I want to save her.
This will and blood flowing through the veins kept her legs going, and she knew nothing of fatigue.
I’m going to save Ulla.
Her body was full of power, and the legs worked faithfully, her eyes bloodshot, and the moonlight was amplified exponentially.
Ai raced through the night in Ortus. The city full of Dead did not need to sleep at night, and it was so bustling beyond imagination everywhere, so there were few roads to walk. Half the night had passed by the time she arrived at the Palace.
And unfortunately, she had made the trip for nothing. From a distance, she could see that there were few people in the Palace, and the minaret where Ulla was staying had no light at all.
Ai immediately turned back, descended the hill, and without landing on the ground, jumped straight from the roof to the next roof, looking as if she were swimming in the night sky.
After descending the hill, Ai ran across the wheat field with the speed of a beast. The fatigue that had accumulated in her feet that she had ignored with her utmost was almost overwhelming her. But Ai kept on running.
At last, she reached the outer walls of the city.
Of course, the gates were closed and a large group of guards were on guard.
It took her a long time to find a less crowded area at the edge of the city walls, and she walked a short distance. Ai clutched the toe-long protrusions on the wall with her fingers, and climbed up, occasionally falling down and hitting the brickwork with a sharp sound, which made her sweat.
Beyond the walls was a line of wilderness and sky.
Knowing the urgency of the situation, Ai was basically unconscious.
She then regained her senses. Once she saw that the situation was dire, she looked to the left, and found that the world was already tinged with purple, and only then did she notice that she was now at the southern wall.
Ai’s mind, which had not worked for a long time, then wondered if she had forgotten the more important question of where the 105 Living were staying.
She ran. Although there was no basis for it, she just ran to the east.
Many thoughts came to her head as she began to function.
Why was she running like this? What was the intention of the rush?
The sand scraped against the wilderness under her shoes, and the pebbles she kicked somehow got into her shoes, stinging the already compressed soles of her feet. Ai frowned at the dull pain, but she did not slow her pace.
The sky ahead was already white as a fish’s belly, and the night was fleeing to the west. The ‘morning’ would begin at this moment, and in the next moment, it would flow into the past.
I must catch up! She thought to herself.
Catch what? But then she asked herself.
It was as if reason and emotion were separated, and a heatwave hotter than the sun and an icy river colder than the moon were stirring in her body.
The moon, which was about to sink into the wilderness far behind, asked, “You keep saying you want to save her, but how exactly are you going to save her? Are you going to destroy all the deception surrounding her like Hampnie Hambart? Or do you have some other amazing way to make everyone happy?”
The sun in the foreground gave an answer. I don’t care about that.
But the sun’s logic still trumps the moon, which barely hangs on the horizon and sank. The ‘non-negotiable justice’ of saving lives was rising ahead, shining even brighter.
Ai looked over.
She did not know how many corners she turned, but finally, she saw the East Gate before her, and a group of Living was wandering before.
There were about a hundred of them.
These Living were dirtier and unhealthier than any of the Dead she had seen in Ortus. Each one was weary to the core, dragging their feet in the purple twilight like phantoms.
They were confronted by about thirty Dead, several of whom Ai had seen in the city. They were all Ulla’s guards.
In the center of them was a palanquin, richly made of ebony and gold. The inorganic appearance resembled less like a palanquin used to carry people and more like a holy ark used to carry important sacred objects.
The palanquin was placed on the ground and the curtain was lifted.
The guard took a young girl by the hands and led her out respectfully. She was dressed in the same twilight gown as the air around her, with several layers of tulle draped over her, and looked like a Dead in a coffin.
Then Ulla Hecmatika stood up.
Two attendants respectfully helped her to take off her coat. With the veils off, her shoulders looked cold in the wilderness.
Then the bonds were finally removed.
The straps tied around her mouth fell to her feet, and the straps covering her eyes were swept away by the strong wind before they hit the ground and blew all the way to the outer wall.
Then the sun ended the night.
The idol of murder opened her eyes.
No one whimpered, and the death sight penetrated the group of Living with the speed of light.
The group of Living fell to the ground from front to back as they were sear by the stare of the idol, along with the sun. None remained alive, and there was no pain on their faces, not a single wound on their bodies. Life was simply devoid from them.
This was the end of the killing, and all those who could die died.
The sun witnessed this moment, rising from the horizon, and shone so brightly that the idol of murder looked a blinding.
When the whole group of Dead stood up, the first action they took must have been to look at their hands with incredulous expressions, to touch their chests, and then to understand what had happened, to awaken from their tired emotions. Their emotions varied, anger to panic, but when they turn their eyes to the cause of the change, they change to the same emotion.
The idol of murder merely stared blankly at this sight.
Ai could not see her expression from this position.
Ai watched this from the back right of the palanquin, a hundred meters away. She stood frozen in place, watching the massacre unfold.
The guard seemed to have spotted her and pointed at her, not knowing what to say.
Ai did not react, but just stood there in a daze.
Suddenly Ulla seemed to notice a noise behind her and in a very unconscious movement …
She turned around.
“Idiot, what are you doing standing still!”
A blue car suddenly appeared in front of the eyes, the back seat door opened, the upper half of the lion peeked out and grabbed Ai like an abductor.
Julie did not answer and just stepped on the gas.
“You idiot! Do you want to die!?”
Ai was thrown into the back seat. She wanted nothing more than to see Ulla. She just wanted Ulla to see her, to tell her that there was someone right in front of her who wanted to save her so badly.
But with the black shades down on all the windows, the idol of murder was nowhere to be seen.
Silence engulfed the ride back. Ai slept like a Dead, and the other four were in almost identical fatigue, looking at the glittering city streets in the sunrise.
“… What’s wrong with her?”
Kiriko, who was sitting in the passenger seat, looked back at the back seat and said so. He could not see it from his perspective, but Ai was already lying on the back seat exhausted. The sunshade of the backseat window was still down so that she could sleep well, and the light was very dim.
“…Mr Julie, why is Ai like that? One minute she was so calm, and the next minute she was…why exactly?”
Julie took two right turns, one left turn and drove through three blocks in silence before answering,
“…She is a hybrid born to a man and a gravekeeper, you know that, don’t you?”
Kiriko nodded, while the lion in the middle row showed no reaction, his face propped up by an elbow..
“She inherited the characteristics of both Mankind and gravekeepers. In the past, there was a village of Dead who survived using her status as a gravekeeper to ward others off from other gravekeepers.”
The traffic police made the ‘stop’ signal at the intersection.
“Ai grew up in that village.”
