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The Forest of Tranquility

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Salvation

A new day welcomed the residents of No. 6 with a spectacular red sunrise, a few high clouds and the sweet singing of birds. It was a wonderful, chilly morning. The shop sign of Karan's bakery, embellished with golden letters, softly swayed in the light morning wind. Whilst the front door was opened, the chimes hanging above the entry moved with their typical harmonic melody – the sound of being welcome; the sound of home.

"Do you have everything you'll need?" Karan asked, a concerned look on her face. Although she was already middle-aged she had never lost her beauty. Her hazel eyes were vivid and the little wrinkles around them just accentuated the brilliance of her gorgeous smile. Chin-length light brown hair flattered her roundish face gently, and it was caressed by the wind while she adjusted her son's collar carefully. Shion nodded, tenderly looking at his mother.

"Yes, mom. Don't worry. I'm not a child anymore," the boy answered with a soft smile in his voice. "I'll be back in a few days," he added and kissed her cheek. She did the same and sighed slightly.

"Don't forget to eat. I should double-check your rucksack. Do you have enough fresh underwear?"

"Mom!" Shion protested in embarrassment. The gentle woman laughed and stroked Shion's shaggy dark brown hair lovingly with her small hand.

"Take care of yourself, dear."

The young man nodded once again and turned around, walking down the stairs leading to the train station. Mother and son waved each other goodbye until Shion went around the next corner. Breathing in the fresh morning air, he felt the light in his heart and walked faster, smiling – excited. It was a great day for him, because he was allowed to leave the protective city walls for the very first time in his life. Specialized in ecology he had attended a gifted course and was about to write his complementary work to finish his studies. In this case, it was allowed to leave the city for research purposes, so Shion had decided to experience the major difference between e-book learning and practical experience. He wanted and needed to conduct field studies to research, to obtain his own knowledge about environment problems when he wanted to write an adequate thesis; laying the foundation of further studies.

His focus was on the differences between No. 6's forest park, an artificial recreational area in the middle of the city, and a forest in its natural state. He didn't like the forest park. Although it was called a forest, the place was under human control. But nature should be capricious, surpassing human intelligence and influence, but nothing to be managed. Shion was fired up for seeing the Northern forest, to examine untouched plants, water and soil.

After a short while Shion reached Lost Town's train station. He searched his destination "final stop Northend" and the corresponding fare on the map that showed the train lines and stations of No. 6 in a classified order. The network of routes was commendable; the public means of transport were always up-to-date, clean and fast. And yet, Shion rather used his bicycle or walked – he was an ecologist after all. Although the climate changed naturally on its own, it was a matter of the fact that humans contributed to the pollution of the environment. The boy sighed and paid for his ticket by entering his ID card in one of the vending machines. Once the cyber ticket was automatically transmitted on his ID card he was allowed to proceed through the ticket gate and waited for his train, which arrived to the tick. Shion waited for the passengers to exit before he entered, trying to heft his heavy backpack onto the baggage shelf with wobbly arms. His face turned red while he failed to move his piece of baggage at least a few centimeters, his arms quit the service and the rucksack landed right on his head with a loud bump. Shion let out a strangled sound. He had the feeling that his neck was a few centimeters shorter now, so he left the baggage shelf alone and sat down, placed his bag between his legs and embraced it tightly, resting his chin on it. During his journey, the young man looked out of the window, regarding the urban landscape. Lost Town's well structured housing complexes floated by. This area of No. 6 was extremely densely populated, the houses small and close together, followed by the grounds of industrial, utility, and warehouse enterprises, transportation rights-of-way and water conservation areas – an agglomerate of urban grey. But once the train reached the wealthier part of town, the appearance changed drastically. The houses got bigger and more individually, in the center was the Forest park of culture and recreation, there were sports parks, vegetated squares and boulevards. But although the city, or at least the inner part of No. 6, had a lot of green areas it didn't feel right to Shion, because every tree, every grass field, yes, even every single flower seemed to be planned and controlled.

"Ladies and gentleman, in a few minutes we will arrive at Chronos – 'Flowerfield'. Entering Flowerfield, the doors will open on the left. Please be careful when exiting the train. You are kindly requested not to leave any trash or empty bottles on the seats."

