* * *
The days in the forest suddenly ended. Pazu and Rin who had grown to the point where they could stand shoulder to shoulder by Nanaki, had established a place to stay and were living together. There was nothing particular that triggered it but one night, the two Nibel bears had started to sleep away from Nanaki. Something has ended, thought Nanaki. He was sad but he thought as it as part of growing up. The next day, the brothers were no where to be seen when Nanaki woke up. He guessed they had gone off to hunt for food on their own just like they had decided to sleep away from him. At that moment, he heard gunfire. The roar of Nibel bears followed. That was Pazu. Nanaki who could now walk through the forest blindfolded, headed in the direction where Pazu stayed. Before long he saw something that he had once seen before.
That day, the boy had fallen back, sitting down scared. A Nibel bear was loitering around nearby. It was Pazu. He had taken an interest in the thickets nearby. It looked like he was waiting for Rin. Pazu stood up on his hind legs and raised his paws towards the sky as if making an offering then roared. Rin’s voice could be heard in reply. The boy was scared as he searched for an escape route. When he saw Nanaki, his eyes glowed with hope.
“Red! It’s me! You remember me, right? You saved me here long ago.”
That day, Nanaki couldn’t just watch him get killed. However, he knew what he had to say this time.
“This is the forest. You will have to abide by its rules.”
Hearing Nanaki’s voice, the boy’s face was filled with joy. It appeared he was happy to find out Nanaki really could talk. He has some courage, thought Nanaki.
“I understand, Red,” the boy said as he immediately got up quickly on his feet, running towards his gun that Pazu seemed to have retreated from. I didn’t come to cheer you on, thought Nanaki. Unexpectedly, the boy was reaching towards his gun. Just as Nanaki thought Pazu was going to get shot and was going to leave the thickets, Rin appeared. With a single swoop of his front paws, the boy was knocked away. He lay there limp, motionless. Nanaki never watched but he told himself that the boy had fought by the forest’s rules and it couldn’t be helped that he lost. Pazu and Rin started to circle around the boy. Moments later they once again stood up on their hind legs and roared into the sky. That’s enough. Nanaki leapt out of the thickets and stood before the boy’s body, hiding it.
The two Nibel bears swung their claws down towards the boy but ended up cutting into Nanaki’s back, ripping through his skin.
“Geee!” “Geee!” Pazu and Rin made the same pitiable sounds when they first met Nanaki and withdrew their paws.
“Don’t worry about it. Go.”
He turned the two Nibel bears round and they disappeared into the forest.
“Ugh—” The boy could be heard groaning below Nanaki.
“Hey, where the hell did that kid go? He shouldn’t get ahead of himself like that when he’s still inexperienced.”
It must be that hunter’s voice, thought Nanaki. He left his spot and hid in the thickets.
“Hey, Goddy! What happened!”
Sure enough, the hunter came running. But the figure that followed behind surprised Nanaki.
“A Nibel bear did this to him, right?”
It was a young woman dressed in the Turks uniform—Elena took out from her suit some kind of small bottle and with what was most likely a potion, she began to nurse the boy.
What is going on, thought Nanaki. Does it mean Shina Company was still active? Nanaki regretted that he didn’t pay more attention to gathering information about the humans. Elena watched the hunter carry the boy out of the forest on his back before she was heard contacting somewhere on her mobile.
“I found one. I will try again tomorrow.”
When Nanaki returned to the home made of stone in the forest, he found Pazu and Rin walking round in circles there. Then when they saw Nanaki, they hid themselves in the thicket.
“I’m not angry.”
Nanaki said lying down. He wasn’t angry but the wound hurt. He’ll take a rest before concentrating on recovering. Tomorrow, Shinra will be in the forest again. It seems the Nibel bears are their target. It will be a busy day tomorrow. Nanaki could sense Pazu and Rin closing in towards him but he remained quiet, eyes closed. Soon, he could feel the brothers licking his wounds. Thank you, Pazu, Rin.