“The village people deliberately made Ai think they were Living, and made up a fable for her, basically using it to bluff her …”
“So that’s what she meant by ‘she is me’…”
Ulla and Ai were obviously so different, but the outcomes they received were so wonderfully similar.
“…It’s not time yet.”
Julie turned the steering wheel hard, and went from the street to the alley.
“If it had been a while longer, if she had been a little older…I’m sure it wouldn’t have come to this. Just another year, no, another six months, then she should be able to forgive you, and even really save you. Maybe she might even develop a friendship with you guys and become really good friends … but not yet, now you’ll just mess up badly when you touch each other.”
Through the alley by the masked street, the dormitory approached. All the bags were packed and ready to go.
“I’m going to leave as soon as I pick up Scar.”
“… I know. I’ll contact them first.”
“Sorry for leaving a big mess for you to clean up…my sincerest apologies.”
“It’s not really…”
That’s when the light came into the car.
Kiriko and Julie both looked back to see where the light was coming from.
The lion opened the back door and got out of the car.
“This is where I’m getting off.”
He said and closed the door gently.
“Then I’ll go, uncle, say hello to the little fox for me.”
“…You don’t want to see her again?”
The lion said, and walked down the street without looking back.
“?…Then let’s go.”
Julie mumbled these words and stepped on the gas.
At this point Ai was no longer in the car.
(Is there something else you want to do?)
(…Then I will find a way to let you go.)
The lion let Ai escape, but Ai was so tired and exhausted that just exiting the car and walking here drained her completely.
Ai stayed in a park on a market street in the outskirts of Ortus; once she got out of the car and ran in the direction where no one was, she arrived at this place without realizing it. The park itself was well maintained, with dense vegetation, and the colors looked particularly bright to Ai, who was used to the yellow sand of the wilderness and the white stones of her hometown.
Then she found a small pavilion.
The pavilion itself was very small, with only a wicker lounge chair inside.
Ai sat down with the intention of resting, but her body was like clay that had been drenched in rain, and she was softly poured into the mold of the lounger.
It did not take much time for her eyelids to droop.
The needles of the cedar trees swayed, and the shadows that fell on her face passed at the speed of light. The green glow penetrated her eyelids to comfort her eyes, which had been staring into the darkness.
When no one moved around anymore, the birds flew back and chirped. In the hazy mountains in the distance, she could see a small green bird that she had never seen before, and it was seemingly within grasp, tilting its head incredulously.
Ai gently closed her eyes and let time pass.
The world did nothing for this young girl who had lost so much, except to cast a warm sunlight.
Ai was a little sad, and cried with her eyes closed.
“Big sister, what’s wrong with you?”
Ai was shocked to hear someone call her that for the first time, and slowly opened her eyes.
Next to the recliner stood a young girl, a blonde of about nine years old, dressed in a one-piece work suit like a gardener, with leather gloves on her hands.
And she was, of course, dead.
“Sorry, this is actually Grandpa’s seat … ah! No, it’s okay for you to sit. Because big sister looks so sad …”
She called Ai a big sister again.
Ai had assumed she was the youngest in the world.
The girl who would eternally be nine years old stared at Ai coyly and squirmed, using her body to express “I want to know more about you”. She then could not hold back the emotion and blurted out.
“Excuse me, are you… a Living person?”
Ai nodded. The young girl’s eyes widened and she grabbed the armrest of the recliner and shouted.
“Wow, it’s great! I see a Living for the first time.”
“Big sister is so beautiful! But the skin is too smooth, it seems strange … ah, sorry, this is beautiful. It’s pretty, but…”
Argh, Give me a break.
The young girl continued to point out with her fingers how strange the Living was, and was surprised by every difference.
That was the common sense of Ortus.
In the place where the Dead was commonplace, it was abnormal to see the Living.
Ulla was not the only one who was deceived by the lie, no, the lie had ceased to be a lie and had become common sense.
It used to be a common belief throughout Mankind that burying the Dead was a matter of course… but at this point, that common sense has become one of many opinions.
Ai closed her eyes hard and saw Kiriko smiling lightly. “The Living will die out, and it’s a matter of time until the whole world will be left with only the Dead.” The young girl in front of her seemed to embody this future world, smiling innocently at this Living.
My world is being destroyed. My dreams were destroyed.
I thought the world should feel more troubled. I thought the world would be more troubled by the fact that children were no longer being born, that Mankind was no longer dying, and that there were gravekeepers.
But that’s not the case.
The world has already been saved and doesn’t need any help from itself.
“Wow, wow, I’m sorry, big sister. I’m sorry, don’t cry.”
No matter how hard Ai closed her eyes, the tears still came out and ran down her cheeks.
The world was very considerate and took great pains to wipe away her tears.
She woke up and realized that she had fallen asleep.
The trees were rustling in a wind different from that of the morning, the sun had come to the other side, and the air had become very cold.
The little girl had disappeared.
Her gardening tools were still in place, and Ai assumed she would be back, but Ai had decided to leave. If the grandfather she spoke of had come, staying would probably only add to the trouble.
Ai rummaged through her pockets to find something to give her, and found two candies. The bushes seem to be ahead of the night and are dark and narrow inside.
Ai suddenly remembered that she had yet to ask for her name.
Looking back, the pavilion was still surrounded by the daylight, leaving a calm and warm atmosphere. Then she ran away without looking back.
The inner courtyard of Ortus Palace.
There was an unusual crowd of people, all of them attendants of Princess on her tour. From the honor guards, the ritual guard, the city mayor, the medic, the bearer and the jester, and the technical inspector, everyone was relieved to be back in the familiarity of the castle.
Kiriko walked away from the chaotic crowd alone and leaned against the wall to concentrate.
(I’m Pox, I don’t see her at the east gate / I’m Wreck, same at the West gate/ Diva! There’s no way she’s with me! I’m so busy here that I’m dizzy! Don’t contact me!/…/…)
The name Ai summoned several memories that did not belong to him. Kiriko desperately tried to keep himself from being overwhelmed by the memories of Pox, Wreck, Diva, Orias, Vela and the others, and tried to sift through them to find the information he needed.
There was nothing new to report.
Everyone was too busy with their own business to look for Ai.
Kiriko suffered alone from the feeling of powerlessness, and bit his lips as he waited.
“…Kept you waiting…”
At that moment, a man and a woman arrived in front of Kiriko.
Despite the difference in gender, these two people look very much alike. They were approximately thirty, wearing the same suit, and their faces and body shape seemed gender neutral. The man looked feminine, and the woman looked masculine.