The announcement startled Shion out of his thoughts and let his gaze wander. Most passengers were reading, sleeping or using their ID cards for sending messages. Some left the train, some boarded. Amongst them, a young woman entered the compartment, looking around sharp-eyed. Once she found Shion, her face lightened up and she walked towards him, dragging a small trolley case along behind her. Her short, brown hair bobbed up and down while she fleet-footedly weaved her way through the crowd of passengers.

"Shion!"

The spoken to boy raised is head, giving her a gentle smile. The sun was shining from behind through the train window, illuminating his whole being warmly. The girl blushed slightly. Shion's smile took her breath away.

"Safu."

His voice was tender and soft. Safu simply loved the way he pronounced her name. Or better to say, she loved everything concerning Shion – his essence, his smile, his features, his beautiful exotic eyes. She has known him her whole life. Both of them were born and raised in Lost Town. The two friends stuck together through thick and thin.

Safu's parents died when she was very young, so she stayed together with her grandmother. Shion remembered their classmates often mobbed her due to her outstanding intelligence and her odd and old-fashioned clothes, but she had a sharp tongue and didn't put up with anything. Shion was deeply impressed by her mental strength. Safu was special, unique and he always liked her style. It gave her a sort of warm atmosphere and he felt nothing but love for her as his very dear friend. At the age of 12 both children had the possibility to join the gifted curriculum, which also included getting a full scholarship and moving to Chronos' super elite boarding school. Safu took the opportunity to unburden her grandmother, but Shion stayed in Lost Town, commuting between home and school. He didn't want to leave his mother all alone.

"Today is the great day, isn't it?" Safu stated. She looked slightly sad.

"Yes."

"I really can't believe that I'll be abroad for two whole years. But No. 5's University has the best neurological institute in the world. I really need to be educated there!"

"You are already highly educated, Safu," Shion said smilingly.

"It is definitely not enough. You should know this, Shion. We learn our whole lives. The process of learning develops neural efficiency by making new synaptic connections or by strengthening the existing ones. When neurons fire together, they also wire together. This is called synaptic understand that learning is…"

"Okay, okay, Safu, I understand," Shion interrupted the talkative girl. She pouted. The boy chuckled slightly and both remained silent for a short while, looking out of the window.

"You sure are travelling with a minimum amount of luggage," he said to break the silence. The slender girl raised one of her eyebrows.

"Excuse me? Do you think I'm not allowed to travel like that because I'm a woman?" Safu asked, standing with her arms on her hips. Shion gulped.

"No! Erm— I mean of course…" he stammered. "Geez! I didn't mean to insult you."

"You would be better to…" Safu said with narrowed eyes, grabbing her own suitcase to put it on the luggage shelf, then transferred Shion's rucksack with one power hand next to it.

Shion sank down slightly, watching with palm-sized eyes how Safu lifted his way too heavy bag with surprising ease. He was scared.

Safu threw herself into the seat next to Shion and took a deep breath. Their shoulders touched slightly. The girl looked away, trying to hide the pinkish glow on her cheeks.

"Don't get mad at me…" Shion whispered softly.

"I'm not mad."

"You are!"

"And I said that I'm not mad!"

"You don't even look at me."

Safu sighed quietly.

Okay, you're right, you dork. I am mad at you. It is the last time we see each other for such a long time and you're just concerned that I don't have enough luggages. It was hard enough that you turned me down a couple of months ago. Is it so difficult to respect my feelings towards you? Is it so difficult to tell me you'll miss me? To tell me that you don't want me to go? Do I mean nothing to you?

A couple of months ago, Safu had commanded all her courage to declare her love to the boy. Admittedly, the confession was pretty odd and bold. Maybe it was not the best thing to ask for his sperm and sex before telling him that she'd always loved him ever since she could remember. She was so madly in love that the feeling seemingly had destroyed some of her synapses and she did stupid things in her sensual frenzy. It wasn't just because of plain sex, she didn't want his sperm. Of course she wanted to sleep with him, she wanted to feel him, be close to him – but the most important thing was that she wanted to be in a relationship with him.

She wanted to love, and she wanted to be loved….

Safu wasn't able to look in Shion's face for the rest of their trip. After nearly two hours the train had arrived at the northern end stop and both teenagers made their way to the security gate.

Two uniformed men headed Shion's and Safu's way.

"Your ID cards and exit visas."

"Yes, Sir," Safu said, handing the taller man both documents. Shion did the same.

"Why are you leaving?"

"I want to finish my neurology studies in No. 5, sir."

"And you?"

"Does that matter? We have certificated exit visas."

"Shion!" Safu hissed.