* * *
He woke up again in the middle of the night. The pain from his wound had lightened quite a bit. Filled with the recovery abilities of a beast, Nanaki got up. As he looked around him, he couldn’t see any signs of the brothers. Usually they would be sleeping somewhere within his line of sight. Thinking something was odd, he searched in the thickets but couldn’t sense their presence anywhere. It was unlikely that non-nocturnal Nibel bears would be active at night. Nanaki began to panick and began his search in the forest.
He felt he heard gunfire somewhere far away. It was outside of the forest. Nanaki began to tremble all over. It’s been a long time since Gilligan appeared. He cowered as he trembled with fear. It’s been so long that he’s forgotten how to deal with it. What was I supposed to do again? I know. Pazu and Rin. Those brothers stopped the trembling for me. But neither of them were around. Clenching his teeth, Nanaki stood up and headed out of the forest.
Staring down at the ground as he walked, Nanaki endured the trembling. He knew he was out of the forest because the air felt different. He looked up. A grass plain sloped downwards. The grass was trampled where the hunters made their path. As Nanaki followed the path with his eyes, he could see a number of lights in the distance. It was a small village. One of the lights, the biggest of them all was swaying with a crackling sound. That must be fire, thought Nanaki. Was it being used for cooking? He took in everything in sight and thought to himself, trying to force Gilligan out of his mind. But there was no effect. Nanaki walked on with determination towards the lights.
It is , thought Nanaki. The lights lit up Pazu and Rin. The two of them were hanging downwards from a pole. They didn’t look good. Their arms were stretched up into the sky, a sight that Nanaki have been used to seeing. Their tails had been cut off. Nanaki could feel himself calm. Gilligan had disappeared. He didn’t have the courage to look at the Nibel bears closely so he surveyed the surroundings instead. There were three mountain huts. They were lit individually. Listening closely, he could hear the laughter of men and women. Perhaps they were having a toast. It appeared there was no lookout. Nanaki still couldn’t look directly over at the brothers.
Did I come to avenge the brothers? Such emotion didn’t belong to beasts. Humans and Nibel bears may have long been enemies but that was in general, nothing personal, thought Nanaki. Humans are the only ones that can possess hostility and grudge.
Perhaps it was the air outside the forest but Nanaki became aware that in his heart, he wanted revenge. This wasn’t a beast’s feeling. It’s human.
“Geee” Nanaki heard the brother’s voice. He was surprised. It sounded as if they were telling him they were in pain. Even though they were big in size, they were still children who were only just born a few years ago. Deep black emotions expanded inside Nanaki. It wasn’t Gilligan but they were gradually devouring his senses. They were taking over his mind as much as he wanted to suppress his desire for vengeance.
The sound of a baby crying could be heard from one of the huts. I see. There’s a baby here. It must be very cute. A baby— Babies have no sin. Maybe it means you should bear with it, Nanaki.
Nanaki’s heart was being torn between being human or beast.
A bullet hit the ground right next to Nanaki. He realised that he was so enraged he couldn’t even recognise the sound of gunfire. He looked at Pazu and Rin again. Their voice had only been his imagination earlier. They had died a while ago. He looked at their eyes. He could see their eyes were bright red underneath the eyelids of their closed eyes. The lights were being reflected in them. He could feel the flames in his own eyes spreading as they burned. His eyes were growing hot. The scenery around him was dyed in bright red so much that he couldn’t see any more.
He heard another gunshot ringing through the air. He followed the sound the enemy made and burst into one of the huts. The broken glass from the window scattered inside. There were a number of armed men. What moved me was human emotion but in here right now, I have the instincts of a beast.
He could no longer distinguish humans.
The sound of gunfire is heard and a sharp pain ran across his cheek. It was the sign. Nanaki leapt onto the closest man.
He couldn’t remember what happened afterwards. All that he could remember was the pain of a bullet piercing his body and the cry of a boy.
“I wanted to become friends with you!”
Nanaki woke up. It looked like he had collapsed on a bloodstained wooden floor. He turned his head to look around him. At the side of a room sat a familiar man dressed in red, looking at him.
“Can you get up?”
Asked Vincent who sounded as if he had little concern.
“Vincent? Vincent! What are you doing here?”
“That’s what I want to ask you.”
Vincent replied as if he wasn’t really interested.
* * *