Strait is the Gate (Lt. The Narrow Gate)
(Direct allusion to the novel "Strait Is the Gate" by André Gide)
Distinctions that should be kept. Borders that should be maintained. The melancholy and sighs of those treated as outsiders.
Laughter from people of all ages can be heard beyond the tall stone wall.
“It seems like fun.”
Looking up the wall, Emil said while moving his nicely arranged teeth. He kept saying the same thing since a while ago. It’s the fifth time already. Kainé thought, although she kept silent.
Tonight, a festival is being held by Popola in Nier’s village. It was either in celebration of the library’s collection exceeding ten thousand volumes, or the 150th anniversary since the village’s opening, but nobody knew for sure. The main point was to find some excuse to make a ruckus throughout the whole night.
“I wonder, is Nier having fun now?”
Emil’s voice was laced with conflicting feelings of hope for Nier’s enjoyment and regret that he himself can’t join in.
Kainé didn’t answer him. If she spoke, then she’d definitely speak in the same tone as Emil did. Kainé kept her silence, and watched the closed gates of the village, fully intent on not even letting a bug through. A gate that she and Emil could never hope to pass.
Yesterday night, Kainé and Emil were sleeping outside as usual when the gates were suddenly opened. The person that passed through to their side was the village librarian Popola. “I want to release the villagers from their daily lives lived in fear of Shades for just one night.”
Her knowing eyes shining beneath her thick bangs, Popola spoke of the plan for tomorrow night’s festival. It was obvious that she was thinking of Nier when she talked about the “villagers”. That’s why she came to us, Kainé thought. She knew that Kainé and Emil would help her for Nier, so she came.
“During the festival, the people won’t be as cautious of Shades as they usually would be… I know that I’m pushing my luck in putting forth such a request when you’re forbidden from entering the village…”
“Leave the night watch to us. I’ll keep all Shades outside.”
Kainé interrupted before Popola could finish her long-winded request. “Keep watch outside the” door is simply another way of saying “Don’t come in the village even during the festival”.
What a bitch.
Popola swiftly ignored Kainé’s glare. “I’ll be counting on you then,” she bowed her head and left.
Nier came to them at the break of dawn, and said “There’s some sort of festival tonight” with a gloomy face.
“I don’t really feel up for it.”
“Once the festival begins, you’ll feel better.”
Kainé didn’t miss a beat with her reply, but Nier simply kept his silence as if he lost all enthusiasm.
Emil deliberately said in a bright voice,
“A festival! Isn’t that nice. You need a breather once in a while.”
“Brat, what Emil said was right. Don’t you understand that Popola was trying to get you to relax for your own good?! You look like you could snap at any moment!”
After being berated by Grimoire Weiss, Nier finally nodded.
“Then Kainé and Emil should rest easy for tonight. Let’s go to the festival together. I’ll ask Popola if you guys can join in.”
Nier was completely innocent in his proposal. However, seeing his pale face being lit up by a healthy smile, Kainé dug her nails into her hands almost hard enough to draw blood.
As if making up for Kainé’s rudeness, Emil moved up front.
“Um, um, I’m not really good with night festivals since I get sleepy immediately. Nier, Weiss, just enjoy yourselves, okay?”
Although the expression on his skull did not change, the waver in Emil’s feelings could be heard from his rushed and slightly high-pitched tone. However, Nier did not notice. His response was disappointingly meek. He simply nodded and said “I see.”
“It seems like fun.”
Emil whispered the same words again in between yawns.
“That’s the sixth time.”
“Nothing. Go to sleep. I’ll take the watch.”
“Sleep. Nier must be asleep already.”
Emil easily believed Kainé’s words, though she had nothing to back them up with. “Good night,” Emil said and slipped beneath the thick covers that provided cover from wind and rain. Almost immediately, his breathing began to slow down. His breaths were the same as that of normal children.