The smaller of the two men raised his eyebrows, suddenly grabbing Shion's collar, holding him strongly.

"Listen, boy. It's no problem to get rid of your stupid certificate."

"Okay, okay. Please don't use violence on me… sir. I just asked you a counter question."

"You're not legitimated to ask 'counter questions', runt."

"Excuse me?"

"Shion, please! Don't make things worse."

"Listen to your girlfriend, boy. So, why do you want to leave the city?"

Shion sighed and rolled his eyes.

"I need to do some research work so that I can finish my ecology studies."

"When are you planning on returning to the Holy City?" the taller man asked.

"In two years."

"In a couple of days…" Shion answered and had the urge to stay away completely. They were treated like traitors, although they both studied in the Gifted Curriculum for the good of No. 6.

"Elite students, huh?" the smaller said. "You may pass. A shuttle bus, waiting behind the gate, will bring you to the airport, girl." He added and gave Shion a pissed glance.

"And you have to walk 6 or 7 kilometers northbound to reach your precious forest. To the north! Make sure you'll not forget. North, got it?"

"Thank you, sir!" Shion countered with a disarming smile, completely baffling both men.

"Come on, Safu. Let's go," he said and made his first step into the outside world together with his dearest friend. Ahead was a wide grass plateau with little hills, intermitted by small groups of trees and speckled with bushes stretched all around the horizon, only broken here and there by a red roof landscape of villages and meandering streets. The northern forest seemed very tiny from the distance.

Shion's eyes sparkled. It was a nice feeling to be outside of the city wall. He had a strange feeling in his chest, but he wasn't able to classify it.

"Amazing…" he whispered. "Isn't this great, Saf–" the young man started, but those two arms that suddenly wrapped themselves around his body startled him. Feeling Safu's tight embrace he could do nothing but gasp in confusion. She snuggled tightly, stayed like that for a seemingly endless while until she finally broke her silence and mumbled against his chest: "I'll miss you so much…"

Shion tightened up slightly. He bit his bottom lip and placed his hands on Safu's small shoulders gently, stroking them reserved.

"Safu…" he whispered. "Don't. Please…"

The small body in his arms shook a little. "Why not?"

"I've already told you…"

She huffed, moved backwards and raised her head to look straight in Shion's face.

"I know, I know. You don't love me like that."

"I love you as a friend. I'm sorry, but I can't force myse–"

"It's alright, Shion. I'm demanding too much from you."

"I'm sorry."

"Give it a rest," she said and sighed. "I don't like the idea of letting you go into this big forest all alone." Safu added to change the topic.

"I'm fine. You don't need to worry about me. You should rather take care of yourself. You'll be all alone in a foreign city."

"I'll be fine. Please message me when you're home again. I want to be sure you're safe and sound."

Shion smiled gently and nodded.

"I will. Good-bye, Safu."

"Good-bye."

Safu's hands let go of Shion's cardigan. She grabbed her suitcase and turned around, walking towards the shuttle bus that would bring her to the intercontinental airport.

You're so cruel, Shion. Why can't you just tell me that you'll miss me, too? It's the first time we'll be apart for such a long time. Why?

Safu turned around, seeing Shion waving. He was so far away.

You were always so close and yet so far away from me. Sometimes I wonder if you'll vanish someday, if you'll disappear from my world.

Although I'm the one who's going I have the feeling that you're leaving me behind.

Oh, Shion.

Shion.

"Shion…" Safu whispered and turned around once more, but the boy was already gone.


Meanwhile, Shion followed a large path where the green of the grass and the blue of the sky reigned; thinking about Safu. Of course it wasn't nice of him to slip away without waiting until the shuttle bus was ready to go. And of course she deserved a proper send-off, a nice and warm hug and endless goodbye waving. But he couldn't deal with her feelings. Maybe he was a coward, and yes, maybe it was wrong not to give her at least a chance. But his heart told him that she wasn't the one, and his gut instincts had the same opinion. However, the main thing was that he actually never thought about a relationship, love or even sex at all. He loved Safu like a friend, like his family. She was dear to him, but there were no desire and no powerful emotions towards her…

He asked himself if he'd regret it someday. Besides that, he didn't want to lead on her or hurt her.

Coward. You just don't want to hurt yourself. Things never got serious before. It scares the shit out of you.

Shion sighed.

"Maybe I'm just a late bloomer. I'm not ready yet. I'm not afraid; it's just… that I didn't want something like that up to now."