“Orias! Vela! You’re too slow!”
And he was indeed a woman, and she was also a man.
There was a thin line under the throats of those who said the words at the same time.
They were separated by this line.
They were the last of the defective pentagram, whose heads were swapped around.
“So, will the soldiers help find Ai?”
“They said they could add that to the important notices.”
“What’s the point of that!?”
Kiriko stomped hard on the ground. He was trying so hard to find Ai, but the others would not.
The soldiers, guards or the retainers, all treated Ai as a lost child and ignored his request for treating her as a fugitive, or for added security.
He finally found Orias, asked the latter to submit a request, but only obtained this result instead.
All the curses come back to himself instead. He insulted them so hard, but what was he doing!? He inherited their good blood, yet he was simply stomping his feet here?
Kiriko was completely anxious.
“…Kiriko…where is Julie…?”
“…He’s more desperate than me!”
Julie complied with Ortus’ rules so thoroughly that one had to feel sorry for him. He never forgot to seek permission from Kiriko or anyone else, and never overstepped the rules, whether he was outdoors while martial law was imposed, or looking out at the East Gate. He did not expect anything from the soldiers and Kiriko to seek Ai out. Him being so mature about the entire matter was a stark contrast to Kirko, who merely spent his time here, doing nothing.
“Damn! I’m wasting time. I’m going back! I’m telling you, don’t call me just for this information! Next time send it straight to the head…”
The half man, half woman called out to him. It was Vela.
“What is it? I’m in a hurry, say something.”
“Well…Princess’s situation, Ai and Shad understood about Princess, right…”
The half men and half women listened silently.
“… What do you want to say?”
At his urging, Vela made up her mind and said.
“Kiriko, we decided that we’re not going to hide this from the Princess and tell her. We’re going tos eek her forgiveness…”
“Are you kidding me!?”
Kiriko simply refused the proposal.
“How can you ask her for forgiveness after all this time! You just want to let go of your burdens, don’t you! If that’s the case, then why did you hide it in the first place!?”
But…Orias wanted to retort, albeit weakly.
“All of you who started this! If you want to do it, commit until the very end!”
“Kiriko… but, no matter which way you look at it…we can’t hide it anymore…”
“I will keep it going.”
“I will continue until the last moment. If you don’t want to do it, I’ll tell all the lies. So do what you want, just stay out of the way.”
Kiriko took a step with the eyes gathered on him and walked from the first floor corridor of the castle to the right hall. He exited the Palace, and then went towards the minaret where Ulla lived.
Ai would definitely come here.
The walls and guards could not stop her. She would arrive here.
—I won’t give you what you want.
Kiriko took a breath behind the hedge and reconnected with the other five. He felt like he had been connected as many times today as he usually was in a month. His brain was almost boiling, and his eyes started to ache.
There was still no word about rom Ai.
He opened his eyes and looked around, thinking that it would be nice to see Ai hiding between the walls and the bushes in the outer courtyard.
—I knew it wouldn’t be that simple.
But Kiriko continued with his unnecessary imagination. He could imagine them finding Ai immediately, Julie feeling relieved, Scar recovered, and the three of them would disappear together into the wilderness. He would make amends with Shad, the adults would stop nagging, and the Princess would continue to live her life without knowing anything. And then…
“Everyone dies in the end…”
How wonderful it would be if everyone died.
“………………What the hell am I doing…”
Kiriko shook his head and stepped out again.
At that moment…
Kiriko saw a blurred shadow on the ground in front of him, “What the?” and without thinking, he looked up to see what it was.
As a result, he saw a bright darkness, a missing half-moon, and a pair of green eyes.
He was taken by surprise.
The green eyes got rid of the darkness and the moon, and came to the ground without a sound.
Right beneath the moon.
The place that was still empty until a a second ago was filled with a green-eyed child with brilliant blonde hair, standing there.
The sight in front of him was so unexpected that Kiriko suspected he was hallucinating. However, there was no doubt that she stood in front of him.
“You, what did you do?”
“I climbed the walls, jumped down, nothing.”
“What the …”
Ai replied “I am a gravekeeper at least”, and then smiled weakly.
Her smile was not as sharp as last night.
“You’re going to tell Ulla everything?”
Ai said with a chuckle, scratching the back of her head timidly. Her demeanor was as normal, which reassured Kiriko a little.
“… If you don’t mind, could you please stay out of the way? Don’t look at me like this, I seem to be quite capable.”
“Hold on! Listen to me!”
“What else is there to say when it comes down to it?”
“Princess is in a different situation than you are!”
“You still want to bring up this matter…?”
“No, you’re mistaken!”
This statement finally made Ai frown in confusion.
“… What are you trying to say?”
“Your village wouldn’t have lasted.”
The angry expression formed a definite shape, so thick that it was almost palpable.
“Wait, you listen to me. You should know that, right? The lies your village told you were destined to be exposed, am I wrong? Even if your father hadn’t gone, it was a matter of time until the village collapsed!”
Ai’s expression was extremely bitter, but still accepted the truth.
Kiriko clenched his fist, quietly pleased that Ai was still calm.
“So what…are you implying that your lies will never be uncovered …?”
“I wouldn’t say that, but my lies will only last for a little while longer.”
“…? What does that mean?”
“Sooner or later, all Living will be dead, won’t they?”
Ai’s eyes widened, as she accepted this as a matter of course.
“On Monday, God created the world.
On Tuesday, God took a fatal blow and died.
On Wednesday, the Devil was victorious, and cursed the world.
On Thursday, the curse spread throughout the world.
On Friday, God perished together with the Devil.
And on Saturday, the dying God gave a certain human the power to correct the world.”
“W-what are you rambling about all of a sudden?”
“It’s a false fable we made up, and there are other false stories in it.”
Kiriko spoke another false fable that he had never told anyone about, that was hidden deep in his heart.
“The real fable has a different last line.
—Saturday night fell on everyone equally. By Sunday morning, no one had survived.
The Princess ceases to be Princess, and shall become part of eternity.
…That’s the full extent of Princess’ fable.”
“…I don’t quite understand, what are you trying to say?”
“That means, well.”
Kiriko answered. He even had a smile on his face, thinking that this statement was perfect.
“As long as everyone is dead, her eyes will no longer have meaning.”
In a world where no new life is born, it was a matter of time until all Living become Dead.
“Our lies will only last until that day! That way, she won’t be hurt!”
Ai said the words “I see.”, imitating the words of someone she knew.
“So that’s what you had in mind …”
Kiriko was very passionate in his words, and on the contrary, Ai’s attitude was increasingly cold.
