drew red flags.
The men take their leave, and Shion glances back at the screen–all of the numbers and figures disappear. He’d never had any ‘data evidence’ in the first place–he hadn’t the time to actually do any digging and find it, so…he’d decided to just make it. He’d managed to pull it off. He glances out the window.
‘What am I doing here…’
Building a society on this earth that’s not like No.6, creating a country that won’t kill or be killed by anyone. But is that really possible? Youmin’s words echo in his ear.
‘What’s going to happen to me…’
A scratching sound–the wind? No, not the wind, someone’s tapping at the window.
He throws open the windpw, and the breeze brushes back his bangs.
There’s no one there–it was just the wind blowing through. Shion slumps to the floor and covers his face with both hands.
‘Nezumi… Why won’t you come back to me? Why aren’t you by my side? I want to see that I’m still me, that I’m continuing to be the person I really am–I want to find it in your eyes. That’s the only way I can.
Nezumi–I miss you so much.’
He doesn’t cry, but soft moans slip from his lips, animalistic whimpering that doesn’t even sound like himself.
An alarm sounds and doesn’t stop–and Shion stands and presses the intercom button: business discussions for the upcoming meeting later that day. He disconnects the call on completion and turns back to the window with a sigh. The brilliant blue sky spreads out before him, and he shuts the window again, turning his back on the endlessly blue sky.
END PART 3