What a lame excuse.

"Just as most beautiful flowers are fading, the late bloomers take off and steal the show. There are numerous species of asters blooming late. Anemones, Frikart's Asters, Calico Asters, New England Asters and a various amount of fall asters…" Shion said to his bad conscience, hinting at the meaning of his name.

Asters don't run away.

"Yes, because they're basifixed. In the end, I'm no flower after all."

After a short march Shion reached one of the hamlets, where a woodsman offered him a tractor-ride towards the forest. Sitting on a trailer, Shion was able to enjoy the landscape, the cobbled streets and country lanes which led through charming redbrick house villages. But the closer they came to the forest, the drearier the scenery became. Shion's joyfulness concerning his visit to the forest faded and made room for horrifying impressions.

After the woodsman dropped Shion off, the boy thanked him and took a few cautious steps towards the forest edge. Dried, grayish-green grass crackled under his feet, the vegetation looked sick – if the plants still had leaves, they had an abnormal discoloration. He discovered deformed growing trees, and dead branches cracked without cease whilst the young ecologist examined a young beech concerning infestations. He took various samples of leaves, little branches and bark, but also from soil and waters. After labeling the samples rigorously, Shion followed his way deep into the forest. He sloshed through mud and steep hillsides balancing on fallen trees. It was a catastrophe. He had expected a wonderful green paradise, a healthy ecological system, an impressive biological diversity – especially compared against No. 6's artificial forest park.

But the Northern forest was not only diseased, it was dying.

No!

Parts of it were already dead.

Shion was sure that the decline was the result of insects and diseases associated with elevated temperatures. Due to the drying out of plants and carbon starvation, some of the trees were unable to photosynthesize. But the closer the young ecologist got to the center of the forest, the healthier it seemed to be. He crossed glades with fruit-bearing trees, nearly overripe, rich green pastures, bushes and flower meadows. The vegetation showed a wide range of different vibrant colors and amazinglyhuge trees grew upwards to the light. The wind shook the trees gently, causing a soft shattering sound while moving through the leaves and lush grass. A variety of birds sang beautiful melodies while Shion followed winding paths, hills and valleys, several springs and small brooks, which flowed towards a larger river. The water was clean and fresh. Exhausted from wandering for hours and hours, the young man stopped and watched how a few little fishes enjoyed their day in the nearly translucent river water. Once he kneeled down at the riverside, bugs zoomed in every direction. He was thirsty. The boy leaned forward, regarded his reflection in the water for a few seconds, and transferred some of it in his cupped hands to drink. It was the most delicious water he had ever tasted in his whole life. It was so refreshing, sweet and delectable that he submerged his face instantly, blowing bubbles after a while. He raised his head and took a deep breath of fresh and clean air, shaking his head to get rid of the wet hair sticking to his forehead. Tiny, glistening water drops spread through the air, some of them still covering Shion's hair and face like morning dew.

"Ahhhh! This is the best. I love this place!" he said to himself with pleasure and took his empty water bottle to refill it. But before it reached the surface, Shion noticed a red cloud floating by underwater – just like swirling colors in a glass while cleaning brushes. The boy was confused and raised his head.

"Geez, what's going on?" Shion whispered to himself whilst his eyes scanned his surroundings just to widen in shock once they found the cause of the crimson rivulet. A body floated in the water facedown, surrounded by dark red billows of blood.

"Oh my god…" the boy gasped, his legs were shaking and refused to work in the first instance, but after a few seconds Shion found himself in the stream in chest depth. He struggled against the forces of water. The current was much stronger than expected, and his soaked clothes and the big, heavy hiking backpack dragged him down.

"Hang in there!" he screamed and finally reached the body, turning him around and holding him securely. It was a young man around his age. His long, grayish hair drifted limply in the reddened water.

"Keep breathing. You have to breathe!" Shion yelled again and again, pulling the taller male out of the river on the opposite shore. Hurriedly he removed his rucksack, throwing it aside carelessly and checked the pale young man's pulse and breathing. Both were gone.

"No! Don't die! NO!" the young ecologist screamed in panic. His whole body was shaking.

Calm down. Calm down, Shion! You know what you've to do! You can do it!

"NO! I CAN'T!"

Hush! Everything will be alright. Save him. SAVE HIM!

YOU CAN DO IT!