Gazing at the blanket that undulated with Emil’s breaths for a few moments, Kainé began to do some stretches. She lifted up her two swords, and after making sure that the blade wasn't dull, placed them down again. To Kainé, these two huge lumps of metal are better expressions of herself than words. She placed her hands on the handle and gripped it gently.
It’s well into the night, but the ruckus beyond the stone wall show no signs of receding. Not only that, it only seemed to increase in volume. A cheery tune accompanied by a rich voice resounded through the air. The voice probably belonged to Devola, who let her voice run free. Whistling and claps overlapped, and laughter was everywhere. The festival’s in full swing. Can festivals really brighten and provide a release for people’s hearts to that extent? To Kainé who never had the luxury of experience, it was a bright and unknown world.
Along with the people’s cheers, a savory aroma floated outside the village. It’s meat. Kainé’s stomach rumbled. Almost in response to her stomach’s plea, the door opened. Kainé stood on guard for an instant, but relaxed when she recognized the thin silhouette that sprung from the ground.
Nier stood while holding a giant bowl of meat mixed with a load of vegetables and fruits.
“Thanks for your hard work. Aren’t you hungry? They're cold now, but I brought you some meat. They look delicious, don’t they?”
Nier looked at Emil’s sleeping form, and regretfully said “I guess I’m a bit late.” Looking at the delicious meat, Kainé tightened her lips. The festival must’ve brought much reprieve and enjoyment to Nier, enough that he could’ve lost track of time easily. However, even during all the festivities, Nier did not forget about them. He tried to share his happiness with them.
“Thank you” – thought the words are simple, Kainé could not bring herself to say them. She opened and closed her mouth many times, but eventually decided on snatching the bowl from Nier. The meat was cooked well enough that its skin looked crisp, and Kainé immediately began stuffing herself with it. The meat beneath the skin was surprisingly soft, and with every bite came a mouthful of meat sauce and blood.
Kainé chewed thoroughly, as if putting the words she had to say – the words she wanted to say -, into this simple mechanical action. Seeing Kainé’s antics, Nier smiled.
“I was right. You were hungry.”
No. That’s not it. Kainé’s muffled words were drowned out by a village girl’s voice, she peeked at them from the village gates.
“So this is where you were, Nier. Come, come! Devola is going to laugh!”
“Eh? What’s wrong with Devola?”
Straightening himself from his crouch, Nier ran with a jumpstart. He’s going back to the festival with the village girl. “Well then, I’ll see you tomorrow. Good night.” Nier waved. Kainé merely watched him go in silence. The gate was closed again. The bowl’s delicacies seem to have lost their color.
“A victim of discrimination. I feel for you.”
Suddenly, a voice cracked inside her head like a flash. Kainé put her hands around her head and staggered. The next moment, she felt the presence of a Shade in the grass and reached for her sword.
“Woah, you kill us Shades on sight?”
“Us”? Kainé widened her eyes. The voice resounding in her head was that of a Shade’s? Shades can speak? Impossible!
Kainé was ready to laugh it off. However, the left side of her body was not as forgiving. It was blazing hot, and her left arm engorged to several times its normal size, chunks of black matter moving of their own will.
“Shades resound with each other.”
Just like the voice in her head had said, both her body and heart were being invaded by a Shade. She probably didn’t have many days left until she becomes a complete Shade.
With a snap, darkness filled her vision. She should’ve been able to see, but she couldn’t. Her body is rejecting colors. So this is despair. Kainé bit her lips and tried to support her staggering body with her two swords. The Shade spoke.
“A complete Shade… hey, aren’t you misunderstanding something? In the first place, you are…”
“Shut up! Don’t look in my heart! Die, you fucking bastard!”
Using all her strength, she struck her swords into the grass. Her killing intent towards the Shade was the only thing that empowered her.
Shades are her grandmother’s killers. Killers. Killers. Killers… Kainé’s eyes were stained red, and her hair stood up on their ends. Filled with bloodlust, she licked her lips.
