Hellping

[Kamiinai V1] Chapter 2

Part I

Both of them trekked down the road that really couldn’t be considered as one.

“Yuri’s a natural born hunter. We need to pull our distance while we have the chance.”

So Hampnie said, and Ai was not displeased about that. What she was unhappy about though …

“Daddy! That tree is rotting! You can’t lean on it…”

“Woah!”

She was unhappy about Hampnie’s shocking clumsiness.

Hampnie’s gestures and actions seemed different from his feeble body typical of an Albino, but it seemed he was unused to trekking the hills. Ai had to guide him on which paths to walk, warn him about certain dangerous branches, and at times, had to carry him about. He had become nothing more than a baggage.

And like before, he lost his balance, nearly tumbling down the slope.

“Are-are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.”

But Ai did not feel that he was fine, for his right ankle was twisted in a manner it should not be.

“Going uphill is okay, but going downhill is a lot worse…”

Saying that, Hampnie naturally drew out a knife. Ai hurriedly turned aside.

The little stab sounded so shrill.

“Oh good~ all refreshed and recovered. Let’s keep going.”

“Uu~please stop doing that~ it’s really unnerving.”

“Sorry, sorry. It’s pretty useful after all.”

Whenever Hampnie died, the wounds and holes in his body would be healed up completely, and he would revive as a normal person. He had died many times having taken advantage of this benefit.

“Please don’t die just because it’s useful. There’s nothing more annoying than this to a gravekeeper.”

“Alright, don’t be angry. What, you’re sleepy?”

“No I’m not! I’m talking about the principles of Life!”

The more she spoke, the more infuriated she was. She felt that she was being conned. It seemed that over the last night they stayed up, he died a few times. There was no winning when trying to talk him down. Furthermore, she was really exhausted.

“But thanks to you, it looks like we made it to the road. Look.”

There were forests on the hills, and the lights were dim. Even so, the sky appeared a lot brighter, the sun had risen completely, and there was mist in the lively forest.

There was a pavement behind the mist.

“It’s a lot easier to walk now, thanks to you, Ai. Never thought you’re this capable.”

“R-really? No problems.”

Ai felt conflicted to be praised by Hampnie.

They arrived on the road, and finally saw daylight, along with the warm spring sun in the sky, covered beneath some clouds.

Ai looked up at the sun, and naturally gave a huge yawn

“You’re so sleepy , and yet you’re acting tough.”

Hampnie noted with glee.

Ai blushed, and pouted.

In fact, she was really tired. Ai had stayed up for the night, and had no way to relieve her fatigue.

“…No problems. Let’s hurry.”

Ai lifted her shovel again, and moved forward. “Need me to carry you?” Hampnie said to her back.

“Huh?”

“Isn’t it more comfortable for me to carry you? You can sleep for a while.”

Ai lifted her eyes at Hampnie.

“……Daddy, what’s wrong with you? Why are you acting like a real daddy?”

“You’re always saying things that can be retorted.”

“B-but…”

He was going to carry her.

“…Aren’t you…embarrassed?”

“Embarrassed? I wasn’t embarrassed when you carried me.”

“That’s not what I mean…”

“Who cares? Tie your luggage together.”

“……Daddy, what’s wrong with you? Why are you acting like a real daddy?”

“You’re always saying things that can be retorted.”

“B-but…”

He was going to carry her.

“…Aren’t you…embarrassed?”

“Embarrassed? I wasn’t embarrassed when you carried me.”

“That’s not what I mean…”

“Who cares? Tie your luggage together.”

While feeling perturbed, Hampnie began his own preparations. So stubborn yet so concerned he was.

“Get up.”

He knelt down, turning his back on Ai.

Woah……

Ai’s face was blushing as she looked right and left.

“No-nobody’s looking, right?”

“Of course there won’t be anyone else in the hills here…and even if there is, it doesn’t matter, right?”

“Of course it does, you shameless person!”

“Shameless? Really? Alright, let’s forget about it then, okay?”

Hampnie tilted his head, asking mischievously..

Ai struggled and groaned, looking around. Finally, she stopped hesitating, and gingerly wrapped her arms around Hampnie’s neck.

“Righto.”

Hampnie easily got up.

“I-I’m not heavy?”

“Very, but no biggie.”

Ai’s line of sight was taller than usual, and she sighed, spacing out as though she had a fever.

“Hehe.”

“What’s with the disgusting leer?”

“…You’re acting like a daddy, daddy.”

So she started giggling away.

“……”

This time, Hampnie did not jest, and answered only with silence.

“Why aren’t you talking…”

“…Nothing. Just had a little dream, that’s all…right, let’s go.”

“Alright! Wait, daddy, what are you doing?”

Hampnie began tying a rope and cloth to fasten Ai down.

“I think this is different from the carrying I know of …”

“Don’t think too much.”

They resembled a mountaineer rescuer and a rescued.

“Let’s go!”

“Eh?No, wait! Wahhhhhhh!!”

Hampnie suddenly ran at full speed, darting down the decrepit hill path with the speed of a wild beast.

“What are you doing!?”

“We wasted too much time. Need to hurry. Didn’t I say it’ll be bumpy? Just relax and sleep all you want.”

“Are you an idiot?”

A wild horse he was being.

And Ai was struggling on the horse.

“This isn’t carrying! I’m not happy at all! I ask for something more decent!”

“Look, Ai, we’re going to stick close to the walls and invade at zero altitude.”

“Wooahhh—!”

Hampnie kept running in an unreasonable posture, bringing Ai close to the walls or floor from time to time.

“What are you doing?”

“That’s weird. I loved playing like this with my old man.”

“I’m not a boy!”

Hampnie was guffawing away happily, not depressed in the slightest. Seeing him react this way, Ai had to give up, lean her chin on his shoulder, and have him shake about.

“…Well, it’s not like I didn’t expect this…”

“Really? Great!”

“But are you able to keep running so quickly? You haven’t slowed down at all…”

Saying that, she had a bad feeling.

At this moment, Hampnie slowed down, and a stab could be heard, causing all strength to be seeped away. Ai felt a chill down the back she was hugging, and right when he was about to lose balance…

His legs regained strength again as he stomped hard onto the ground.

“Right! I can do it!”

“Wait! What did you just do? Did you…”

“Yeah, I died.”

“Nooo! Please don’t die in my arms!”

“Shut up…oh yeah, if you’re not sleeping, can you stab my heart for me?”

“I don’t wanna!”

“Hurry up and sleep then. Let me see…”

Saying that, Hampnie leapt high towards a cliff.

“This should make it easier, right?”

 

“Noooo————!”

Ai’s scream echoed through the hills.

*

“Oi, ,Ai, time to wake up.”

Ai woke up, and found herself lying on the ground.

“…Eh? Where am I…”

“Hahaha, you’re a stubborn one. You were sleeping so soundly there even after saying you can’t sleep.”

“…”

Ai weakly lifted her head, and found the sky to be dyed orange. It seemed she had spent half the day sleeping…no, she wasn’t sleeping. She remained groggy.

That was her falling unconscious.

“We’ll stop running for today. Help start a fire.”

Hampnie landed on the ground, dusting the place so that he could sleep.

“Did I really sleep for half a day?”

“What else?”

“…Where is this place?”

“South of Mount Nilpetz. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

Ai shook her head.

“Goodness. Then have a look at this.”

Hampnie took out a tattered map that appeared to be used for a very, very long time. He opened a page, and appearing on it was a large half island distant from the continent.

He continued to flip through the pages, and the scale kept shrinking.

“The village you lived in is around here, and our location is around here.”

Ai watched, completely engrossed.

“…Doesn’t feel like we advanced much…”

Given his prior speed, they should have advanced quite a fair distance.

“Yeah, because I got lost, sorta.”

“Never thought you’re useless, daddy.”

“Hahaha, sorry sorry.”

Hampnie grabbed Ai’s head.

“…But the sun is setting. Mr Yuri probably won’t find us, right?”

“Really? Thank goodness.”

Saying that, Hampnie used his luggage as a pillow. It seemed that for this day, they would not be continuing their exodus; they would not be doing anything.

Ai decided to make her own bed. She used a poncho to make a windshaft, used same twigs to build a tripod fire, used a pot to boil some water, add some tea leaves, and roasted some bread and meat.

“I’m done. Please have some for yourself.”

She quickly prepared a meal.

“What, I have some too? I’ll just have some tea.”

“You’re not hungry?”

“I just died.”

Ai tilted her head, and then looked around, taking sips from time to time, shaking about agitatedly.

After a while, she ceased these gestures, put her bowl down, straightened her back, and looked towards Hampnie.

“Daddy.”

“What?”

“I think this isn’t a good thing.”

“What’s not a good thing?”

“Erm…we should be eating together…”

“But I don’t eat anything whenever I go for trips..”

“So have some…”

“Those are yours, right? Save them. It’s a waste for me to eat them now.”

“But…”

“You’re annoying. Didn’t I say that I won’t be eating?”

Hampnie glared at her.

But Ai was not intimidated. Her eyes looked terrified and confused, but she was not intimidated.

“So I say, this isn’t good, I think.”

“…What did you say?”

“I don’t think you should be acting…erm…like a monster?”

“Act?”

“Yes. You can do anything you want when you’re alone, daddy…but if you’re with others, you should get along with others.”

Ai had been thinking about this. Having seen Hampnie die before her eyes over and over again, she felt that he would really transform into a monster, and was really terrified of that.

“Daddy, didn’t you say that if I am to live with others, I should …”

“No, this…”

Hampnie kept staring at Ai, who was surprisingly perturbed.

“Damn it, me and my big mouth.”

And then, he slapped himself on his forehead.

“…Sorry, I’ll eat.”

“Yay!”

Ai handed over the bread gleefully. Finally, the two of them shared dinner together.

Night fell, and the fire cackled. Hampnie nibbled at the bread,

“…It’s not like I don’t eat at all. I’ll go along with the flow as long as there’s enough to eat.”

He was trying to excuse himself,

“Uu…so what? You need I don’t need to act?”

“Right.”

Ai bit her bread, and lifted her head. Hampnie waved her hand, stopping her.

“Normally , I’ll try to blend in so that others won’t think that I’m a monster. Never thought that you will think this way…didn’t think I have such emotions either…guess I thought of you as a person, a monster just like me.”

Ai frowned, gnawing at the bread to vent her frustration.

“I’m really angry.”

“Yeah, I know. Sorry.”

“Of course, I don’t like that you think of me as a monster…but I hate that you think of yourself as a monster.”

“Huh? But I’m clearly a monster, right…?”

“Not at all.”

“Nothing wrong about it. I’m Hampnie Hambert, an immortal monster.”

“Do-do you have to define it like that? Do you have to say that you’re a monster?”

“What are you saying…”

“Umm~how do I put it…”

Ai frowned, pondering, “You’re serious about a lot of things, right daddy?”