Yes. He knew what he had to do, because he had basic, theoretical knowledge. But it was just booklore, useless and superficial, without any practical experiences. The only thing he could do was recalling the first aid e-book he had read when he was about 8 years old and that was a whole decade ago. Nevertheless it was still in his head, somewhere deep hidden in the gyri of his gifted elite brain. He just needed seconds to open the whole document in his mind's eye, quickly skimming through the pages as if he had the actual e-book right in front of him.

"Got it!" he screamed, tearing the grey-haired male's shirt apart to expose his bare chest.

"Step 1: The person should be lying on a hard, flat surface. Check! Look into the mouth to ensure that the airway is clear. It's alright!" Shion screamed to encourage himself while putting his plan into action.

"Can you hear me? Open your eyes!" he yelled on the verge of tears. "You just can't die here! It's a way too wonderful place to pass away! Open your eyes!" The desperate boy shouted and placed his hand's heel on the grey-haired's slender and yet muscular chest, then added three fingers on the bottom of his sternum.

"Step 2: Add your other hand on top and press down, but just slightly, maybe a finger's breadth and let it rise. Make sure that your thumb and fingers don't touch the chest. Press it quickly… 30…times…" he croaked out stressed while following his own instructions.

"Step 3: Tilt the head to open the airway. Do it slightly. Put upward pressure on the jaw to pull it forward. Pinch the nostrils close with your index finger and thumb. And then…"

He placed his mouth tightly over the young man's pale and cold lips, spending him two quick breaths. He watched for the dark-haired's chest to rise and released his nostrils. After that he looked for the other boy's chest to fall as he exhaled. He felt for his breath on his cheek – nothing.

Fear, terror, and desperation were spreading in Shion's mind. His eyes flickered.

"No… No, no, no, no!"

He repeated the process again and again – massaged his chest, spent him one kiss of life after the other, but it seemed that all his efforts were without success. Tears floated his face, while he sobbed uncontrollably.

"I'm sorry..." He cried. "I'm so sorry. I couldn't save you."

He bent over, crystal clear teardrops dripped on the young man's beautiful chiselled face. On his pale lips that once used to be as red as raspberries in June, they dripped on his nose, his cheeks and between his eyes, causing the tall male to furl his eyebrows. Seeing this, Shion let out a startled sound. The grey-haired's body wriggled slightly, then he suddenly sat up and took a very deep breath, his eyes widened in shock. Struggling for breath he started to cough frantically until he spitted out a huge amount of water. After his coughing fit had ended, he dropped back to the ground, panting heavily.

Watching the whole scenario in disbelief, Shion's heart had skipped not only one beat. It started racing when he looked at his patient, taking one of his hands carefully.

"You're alive…" he whispered; his eyes still full of tears. "I'm so glad," the brown-haired added and gently pressed the cold and wet hand against his warm cheek. The injured one slightly turned his head and opened his eyes slowly. It was arduously for him. He didn't understand what was going on, he just heard a person scream the whole time. His memories were only vague and he still felt very dizzy. The dark-haired blinked a few times. At a first glance he just was able to see everything in a blur, but after a few more seconds a boy with the gentlest expression he had ever seen appeared right in front of him, giving him the most beautiful warm smile in the world: A smile glowing in the sunlight that streamed through the trees, illuminating him. It nearly stung in his eyes, but it also warmed and lightened his heart.

The heart that was so heavy beating in his chest…

Their gazes found each other, stunning both of them for seconds once liquid silver met vibrant amethysts. Shion's cheeks blushed slightly. He lost himself in the other's eyes, as beautiful as shiny moonlight in a starry night and it felt like he would get sucked into them.

"Y… you're alive," Shion whispered again, breaking through the silence. He wasn't able to hold the gaze any longer, but he composed himself quickly and remembered the dark-haired's horrible injuries.

Hastily he used his sleeve to wipe his tear-stained face and smiled at the other boy encouraging.

"I'll treat you. Treat. Do you understand me?"

"Y…es…," a weak voice answered. Shion nodded.

"Good. Don't talk. Everything's alright. I'll patch you up." He said and opened his backpack. Luckily it was water-resistant, so the contents weren't soaked through. He rummaged through his bag, getting a few things out he would need – especially dry clothes and a well-equipped first aid kid. It contained various antibacterial dressing materials, medical strips, syringes, medicine, a scalpel, forceps, scissors, disinfection wipes and sanitizer in a little spray bottle, but no sterile gloves. Shion raised one of his eyebrows and took a deep breath.

