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According to Nezumi, the Forest People are those who have made the forest their home. Since ancient times, they've lived in harmony with the wind, the earth, lakes and rivers, and the sky.
To borrow Rou's words, the forest is a place both of their birth and upbringing. They nurtured, respected, and continued to protect the forest. They lived peacefully within the bounds of nature without desiring prosperity or development. Even those who lived in the Town of Roses had no idea about their existence.
Elyurias' power wasn't what allowed the abundant forest to survive on this land. It was because the Forest People protected it. Through the long, perpetual flow of time, they continued to protect the forest.
Nezumi is a descendant of those Forest People.
Rikiga let his empty juice bottle roll across the floor. It continued to roll until it hit the doctor's arm, and stopped.
Nezumi is a descendant of the Forest People. He's also a descendant of the "Singers".
"Yes, Singers―those who had the power to appease Elyurias and converse with her. There were always a number of Singers among the Forest People."
Neither Elyurias nor nature were embodiments of pure compassion and generosity. On the contrary, they could easily turn terrifying. The Forest People knew this.
Both nature and Elyurias could bare their fangs and attack suddenly at any time. Their power was absolute―no human could compare. That made them all the more dreadful.
Yes, the Forest People knew fear. They knew how to fear as well as revere. Singers could appease Elyurias' wrath with their voices, and were able to exchange words with her. They had the ability to mediate between humans and nature. Nezumi had this ability, and so did his mother.
Rou ventured deep into the forest, met Elyurias and the Forest People, and reported their existence to No. 6. He had no idea that this had planted the seed for the Mao Massacre.
"The Mao Massacre?" Creases appeared between Rikiga's eyebrows.
"Yes. 'Mao' apparently refers to the area near the lakeshore where the Forest People lived. They had a settlement there. It's where the airport is now. Apparently the lake was drained to build the airport. I had no idea."
"I didn't know, either," Rikiga said. "I was already kicked out when they started building it. A massacre, huh... which means No. 6 must have invaded the Mao area and tried to wipe out its residents?"
"What for? Did they need land for the airport?"
"No. What they really wanted was Elyurias."
What for. Rikiga kept repeating the same question.
What for, what for. Really, what was this for? What made people this brutal, this ruthless?
Shion looked down at the doctor's body. It had lost all its human warmth and was now a cold corpse. The nurse lay beyond it, and beyond her lay an unnamed man.
What made them capable of taking the lives of others so easily?
In the short instant that he closed his eyes, he could see the Hunt unfold again behind his eyelids. He could hear the groans of the people loaded onto the truck's cargo bed. In his ears rang the screams of the people who had died, piled on top of each other in the basement of the Correctional Facility.
Perplexity―not anger―snagged Shion and would not release him. Also, fear.
What set him apart from the central figures of No. 6? Hadn't Rou said so himself? Everyone was young; everyone had hopes to build a utopian city.
It had taken mere decades for these hopes and ideals to mutate. Mere decades. Shion swallowed his breath.
What kind of person will I be in a few decades? Would I still be able to hold the same hopes and ideals that I have now, at age sixteen? Would I be connected in any form with this kind of brutality?
The terror was enough to make him shiver.
What did they want Elyurias for? Her special powers.
"Special powers?" Inukashi's mouth fell open as he stared at Shion.
"Yeah. Elyurias embodies the form of a wasp."
"Wasp? Like those things that fly around flowers and stuff?"
"Those would be honeybees. Elyurias is a parasitic wasp. She lays eggs in her hosts."
Inukashi's mouth fell open wider. No words came out.
The eggs hatch inside the host's body. They grow without the host's knowledge, become pupae, and emerge as adults. They tear through the host's body to escape, leaving him behind like an empty shell. This is what's happening to No. 6 right now.
Elyurias' children are all beginning to hatch. They're children who fed off No. 6 citizens in order to grow.
I told you earlier that Elyurias looks like a wasp. But she isn't one. No one knows who or what she really is. Rou has recorded that he thinks she might be between a human and a god. That's why she―since she lays eggs, I'll call her a 'she', but I don't think there's much meaning to distinguishing her sex. Maybe she's taken the form of a wasp because it was a convenient form for her to lay eggs inside the hosts. Maybe she only appears as a wasp to human eyes.
She has an enormous intellect―and intellect that far surpasses that of humankind. And she had the power to exert perfect control over the hosts.
Because of that power, the hosts were programmed to take actions that were favourable to the children of Elyurias, oblivious to the fact that they were being leeched from. For example, their instincts for sensing danger were honed, and they became increasingly sensitive to their nutrition. They were controlled to take every effort to maintain a healthy body; their personalities turned gentle; they began to avoid disputes. It makes sense that No. 6 citizens were the only targets. Think about how malnourished the West Block people are, coupled with their substandard environment... as hosts, they were out of the question. Nezumi mentioned before that the parasitic wasps have gourmet tastes. He turned out to be right.