“Thought-wise, you mean?”

“Yeah, you see, daddy, you’re really strict. Right and right, what can and can’t be done, living and dead, humans and monster…it’s like you define them really clearly, and you tread the line.”

“…Go on.”

“But do you have to define things so clearly? Can’t you relax on that? I don’t think it’s a good thing to define good and bad…”

Ai could not define everything so clearly like Hampnie. She had seen little, and worried much. She never had the confidence to believe that whatever she did was right. But…

“Um~ it’s really hard to put it clearly.”

Seeing Ai cup her head in frustration, Hampnie smiled, “Don’t force the issue then. Your frustrations aren’t just about me. It also involves how your life will go.”

“…What do you mean?”

“Well, it’s something like being enlightened …you’re slowly building your personality, but it’s not accepting of me, and that’s why you’re frustrated…there are some things you can’t say now, but one day, you’ll be able to speak naturally. Before then, keep brooding.”

Ai sized up Hampnie, and slowly nodded,

“Yes, I will.”

Hampnie grimaced.

“Really doesn’t sound like something I’ll say…better forget about it.”

“I won’t forget! I’m happy. This really gave me lots of things to think.”

“Don’t say that, I’ll blush.”

Hampnie fanned his face with his hand, looking really embarrassed.

Ai giggled as she swallowed the bread. There were some things she had to ask, but first was …

“On that day 15 years ago, I was a student.”

Hampnie suddenly spoke up.

And Ai, who was about to say something, remained still, her mouth agape.

Hampnie took her words as doubt, and asked, “Do you know what a school is?”

“Of course, I know that.”

During her life in the village, Yoki and some of the more knowledgeable would find time to teach her. They were experts in their specialties, like common language, mathematics, sciences, humanities, combat, tactics, medicine, and various skills people would have.

“Really? Well I’ll say this first. The school I speak of is a detention facility that sorts distractions to human society called brats according to age.”

“…I never heard of such a school before.”

The school Ai heard of was a lot happier than that.

But this topic piqued her interest.

“But daddy, you actually go to school…I never thought you would.”

“I do get a day off every week though.”

“You played truant, didn’t you? I know what playing truant is.”

“Nope, this.”

Hampnie said, grabbing at his white hair, making a funny face with his red eyes.

“This is the characteristic of an Albino. We’re weak to sunlight. The weather may be nice to you, but it’s too much more me. If I stay outdoors for an entire day, my body will be burned red. Also, my kidneys have problems, so there’s always swelling. Without any daily massages, I can’t maintain my handsome face.”

Ai lowered her head silently.

“What?”

“…Sorry, I…”

“Enough, don’t pity me. That face annoys me. Anyway, a lot of effort is required whenever I go to school, since the sun itself is too fatal. I need to wear long sleeves no matter the season, and I need to wake up early and spend lots of time applying suntan lotion. I needed my parents to send me to school, and fetch me from school. I needed the help of Yuri and the other classmates to get to school.”

“Why go that far though…”

“Think about it. Everyone went to school.”

Hampnie’s eyes beamed even when seen through the sunglasses.

“So I had to go to school. It’s just that simple.”

Ai lifted her head towards him, thinking his smile was filled with pride. Even before or after his curse, this man continued to live according to his principles.

“Eh? But you’re a student 15 years ago…how old are you now, daddy?”

“Hm? I was in the same year as Yuri, so about thirty……two? Or three? I forgot.”

“…Anyway, the word immortal doesn’t seem to go along with that age.”

“Even an immortal’ is zero years old at birth. I’m not lying.”

Ai nodded in realization, and tilted her head. She felt she was being bluffed.

And then, she suddenly noticed—

“Daddy, what are you trying to say?”

This was an interesting topic, but Ai did not understand why he was talking about this.

“Don’t think too much into this,…I just want to get something clear, so listen…you don’t know about what happened ‘that night’, right?”

Hampnie quietly continued,

“Basically, ‘The Night God Left’. You know?”

“You’re asking if I know? Didn’t he say ‘the other world is overflowing, this world will also come to an end. Ahh, I failed’?”

Ai recited it perfectly.

“I see. So that’s what they taught you?”

“…is there something wrong about that?”

Yoki—or rather, the villagers told her so.

“No. Many do still think this way. I might say this is the most commonly accepted line of thinking. However, I never actually heard those words.”

“Eh?”

“At first, nobody noticed ‘that day’ came. Like usual, I got up and went to school. There was nothing on the newspapers, the Heavens and the Earth never split apart, and of course, there was no proclamation by God. That’s just what humans said later on.”

Feeling perturbed, Hampnie asked, “Why has everyone forgotten about this”. He got up hastily, and brought his face over.

“Wh-what are you thinking?”

“This is my own theory. Want to hear it?”

Ai looked a little confused, and nodded,

“I think that God is an idiot.”

“The word sacrilege is meant for people like you.”

“Hear me out. This is just my guess, but I’m guessing that God’s too lazy to be bothered to deal with the logical, like physics, or the conservation of energy. It’s not like I don’t understand how He feels though, since the world he created was perfect, without any conflicting issues. However, it’s also pointless, and we can’t blame Him for wanting to forget about this. So, we have to forgive Him.”

“Why are you acting so uppity?”

“I guess that’s the reason why He wanted to grant Humanity’s wishes at the last moment.”

Hampnie laid back down with a thud.

“I don’t really know how to explain the point about humans unable to be born, but the thing about humans being unable to die is probably just because they don’t want to die. Isn’t this Humanity’s wish? It’s a messy way of doing this, but this wish has been fulfilled, somehow…soon after, Humanity has the urge to die, so God sent the gravekeepers. It’s a long way of putting it, but He probably assumed he fulfilled Humanity’s wishes …”

“Ehhhh?”

“Didn’t I say this is just my own thought?”

Hampnie’s 17 year old face was showing the smile of a 32 year old.

“I suppose this is the case though, since I have witnessed many miracles myself.”

“You’re one of them, aren’t you ……?”

Hampnie chuckled,

“Well, this immortality does fulfil my wish, somehow. My condition was stabilized those days, I was feeling healthy, and I could breathe, my heart’s beating regularly. I could go out running everywhere too. That was the wish I made when I was 17, that ‘this day can continue to live on’.”

“…Is that so?”

“This isn’t important.” So Hampnie said as he reverted back to the old topic. “After ‘that day’, society didn’t change at all, but everything came to an end. It seemed the communist sphere and the Monarchies tried to hide this fact initially, but in the end, it was a waste of effort. Humanity could not deal with so many of the Dead, but they were welcomed. The laws, common sense, the insurance industry, those things went amok. The smart ones started to store assets. To be honest, Humanity’s really sturdy, but once something goes wrong with such an establishment, the rest will fall like dominoes.”

Ai was familiar with what happened next.

First, there were calamities. An earthquake occurred in a corner of the world, causing the deaths of five thousand. The evacuation work was delayed, resulting in the Dead being completely rotten. These five thousand ended up becoming some form of a sacrifice for the demon, incubating a new plague that was later called the ‘half-dead plague’, or a ‘plague’ that results in a 50% mortality rate, but the name itself was a misnomer, the actual number of deaths was fewer than half of what was expected, and a cure could have been found immediately. The plague itself lasted no more than 4 years.

But this half-dead plague took away the lives of 200 million.

At the same time, it meant that 200 million Dead happened.

Such a number was enough to cause the world to collapse.

“You really know your stuff.”

Once Ai stated this, an impressed Hampnie praised her.

“But you don’t know the nuance behind this, right? Ai, did you only see the Dead the last time?”

Ai nodded. She nodded away silently, without showing any emotion.

“Is that so? Then, get this clear. This doesn’t just apply for the ‘half-dead plague’. Once a person dies with all organs intact, they will have the same appearance as when they’re alive. After a while though, their bodies will start to break down, either because of water oozing, or parched skin, or maggots growing out of their bodies, even in the brains protected by the head and the skullcap. The human mind will start rotting from the outside, first lowering the functions of the frontal lobe that controls intellect, and the consciousness will be appeared by the cerebellum, the sturdiest part. You know what happens next?”

Ai gulped, and shook her head.

“People become stubborn. They’re dead, but their survival instincts get stronger, and they get into an awful mood. Once people start to experience such changes, things will get worse. Even if it’s a wise sage we’re talking about, they’ll end up no different from the wild beasts. Living with such people…restraining emotions just like that. That is a tragedy.”

Ai guessed what he was implying.

“So, you…shot Mr Yuri’s wife?”

Surely Hampnie wanted to talk about this.

“…”

But Hampnie did not say anything.

“Daddy?”

“…No…hm, you’re right. I can’t forgive the Dead.”

“Ah, huh…”

Saying this, Hampnie went silent.

Ai felt uneasy, thinking that she might have been mistaken.

“Are you done with your story?”

“Yeah, I’m done with my story…don’t you have other things to ask me? Ask away.”

The campfire crackle, and the still damp branches were steaming.

Ai silently wiped the utensils cleanly with the bread, and finished the bread. Then, she brought the tea to her knees, looking into the cup, saying,

“…Will you answer what I asked?”

“Who knows? Maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll lie.”

“…I guess…that’s fine. I’ll ask.”

Ai lifted her head.

“Why did you do that?”

Naturally, she was referring to the slaughter of the village.

Just thinking back about it left her on the verge of breaking down into tears. If that had not happened, if that did not happen at all, surely she could have lived on comfortably there.

Hampnie laid down, lowering his eyelids, and said,

“What other reason is there to fight? Since the dawn of time, that never changed. It’s all for Justice.”

“Justice…”

“Right. I shot them, because there’s a dark, corrupted sense of justice in the depths of my heart.”

“Is everyone…so evil…that you had to kill them?”

“…Yes.”

He sounded really bitter.

Yet Ai could believe his words. There was some filthy secret in the village.

“What bad thing…did everyone do?”

Hampnie’s justice. Everyone’s evil. The village’s secret. Ai’s existence.

Everything should be intertwined. Ai wanted to know the link between them.

Night quiet down, and the insects of Spring cricketed away. All that was left was the fire and the chirps.

“…You’re not going to answer?”

Hampnie held a cigarette, and lit it with a burning red bit of charcoal.

“Yes, I don’t want to answer.”

“But!”

“You’ll figure out the truth one day.”

Ai remained still.

“If you spend enough time with society at large, you’ll figure it out. No matter whether you like it or not, you’ll figure out the evil of that village…and then…you’ll definitely cry, no? I don’t want to see such an annoying scene, and those guys too …”

There were three points of light beyond the fire. One was the cigarette, and the other two were Hampnie’s red eyes.

“I think the worst scenario they want is for me to tell you the answer …”

“Eh?”

“The villagers I blew up. You’ll know the secret, but it’s too cruel if I’m the one telling you…”

The purple smoke rose, and scattered, blending into the night with the smoke from the fire.

