The flood of people streaming towards the boundary of the city was mesmerizing. People clad in suits, dressed for the part of a proper city, collided with men draped in tattered hand-me-downs and shawls. They paused at the brink of the shattered remains of the wall that had separated them for so long. A brief moment of hesitation persisted, leaving the two once separated societies to look upon one another with shy interest. But just as the wall had, the tension broke away and dissipated.
It was an awkward first meeting, as the residents of the Western District tenderly placed their hands on the remaining brittle pieces of the No. 6 city walls. The city had sapped at them for so long, terrorized their very existence with those terrible assaults. Many thought somewhere in their minds that they ought to revolt, to insist upon the shining city the same terror that it had cared to bestow upon them. And yet… the people that met them by the wall showed no hostility, and the shambles of broken glass and crumbling stone within showed that the glimmer of the city was not so bright as once thought. They were met with the same tender curiosity—the same shocked expressions. Similar thoughts ran through the minds of each majority: "They're people. Just people." A solid realization swept through.
Slowly, the crowd began to flood together, mixing as though the flowing waters of two streams as they met the sea. Those of the city wandered out to see the world beyond, as those of the outer districts craned to see the structures within.
Far behind the crowds, stepping lightly across the parched plain as the sun rose high in the sky, bathing the earth in a warm shine, Shion made his way back towards the city in his odd procession of boy, dog, rat, and infant. Though his mind desperately wanted to wander back for Nezumi, he forced himself to shake away such thoughts for the time being. He focused his attention on the visible mass of swarming people, and then to the actual people themselves. Were the cities merging, he wondered? What would become of the two very different societies if they became one? The wall had been demolished; his impossible dream had become a reality. Now it was time to test the will to change.
The baby in his arms giggled delightedly as he met the mass of men, women, and children. They turned mutely to regard the white-haired boy, so strange for so many reasons, from the bloody patches upon his chest to the rat rested on his shoulder, but paid him little mind. They continued to move steadily forward, greeting the people of No. 6, throwing questions and answers around wildly in a hushed murmur. The sight warmed Shion's very soul, but he could not enjoy it for the time being. With Safu lost, and Nezumi on the move… there was only one person left for him to return to.
The quiet chatter turned wild and boisterous as the people gained courage. Several men tried to push forward to create order, to subdue the chaotic conversations boiling amongst the crowd, but they were shoved along, pushed to the very back of anyone's thoughts. Chaotic as the mass was becoming, it was not malignant. If anything, it was hopeful.
Shion clutched the baby closer to his chest and felt Hamlet and Dogkeeper's dog hug closer to his side. He gazed around, searching for any familiar faces in the mass. Once or twice a person popped out to him as familiar, but none of them were Karan; none were his mother. There were loud shouts, people calling out to one another, searching for loved ones in the chaos. He listened intently for his own, waiting for "Shion" to join the list.
And then he heard it. Faint as it was, he heard his name directly ahead. He froze, thinking perhaps that he had imagined it. There it was again. The voice was desperate, hoarse, and feminine: a voice that was so deeply engraved into his memory that he could never forget the owner.
"Mom!" he called back, leaping from his stilled position to push the people before him vigorously out of his way with his shoulder. The dog at his heels seemed to help, butting a particularly large man aside, ramming her nose into the back of his knee. It was difficult slipping around, making headway through the mass, but the steadily-strengthening voice drove Shion forward. He called back to his mother in response to her shouts many times and heard a faint shift in her voice from hysteria to hope. She had heard him.
Finally Shion saw her. Her dark hair was unruly and scattered, and shadowy bags clung under her eyes from what could only have been restless worry. Even as he dashed forward to her, those dark but hopefully bright eyes remained locked on something far away, searching through the crowd. It was not until Shion stepped before her, resisting the urge to wrap his arms tight around his mother for the sake of the baby in his arms, did her eyes that had once matched his own rest on Shion's deep red ones.
"Mom," he said, exasperated. Tears welled in his eyes.
Surprise rather than joy met Karan's eyes as she looked upon Shion. At first he felt hurt for the expression, but then realized as the wind cast silvery locks before his eyes that the Shion she had known was marred by a changed appearance, coiled over by a pink scar that wrapped around his entire body, meeting an end at his cheek.
"It's me, mom," he assured her. "It's Shion."