“Do you really think that this won’t hurt Ulla?”
Kiriko’s words were stuck in his throat. He knew that he had to immediately shout “Of course!” But the words just would not come out.
Ai’s eyes and words pierced Kiriko’s last line of defense. Once shattered, this defense would no longer be a wall of steel, but a papier-mâché wall made of lies and fear.
Even if everything would be over before she realized.
Even if she noticed before everything was over.
She would have been hurt.
For she was kind.
This they already knew.
“What else could I do!?”
Kiriko shouted out. He shouted, realizing that even he could not fool himself with his lies.
“Do you understand how the Dead feel!? Do you understand what it’s like to love her and have to take advantage of her?”
Ten years ago, there was no place for Ortus to settle, and wherever they wanted to settle down, they were hindered by the ‘common sense’ of the time, fired upon with guns. The people of Ortus were shooed by people, told that ‘the Dead should stay still and die’, and the sight of everyone shot and stabbed was heartbreaking. Ulla’s childish laughter at that time was such an important pillar in people’s hearts…and they truly hesitated to use her magic eyes.
“I like her.”
Kiriko said so. He had warm tears on his face. It was unfitting for a Dead at all.
“Kiriko Zubreska likes Ulla Hecmatika…I want to protect her…I want to protect her from all the outrageous realities around her. She is very kind, not only considerate, knows how to think about people, smiling is so cute, her laugh is so charming, her eyes are so beautiful …Ai, if it were you, what would you do? If you had the chance to protect such a kind girl from the cruelty of the world, how would you do it?”
In fact, Kiriko did not know who had first tried to hide the whole world from Ulla, but he could relate to that person’s feelings.
“Can you not lie?”
“I like that girl…!”
Kiriko finally confessed. He cried and said the truth that he had never been able to say to anyone since he was born and gained feelings. It was at this instance that he felt a weight lifted off his shoulders, and felt that he had been saved, and that he could accept whatever would happen afterwards.
His feelings were indeed conveyed.
“…You’re right… maybe I’ll lie too.”
Kiriko heard the words that gave him hope, and the desire in his heart awakened immediately.
“Then I beg you! Please spare us!”
His innocent mood has disappeared, and gave his utmost baring his foul-smelling fangs that had lied his entire life.
“That’s right! If you tell her those things, Ulla will hate you!”
“Don’t you hate the people who freed you? You don’t even regret it?”
Ai did not evade these words, but took them all in stride, gritting her teeth.
Kiriko was like a cornered rat, gnawing everywhere.
“Don’t you ever think that you want to live your life among the lies of the villagers? Do you know that what you’re about to do won’t decisively save her after all!?”
Ai looked at Kiriko with the expression of a loser.
“But, I’m still going to say it.”
“! You crazy dog!”
Kiriko clenched her fist and lunged.
“You know what, Mr Kiriko? You’re not going to convince me by saying this is for Ulla’s sake.”
Ai jumped lightly, closed the distance to avoid the punch, and wrapped her arms around Kiriko’s neck in a hug-like motion.
“Has Ulla ever asked you to lie to her?”
“Mr. Kiriko, you did say to me before ‘Did you ask the world first? Did the world ever ask you to save it?’…those words coming from you, when you did something worse? You ‘fooled’ the world, and you don’t let it know that there is help …”
The oxygen couldn’t reach Kiriko’s brain, and his thoughts scattered. His brain failed to send distress signals.
“…I shall return what you said back to you.”
The only words that remained on the edge of the dying consciousness were.
“Did the world ever ask you to lie to it?”
Ai did not know if Kiriko had asked the other five for help, so she decided to move the unconscious person instead. She could not move him too far, at most from the right hall to the inner hall, and she could not find a place to hide him, so she just dumped him aside.
She looked up at the minaret where Ulla lived.
There was light in the room. Ai was a little relieved and a little sorry. She was not exactly sure of her own feelings.
Her actions did not make sense from the point of view of a gravekeeper or from the point of view of saving the world. There was no reason to risk her life in a place like this, and telling Ulla the secret would not have freed anyone.
But Ai still could not stop.
She could not ignore the opportunity to ‘save herself from the past that could not be saved’.
Naturally, her hands reached for the minaret, grabbed the bricks and moved her body upwards.
The window was open.
“Ulla, it’s me, it’s Ai. Please don’t say anything, and I’ll have to ask you to cover your eyes.”
There was a silence.
After a while, there was a clattering of footsteps and the sound of a cupboard being opened. Ai saw a familiar piece of paper stretched out the window, and it read.
“Ai? Is it really you?”
“Yes, it’s me—can I come in?”
Ai rolled into the room with the same motion the lion had done before.
“What’s the matter?”
Ulla gave a nonplussed, yet happy smile as she invited Ai to sit down in front of the big bed. She sat down on the bed, which looked big enough for five adults to sleep on, using the bear doll as a cushion, and reached out to flip through her notebook.
“I’m here to tell you something today.”
“Tell me something?”
“Yes, about me and you.”
Ai began without hesitation.
“I’m a hybrid born to a gravekeeper and a man.”
The truth started to burn the lies.
“I was born in a village deep in the mountains, where the villagers raised me as a ‘gravekeeper’.”
The words were enveloped upon the flaming tongue that began to burn Ulla’s world.
Ai was relentless, setting fire to every inch of the world so as not to leave any half-ash, any half-miserable wreckage.
She told everything.
She told of the days she spent as a gravekeeper despite her doubts; of the villagers who loved her but kept her away; of her struggle to get new parents; of how Hampnie Hambart ruined it all; of the time she learned she was a half-breed born to a gravekeeper and a ma; and of what the villagers did with this fact.
“So my village is a village of Dead…since I was a child, they have kept me in the dark, so I did not find out until recently … Ulla, you too. Your situation may seem completely different from mine, but my situation and yours are like two sides of the same coin, in fact, they are exactly the same … Please don’t be shocked and just listen to me quietly. You are the ‘Idol of Murder’. You can kill a person by recognizing a person with your senses. Everyone else is dead. The people you assume are normal are actually Dead.”
The truths that had been hidden since birth were revealed one after another, one after another, on the bed.
“s—and Mr. Kiriko has been lying to you all these years to protect you.”
That was all she had to say.
There was something more she should have said, but she could not say anything. Whether it was to comfort or apologize, she desperately wanted to make this last moment last a little longer.
“Is that all?”
Ulla flipped open her notebook, as if to announce that the play was over.
Ai replied feebly,
Her voice changed its tone as she replied.