“You’re…right.”

Ai was slowly starting to get what Hampnie was intending. She understood, and faced him directly, saying,

“I guess everyone’s hoping for me to figure it out.”

“Really…do your best then.”

“Okay!”

Ai answered with much enthusiasm, and decided to bury the question deep into her heart.

Until the day the mystery was to be solved.

“And, there’s something else I want to ask…”

“Hm? There is? What is it?”

“Who’s the Miss Hana you speak of?”

The cigarette smoke fluttering in the darkness suddenly stopped.

“You asked Miss Scar and me about her, didn’t you? You were looking for her, weren’t you, daddy?”

“Ah~ahhh~what are you talking about? Did you mishear?”

“Between thirty to forty, brown hair, black eyes, a nice face, of similar height to daddy, small breasts. This is the description of Miss Hana, right?”

“…Some memory you have.”

“Remembering the characteristics of a person’s appearance is a very important skill to a gravekeeper after all.”

Ai giggled, puffing her chest proudly.

“So, daddy. Why are you looking for Miss Hana?”

“I can tell you…but you might be outraged…”

“I won’t! It’s fine!”

Ai’s eyes were glittering, the light roaming around the fire. Hampnie grimaced. The mood had livened up just after one question.

“Right right right. I’ll say it…I love that woman called Hana.”

“Lo-love…”

“Yeah, that’s right. It’s a long time since our one encounter …but we had the same dreams.”

Hampnie slowly opened his eyes, looking at the cackling flames.

Ai looked completely flabbergasted.

“…Hm? What’s wrong? You look like you have the urge to pee at the toilet or something.”

“You…”

“Hm?”

“You traitor~!”

Ai was raging.

“You already have mama, and you still…! You~!”

Ai threw a tantrum, stomping the ground.

“Eh? No, ehh?”

“You have no restrain! Gigolo! Sex demon! You ero man even though you’re so white!”

“Eh? Why am I being scolded?”

Her intense rage left Hampnie bewildered.

But at the next moment, Ai realized that she was in the wrong, and calmed down.

“But looking at things now, mama’s dead. As the daughter, I should allow papa to find his second wind…?”

“He-hello, Ai?”

“Uuu, what should I do?”

“Listen to me! You idiot!”

Hampnie smacked her on the head.

“Seriously, I had enough of you yapping away at me non-stop. Hey! Ai! Stop calling me daddy already! I had enough!”

“Eh~?”

“Eh~your foot! And why are you so certain? Didn’t you say that you hope for your father to be some good looking bearded uncle in his forties or something!?”

Hampnie, who took her as lightly as he did with the gravekeepers, finally touched on the topic at hand.

“That’s what I hope to begin with…”

Ai puffed her cheeks, stating unhappily.

“But daddy, you’re still daddy.”

“You ain’t intending to talk human with me, right?”

“That’s not it…eerm—eh—”

“…Hey. Ai. Just to ask, is this just your way of life?”

“Way of life?”

“Yeah. You’re trying to bind me down with those words, but that won’t work. As long as the situation calls for it, I’ll shoot you…stop calling me that before you get used to it.”

“That’s not it!”

Ai got up.

“That’s not…it. Is that what you think of me…daddy?”

Ai weakly collapsed to the ground, looking extremely despondent.

“…Actually, I’m a little sick of it. It’s a nightmare to think of you as daddy. I do wonder why this person is daddy…but what can I do about it? It’s fact.”

“So I’m asking you for the reason. Tell me. Is my request that unreasonable?”

Ai’s green eyes were ablaze.

“Isn’t it obvious!?”

The voices of the insects were immediately quelled, along with the sound of the flames.

“You’re daddy! I can tell! You can’t? You don’t feel anything even after seeing your daughter? We’re family!”

Hampnie closed his eyes silently.

Ai could tell Hampnie was thinking about the possibility of a family member. He had just met a daughter for the first time in over ten years, and was wondering if he could actually tell, and believe that she was his daughter.

“Maybe I can’t do it.”

He opened his blazing eyes, saying this. Ai knew he would have said this.

“…I guess so. Since you can’t tell …”

“Yeah, I can’t tell. I really can’t.”

He tossed the cigarette into the fire, and it vanished immediately
.
“Sorry, I’ll have some sleep.There’s a lot of things…I can’t figure out.”

Hampnie turned his body around, and went to sleep.

Ai watched his back sadly.

 

Hampnie kept pondering as he listened to the insects and the flames. Ai’s words had him reflecting.

His common sense advised him that he could not possibly have any children. The simple reason was that before the day of beckoning 15 years ago, he was deemed infertile.

Red eyes, white skin, white hair, immortal.

These robbed him the ability to manifest descendents, so Ai’s words were completely wrong. In that case, he could have told her so, ensuring that she had no room to run.

So he thought, but he decided against it.

Surely she would not have minded even with that issue.

(It’s obvious? That’s a bold way of putting it.)

He clicked his tongue, and turned around.

The gravekeeper with the scar on her face did say that. She said that she could tell without needing to identify or think. It was ridiculous to think about, even without factoring intellect and common sense.

(But…)

Hampnie slightly widened his eyes, and spotted the little gravekeeper seated on the other side of the fire, pouting as she poked at it.

(Maybe the brat’s right after all …)

The sleepiness slowly arose from deep inside his mind.

Hampnie had dismissed it as ‘impossible’ through knowledge and common sense.

Ai felt that it was ‘possible’ simply due to instinct.

Hampnie did not think that he was wrong. However, he found her impressive to declare a stranger family without any proof.

(Goodness, Hampnie, you’re a stubborn fool. You know that the little ‘dream’ may be fulfilled if you follow what she says …)

The sleepiness and fatigue numbed his mind, and his soul pondered over things he should not be thinking of.

(But if I accept her, I…won’t be myself…)

His consciousness sank into the darkness, and he never dreamt.

*

She had a dream.

She dreamt of herself back when she was five, scaling the roof with her mother.

“Gyahahahaha!”

“Ahahahahaha!”

Her mother was guffawing away like a villain boasting her secret weapon, and Ai too followed suit.

“Ai, look! This is my village.”

Her mother pointed towards the village. The village in the memories seemed so young, and the villagers who had not changed at all were scurrying around.

It was autumn, Ai’s favorite season. Everyone was building scarecrows. Yut, Daigo, even Yoki and Anna who just arrived at the village, were all beaming away.

Upon seeing that scene, Ai immediately teared up.

“Now now, why are you crying?”

Ai’s mother wiped the tears off the face, yet Ai said nothing. She was five when she was here, so she should not be crying.

The 12 year old Ai realized she was dreaming, and this dream would vanish, so she hurriedly shook off her sadness.

“I’m fine, mama.”

“Gyahaha, now why are you crying when there’s nothing? You’re really a crybaby.”

Her mother said, and beamed.

Her mother had golden hair, just like her, and it was glittering under the sun, the green eyes clearly bemused. She was short and slender, like a pipsqueak.

Both of them really resembled each other. Her mother looked young like a 16 year old Ai.

However, their characters were different. Ai’s emotions were always mixed and difficult to differentiate, while her mother could distinguish them clearly, as though there was a switch.

Even at this point, Ai’s mother was laughing out loud, seemingly bemused by something.

“Okay, nobody can see you if you’re crying now. It’s about time now.”

“I’m not crying!”

Ai’s mother took out a handkerchief, wiping Ai’s face. The 12 year old Ai was embarrassed, and wanted to run away, but she realized she was in her 5 year old body, so she ended up having her mother wipe her. The soft handkerchief was throbbed about by the slender fingers, making it really comfortable for her.

“What do you mean the time has come, mama?”

“The most beautiful moment of this village, of course.”

Upon hearing that, Ai thought of her mother’s beloved scene.

The setting sun.

The atmosphere had changed completely, and all the lights turned red, the fields showing a golden glow, the crickets chirping.

“Woah…”

The gales blew by, and the wind vane at the highest house of the village danced wildly. Both of them held down their hair in the same manner, marvelling.

The birds roosted as the night hue descended. The villagers hastily returned home. The brightest star flickered.

“So pretty…”

The village was very peaceful, warm, as perfect as a memory.

“You see, you see?”

Her mother beamed, proudly nodding away.

“Don’t you find this to be like Heaven?”

“Heaven?”

Just like before, Ai asked.

“Yes. The Dead has to return to Heaven. I heard it’s a country of fantasy filled with love and happiness.”

Her mother kept smiling as she witnessed the scene beneath her.

“I want to remake this village into a place like Heaven. I want to create a place of hope in this Hellish age.”

This village was created by her mother.

Hearing her mother’s determined confession, the 5 year old Ai excitedly chimed in,

“Ai wants to help too!”

“You want to help?”

“Yes!”

Back then, no matter what she saw her mother do, she wanted to follow suit.

“Thank you, Ai, but this is mama’s job. You have to find out what you want to do.”

“Eh~…”

“Find what you want to do, and if you have any strength left, do help me out. I will say that I’ll really welcome your help then…but never keep on living without knowing nothing. This is mama’s advice to you.”

Her mother raised a finger, looking really impish. These words sounded shrill to the 12 year old Ai, but the 5 year old Ai never realized it, for she said,

“Understood! Then what should I do?”

“…You’re really unable to comprehend the words of people.”

Even Ai herself was starting to feel this way recently.

The 5 year old Ai seemed so distant from the 12 year old Ai. The scenery in the dream was like an item drawn in an illustration, becoming distant, about to be washed away.

“Your job now is to eat well and play well, and have everyone dote on you…if you can quickly grow up, there’s nothing I can nitpick about.”

Saying that, the mother lifted Ai.

“Woosh…you’re so heavy.”

“I’ve grown taller.”

“Good work. Keep growing.”

“Yes!”

Mama, I’ve really grown …

She hoped to tell her mother about this, but the dream was blurred into the sunset red.

*

“I thought about a lot last night.”

The next morning, the duo walked along the edge of a steep, steep cliff. The hill path was once maintained well, but it was no longer a path for any persons to walk.

“…”

Hampnie did not answer, and stopped in his tracks, looking forward down the path.

Ai had no choice but to keep talking,

“I was thinking about Miss Hana.”

“…Ahh…so you’re thinking about that?”

After a long, strange pause, Hampnie started walking forth again.

“I think it’s fine. I was a little taken aback yesterday, but I approve.”

“Well thanks for that.”

“What kind of person is she?”

“Why are you asking this…”

“For future reference.”

“Future reference, huh…but speaking of which, I told you everything I knew already. You remember that well, don’t you? She’s about 30 to 40…”

“Seriously, daddy! That’s not what I’m asking! I’m talking about the inside.”

“Inside?”

Hampnie’s eyes wavered, and he seemed to be clearing the clutter at the depths of his memories.

“…She was a mysterious woman.”