Shion felt as though they were enclosed in a glass bubble. The sounds of the people around them completely melted away, leaving only his mother to stand before him. He could nearly forget that he was holding a baby, that there was a small rat squeaking on his shoulder, and that the dog's tail was striking his knee at a steady pace. He watched with a quavering relief as Karan first extended a hand to brush at his cheek, running over the raised scar tissue that sat there. She held his gaze intently, studying him as though he were the most interesting subject known to man. Then her curiosity faded as though it were the walls of the city, as though it were the lost tension of the air. Her eyes too fell prey to shining tears. Before Shion knew it, he was being pulled into an awkward hug, as his mother wrapped her arms around his shoulder, avoiding the baby.
Shion and his mother turned to stride back into the city, following a procession of several other people doing the same. The interest in the border was starting to leave, becoming a curious question as to what would happen now. Those that had tried to institute peace earlier now found that their efforts were more easily met by the people as they herded them inward. Shion heard several people of the Western District mutter questions, asking where they were going and why. The cold memories of a facility filled with a towering wall of bodies flooded Shion's mind, even as many men of the city assured those newcomers that something would be done. Change was upon them.
On their way back, Shion heard his mother attempt a start at conversation several times, but her words seemed to become lost along the way. He thought that he heard scar once, and then there was baby—and even still a question as to the bloody stain over his heart. He had a lot of explaining to do, he knew. There were many things that he needed to tell her before anything could be done. And as many stories as he knew he would need to tell her, he wanted to hear hers just as much. How had the city faired in his absence? How much damage had the bees managed to cause before Elyurias had ceased the destruction?
The house that they returned to was the same as Shion remembered it. The sweet-smelling bakery before, with their actual living quarters tucked neatly behind. Nothing had changed, except for perhaps it felt more lonely and quiet.
Shion's mother told him to sit and wait on the couch while she ran to fetch some warm drinks for them. She paused to regard the three guests that he had brought with, possibly wondering what she would do to feed them, before disappearing around the corner.
Now comfortably set, with the knowledge that he was once more with his mother fresh and blazing, Shion finally set full attention on the infant in his lap. The little baby girl's bright brown eyes were cast adoringly up at him, giving still more character to her bubbly little giggles. The baby didn't seem to care that she had lost her mother, been carried around in utter chaos on the back of a dog, and finally led back to Shion. The pure content nature of the child was positively heartwarming.
Karan returned minutes later with a couple of drinks for herself and Shion, and a very old bottle of what looked like hot milk. She finally awkwardly addressed the baby, gesturing for Shion to hand the infant over to her. The baby protested with a little grumpy mumble as she was handed over, but became content once more as she began to nurse from the bottle.
"She belonged to a woman in the Western District," Shion told her before the question could be asked. "The mother was killed in the fighting, so… I picked her up." He slowed down, stopping to think carefully of what he was saying as his mother gave him a searching look.
A pause erected itself between them, chilling the air. It clung motionless, disturbing the two before his mother finally asked: "What happened to you?"
Shion found his hand reaching for the scar on his cheek, running his fingers lightly over the raised scar tissue. "Those bees…" he said. "One of those bees infected me."
Karan flashed him a melancholy smile, filled with a pang of a knowing ache. "This city did… terrible things," she said. "Even if you can't see all of the effects clearly." Shion could feel her looking over his strange new appearance, sweeping his white hair and red irises.
"Things will be better now," Shion told her.
"Now that the wall is gone," his mother agreed after another pause. "Who would have thought… the wall is gone."
Although the idea seemed new to his mother, caught in a state of disbelief, Shion felt a sort of pride in having thought of this solution long before the reality came to be. He remembered telling Nezumi of the very same idea—and how he had flat-out rejected it at the time… Nezumi. The boy could be ignorant and stubborn, but Shion already felt a gaping hole tearing away at him somewhere in his belly, aching for his companionship.
"And what of that 'Rat'?" his mother suddenly asked, as though prying into his deepest thoughts. She was reclined back with the baby held in her arms, still gently sucking at the bottle. Dogkeeper's guard dog wandered towards her and sat close, eyeing the baby with a longing look.
"Nezumi…" Shion paused, considering all that was left to tell his mother. There was their adventure inside the facility, made gory by stacked bodies and his own near demise… and then to contrast such drastic events, the brief kiss that he had left Shion with. As much as he wanted his mother to know what he had gone through—to explain to her how he had finally returned home—he did not want to trouble her with such knowledge.
"I don't know," was all he decided to say. He wasn't lying, after all. He really did not know.