“Actually, I wanted to save you.”
The feeling of powerlessness and guilt tightened in her chest and strangled her throat.
“When I was in that village before, the way he saved me was to destroy everything and leave me free. I don’t want to use such an outrageous method…I want to save myself in a way that my father couldn’t.”
Ai uttered to herself, But, I can’t do it after all …
It was so sad, so sad, but the tears would come.
“I can’t save the world, I can only ‘destroy’ it… I’m sorry, you must be… very angry …”
Ulla did not say anything.
“…I’ll leave and I won’t be in front of you anymore … It’s okay if you hate me or if you want to break up with me. It’s only for a few days, but I’m really happy that you wanted to be my friend.”
Ai said and stood up.
Ulla called out to her, flipping open her notebook.
Then she picked up her pen.
It was that dream again.
It was the dream I used to have when he was first ‘conceived’.
Pox, Wreck, Diva, Orias, Vela.
They gave up their lives to create him, and he, of course, failed to live up to their expectations.
They wanted a child, another person who was not who they were, not a replica of their brain.
(You are what you are.)
The old Kiriko could not understand this statement. At that time, he had no sense of self.
(You don’t have a soul.)
It was Wreck who said that. (You’re an automaton made from extra parts of us, not what we want.)
(I understand.) Kiriko answered that, because Kiriko was Wreck.
(Don’t understand.) Wreck answered. (I’m begging you…don’t understand us …)
And the six of them have been in Ortus since the early days. when Ortus was still young and a wandering group.
(Kiriko, I have a favor to ask of you.)
(I told you not to understand.)
Kiriko was taken to the far end of the group, where there was a young child who was just learning to talk.
She was Ulla Eulesse Hecmatika.
(You have to lie to her.)
What Wreck asked him to do was not to be a babysitter or an escort, but to lie to this child.
(That’s all those old people want. You have to create a world where she doesn’t find out what she is. You have to bring us to life, to make Living and Dead change places, to make her vision meaningless.)
Kiriko nodded her head without thinking and walked towards the child.
(Your Highness Ulla, nice to meet you.)
(… Nice to meet you.)
(My name is Kiriko Zubreska.)
(Please call me Kiriko.)
(It’s Ki, ri, ko.)
(… Sorry, you don’t seem to be listening to me. I wonder if you could please tell me where did that rabbit part come from?)
(Erm, Mr. Rabbit is not Mr. Fox.)
(Thank you for your guidance, I already knew that.)
(But, they’re friends!)
(Is that so?)
(Well! So, Kiko is a friend too!)
(… I don’t know what’s with the ‘so’ part, and I don’t know how we ended up here, and the name’s wrong right from the beginning…forget it, let’s just leave it at this point.)
This was how the two of them met.
The times thereafter were turbulent, Ulla killed tens of thousands of soldiers without realizing it, and Ortus used death as currency to take over the hills in the wilderness.
But this had nothing to do with the change that took place in his own heart. Kiriko merely spent every day with Ulla, going about their daily lives together.
It was enough for Kiriko to become an ordinary boy who unknowingly fell in love with a young girl.
It seemed he had a dream. It was a very cozy dream, one very suitable when nuzzling in a warm blanket.
…it was a dream too happy for him to remain asleep on this cold ground.
The moment he thought of this, Kiriko woke up.
He instinctively jumped up and looked around.
After a moment of confusion, Kiriko roused his memory and immediately took off running.
There was a lingering feeling that her slender arms were still vague, but it quickly disappeared.
He forced himself to run in the darkness of the night with anxiety and fear. His legs tripped and fell with too much fuel, and he had fallen twice by the time he reached the minaret.
The minaret at the spire were on duty as usual, and nothing was out of place.
“Uncle Zel, did Ai come here?”
“Kiriko? What’s wrong with you! Why are you covered in mud!?”
“It’s not important!”
Kiriko was bored by these people’s simplicity, and he was further incensed by their incompetence when they reported to him that ‘everything was fine’.
Kiriko ignored the so-called etiquette or discipline and ran through the corridor where running was forbidden, climbing the stairs three steps at a time, without stopping to apologize to the maid who he had bumped into.
Second floor, third floor.
Fourth floor, Ulla’s room.
He opened the door without knocking, which was enough to get him imprisoned for a whole month, but he did not care about that. Nobody was present at the desk, the dresser, the closet, no, no no, where did she go!?!
There she is.
He could see Ai and Ulla sitting face to face on the bed. Ulla is sitting inside, and Ai is sitting against the door.
“…You’re rather fast.”
Kiriko knew it was too late because of her expression and those words.
It was over.
It was all over.
Ah, ah, ah, ah, ah.
He had assumed it was some strange sound, but it was his own voice. His head told him “What are you doing? Continue with the lies.” But his feet had lost strength, his body slid down the door, his hands ruffed his head, and he tore hundreds of hair strands that fell to the floor.
“It’s over…it’s all over…”
Kiriko looked up at the bed with a Dead-like empty expression, and Ai looked at Ulla with the same expression.
Ulla’s gaze was focused on the writing in her notebook. Was she writing to scold him, or lamenting her cry? He wanted to determine through her face, but it was covered by an eye mask and a mouth bridle, and he could not see any expression.
—Forget it, it doesn’t matter now.
There’s no way to receive her forgiveness.
Kiriko waited for the moment of parting, for the moment when Ulla’s hand would stop.
Let’s go to the wilderness.
Kiriko thought as he listened to the sound of the pencil’s tip.
Let’s leave Paradise and go to the wilderness alone as a punishment for myself.
The day had finally come, the day of reckoning, the day when the crime was revealed and he was punished. It was a matter of time, but today was the day.
Kiriko wanted to take the opportunity to look at Ulla a little more, for he assumed that he would not have the chance to look at her anymore.
With her black hair and snow-white skin, the girl looked as beautiful as a doll with only these two dull colors.
But the real her is not like that. Even Ai did not know this.
The real her was actually more bright and colorful. She too had green eyes, red lips, and a lively smile. The colors and sounds that spread death were so tragically beautiful that he did not want them to be tainted.
But those days are over. She already knows who she was, what her song and her sight mean.
All that would change. Her kindness would surely not have saved her.
He would wander in the wilderness herself, and Ulla was deeply hurt.
—I believe Ai is hurt too.
Kiriko looked at Ai sitting on the bed. Ai, like Kiriko, waits for Ulla’s words and awaits the verdict with the vacant expression of a sinner.
—It’s all fated.
He wished he had met her somewhere else, not as a cog in a machine of deceit, but as her purest self—but then Kiriko would not be Kiriko.