“M-mysterious?”

“Yeah. It’s like, I don’t get what she’s thinking at all, and I don’t know what she lives for.”

“…We’re talking about the person you like, right, daddy?”

“Yeah, there’s no doubt about it.”

Ai sighed, and lifted her head towards Hampnie. She felt this was a strange relationship to begin with.

“It feels like she has never experienced the world herself. She was lively, always laughing out loud, crying out loud, fuming, and laughing after fuming…she’s that sort of person. We spent half a year or so together, and then, she suddenly disappeared.”

Hampnie showed a serene smile on his face as he talked about Hana. Ai realized that he really loved this woman, for it was a fine expression he showed.

“That was over ten years ago, when the world was at its most chaotic. Even if she survived, she’s probably in her 30s, 40s. No, I’m guessing she’s definitely dead …”

“That long? Have you been looking for her all this time, daddy?”

“Yeah, but actually, I do come by to such a foreign place when I have time. I might look this way, but I’m a busy person after all.”

“I see…I’ll help when I have time then.”

“Thanks for that.”

Ai giggled, and immediately started to think.

“So, what unique characteristics does she have?”

“Oh, well, first of all, she’s a woman, and yet she goes ‘gyahahaha’ when she laughs.”

“Eh?”

“And when she sees something delicious, she doesn’t care about anything else. She’ll even end up fighting others.”

“Th-this …”

She could hear the jigsaws latching together.

—Guffawing like a villain—quick and gluttonous.

The crucial four pieces to the puzzle were firmly latched together. Ai started to think.

…Since she’s a child born to a gravekeeper and a human, and Hampnie’s a human, her mother should be a gravekeeper. However, the mother in her memories had nothing resembling that Miss Scar. Suddenly, she recalled Hampnie mentioning the ‘malfunctioning gravekeeper’. Yes, surely her mother was a malfunctioning one, and thus able to laugh like a human, sorrow like a human, and love, and harbour hopes.

—A wish to create Heaven.

“What’s wrong?”

Ai unwittingly stopped in her tracks.

“I-it’s nothing.”

While taken aback, Ai answered so as she began to move forward. Even though she could not understand the stinging stare on her back, she did not answer. She was not in the mood to answer, and continued on with a worried, terrified feeling. She did not know how she would answer if she was questioned.

But for some reason, Hampnie kept asking despite seeing that Ai was shaken.

“…Theses are the characteristics. Anything worth taking reference?”

“Erm, yes, sort of.”

She answered listlessly, and asked,

“…Daddy, once you do find Miss Hana, what do you intend to do?”

She could not immediately state that Hana was her mother, unable to say that the person he was looking for died five years ago.

“Who knows? Got to look at the situation.”

“The situation?”

“Yeah. If she’s died, I can’t do anything about it. Even if she hasn’t, she might have gone crazy, or fallen like others…or maybe she found happiness, and doesn’t need me anymore.”

Hampnie sounded way too calm, and that left Ai perplexed. She really could not associate ‘the beloved person’ with ‘look at the situation’.

In any case, is it not right to think that loving someone in itself is love?

“Of course, if she’s in a state when she’s imprisoned by some great demon lord, waiting for a warrior to save her, I’ll be willing to. Well, that’s basically it, even though I know I’m not that kind of character.”

“…What if she’s dead?”

“In a certain sense, that’s the easiest outcome.”

“Why!?”

“I’ll just cry, since that’s all I can only do.”

Hampnie did not seem to care as he let the cigarette smoke flutter away.

This man was so nonchalant to everything.

“You’ll cry…?”

“Probably.”

“I see…so you’ll cry …”

“I won’t cry out.”

“…Is there anything different?”

“The tone’s different. Don’t put me on your level when you can bawl out for an entire year.”

“Uu, sorry.”

Ai quietly berated herself for thinking that Hampnie would cry just because he would think of it. She could not imagine Hampnie crying. She did not want to witness such a scene.

“…So what happens after crying?”

“After…let me think.”

Hampnie seemed really depressed.

“I’ll probably return to the city first, and then I’ll go on a search again.”

“Search? Is there anything you’re looking for besides Miss Hana, daddy?”

“Hm, yeah…I want to know about some things…”

“You’re always looking for something.”

“So I’m probably a ‘lifelong seeker’.”

“Just a forgetful one.”

“Hahaha, now that’s one way of putting it.”

Hampnie ruffled Ai’s hair, and stuffed it into her collar.

“…So what are you looking for?”

“Hm? Ai, you don’t know?”

Hampnie smiled. Upon seeing that smile, Ai felt an ominous feeling for the umpteenth time.

“So, the gravekeeper can’t tell? What is Hampnie Hambert’s wish? You don’t know what’s the one regret of an immortal?”

“Wh-what are you talking about?”

“Since the dawn of time, all immortals seek the same thing.”

Hampnie suddenly erased his smile.

 

“I’m looking for a way to die.”

 

The atmosphere immediately became cold and sticky.

“Die…”

“I’m looking for a way to correct the mistake made by that bastard of a God.”

Only the sounds of the wind and the water could be heard along the cliffside path.

“You want to die …?”

“Yeah.”

Hampnie bluntly admitted, and pointed to the front,

“Ai, look at this beautiful world.”

Ai followed where he pointed. There were the lights of late spring in the hills, countless flowers waiting to bloom.

The bamboo gress, the carpet of chives, the cluster of Prunus.

“So pretty.”

“Pretty…it’s so barren, and you call it pretty?”

“Barren? What’s barren about this?”

She could not understand Hampnie meant.

“15 years ago, there was a plan to develop this hill. It was going to be mined, and some big building was going to be built for profit sharing. However, Humanity has already been forsaken by this world…and that’s why it ended up so barren.”

Hearing him, it appeared he had dismissed the trees and flowers as a wasteland.

“Ai, can you continue to live on this barren world? I do love Humanity, and if you ask me to be the last human standing on this world…all I can think is, you got to be kidding.”

Hampnie chuckled,

“You probably hate to be alone too, right?”

“But, you say you want to die …?”

“Oh, so Miss Gravekeeper isn’t happy?”

Ai lifted her head towards his pure white smile unhappily.

“O-of course. You say you want to kill yourself.”

“Hey, think about it properly. Don’t just talk instinctively. Think about the words ‘the last human on this planet’.”

Hampnie knelt down, smacking Ai’s head.

“Imagine, just imagine, visualize it. Are you willing to be the last person standing? Do you want to be dealt the joker hand? There’s no one left on this planet, and if I just keep on living, I’ll always be the last one left.”

Hampnie grabbed Ai’s shoulders, not wanting her to run away. He knelt down, meeting her in the eyes as he said these piercing words. It was a devil’s bullet imbued with fear.

Only then did Ai start to shiver, and realize how terrifying the words ‘the last human on this planet’ were, how cruel that visualization was. She recalled how at that moment, she felt fear when she stood alone in the center of the village.

But…

Ai clenched her fists, accepting this fear.

She thought to herself, thinking that she should not be afraid.

“Are you scared?”

For the person before her was far more terrified than she was.

“You’re definitely scared, aren’t you…daddy.”

She touched Hampnie’s hands that were grabbing her shoulders, looking towards his hungry, blazing red eyes. His hands were as cold as ice, his eyes betraying a fear Ai had never seen.

Ai stared firmly.

“Daddy.”

“…Yeah, I’m scared. I’m really scared.”

The depigmented eyes showed a hollow red that was dyed bloody. Hampnie was like a 3 year old boy, terrified for the inevitable Hell.

Ai raised her hands, touching his pale face.

Oozing from deep within her heart was a clear emotion filling her heart. It was gentle, yet not gentle enough, harsh, but not harsh enough. It was simply an emotion with some sweetness through its transparency.

At this point, she felt that she could forgive anyone, and could save anyone.

She could even save the world.

“So that’s why you want to become a monster?”

“…Yeah.”

“You’re scared of living, and not dying. You’re a mess as a person.”

“…Yeah. Even I’m increasingly feeling that this is a knot I can’t untie.”

“But do be at ease.”

Ai suddenly let go, wielded her shovel again, spunt it once.

“I won’t let you be alone. This is our duty as gravekeepers.”

Ai stood at the edge of the cliff, looking forth to the entire world.

“…I guess I know why there’s a need for gravekeepers. It’s definitely because people prayed to die, and prayed for people to watch over their deaths. Thus, the origin of the gravekeepers, why mama and Miss Scar were born…but these gravekeepers slowly changed, and ended up wanting names and dreams …”

“What are you saying?”

“Daddy, you won’t become the last human on this planet.”

Ai smiled.

“Because then, there’ll definitely be a gravekeeper waiting by your side, watching you leave, and digging a grave for you.”

“You brat…”

Hampnie watched her smile dejectedly.

“So that’ll end up with you being the last person on this planet, right…”

“Yes.”

“Like hell it is…what are you smiling for…it’s impossible. You have a lifespan, and I don’t think you can take it.”

“But…”

Ai beamed. She wanted to keep smiling for her father.

“I won’t let you feel lonely, daddy.”

Ai smiled again, and this time, Hampnie did not mock her, instead narrowing his eyes at something so seemingly dazzling.

“You…”

He reached his hand out, seeking redemption.

“…No.”

But he did not grab anything, and immediately let go.

“I don’t need it.”

“Don’t need what?”

“I’ll be alone. You don’t have to come along.”

“What are you saying? I’m not going to let this happen.”

“I don’t need you to agree. I can’t allow myself to agree.”

“Please…don’t say such lonely words.”

Ai lifted her green eyes dejectedly. Hampnie’s smile was utterly bitter.

“You’re really a strange one. You’re so scared of me, yet yout attitude hasn’t changed…you’re scared, and yet you face it head on. You take negative emotions as they are, just staring at it with your green eyes?”

“What are you saying, daddy?”

“No, it’s nothing. Let’s hurry.”

Right as Hampnie said so—

At this moment—

A few things happened.

First, there was a signal flare coming from the other end. The sun was blotted by the faint clouds, dimming the surroundings. A brutal bloodlust filled the atmosphere.

Then, there were rumbling noises from both front and back.

“Wh-what’s the situation now? Is it Mr Yuri?”

Ai was confused as she held onto the shovel, looking around.

Hampnie did not answer, and merely spat his cigarette out, flipped the front of his coat, and checked his weapons.

“Tch, I messed up.”

“Eh?”

“These guys aren’t with Yuri, they’re hunters. I want to lure them out, but I never expected so many of them.”

“Y-you know who they are?”

“Of course.”

Ai recalled the strange pause Hampnie made when they talked.

“You’re so calm. It’s amazing.”

“I ain’t a monster for nothing. Even with thousands of bullets hitting me, it’s like they didn’t hit me at all. For them though, one shot is all it takes to take each of them out…I don’t know where these idiots come from, but they’re running out of luck here.”