"Ironic, ain't it," Inukashi muttered. "We starved, we froze, we didn't know when we would die... but because of that, we West Block residents were spared."
"These were the absolutely necessary conditions for the eggs: the host needed to be alive when they hatched, and the host needed to be healthy. Even Elyurias couldn't turn the West Block into a paradise. But she didn't need to."
"You've already got the best hosts you could ask for in No. 6."
"The wasps controlled the humans?" This time, it was Rikiga who opened his mouth. He breathed raggedly.
"Yes. They can make people act according to their every whim. It's not unusual for parasitic organisms. A certain schisotome blindfolds the human immune system and makes it think that it's harmless. A species of parasitic wasp injects its DNA into the caterpillar that it chooses as its host, and disables the caterpillar's immune system completely. But I don't think there's any other example of a highly-functional parasitic organism like Elyurias, who chooses humans as her host and controls them completely without the host's knowledge."
"...And No. 6 wanted that power―the power to completely control and dominate over humans." Rikiga made a choked noise in his throat. It was a dry, brittle sound, similar to the frigid winter wind.
No. 6 had tried to attain Elyurias' power.
They came to know of this mystical power through Rou's investigative reports, and tried to use it in building their government.
Elyurias' characteristics remained a mystery; however, everyone in No. 6 thought of her as a mere insect, a mutant species. They did not think of her as a being halfway between man and god, like Rou did. Not one of them saw her as such. Every person believed firmly that no being more superior than man existed.
Elyurias was nothing but a queen bee with an unusually large intellect. It would be no large task training her and controlling her according to their needs―that was what they believed.
An investigative squad was formed for the capture of Elyurias, and they set foot into the forest. There, they met adamant resistance by the Forest People.
Elyurias did not constantly reside in the forest. She appeared once every few years, or once every few decades―always unexpectedly. Everything about her―what the necessary conditions were for her appearance, when she laid eggs, and how long she lived afterwards―was a mystery. After she laid her eggs, Elyurias always disappeared. She withdrew from human eyes. A new queen bee emerged from one of the eggs she laid. It was never clear whether that was going to be a few years or decades later.
No one has seen Elyurias' body. From the time this forest appeared on this land, Elyurias had been repeating the same routine, but not a single person had ever seen her corpse.
Among the Forest People, it was said that Elyurias was immortal, that she revived endless times―that her corpse decayed somewhere where no eye could see, and became the forest itself.
When Elyurias appeared, the Forest People appeased her with song. They prayed and pleaded with her that they would not become hosts. They carried out rituals, and offered a Godly Bed. The Godly Bed was a type of man-made host, prepared from animal brains. It was an offering for implantation. Led on by the song, Elyurias would lay her eggs there. After the eggs were laid, the Godly Bed never seemed to rot or dry out; instead, it maintained an adequate level of moisture and freshness until it rotted away with the emergence of the adult wasp.
Yes, it was the same―the same way in which human hosts aged and died within the blink of an eye immediately after the adult wasps emerged.
The Forest People protected the Godly Bed with their bodies and souls. It was part of their promise with her. This rule had been passed on for ages. As long as the Forest People continued to protect the Godly Bed, Elyurias did not inflict any harm on them. She not only protected the people, but the forest and its land.
That was the rule.
No. 6 had burst onto the scene and wrenched everything from them. They had burned down the settlement of the Forest People when they resisted; they had massacred women, children, and the elderly indiscriminately. They had taken the Godly Bed back to No. 6.
The Mao Massacre―the demise of the Forest People.
This incident took place just twelve years ago.
Shion sucked in a huge breath, and exhaled. He felt like there was no other way to let the air reach every corner of his body.
"From here on is my guesswork, not Rou's records. I'm positive that it's true."
Rikiga leaned forward as if to encourage him. Inukashi, on the other hand, shrank back. He grimaced as if he had smelled some unbearable stench.
"The upper echelons of No. 6 probably attempted to hatch Elyurias' eggs artificially in the Godly Bed that they'd brought back, and failed. They had no Singers, and therefore couldn't maintain the Godly Bed. Nonetheless, they refused to acknowledge anything other than scientific proof. But through their countless failures, one thing they realized was that the most suitable place for the eggs to hatch and grow was inside the human brain."
"Brain?" Rikiga grabbed his head.
"Yes. Not a cow's, pig's, or monkey's. They got as far as determining that Elyurias' eggs hatched if they used a human brain, and that one of them would be born the queen bee, as another Elyurias."
"And then, what...?"
"They implanted eggs inside a number of citizens secretly―just like a wasp would use its ovipositer to lay eggs inside its host. It was easy enough to give a needle during scheduled check-ups, saying it was only part of the procedure. They chose sample citizens who differed in gender, age, build, and environment. I was one of them. Rou was also chosen as a host, but it seems Elyurias' wil