He wished the two of them had met in a different place. Like long ago or long after, when Ulla had no secrets and Ai did not carry a heavy curse—but if that were the case, he was certain they would not have met and would have found their own happiness.
It was destiny, and no matter how hard the struggle, this was the expected result.
Then Ulla’s hand stopped.
The pen nib finished writing the last stroke and was gently put back into the pen box. The notebook flipped back to the top of the page.
The words written on the white paper were so vivid that one could smell the charcoal.
“I understand everything you’ve said.”
She turned the page.
“But, don’t feel bad. I forgive you.”
““How can this be!?””
They both shouted in unison.
“‘Ulla, you’ve got it all wrong! You are probably too frightened to think clearly. What I’ve done can’t be forgiven that easily!”
“That’s right! I can’t accept it either, please say what you really mean!”
Ulla was forced back slightly by their aggressive attitudes, and then smiled slightly.
“This is strange, why am I being scolded instead?’
“Ulla, you don’t understand yet … you don’t understand how much I’ve lied to you …”
“No, I understand.”
Turning the page again, these words appeared.
“Because I already knew you were lying to me.”
Kiriko suddenly felt as though he was illiterate, for he could not understand what this sentence meant at all.
Then he could barely move his dry tongue and swallowed a drop of saliva from his tightly closed throat.
Ai too echoed in unison.
“So you don’t have to be so fussed over this.”
“Wh-when was it? When did you know everything!?”
Ulla turned the page again.
“I just found out everything.”
“Yes, so I already knew only half of it –I knew vaguely that my eyes affected people, and I knew that Kiriko and the others were desperately trying to hide it—but they told me they were Living, so I don’t know exactly what I did.”
“Then, then why didn’t you say anything! Why, to pretend to be lied to—”
“Because I didn’t think it mattered.”
‘Because I thought that if people didn’t want me to know, then why should I know.’
I forgot that she was so kind.
”But—so that’s how it is, so I can kill.”
Ulla gently touched the shackles covering her face.
“D-didn’t you feel hurt?”
Kiriko asked this with trepidation. He didn’t have the heart to put it more politely.
“Well—I was shocked, but not hurt.”
“You should know that you are killing …”
That was all she said before she shut up. The second half of the sentence was something she could not say.
But Ulla had expected that.
‘You mean to say, you know I killed someone?’
Then she turned the page.
“I’m not really sure what killing is all about, but, Ai, what I’m doing isn’t likely to hurt me.”
“How is that possible…”
“Someone laughed as if a huge burden was lifted.”
She turned another page.
“Someone made a long, long last sigh; someone closed their eyes as if they had died. Those with weapons and frightened faces stopped fighting as soon as they saw me and all entered Ortus.”
She turned the page again.
“Some people cried out. Others did not join us and decided to wander in the wilderness. But everyone had a ‘relieved’ look on their face.”
Ulla turned her neck to indicate “Right, Ai?”
‘Is death—or should I say me—really that bad?’
Ai closed her eyes hard.
“…I don’t know.”
“Yes, I don’t know either.”
The words danced. Ulla moved her pen quickly and wrote out a few new pages.
“Ahhh, you’re just going on a journey to figure out what you don’t know.”
Ai nodded her head.
“—I think this is the first time our hearts are connected. Ai, you and I may be alike, but we’re not the same after all. You’re free, you hate cages, you’re a bird in the air; but I’m different, I love the cage of Ortus.”
At that moment, Ulla touched her cheek gently. She wore on her face the things that bound her most deeply, and she said she liked them.
”I think it doesn’t matter if I don’t understand something, so…”
Ulla said with only a smile on her cheeks and turned the last page.
“Ai, I’m going to formally dismiss your words. I’m not ruined, so there’s nothing to forgive or not to forgive from the beginning.”
After turning the page, Ulla closed the notebook and clutched it to her chest.
Kiriko crawled shakily to the bedside, knelt down and said to Ulla.
“…Thank you, Ulla. I’m sorry I lied to you before …”
Perhaps the notebook had run out, for Ulla took Kiriko’s right hand and wrote on it with her index finger.
“—It’s great that you didn’t break down…”
—Is that hyperbole?
“Because I thought that if it ever came to light…I feared that you’d hate your eyes, your throat, and will try to stab your eyes or boil your throat by drinking hot oil…”
—Eh…is that the impression you have of me, Kiriko?
Ulla was a little dumbfounded as she wrote these words.
—Kiriko thinks I’m too weak, I’m pretty strong though.
“Well, that’s true…”
He had to admit this.
Kiriko capitalized on the fact that Ai could not see as he admitted this while shedding a tear.
—Speaking of which, Kiriko…
He immediately wiped away his tears and looked up to see Ulla looking uneasily to Kiriko’s left. There was supposed to be Ai sitting there.
—Ai has been silent since just now …
Kiriko turned her head to look in Ulla’s stead.
Kiriko did not dare to understand.
“Uuu, uuu, wooooaaaaahhh~~~~~”
The child’s cries echoed through the room, tears dripping onto the sheets one after another.
Kiriko and Ulla could only listen to her cries, and then shrugged their shoulders as if there was nothing they could do about it, and spoke up to comfort her.
“…Goodness, you’re so happy you want to cry?”
Ai covered her face with her hand and shook her head.
Kiriko and Ulla looked at each other.
—Then why are you crying?
The words were written on the right hand.
“Why are you crying?”
Ai wanted to speak, but she could not because she was crying. But she still managed to say with a choked voice.
“No…this shouldn’t be the case…uuu…how can… I shouldn’t be crying…”
—How could it be?
“It’s not like that.”
Ai managed to raise her tear-filled eyes and looked at both of them and said.
“I-I’m here to save you!”
—Yes, I know.
These words were written on her right hand.
“Then why am I the one who is saved? Why!? That’s just the opposite! It’s not right! I should be the one saving the world!”
Ai looked half dead.
“I’m clearly not on the side of being saved anymore!”
Ai hunched her back and started crying quietly. She looked so childish, it was heartbreaking.
Kiriko listened to the sad sobbing quietly.
To be honest, he could not agree with Ai’s tears, because he would think she was crying for her own sake.
But Kiriko’s heart still did not produce a trace of anger, the only thing he felt was…
…She was so pitiful.
Ulla leaves these words on his right hand and walked away. Kiriko wondered what she wants to do …
And then she hugged him tightly from behind.
(P-Princess! What are you doing?)
He felt so happy, but also felt puzzled, turned his head, but saw Ulla with an unhappy expression, “What are you still staring at?” She gestured for him to move faster.