“Oh, that sounds reliable.”

“So, Ai…”

Hampnie smirked. Ai did learn her lesson somewhat, for she was already darting away like a hare before she felt anything ominous.

As far as the hare would run however, it had no chance against a full strength lion. Hampnie’s right foot came flying, brutally kicking Ai down the cliff.

It was said that lions would kick their own cubs down the cliff to test them.

Part II

Ai’s body flew to a different place, moving from a transparent, gaseous point to a transparent fluid. The melted snow resulted in a rising, surging current, deforming the semicircular canals completely, and she lost all bearings. With much difficulty she calmed her frantic state of mind, and opened her eyes. She realized that her mouth was wide open, allowing air to flow out, and hurriedly closed it. A branch as large as her body passed by before her eyes, and she took was thrown aside in the same manner, knocking aside the school of fish. The scales of the fish were glittering as she passed them by
Her throat went numb.

She could not breathe. She knew this, but she instinctively hoped to gulp in the transparent matter that really resembled air. The pain robbed away her rationality, and her mind got increasingly dumb.

And Ai finally made a mistake.

The water was scalding her like hot water, ripping her windpipe, causing it to bleed. The blood seeped from the nostrils into the eyes.

Even the dying pleas were devoured.

The rivers of spring gushed by.

*

“…Gah! Wah! Ack! Ack! Ah…ahhh!”

Waking up was a terrifying process. Her throat was coughing so much it was like a windshaft. She had just bled from the nose the previous day, and it started bleeding aside. The tears were washed away by the currents, and her eyes were stinging as a result. Her limbs were as cold as ice, completely numb.

Ai kept coughing for a while, spitting out all the liquids in her breathing organs, and started to look around.

“This is …”

“Stop talking, calm down.”

A bear-like hunk was rubbing her back.

“…You…ack! Saved me? Mr Yuri.”

“Yeah.”

Yuri heaved a sigh, quickly made a fire, and walked away.

Only then was Ai in the mood to look around. She was in a valley surrounded by rocks on both side, a surging current to her side. She did not believe that she managed to survive the rapids.

Her clothes, and even her undergarments were dripping wet. Her backpack was not too far before her feet, completely soaked, and her wet coat was sticking firmly to the rock.

The shovel remained in her hand.

“You never let this go.”

Yuri brought his own belongings over. He tossed a soft coat to Ai, and while topless, dried the clothes. Ai didn’t harbour any thoughts as she answered with empty eyes,

“This is what’s left…of mama.”

“Really…well, if there’s a next time, it’s advised that you let go of your belongings. You need to be alive before you can use them after all.”

Yuri twisted his shirt, resulting a bucketful of water being squeezed out. Ai shivered as she removed her clothes, hiding beneath the coat as she dried them.

“…What happened?”

“You ask me…you don’t remember?”

Ai’s memory was really hazy. She pressed her forehead, trying to recall. Back then, there was a howl…they were attacked by bandits …

She remembered.

Ai grabbed the shovel, and went running forth while wearing only a coat.

“Wait! Where are you going while dressed like this?”

“Please let go! I need to teach that big idiot a lesson this time!”

The red eyed demon was laughing away in her mind. If she had been any more unlucky, she would have died!

“I told you to wait! He saved your life!”

“Huh? Since when is kicking a child down a valley called saving?”

“…Look, I’m not going to speak up for him, but that place became a battlefield later on.”

Saying that, he pointed for Ai to see. It appeared that a long time had passed, but she was not thrown too far away. Ai lifted her head as Yuri told her to. There was no cliff above her.

“…Huh?”

The entire road had fallen to the bottom of the valley. Even the currents were colored like dirt. Her nose finally regained functionality, and she had a whiff of gunpowder.

“…That’s the enemy trap daddy spoke of?”

“No, that’s his signature suicidal attack.”

Ai looked up in bewilderment. This side was certainly a lot safer than that side.

“…He’s always going overboard.”

“Say it isn’t so.”

Yuri cursed. However, he was showing a similar look to Ai. While bemoaning that it was troublesome, he did not really think so.

“…You’re really a good person.”

“Hm? Why mention this out of a sudden?”

“I’ll write off the last time you pointed the gun at me.”

Upon hearing that, Yuri scratched his head awkwardly,

“Sorry…”

“So, what happened to daddy—Hampnie? Did he run away after seeing you, Mr Yuri?”

“No…this is the problem. It’s just too weird…”

Yuri frowned, forming wrinkles on his forehead.

“After the explosion happened on the cliff, the gunfight continued. Then, there was a volley of fire, followed by silence.”

“? What do you mean?”

“Looking at how Hampnie normally wins when going one on many, the gunfire should quiet down in phases, like how people slowly die out…but this time, it’s a volley of fire, followed by silence. And…”

Yuri took out a rubber stick with a cross shaped scar.

“What is this?”

“Rubber bullets, obviously. It’s used for riot suppression.”

Saying that, he scented at the air with his high nose.

“I know this gunpowder smell, and the smell of compressed air in an airgun. I’m guessing that the bandits preparing such toys aren’t normal.”

No matter how severe Hampnie ‘s wounds were, once he died, he would recover completely.

In other words, the only way to beat Hampnie was to capture him alive, and these tools were meant to facilitate that.

Ai felt cold sweat.

“Was he…captured…?”

“Likely.”

“That…”

That terrifying Hampnie was captured?

“…Hard to imagine that.”

“I feel the same…that’s some feat to accomplish if he wasn’t planning to be captured.”

Ai hurriedly opened her backpack, and prepared a change of undergarments.

“We can’t keep wasting time now! We have to hurry and save him!”

“Save…Hampnie?”

Yuri sounded incredulous.

“What do you mean?”

“No…think about it. he’s a monster. People will ask him for help, and not the other way around. He should be able to deal with this himself. Even if we do help him out, he’ll just say that we’re busybodies.”

Saying that, Yuri sneered at himself, and Ai was still seething as she clenched at her underwear.

“Please don’t be sure of what kind of person he is! He’s so scared of loneliness, and if we don’t save him, he’ll be all the more lonely. Even he thinks that he’s a monster now…he’s stupid!”

Yuri stared at Ai. Her eyes were raging, crumpling the underwear in her hand.

“…Now that’s shocking. Someone actually treats him as human.”

“Of course! If you say he’s a monster again, I’ll beat your snot out! Get it!?”

Ai raised her hand holding her undergarments.

“I get it, I get it. I won’t say anymore …”

Yuri raised his hands to surrender. Ai snorted in satisfaction, and finally put on her undergarment. It was wringed dry.

“Yuri Sakuma Dmitriyevich.”

His rock like right hand was reached out before Ai.

“I respect your convictions.”

“…I’m Ai.”

She held it tentatively, and her hand was shaken up and down, causing her to retract it immediately.

“Ai. Nice name.”

This man’s so handsome.

Ai remembered that she had just accidentally shook hands using her hand holding her undergarments, and worried if it was fine.

“…I saw what happened to your village. I heard about all your bitterness and that ‘daddy’ you speak of. I’m willing to help.”

“You…know the significance of ‘that incident’?”

“I guess I do, but…”

“Understood. Please don’t say anything. This is my own problem.”

“…Did you figure out something?”

“…Who knows? I don’t know how much I figured out or not, but I have a feeling..”

“Feeling?”

“Yes, I do think daddy’s right. I’ll know about everything soon…”

“Is there any basis to you saying this?”

“Nothing, it’s just instinct.”

Ai spun her shovel around.

“But my instincts are pretty sharp, you know? Recently, whenever I have bad feelings, my accuracy is abnormally high…”

“…Looks that way.”

Yuri sneered.

“Alright! Let’s go. Mr Yuri, please lead the way.”

“Hm, yeah, about this …”

“What is it?”

Suddenly, Ai remembered that Yuri intended to kill Hampnie, and he was given the slip after they promised to have a showdown. Perhaps he was yearning to see his sworn enemy be caught in a fix.

“…You don’t want to save him? You really do hate him, don’t you…?”

“No, that’s not it. I hate to say it, but he’s right…I don’t want to admit it…but right now, I really can’t shoot him…”

Yuri put a hand on his face.

“That bastard’s still a friend of mine.”

The blue-eyed beast was saying that Hampnie was despicable.

“Then…”

“Well, I’m worried about something a little more basic.”

Yuri looked afar, saying with a grim look.

 

“Actually, I didn’t see where they took him.”

 

“You’re useless!”

Ai yelled.

“What’s the situation! Aren’t you here to give chase after daddy!”

“Right now…I can’t bring myself to shoot him.”

“You’re so uncool! This isn’t an issue about emotions, but ability, right?”

“Like, what can I do!? You were washed down the river to me.”

“Well, thanks for that…and that’s why you’re just ‘acting according to priority’.”

“Ugh, you’re right on the mark there.”

“This isn’t important! The time now is …”

Ai took out the watch that was always kept away. The time shown left her in utter disbelief.

“I passed out for two hours?”

“Yeah. You were still in the water just now. You drifted on a log at such a close place, and because of this, I found you much later, so I can’t tell if you’re lucky or not.”

Ai shivered. She did crawl out from the depths of death. Thus, she decided to kick Hampnie first.

“Anyway, let’s hurry back. There’s many of time, and it’s easy to find them. I’m a hunter after all.”

Given how he showed up, it appeared he really was capable.

“But…we have a hurry.”

He was a captive of the Undead. These words had her imagining a terrifying visual.

“…Yes. We have to hurry.”

Without saying anything more, Yuri put on his clothes.

“Oh?”

At this moment …

“This is a strange place we are meeting at, Miss Ai.”

A perfect voice could be heard.

“Miss Scar!”

“Yes, good afternoon. No, perhaps I should say, good evening?”

This person was holding a glittering silver shovel, showing a perfect smile.

The gravekeeper with the scar on her face was standing there.

Part III

(Gyyyyyyaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!)

Hampnie woke up due to a scream.

“Ah, you woke up?”

With his head still groggy, he looked around. It appeared to be a hut on the hills. There were seven others with him.

There was nothing common among the seven, whether it was their age, race, and gender. Only the scent lingering in the room, along with their faces, left him really disgusted.

He could not figure out who screamed.

“Hey~ you sleepyhead? Look at me.”

He ignored the man before him, so that he could affirm his situation.

“Hey hey, look at me. Call my name sweetly…”

“Shut up, who are you?”

“Yay! I win!”

Once he said that, Hampnie was shot right through the eyes.

“That’s a new record! Mission cleared! Alright you guys, I win! Hand it over!”

The man returned the handgun, and took the dagger and gemstones that were handed over.

Hampnie immediately revived, yelling,

“…Who are you guys!?”

“That’s weird. We never said our names?”

“I didn’t hear that!”

Hampnie was agitated, while the man frivolously noted.

No no no, we said it, Hampnie Hambert. We heard that if you die under extreme mental duress, you’ll lose your memories, right?”