Well, I've to do it without them.

The young man had two gasping wounds – one on his left shoulder, the other on his right thigh. The ecologist student had never seen something like that before.

Gunshot injuries? What in the world happened to you?

Shion was horrified by the fact that someone fired at another human being, but he was also a little bit excited. He had never treated such a serious injury before, so it was his first experience. The worst things he had seen within the protective walls were sore knees, bleeding noses or little cuts and burns – injuries that normally didn't need special medical treatment, just a little plaster and a motherly, magical kiss that took all the pain away instantly.

I guess this won't help here.

He shook his head. It was not the time for stray thoughts. The dark-haired needed his help and a proper treatment right now. Quickly, he removed the ripped shirt, throwing it behind his back.

"I'm sorry, but you have to get rid of your wet pants, too," Shion said, cutting them and his soaked underwear apart to move the other body as little as possible. He blushed slightly, seeing this gorgeous pale body stark naked. Statuesque like a youngling engraved in marble – a relic of bygone times, with well-defined muscles, lithe and lissom and yet so androgynously. Dark, grey hair and long lashes contrasted the brightness of his ivory skin. He was beyond all beauty…

Shion helped him to lift his pelvis for a second and removed the cut up rags carefully, drying his skin quickly and covering the wound on his leg with sterile gauze. Luckily his mother had stuffed every blank space in his backpack with fresh underwear, so he chose one of his way too large briefs and dressed the other male in it swiftly. It fitted perfectly. The dark-haired boy didn't resist; it was hard enough for him to keep his eyes open. Persistently they fluttered closed for a while just to be opened again with all his remaining strength.

"I'm right here," Shion said with a gentle voice, stroking the long wet hair out of the young man's stunning face, drying it quickly with the towel and tying up those wonderful silky strands to get them out of the way. He didn't want them to stick in the wound. Precociously, Shion turned the young man's body to the side, placing his head on his own lap while he kneeled close beside him.

"Well, let's get started. Don't worry, it won't hurt."

He stopped the bleeding and soaked the injured area completely in a disinfectant solution. Once it was submerged he checked if there was foreign material in or around the wound. Solicitous, he removed a little stone with forceps and cleaned the injury carefully afterwards. Following that Shion applied an antibiotic solution first and thereafter the anesthetic with several injections around the wounded area. It went smoothly, although his hands shook a little.

"It should get numb soon. Just hang in there for a while, okay?"

He started with the closest edge of the wound to his face, sewing away from himself, and made sure he kept as close to the edge as possible without it hemorrhaging and releasing the stitch; putting textbook knowledge into action for the second time that day. He inserted the needle downwards through to the sub-dermal layer of the dark-haired's skin, leveling it off and venturing through the gash and its adjacent wall. Once across the other side of it he returned the needle to the skin's surface, deep enough as to not release the epidermis through a tear; finishing it with an initial holding stitch. Zigzagging his way to the top of the wound he made sure to tie it off with a decent knot. Following this, he applied an antiseptic bandage and repeated the process to treat his other injury. Shion was a quick learner and with all that practice he was able to suture the other boy's second wound very fast and easily.

When he had finished the ambulant treatment, Shion dressed the other man warmly in some of his spare clothes: Black tracksuit pants, special fiber thermo socks, a thin skintight white fine rip sweater and a fluffy hooded earth-colored cardigan. He neatly tucked the shirt in to keep his body warm and donned the hood carefully to prevent him from losing the rest of his body heat because of his wet hair through his uncovered head. His clothes were a little too short for the approximately 10 centimeters taller male, but it was better than nothing.

"An…y…ou…?" The stranger asked. His voice sounded wheezy and low. Shion looked at him startled.

"What? Me? Oh, I'm fine. There's no need to worry about me," he said and gave him a gentle smile. "I think it will be ok when you go to sleep and rest for a while. I'll set up a camp now."

"Th…nk y…" The slightly shaking young man whispered, nearly choking on his own words. He felt dizzy and just a few seconds later his heavy eyelids dropped as he lost his fight against the exhaustion. Everything turned pitch-black and deadly silent.

Shion checked his breathing and heartbeat and sighed with relief. Although both were weak, they were steady, and the young ecologist felt the other's impressive will to survive even through the thick fabric of his clothes. The first weak cardiac activity increased its strength little by little with every beat, as if it wanted to break out of its osseous cage and jump right into Shion's hand.