Kiriko instantly showed a displeased expression.
As a result, Ulla immediately put on a very scary face. Even though he felt that it was very inexplicable that he had to hug another girl when he was being hugged by the girl he liked, he steeled himself and sighed in the end.
In place of Ulla, who could never touch Living, he hugged Ai tightly.
The cries became louder and came to his ears.
“You’re so silly too.”
He spoke in place of her, who could never make a sound.
—You say you want to save …
“Or be saved…”
—How can you be sure…
“How can you be sure of such things?”
Ulla’s thoughts were conveyed through her right hand. There was no need for words, just clasped hands.
You’ve saved me completely. “You saved me, I’m not lying to you.” I’m really glad that Ai came to this city. “I’m really glad to have been saved.” Do you really hate being saved by us that much, Ai?
The blonde hair shifted from side to side, showing the struggle in her heart.
“The law doesn’t say that people who want to save the world can’t be saved by the world.”
Ai didn’t move in Kiriko’s arms, but kept crying.
“It’s almost like you’ve been put under a curse…”
…Curse? So Ai asked.
“Yes, it’s a curse that is almost comparable to ‘me’ being the ‘Idol of Murder’. It’s like a curse to spend your life on a problem that you can’t do, like ‘saving the world’, I guess?”
Ai raised her eyes.
“But, even if it’s a curse, even if it’s dirty, this is my dream.”
“…Is it so?”
“I can’t give up…until I do…”
“Is that so…”
Ulla patted Kiriko’s head.
Give me a break, so Kiriko thought, but still obliged and touched Ai’s head.
“… You’re so dazzling.”
Kiriko decided to take the place of Ulla, who could never look at Living, and remember Ai’s sharp silhouette forever.
Behind the scenes
“There’s someone I want you to meet.
Ulla said so after everything was over. So Julie and Scar were also brought into the Palace.
“My older sister, Celica Hecmatika.”
Julie made preparations to escape from the city before entering the palace and reuniting with Ai. He was not angry, and he did not lecture. He merely messed Ai’s head roughly, as if to make sure she was still alive and well.
Scar too got out of the car, walking on her own, despite her faltering steps.
Ulla and Kiriko let the group to the basement of the palace. Within a few steps, the stairs were already too narrow to breathe, and the exposed rock surface was so wet that it smelled mysterious.
The group slowly went down the stairs. Ulla was in the front, Kiriko was holding her, followed by Ai, Julie and Scar.
“Miss Scar, are you okay?”
It seems that by this point, Scar’s condition has deteriorated significantly, and Julie has been supporting her.
“You look so pale …”
“…Enough! Let us move forward!”
It was the first time they heard Scar yell at someone, and it startled Ai. It appeared Scar did not seem to notice her own abnormalities, and kept mumbling, “There is a voice…there is a voice calling me…”, She was practically sleeptalking.
“…When we get back, I’m definitely getting you to the doctor, and ask for an injection…please come down slowly, watch your feet, the ground is a little wet.”
After that no one spoke again, all the way towards the ground.
—When Ai stopped crying and the three of them let go of their hug, Ulla took out a notebook. It was Ulla’s own memories, and she had planned to show it to Ai when she met her.
—I don’t remember much about my parents.
The notebook that begins with this novel-like sentence.
My father died before ‘that night’ fifteen years ago, and my mother died after giving birth to me, so I don’t know anything about them. But strangely, I have a vague memory of my mother, probably the moment of birth? That was the kind of memory I had. At that time, my mother was very eager to ask me a yes, I nodded.
I was told later that my mother did not want to have a baby because she did not like my father very much and her health was not good enough to survive the birth. Her body was so weak that a person would have given up on giving birth.
The rest of the article was supplemented by Kiriko’s words, who told Ulla that, unlike the thoughtless sarcasm or rumors, they make sense.
Imara Hecmatika—Ulla’s mother hated everything around her at the time. From the changed world, the nomadic life she married here, to her dead husband.
She even hated the name her husband left behind.
And what she hated most were the children he left behind. Her already thin arms and legs were reduced to skin and bones, and only her belly kept absorbing nutrients and swelling bigger and bigger.
To anyone’s eyes, it was obvious that her body would not survive the birth. But by then the baby had become so precious that society took care of the pregnant woman and semi-forced her to give birth.
When the moment of delivery finally came, Imara died before she could even speak.
The physicians and relatives who surrounded her prioritized the baby over the mother, cutting open the abdomen with anatomical precision and without mercy.
In the haze of death, Imara glanced at the group of living people pouring into her abdomen.
She threw out words of sorrow, grief and resentment to the world, spilling out her long-cherished wish that she could not say to anyone in the past and that no one promised to fulfill for her, mixed with tears of blood and amniotic fluid.
She prayed for people to die.
One had to wonder how many billions of people teetering on the edge tragedy made the same wish in the past. But their wishes never came true, no one granted them, and they died in vain.
The doctor and the villagers, of course, ignored her words, not even as a dream. Her wish should have died in vain, just like the wishes made by her predecessors.
But one person was naive enough to listen to this wish.
It was the posthumous child, Ulla Hecmatika, who was trying to crawl out of Imara’s birth canal.
She inherited her mother’s wish to ‘kill’ without any suspicion, and became a symbol of killing.
The other baby, on the other hand, resolutely rejected this wish.
She was Celica Hecmatika.
The twin sister of the idol of Murder.
The space beyond the stairs is surprisingly large. The rocks and air were still damp, and the space was as large as the dormitory.
There were already dozens of Dead inside, each of them in a high position of authority, along with Pox and Diva, so there seemed to be another entrance. There are so many people packed inside, if everyone was still alive, there would have been oxygen deprivation.
Under the watch of countless eyes, the group went from the center to the innermost part of the room. They were all called by Ulla, and no one knew the purpose of this gathering except her and Kiriko.
There was a pitch black sarcophagus at the far end of the room.
Ulla tapped the lid of the sarcophagus, and immediately a few strong men came forward and slowly lifted the lid and set it aside.
The coffin was covered with cotton.
Ulla poked her upper body in and reached into the cotton pile of the coffin, groping for something, and then suddenly stopped moving. She picked up the object she found, which looked like a skewed sphere.
“It’s Her Highness Celica Hecmatika.”
At Kiriko’s words, everyone in the room exclaimed, and some even began to kneel.
It was a baby that was still wrapped in amniotic fluid, and the placenta had not even been removed.
Ai said, looking bewildered.