“You guys, where did you…”

He wanted to ask where did they heard it from, but once he saw the glee before him, he realized.

“From where…here, through experiment and results. Ahh, how amazing.”

“—You scumbags!”

“Actually, we were all taking turns to kill you. Whoever killed your mind and caused you the longest time to recover is the winner. So I win! So I’m taking the prize here!”

The man knelt down happily, digging out Hampnie’s left eye.

“Gyyyyyyaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!”

Hampnie realized that the scream came from him.

“So pretty.”

The man toyed with the left eye in his hand.

“A nice toy you are. Too bad that the moment you die, even a drop of blood will vanish, and you’ll recover like before. That’s why there’s no way for you to just repair a part. Too bad.”

He sighed with melancholy.

“But you can’t grow fat thanks to that.”

Hampnie gulped.

“You shitty bastards!!!!”

“Enough, stop being so angry, will ya? “

“Scumbags! Scumbags! Scumbags!”

He just so happened to be captured by the worst of them. A torture or two would not cause Hampnie to succumb, and the reset of his memories after his mind was killed off would not happen so easily. However, he did not remember anything that happened after he was brought to this hut!

With his remaining right eye, he looked back at himself. He thought they had changed his tattered clothes for him, but on a closer look, he realized that no, he was dressed in his usual travelling clothes. He did not know what they did to him. His shirt, pants, belt and even coat were like minced meat.

“I’ll kill you! I’ll kill you! I’ll kill you! I’ll kill you!”

“Aha, now here’s some new insult! That’s how it should be.”

“Who are you!? What do you want!?”

“Hm? You forgot that too?”

The man sneered, and the woman watching from behind said,

“Hiko, you never explained.”

“Eh? Is that so?”

“Yes boss. You were like a brat, just going ‘let’s lynch him’ when we hurried to this hut …”

“Ahahah, shut up, you idiot.”

The man fired, hitting the shorty seated at the beam of the cabin, who then fell to the ground.

Everyone’s reaction was to laugh maniacally, as though a funny joke was made.

Hampnie gnashed his teeth, and spat with some venom.

 

“You rotten Dead!”

 

Everyone suddenly stopped laughing, before they giggled.

“Hmph. Of course you’re realize…how about this?”

“Shut up, you rotten brains! You’re the worst of the worst of the Dead!”

“You’re right. Sorry for cutting away at you without chatting. How about a halftime break? So, everyone agree? Enough fun here?”

The man turned around, asking for everyone’s agreement.

“What’s there to be unhappy about? You’re the one who played the most, boss! More like you’re a quick shooter—”

“Ahahah, sorry, sorry.”

The man who was shot down hopped up, and was again shot.

Laughter filled the entire hut.

“…A loss of self-restraint, a simplification of desires, and the aggressive instinct of the ‘reptilian complex’ took over. This is the classic thought process of people who the urge to kill after they die…”

“But there ain’t a lot of us cool guys here, you know?”

The man twirled his gun, trying to act cool.

“So, let’s do this again, Hampnie Hambert. I’m Hikotsu, and everyone calls me Hiko, I hope you’ll call me that.”

The man’s eyes were bloody red, his hair was bleached white, his lanky limbs white like wax.

“So Hampnie, can you tell what’s my dressup is about? I’m trying to imitate you. I’m a big fan of yours. Those eyes! Those muscles! That voice! That immortal body! That cruelty!…you’re so wonderful.”

Hiko narrowed his eyes in ecstasy.

“It’s the first time I’m trying to become someone else, but it’s really difficult trying to become you. I can change my appearance in many ways, but that immortality is a difficult thing. So…”

“So you might as well die and become a monster?”

Hiko was cut off, and he looked displeased by this.

“…Well, sort of. That’s how it is. We settled your immortality through death. Well, we wanted to ask the ‘witch’ for help, but there’s no time.”

“Hmph, you want the shitty hag to clean up after your mess? Fool…and so are the others, I guess.”

Hampnie scanned the hut.

One was rubbing adhesives onto his head like a gel, one was spraying perfume everyone, one ignored the gaping wound in the chest, one took a preservative as a drink, one who just got shot, and got up immediately, and another one went about delivering friendly fires.

None of the seven were the living.

The thick scent of perfume was mixed with the rotten stench, resulting in a flower grown in Hell.

“They agree with me. Such nice companions.”

“…They’re mad.”

“Well, part of the reason is that without doing this, we can’t catch you…you’re really amazing. Half of the guys we got ended up wiped out by you, and can’t say anything you. You know how to use your immortality. That reputation of yours is well deserved, Hampnie Hambert.”

“It seems you want to praise yourself, but you guys are fools, selling your lives away just to capture a fool like me.”

“Of course not. You can’t be belittling yourself, since you’re so wonderful. Ah, you hate people praising your appearance? Oh my, did I make you angry because I talked about this? Well sorry then.”

“Going at your own pace…can’t you listen to others for once?”

“What’s most wonderful about you is your mentality.”

Hiko said.

“Which one comes first? The chicken or the egg? Did a curse crate a miracle that is you, or that you brought the curse upon you…well, I don’t understand, but that mentality of yours is amazing! Silently judging the dead, killing for your dark sense of justice, kill, kill kill. Yup~ that’s awesome.”

“So a degradation of your self-insert tendencies…looks like you added a lot more stuff there.”

“Don’t be humble. I know everything about you, down to the little bit.”

Like a lover, Hiko leaned towards the one he idolized.

“Hampnie Hambert, you want to die. Am I right?”

“…”

Hampnie didn’t answer.

“I know. I know your ambition. You want to kill yourself too, and take back the death God stole from you, right?”

“…”

Hiko seemed to have taken silence as consent.

“In that case! I’ll kill you!”

“…Can you kill me?”

“Yup, I’ll fulfil your wish!”

“What makes you think so? Any proof you can do it?”

Hiko got increasing excited, while Hampnie continued to converse calmly.

“None, but I’ve always been like this since young, that if I want to, I can do it. I guess I should be able to, right?”

“So all subjectiveness is gone, and you puffed yourself up…you don’t have this ability.”

Hampnie sighed hard.

“Come on, let’s have a few more rounds now.”

Hiko was holding lots of tools in his hands.

A knife, stick, gun, scissors, oil, water, rope, cloth, sand, needle, taser, gunpowder, pen, lens, lever, pulley, planing knife, sickle, mouth, trowel, beetles…

He was grinning like a child who was holding a trove of candy

“…These things can’t kill me.”

“Don’t say that. Let’s try it out first, shall me.”

“You tried…enough.”

Hampnie watched the tools with boredom. Clearly, his words of sincerity did not reach Hiko.

“Ah, is that so? But, let’s try this again…”

“You and your rotten brain…also, you’re wrong to begin with. My wish isn’t to ‘just die’.”

“Eh?”

Hiko was elated, only to be dumbfounded once he heard this. The overly bubbly expression vanished completely, as though he was a completely different person.

From the many weapons he had, he drew a knife.

“…What’s going on? Isn’t your utmost goal to die? You’re lying when you say you want to die? You’re lying? You lied to me? Are you lying? You lying? You lying? You lying? What’s the lie?”

“Such a strong stereotype, sure comes from the aggressive to protect yourself …”

“Enough! With! This Nonsense!”

For every yell he made, he hacked once. Hampnie was soon hacked to a pulp.

“Answer me!”

While bleeding all over, Hampnie answered,

“I wasn’t…lying.”

These words changed Hiko’s attitude completely.

“What…that wasn’t a lie? Great, stop scaring me, okay? Ah, sorry for the many stabs.”

“Hiko, my wish isn’t that simple.”

“…What?”

“I don’t just want to die. I want to die ‘happy’ …”

Hiko tilted his head, pressing the blade at Hampnie’s neck.

“Hampnie, what are you saying? Come on, don’t let me down.”

Hampnie laughed,

“…I never said this to anyone, but I think I should make this clear…I say, Hiko …”

“Don’t say it!”

 

“I want to die happy.”

 

The white skin was stained with blood, and the dying man narrated his dream,

“I saw lots of people die, and I hope for someone to take care of me when I die…I don’t care where it is…I just want my friends…my wife, my children…any descendents to cry for me…to mourn for me. That’s the lingering regret I want…before I die…that’s all.”

The air became frigid, the hut as cold as the freezer of a butcher.

Hiko shivered.

“H-Hampnie…is this…your wish?”

“Right.”

“You want…such an ordinary, boring death?”

“Boring? Coming from you? …Nobody on this world can fulfil my wish.”

On this world where everything had ended, everyone had given up on this dream. Without any children to be born, there were no descendents to speak of.

Despite so, Hampnie lifted his head proudly, boldy, undaunted by the naysayers.

“My wish is to live happily, and to die happily!”

“No…how’s that, possible…how…is it…possible…”

The knife fell from Hiko’s hands, and he grabbed his own hair.

“You’re betraying me now!? First you become the most important existence to me, and now you’re betraying me!?”

Hampnie tersely responded,

“Who cares about you, you idiot?”

“Gyyaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!”

Hiko shrieked, tearing his hair out, rubbed aside his contacts, nearly digging out his eyeball as a result, and scratched at his white skin.

Then, he showed a change of attitude again.

“Whatever, you’re just our toy after all.”

Hiko regained his calm, and was so calm, what happened before seemed like a mere joke. The, he pointed the handgun on Hampnie.

“You lack concentration…is your fanaticism and conviction just a fleeting illusion? Such a pitiful fellow you are.”

“Whatever you say.”

“…Okay, you guys are doomed anyway.”

“Doomed? Why? We still have many dreams.”

“Looks like your predictive ability has failed…this country has no capability to hold all you guys. Given how your brains have rotted, there’s no way you could have any tickets for the ‘North’. Those mangled bodies of yours will rot and become limp. Until then…”

Hampnie showed a cruel smile confident of victory.

“Don’t think I’ll just hand over you guys to the gravekeeper.”

“Ahahahahaha! What a pity! You thought we never thought about it?”

“Oh really?”

Hampnie seemed bemused.

“You dare the word ‘think’ with your rotten brains? Interesting.”

“Ehhh, heheheh, actually, it’s nearby.”

“What place is near?”

“Hehehe, you wanna know? Sure you know?”

“…Spill the beans already. I’m dying …”

Hiko cackled away, spreading his arms wide,

“Opposite this hill is a ‘Heaven’!”

Hampnie shot him a look of pity.

“I pity you… the thing that rotted first inside you is your brain …”

“Not at all! Heaven is just a description! There really is one opposite…I hear there’s a land of the Dead with no pain or prejudice. A really wonderful place …”

Hiko was elated, clapping his hands together.

“Hmph…so you mean that place accepts monsters like you too? So that’s your idea…rotten brains, even your ideas are rotten.”