Amazing!

I'm so glad. He's over the worst.

Shion looked around, searching for a suitable place to spend the night. He didn't plan on going that deep into the forest or even spending a night here. There were so many nearby villages, wherefore Shion thought he could stay at a guest-house or an ancient inn. It wasn't like he intended to take samples more than two or three days anyway. Now, when he thought about it properly, he didn't plan his trip thoroughly at all. Just getting the exit visa was horrible and required a lot of administration work.

Consequently, Shion didn't bring a tarp or a sleeping bag. But he had an emergency blanket. It was made from a special fabric, very light and thin, but warm. He found it in one of the side pockets of his backpack and wrapped the other's freezing body up tightly. Once he had spotted a good place to stay, under a tree with a decent-sized branch that was about his chest's height from the ground, he assembled a nice pile of dry leaves, grasses and soft moss. After making the chosen place comfortable he carried the taller man to his self-made bed, laying him down. He was heavy and Shion was glad that the grey-haired slept like a log and neither wasn't able to see his bright red face, nor could hear the horrible grunts that escaped Shion's lips due to the enormous physical effort. Thanks to his porcelain skin and his finely chiselled featured the sleeping beauty looked like a doll. He was so pale, so fragile, that it caused Shion to assume this gorgeous body was as light as a feather. But his assumption was wrong and he had a grown-up man in his arms, and even though he was cold, he also felt an incredible heat. He was alive.

It was dark now. Born and raised in a tremendous megapolis, he was used to light pollution – the brightening of the night sky caused by artificial illumination. Shion didn't know pitch-black darkness.

Armed with a flash lamp, Shion puffed and blew while he gathered fallen tree branches – long enough pieces to run from the branch in about chest height to the ground at a good, wide angle. Beginning right next to the tree, the boy leaned the sticks against the branch, contiguous to one another. Once the roof was large enough he placed boughs on it to cover the spaces between the branches for preventing rain penetration. Not that it looked like it was about to rain, but Shion wanted to make sure his patient was warm and dry. After checking if the dark-haired was still breathing, he cleared a close by stony area and constructed a fire ring surrounded by rocks he found near the river. He gathered wood and stacked in separate piles in a good distance from the fire area – tinder, kindling and larger wood that would keep the fire going. Shion started with a couple of hands full of tinder, putting it loosely piled in the center of the fire ring. Luckily he had a lighter to set fire to the dried material. He bent forward and blew softly, trying to give the little fire oxygen. The tinder started to burn; flames grew bigger and stronger, reminding the boy of the other male's increasing heartbeat, as vivid and warm as a little bird. Shion gazed into the growing blaze, imagine holding a little life in his hands and absentmindedly added some smaller pieces of kindling to it, then increasing the size of burnable material until a the young man had a good fire burning. He added some bigger branches, the fuel, in a crisscross pattern over the kindling, making sure to allow an adequate air flow.

He checked the other male's vital functions once again and after making sure the young man was alright, Shion finally allowed his worn out body to rest. The fire was nice and warm, comforting his freezing body. The boy was still wearing wet clothes, but the tiredness that embraced his body tightly like a constrictor stopped him from changing at least his pants. He was physically and emotionally exhausted. Never in his whole life had Shion experienced so much fear, desperation, sadness, but also happiness and gladness. He was terrified of losing the other man, to be forced to see him die so easily.

Hah!

You're a consummate hypocrite. You don't even know him. Stop acting like a saint. In the end, you're just glad that you're not the one who nearly died.

"No!"

No? Liar!

"Stop it."

Truth hurts, huh?

"It's not like that… Every human life is valuable and must be consciously protected. That's the truth."

So you've learned an important lesson today.

"Yes. I've learned more today that e-books could ever teach me in my entire life," Shion whispered. "I've learned a lesson that fell into oblivion, although it's so easy," he added lazily while his body slowly slumped to the ground.

Astonishing liquid silver eyes appeared in his thoughts. Eyes like the sky, when the darkness fades away and a silvery ray of light illuminates the stormy clouds. He wanted to see them again, to lose himself deep inside of them once more. Those beautiful eyes were so full of life and the warm, strong heartbeat had impressed the boy deeply.

Life is unique, precious and holy . Never forget that.

The strangling tiredness carried off the victory, letting the boy fall asleep while listening to the crackling sounds of the fire, the streaming river and the grey-haired beauty's regular breathing.


 

To be continued…