“—Ulla accepted the wish of Her Majesty Imara to spread her power outward and become the Idol of Murder; on the other hand, Her Highness Celica firmly refused this wish and used the power for herself.”
Ulla held the sphere with love and compassion. The baby seemed to be sealed in the dirty glass and did not move, its arms and legs shriveling, the placenta attached from the abdomen floating in the amniotic fluid, as if it was still in the womb.
“I-Is she still alive?”
“She’s alive. If Ulla is the embodiment of death, then Her Highness Celica is the embodiment of life. Her desire to ‘live’ is most likely the most urgent desire in the world. Only she is not affected by Ulla’s killing power, and this is the best proof of that.”
Ai then realized that Ulla was holding the baby herself.
“But, but why isn’t she moving?”
“Hm…we aren’t too sure either. Orias and some experts are saying that ‘she stopped her time’, but it does sound a little ridiculous. And even if that’s true, we don’t know why she’s still in this state. Despite the unusual circumstances, she has remained in this state steadily …”
Ulla had a worried look on her face and kept coaxing the baby even though she knew it was a waste of effort.
“Ulla says she’s in a strange state…”
The baby, isolated from the world, was only slightly connected to her own sister.
Ulla said Celica had always wanted something, but had no idea what it was.
She said that it was only through the strong resonance she felt five days ago and continues to feel to this day, and upon further reasoning, and hearing Ai’s story, that she finally understood what Celica wanted.
Scar was so tired that her limbs were limp and she was barely able to stand with Julie’s help. She slowly lifted her head and glanced at Ulla’s hand.
It was the cry of a newborn baby.
The round water bag broke, the placenta fell to the ground, and the umbilical cord dangled.
The baby that had been wandering in the birth canal for more than a decade was born at that very moment.
Waaaaaah! Waaaaaahhh! Waaaaaaaaaaaaa!
Ulla desperately tried to hold on, ensuring that her sister would not fall. Neither the Living nor the Dead in the room could figure out what was happening, and merely listened to the sound that had disappeared from the world for so many years, completely mesmerized.
Only a gravekeeper made a move.
Scar escaped Julie’s support and stumbled over. Her expression had the same anxiety as Mankind’s, and her expression was very sorrowful.
Then Scar picked up the baby.
She held the crying baby in her arms, and her expression, which had been gloomy for several days, finally turned into a reassuring one.
The Dead shouted, “What are you doing?” To them, Ulla was the Princess on the stage and Celica was the Princess off the stage, and there were many who would give up their lives for the two sisters.
“Miss Scar! Please calm down! What’s wrong with you?”
“Ai! I do not know! I really do not know! I find it ridiculous…but I just cannot help myself!”
The Dead’s expression was more murderous, and the siren-like cries of the baby made everyone tense and drove away their composure.
“Anyway, give them back the baby first! Please calm down!”
“I cannot do it!”
“Because the baby is mine!”
This woman is crazy.
This thought came to everyone’s mind, cursing the fact that the baby was in the hands of such a person. The reality was so confusing that some people pulled out their knuckles, while others brandished their blades.
Why are you idiots brandishing your daggers now!? Who’s taking responsibility if she falls over!? We need to negotiate! Is the other party listening!? We need experienced ones to handle them.
The chaos nudged the onlookers who were looking to pounce on the little baby and gravekeeper, and then,
The crying suddenly stopped.
Silence was instantly restored to the space, and the onlookers’s eyes were directed in all directions back to the baby.
The baby sucked desperately at the nectar that was seeping out from under Scar’s blouse.
Noticing this, Scar pulled the front of her blouse with one hand and ripped it open along with the buttons, exposing her breast.
The baby greedily took her nipple and kept moving the throat.
The guns fell to the ground with a clang.
Everyone exclaimed as if they had the pleasure of seeing God in heaven.
The chaos did not dissipate at all, but the sight of this long-lost act of God’s holiness still made people bow down and sob with bodies that could no longer shed tears.
No one wanted to take the baby back from her anymore.
Because the fact was that the baby was finally back where it belonged.
“Thank you, Miss Scar. Thank you for being the mother to my sister.”
Ulla, with Kiriko’s help, offered her thanksgiving.
At that moment, the surrounding Dead began to fumble, shouting “Bring a chair!” “Bring a lamp!” “Bring hot water!” “Call the doctor!” Everything that was needed was brought in quickly and surrounded Scar.
Ai looked from Scar, who was sitting in a chair, into her arms, and smiled.
“So you’ve been waiting for mommy.”
And so Celica Hecmatika was born from the deepest depths of this earthly land.
The people thanked the great God and accepted this miracle.
But at this moment, no one knew the true meaning of this sight.
A gravekeeper was feeding a human baby.
A baby that could not have existed was born.
No one knew what this meant.
At the same moment.
The missing moon rose to the zenith, the cold wind swept over the rocky surface, crickets and bugs hid themselves in the earth to escape the cold. There was no life wandering beneath the pale, cold moonlight, and time seemed to stop still in the wilderness as the night passed peacefully.
There was a fire with a young man. The warm orange light of the fire was very faint, as if it would be swallowed up by the darkness, cold and silence around at any moment.
But this small flame was hot and tenacious.
A small pot hung over the fire, and there was boiling lead in the form of molten slurry. The fire burned entirely on charcoal, and burned white through the bellows.
The young man scooped up a ladle of lead slurry and poured it into the mold in his hand, and the liquid solidified silently in the mold. The young man waited for a while, tapped the mouth of the mold with a wooden mallet to remove the excess, tapped the handle, and poured the contents into the water tank.
The freshly finished slug rolled out, raising the temperature of the water slightly.
The young man repeated the action until the molten lead was used up. In the meantime, he changed the mold and the water jar once, and ended up with two different kinds of bullets.
Once done, the boy turned behind. There was darkness and earth, and two pistols that would soon swallow and spit these bullets.
Metallic in color, one automatic, one revolving.
But the young man’s eyes were looking farther away—into the darkness beyond where the fire did not shine into.
The young man looked in the direction of Ortus.
He stared into the darkness with a serious expression.
After a while,
The young man let out a huge sneeze into the wilderness, and nonchalantly returned to the fire as though nothing had happened. He picked up his knife and began to carefully scrape the excess off of each lead bullet.
“But then again…” he sniffled. “Ai Astin, huh…”
The lead shavings fell precisely into the jar.
“I never thought there was anyone in the world who’d the same dream as me.”
The young man held the bullet up to the firelight and examined it, as if to see if it was sharpened properly.
“The world really isn’t simple.”
The young man and the girl dreamed of saving the world.