“Huh, what? You envy us? Isn’t it wonderful? Amazing? Like a dream…that’s definitely a nice place …”

“Not really.”

“Eh?? What? What’s going on? You know where it is?”

“Yes.”

Hiko asked, and Hampnie retorted.

 

“That place got wrecked by me.”

 

There was dead silence in the air.

“…Hey.”

Hiko stumbled forward, and leaned towards Hampnie

“Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey hey hey, hey hey hey hey hey hey, hey! How can you do such a thing!!!!”

“Ahahaha! Ahahahahahahaha! Ahahahahahahahahahahahaha!”

“Stop laughing—!”

The empty eye socket was jammed in with a gun, but Hampnie kept laughing.

“Ahahahahaha!! So the remaining brains of yours don’t understand what’s going on!? Amazing! Now taste the despair!”

“Shut up!”

He was punched, kicked at, beaten, stabbed, scratched, bent, hammer, burnt, flushed, scooped, and lynched.

But Hampnie kept laughing.

“Ahh! Enough! I had enough!”

Though mad, Hiko grabbed the gun in a trained manner, his gun pointed at Hampnie’s remaining right eye.

“I’ll kill you! As many times as I can!”

“Keep killing me, but the one standing at the end will be me, so keep barking a few times while you can.”

Both sides gave smirks of victory, the black eyes and red eye glare at each other with malice.

A bloodbath was about to begin. The only plan was to annihilate each other. Clearly, a bloodbath was happening.

And the first knife was about to be raised…

Suddenly, the door was opened.

“Greetings , I have pursued you for a long time.”

A perfect speaking voice was heard.

“I am the gravekeeper Scar, here to bury you.”

Gravekeeper! Upon hearing that, the Dead raised their guns in unison.

“Wait, Miss Scar! Why are you charging in immediately?”

Then, another voice interrupted, cutting both of them.

“Didn’t Mr Yuri say to observe the situation!?”

“We gravekeepers prioritize speed, no matter whether humans are inconvenienced, even if they are dead or alive.”

The one talking leaned out through the gap at the gap, tugging at Scar’s shirt.

“Enough, please stop!”

“Understood.”

Scar immediately stopped.

“Eh? Th-that’s weird. You’re willing to stop?”

“You are an individual ranked higher than me. Surely I should abide.”

“O-oh, I see…I’m not really sure what’s going on, but first …”

“Ai!”

Hampnie yelled. The confident expression he had vanished in an instant.

“Wah! D-daddy! What happened to you …”

“This isn’t important! Why are you here!?”

“P-please don’t be angry. I hurried here …”

“This isn’t the problem! Why did you come?”

These words echoed everyone’s sentiments. Hampnie was dumbfounded, the Dead gave looks at each other, and Hiko smirked, saying,

“How interesting.”

He stopped his subordinates from acting wildly.

Ai stood in the middle, smiling away, saying,

“I’m here to save you, of course!”

“You idiot!”

“You’re calling me an idiot!? I’m the one coming to save you here!”

“That’s my line! A monster likes his chances of winning! You’re a lot weaker than me, and you want to save me? Stop being cocky!”

“What logic is that? You don’t want others to save you!? Are you going to keep saying that you’re a monster, and really become one?”

“Shut up. We’re not blood related. Stop butting in!”

“I would have abandoned you if we aren’t blood related!”

“Then just scram! I got nothing to do with you!”

Ai’s rationality snapped. She abandoned all restraint as she spoke up.

“…Of course you do!”

“Huh?”

“I said we’re related!”

Her green eyes were showing, the silver shovel was glittering.

“I’m Ai, the daughter of Hampnie Hambert and the original gravekeeper.”

“…So what?”

“Mama’s…pretty, and children, and a glutton…always going gyahaha when she laughs.”

“…So…what?”

Hampnie had mentioned these before, but Ai was not done,

“She can’t whistle…can’t cook, eats a lot, has nimble hands, but can’t tie her shoelaces. She cleans up a lot, uses weird language, sneezes really loudly, hates cigarettes and perfume, love sweets…she loves to eat…and eat …”

Thump.

Hampnie’s heart faltered. The past scenes were recollected with the face before him.

“And she…loved you.”

She was as observant as an adult, and as innocent as a child. Whenever he shot at the dead, she would be angry. She would cry for others, dreamed of building a Heaven…and she loved him.

Her face remained before him.

“You’re my…daughter?”

—Brown hair, black eyes, a perfect face, of similar height to me, small; breasts.

When he said this, he had thought of her brown hair as blond, and black as green, and found their faces to be shockingly similar. Since she was a gravekeeper, he understood why she hid her face.

He could see a smiling afterimage.

“I told you…so many times already …”

Ai frowned, saying this awkwardly.

“I say, you two. Nice chat you have, sorry for interrupting.”

At this moment, Hiko interrupted. Ai stood before Hampnie, facing Hiko directly.

“…You’re the mastermind?”

With blazing eyes, Ai looked back and forth between him and the dying Hampnie.

“How cruel…”

“Hm, you’re angry just because of this? Even if he dies, it’s fine. Does it matter? Enough with that. Nice to meet you, Missy. The name’s Hiko .”

“…The name’s Ai.”

“So, little Ai? Speaking of which, we just heard what you said …”

Hiko gave an innocent smile.

“What are you? Born to a gravekeeper and a human? Hampnie’s daughter? So you’re born in these 15 years? What is this! This is so special! Amazing!”

“Th-thank you …”

Ai heard the praise, and saw the outstretched hand, so she shook hands with Hiko.

“Sorta…”

With the hand he just shook with, Hiko pointed a gun at Ai,

“I wonder if Hampnie will be delighted to see little Ai tortured?”

Ai saw the gun pointed towards her face, and sighed. She had been encountering such situations recently.

“Stop it, all of you! Scar, do something!”

“You have no right to order me.”

“Shut up! Hampnie.”

“Hey! Brat! If you dare do anything funny, you beloved daddy will really suffer here!”

“Seriously, can’t you act a little gentlemanly…”

There was a ruckus in the room, and everyone present was chatting away, shouting away.

Ai stood in the middle, watching everything. She was recognizing every bit of information she knew of, including Hampnie’s injuries, the scars left on the bandits, gunpowder, rotten water.

And the scent of perfume used to mask the old stench of people.

 

“You’re filthy.”

 

Ai statedly adamantly.

There was instant silence in the hut, followed by laughter. Everyone was laughing away, their faces basically saying, isn’t this obvious. Hiko was the only one looking lie he was a little hurt.

“We’re all rotten.”

“What can we do about it? We’re all dead! What now? You scared, little girl?”

While everyone was mocking her, Ai closed her eyes. She was fully convinced.

She understood everything, what Hampnie’s justice meant, what evil everyone did, the secret behind the birth of the village, and Ai’s raison d’etre as a gravekeeper.

She knew the significance of Hampnie leaving her as the only one alive, the reason for Yoki apologizing to her every night, her mother’s wishes to rebuild Heaven, and the villagers hoping to groom her into an indecent gravekeeper.

Her village was…

“…Necropolis…”

The Heaven of blissfulness for the Dead.

She felt that Yoki, Hampnie, Scar and Yuri were ‘pretty’, for they were ‘normal’, not that they were really pretty.

She was the abnormal one, for being accustomed to the faulty limbs, white rotten eyes, unhealable wounds, and corroded skins of the villagers. The musky scent she liked was just the rotten stench of the corpses.

Initially, it all went well. When her mother was still alive, it was truly a Heaven.

But when the malfunctioning gravekeeper died, the village was engulfed in a frenzy.

The people, unwilling to abandon Heaven, fooled a child who just lost her mother to death, educated her to their benefit, and had her wield the shovel. It was how they were able to evade the interference of the other gravekeepers, and scraped by. They had Yoki apologize to her, and overly doted on their gravekeeper.

It was a matter of time until they faltered.

Finally, the village was wiped out by Hampnie Hambert. The Dead should die, and with his sense of justice, he terminated the village.

And at this point, she alone stood here.

“So you finally figured out…?”

Hampnie whispered.

“It’s not right for me to say this…I hope you won’t hate them too much over this.”

“Of-of course…they were left with no choice.”

Ai wiped her tears off.

She kept thinking. Was there no other way out? Could everyone not have told this to her, and have her follow the path of her mother?

But people are timid, and would never dare to pick this path.

They would not choose this path, no matter what.

Just as she did not want them to reveal everything.

None of them dared to reveal everything.

This fact left Ai despondent, sympathetic, and she even cried over it.

But even so …

She wiped her tears away, for she had a path to continue.

“…Okay, everyone, I’m a gravekeeper, but I’m still a human, so I’m not going to bury you as what I’m supposed to do. If you let daddy go and swear not to continue with your misdeeds, I can let you go …”

Pew a sound blew by, and hot hair grazed Ai’s ear. The enemy did not mishit on purpose, and it was Ai who dodged the bullet that was aimed right at her ear with minimal movements.

“So, little Ai, you think you’re in a position to demand from us?”

“…So you’re not going to listen to me?”

Ai gripped the shovel firmly.

“Really. To be honest, I was happy to be rejected by you. You went overboard on daddy, and I don’t think I can forgive you for this…no, I’ll stop lying to myself. Even if you say you’ll change for the better, I won’t believe you…”

“Really? Sorry? Then, what are you going to do?”

The gun remained locked on.

“Ai, stop it! Don’t taunt them. You psycho! Fight me if you dare!”

With his mouth, the only free thing he had left, Hampnie tried to divert attention, but nobody was baited.

Hiko, and even Ai did not hear his please. The mockery and rage were clashing, cutting away all retreat paths.

“At the very least, I’ll bring you eternal rest.”

“Leave your bedtalk for your death.”

“Farewell then.”

“Time to make you part of me.”

Before Hampnie could yell, a gunshot echoed. It happened before everyone could take action, and following that, some time passed.

“This!”

The handgun was shot out of Hiko’s hand. The gunshot came from outside the hut.

“Yuri!? Ai, run away now!”

Ai was so calm, she had the time to think that it was atypical for Hampnie to be so worried. Upon hearing him tell her to run, she had a thought. Everyone present was taken aback by the sudden sniper, not knowing what to do.

If she was alone to begin with, Ai could have escaped on her own. She agreed. However,

“Haahh!!”

Clank~!

“What are you doing!?”

But Ai showed no intention of running away, and even roared, using the shovel to knock out Hiko, who intended to grab the gun.

“Run, you idiot! You’re so weak!”

“That won’t do. I have to save you first, daddy!”

The Dead were done spacing out. The remaining six ignored the fact that their leader was no longer present as they readied themselves for battle. The shorty and a woman were closing in from blind spots unhittable from the outside, while the others got into firing angles where they would not hit their allies.

Thus, Ai said,

“Miss Scar.”

“Please be the backup.”