The Shade looked like a black mirage, and when it jumped out from the grass, Kainé took after him and swung her swords. She put enough strength into her swing to dislocate joints. The Shade’s words continued to come from that direction.
“Stop it. Hey, please stop it.”
“Are you happy? If you kill Shades, your grandma will be overjoyed. Nier will be happy. That’s good, isn’t it.”
“Then what? Even if you kill us Shades, the discrimination you suffer won’t lessen. You still won’t be able to join in festivals. That’s how the world is. I know. I understand. Because I am”
The Shade’s words were cut off. Kainé’s sword severed the Shade in two from its head. Though they look like shadows, cutting the Shades feels raw. Like cutting through meat and severing bones.
Usually she’d push her sword all the way from the Shade’s head to its feet, but tonight, her sword stopped midway. The last screams of the Shade echoed in her head. Showered in the Shade’s expelled bodily fluids, Kainé contorted her face.
“You… are… wavering, aren’t you?”
Even within the last lights of its life, the Shade still tried to talk.
“You are….beginning to….understand, aren’t you? Us Shades are the true ------“ The Shade’s voice was thin, covered by its shallow breaths. However, Kainé still heard it. Something she didn’t want to. Truth was hammered onto her.
“That’s a lie.”
Even as she groaned, Kainé knew that the Shade’s words were not lies. She understood in some deep part of her heart.
The Shade stood up before Kainé who fell on her knees. Lugging along its corpse-like body, it tried to escape, tried to survive.
At that moment, Kainé heard the sounds of explosion. Following the source of the sounds, Kainé looked up at the sky. Fireworks were exploding in the sky. It looks like this was part of the program that Popola arranged. The fireworks left behind bright trails, and the color returned to Kainé’s heart.
Behind her closed eyes, the image of her grandma’s horrible corpse after being devoured by Shades revived. In her peripheral vision, she saw Emil’s sleeping form. And within her heart, she felt Nier’s desire.
Death to all Shades!
“You fucking shithead! I won’t forgive you. I’ll never fucking forgive you!”
Kainé groaned and stood up. Strength and warmth returned to her body.
“I… see. That’s too bad. I thought… you of all people… turned into something you don’t desire… would understand the pain of discrimination.”
“Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!!”
Kainé screamed. She bent her knees, and jumped towards the fleeing Shade. She held her swords over her head, and swung down.
Even when the Shade ceased its movements, she still cut away at its corpse. She felt that the voice in her head would return if she stopped for even a moment. Screaming, she continued to swing her swords blindly.
How long has it been? She felt a warm breath on her ear.
“Stop it. Please stop, Kainé. It’s okay. It’s already dead.”
When she came to herself, Emil was holding her back.
“I see. It’s dead.”
Wiping the body fluids and thin slices of meat off her blade onto the grass, Kainé finally sheathed her swords. She probably held it in a firm grip for too long – her calloused hands were full of blood.
“What’s wrong? What happened when I was asleep?”
Emil asked while bandaging Kainé’s palms.
Kainé shook her head and said “nothing”.
At that moment, fireworks were shot from the village once again. Both Kainé and Emil looked towards the sky.
“It’s so pretty.”
The light reflected off Emil’s head made him colorful, and he smiled. And then he whispered.
“Fireworks are great. Even if we’re outside the village, we could still enjoy them.”
Kainé kept her silence and stared at the solid gates.
Inside and outside the village. She realized that those borders mean so little to her now.
Whether she realized it or not, she crossed a huge border tonight.
The voices of the villagers faded into the distance. Nier was far off. Even Emil felt much farther from her.
Ignorance is bliss.
Kainé tightened her lips. That’s why she’ll never tell this truth to anyone. No matter what.
Kainé closed her heart’s door that accepted the secret, bolted the lock, and turned towards Emil. She asked.
“Is it not dawn yet?”