You idiot! Hampnie was about to berate Ai, but the two had already closed in. The woman was attacking with punches, while the short one was reaching out for her collar. Both of them tried to capture her, but it seemed they intended to break a rib or two while capturing her.

The mantis chop and the octopus feelers were reading her movements, trying to win with one decisive strike.

Ai’s reaction in turn was—

“Ha!”

To simply swing the shovel horizontally.

Two of the Dead went flying like twigs.

“Huh?”

Every person in the room blurted out.

“Ai, you…”

Hampnie spoke up for everyone,

“You’re pretty capable.”

Truly, there was the blood of a gravekeeper flowing within her petite body.

“You’re the one who’s ridiculously strong!”

Ai was somewhat seething as she replied.

*

The battle kept going. The remaining four hid in the storage of the hut, firing rounds as they tried to fend off the two gravekeepers.

But this little skirmish was basically over.

Hampnie watched this scene with his right eye, lazily sinking into his own thought.

…I never thought I would meet my daughter while looking for my lover …

This daughter was not hiding behind the entrance. She was throwing rocks and twigs along with Scar. They flew by him like a mesmerizing fastball.

He yawned, his emotions somewhat dulled. There was an excessive loss of blood, and so he knew, from his usual thoughts, that he was about to die.

It had been a while since he had the urge not to die. He felt that since Ai was so desperate to save him, it would be sacrilege for him to die off like this. Once he had such a thought, he gained some strength to continue living on, and opened his eyes.

Ai was at the entrance, busy with the battle. However, her worried eyes remained on Hampnie.

…What was with that face? Was it not the face of a family member witnessing a dead person for the last time…?

He had nothing to do, and he felt like smoking. However, his shirt was reduced to torn fabric, and he had no pockets to speak of, let alone cigarettes. His hands were tied, and this was not the time for him to look for a smoke. At the very least, Hampnie knew how to read the mood.

Right when he was wondering what to do, he turned his eyes to the side, and what luck he had! There was a crumpled cigarette dropped at the side of the wall, miraculously. He twisted his body about, reaching his leg out, ignoring the deathmatch by his side as he danced about like a moth. In the process, he was hit by a few stray shots, but he did not mind.

Finally, he picked it up with his mind, took a puff, and realized something was amiss.

There was no fire.

Suddenly, he felt that nothing mattered. He did not know whether the hut would ignite into flames, but the ending surely would not be pretty.

Time passed…and his vision got dark. He was running out of blood. His heart was pounding wildly, but it was pointless.

…Damn it, I want a smoke…

It was a lingering regret.

The battle was going to end, but right when the coast seemed to be clear for the enemy camp, there were bullets flying in. Yuri had take a detour forward, shooting from a different direction. Truly, he was experienced in combat.

…But I never thought I’ll have a daughter…that Hana, no, is her real name Alfa? Always the wild one. She left on her own, and died …

His thoughts lost all focus. The situation seemed really bad.

He tried to buck up, and inhaled at the unlit cigarette.

And then, he recalled that she always hated cigarettes.

Suddenly, he teared up, not because of sadness, but that his body was seemingly simply reacting according to a promise. This is troublesome. He could not appear before Ai in this manner, for she too would cry.

…But this just feels so surreal. He was not made for this. He was not a good father…

Yet Ai just kept calling him daddy.

…He carried her …

He recalled the moment when he carried her on his back.

…If that made her happy, he could…carry her again…

He felt he was not made for this, yet thinking about this made him happy.

Soon after, the battle ended like an extinguished flame. Ai was the first to run over.

“Daddy!”

…Ehhh, stop crying, it’s annoying. How many times have I seen this scene, I wonder …

But Ai remained teary as she tried to bandage Hampnie.

…It’s more practical to kill me off here…goodness…

“…Don’t cry …”

“Daddy!”

Once Hampnie spoke, Ai immediately broke into a smile.

“…Goodness, you brat. Stop causing me trouble here, okay …”

“But, you’re bleeding so much…”

“…I’ll die…have a nap, and I’ll be fine…stop panicking already…”

“But…”

“…I beg of you…just let me…sleep a bit…”

Ai did not oblige, shaking her head with tears in her eyes.

…Kids really are annoying…

So he thought as he closed his eyes…at this moment, he recalled something he had to say before he died.

“Ai…”

“Yes! What is it?”

“…I never told you my name…not even your mother knows this.”

With his last ounce of strength, he inhaled, saying,

“…My name is Kizuna…Kizuna Astin, so you’re Ai Astin.”

“Ai Astin.”

“…Nice name.”

…That’s really a name she would have given…

So he thought, and he suddenly arrived at his limit. His vision got dark, his voice seemed distant, and his consciousness splintered…damn it, I still have lots of things to say…

He had lots of things he wanted to tell Ai, to ask, and wanted to do for her. However, he felt tired thinking about that…ahh, it’s been a while since I felt this way…

He kept watching Ai’s moist eyes until the very end.

…Sure feels like the first time I died…

The sad words kept lingering at his ears.

…I really don’t want to die.

His thoughts were snapped, vanishing completely.

And so…

He lost his wife…

His daughter cried for him…

With his friend and a gravekeeper watching on…filled with some lingering regrets…

Hampnie Hambert died.

Part IV

On the evening two days later, Hampnie woke up, and practically fulfilled all the wishes Ai had for him. He carried her, had her sit on his shoulders, and patted her head.

Ai was having fun, and kept on giving new requests. She got scolded at times for being too greedy, but even that left her elated.

She was thrilled to be scolded.

Scar smiled as she watched on, while Yuri quietly observed.

The group slowly returned to the road. Hampnie talked a lot, and Ai talked a lot. With the setting sun behind them, they passed the hills, strolling beneath the full moon.

Ai kept smiling away as she rode upon Hampnie’s shoulders. It was a dream-like night.

They arrived at the village, so depressingly quickly, and walked towards the graveyard.

The graves beneath the moon appeared bigger than they were in the day

The moment of departure arrived in the blink of an eye.

Ai asked for everything selfish she could have asked for, except for the one earnest desire she had. She knew that even if she did say so, it would have left him perturbed.

Hampnie quietly realized her intentions, and apologized.

Ai smiled, playing dumb. She kept smiling.

Even until Hampnie finally laid down.

She felt that she should force a smile when she dug the dirt out with the shovel. She couldn’t remember if she was smiling when the first bits of dirt was tossed upon Hampnie.

“Uu…”

She was bawling by the time Hampnie closed his eyes.

 

“Waahh, aahhhh, ahhhh————————…”

 

 

She moved the dirt with her shovel, burying the dead, not leaving a single opening.

The work was done amidst tears.

Ai bawled as she waved the shovel. Her face was wrinkled due to the crying as she tossed the dirt into the grave, being all emotional as she dug at the ground.

The right eye, the only thing left of Hampnie, never opened again, and the scarred skin was gradually seeping into the ground.

The miracle that allowed Hampnie to live till this day vanished miraculously at this moment.

After the brief, stiff moment of slumber that occurred after death, the dead will get up, realize his self. For he, who loved humans more than anyone else, was applicable to his own justice of hating the dead.

But for his daughter, he was willing to show his ugly side.

Ai knew how big of an exception it was to Kizuna Astin. Thus, she never said her biggest wish.

She couldn’t say that she wanted him to stay by her side.

She decided it was for the best, so she smiled.

However, that was the only point when she hoped to cry a little.

“Uuuu, waahhh—! Wahhhhhh, waaaaa, uuuuu.”

Scar, Yuri and the moon watched her without saying a word, mourning the being that departed this world for eternity.

And so, the grave was finished. The one remaining pit was filled.

The grave was right beside her mother’s.

Ai wiped off her tears and snot openly, lifted the shovel, and moved aside for Yuri.

“…Is this fine?”

“Yes…please.”

She was done crying, done being sad.

Yuri stood before the grave, offering a little flower of the Spring, and lit a crumpled cigarette, placing it at the grave.

“Here lies one born as a human, lived as a human, and died as a human.”

Scar muttered a prayer. The other two remained silent. The stars flickered in the hazy purple sky, the cigarette smoke rising towards there.

The burial ended.

“What are you…going to do from now on?”

After a long silence, Yuri asked. The moon got weaker, and the surrounding mist brightened.

The sun slowly rose in the East, glowing away. Ai wiped her face, raised her shovel, and the silver head reflected the sunrise brightly.

“I’m a gravekeeper…no”

Her mother saved the dead, creating Heaven.

Her father saved the living, separating them from Hell.

“I want to be a gravekeeper!”

Ai chose to inherit their ambition on her own volition, and carve out a new path for herself.

“People can be kind or evil, but no matter whether they’re living or dead, I want to keep taking care of them.”

It was a declaration of a rebellion.

“Even if Heaven and Hell are gone, even if God is gone, I’m not going to let this world end!”

She lifted her shovel, and watched the sun rising in the horizon. Seeing everything, she proudly declared.

She widened her green eyes towards the celestial bodies revolving in the skies.

“If this world has been forsaken by God, I shall take it all!”

The girl swore to retrieve the right to live and to die. There were only two listeners

“You’re willing to help!?”

Ai’s teary face beamed towards them.

Yuri narrowed his eyes, asking,

“…This isn’t an attainable dream, you know? This isn’t as simple as flying in the sky or visiting the moon in the sky. You’re basically going to another universe here. Do you understand?”

Ai bluntly retorted,

“I don’t know!”

“…Hey wait…”

“I don’t know now…but.”

The green eyes remained widened.

“I want to understand…no matter whether I get there or not!”

“…I see. I got nothing to say then. I’ll lend you a hand.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. Got nothing else to do anyway.”

Yuri reached out his rock-like hand. Ai held it elatedly.

“What about you, Miss Scar?”

“I…”

Scar looked extremely perturbed.

“I…cannot make a decision. What…is the matter with you? You are making me confused. This is not a function we should have …”

“…So, no?”

“About that…I cannot be certain.”

Scar shook her head.

“So…I want to have a good look. At you.”

“Of me?”

“Yes. I want to look at the ideals you and your mother have. If I want to surpass my own functions as a gravekeeper…does this mean that I too am malfunctioning?”

Scar clearly looked unnerved, stroking her facial scar with her right hand.

But Ai gave the biggest affirmation to her words,

“I think that’s right! I hope you can find your dreams too!”

This time, Ai reached her right hand forth. Scar held her hand tentatively.

Gathered here was a human, a gravekeeper and a child. They were holding hands.

“Now then, let’s find some place with people around.”

The human man rowed the boat.

“In that case, let’s get back onto the roads again.”

The gravekeeper girl read the direction of the wind.

“I want to go to places with lots of people! And places with lots of delicious food!”

Finally, the child took the lead.

 

Shoelaces,

 

Tied.

 

Backpack,

 

Carried.

 

Cap worn. Shovel raised.

 

So Ai strode forth.

For the sake of her great ambition.

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