Hellping

Part I

 

The next day.

Ai ended up following Tanya’s recommendation and took an elective in etiquette. The teacher in charge was Mageta, who was surprisingly very popular. The class was quite easy to understand, although she did interject a few ridiculous words like ●● and ●●.

It was the first period, just after breakfast. The morning light shone into the classroom on the second floor, slowly warming the air that had been cooled during the night. In the midst of this, Mageta solemnly proceeded with her class, grimly describing in detail about battlefield etiquette, the rules of engagement.

“—In the special environment of the battlefield, courtesy is also extremely unique. Courtesy to superiors, to subordinates, to the enemy, and to the environment, they’re all interlinked, and create a unique ‘atmosphere’ on the battlefield. A superior who doesn’t know how to thank his subordinates will be shot in the back, and one who doesn’t know how to deal with the enemy will be ravaged. I’ll tell you, young pretentious lords, that there are only two things soldiers are permitted to do on the battlefield, and that is ‘to kill’ and ‘to preserve one’s life’. Looting and destruction are just secondary. Now, please turn to page 120 of the text. From now on, I will look at the rules of engagement of each country, army by army. The rules of engagement of the Land of the Dead are particularly interesting. First—”

Even though it was an elective class, it seemed a common instance for the entire class to take the same class. All the students in Q class took such classes, and they were seated at the last row of the classroom. Tanya was the only one concentrating, while the rest of the students were trying their best to slack off under the difficult circumstances. The twins stood up straight, but the triplets were actually chatting in their heads. Rune was slumped like a fish that was washed ashore, completely weak as usual. Hardy was trying not to get a stomach bug, while Volrath pretended to take notes as she doodled designs.

Given her serious personality, Ai sighed at her classmates, but she suddenly remembered that she did not have the right to tell them off, so she continued with her little chatter.

(Miss Dee, you already knew about me from the very beginning?)

(Miss Dee knew me all along, didn’t she?)

She pretended to take notes from the board and scribble in the corner of her notebook.

“That’s right!”

Dee floated about next to Ai’s shoulder and answered with a normal voice.

But no one was paying attention to that.

It was Dee’s ability, the ‘ghost’. Her power was to blend into other people’s perceptions, and she could show or hide herself as she wished to. She said this was how she could observe places where she thinks ‘something interesting would happen’.

The school, and Ortus as well.

Dee had known everything about Ai since she came to Ortus.

(So you knew about Miss Ulla?)

“I only found out after I heard your deduction, Ai.”

(Why are you just watching? Aren’t you supposed to be ‘helping’ people?)

“I’m not helping people.”

Dee turned upside down and looked at Ai,

“All I do is whisper. I don’t care about what they do after they hear it.”

And that was the reason why Dee Ensy Stratmitos was called the ‘Witch’. She would only whisper in other people’s eyes, sometimes guiding the lost by telling them the right path, telling the hungry where to find bread, telling the villages that bandits were targeting them, sometimes telling a small country of justice the weakness of a large country.

In many instances, tragedies were prevented, and their lives were saved…but at the same time, new tragedies were caused.

The hungry would steal the bread, the villages targeted by the bandits would round them up and leave no survivors, the small country would devour the largeThose who are hungry take the bread. When a village was targeted by bandits, they turned on them and plunged into chaos. s.

The Witch was one who transcended life, ethics, morality, and everything else, all to ‘grant the wishes of others’.

Dee Ensy Stratmitos definitely had a piece of that soul.

“I don’t help people…”

Dee mumbled again, flatly and decisively, no questions asked..

Ai rolled her pencil around the table and groaned. She did not understand what Dee’s modus operandi was. On the previous day, the class worked together to cover up the hole—Ai and Volrath lifted the stone and painted the seams with mortar that Hardy had refined in his stomach, Dee was gone by then, and did not return to her room. Ai had assumed Dee did not want to talk to her, but the latter suddenly popped up and said she had nothing to do.

“Well, it bis what it bis.”

(Please don’t talk with things in your mouth.)

To Ai’s left, Alice was eating a sandwich stolen from the “Excavation” group as his lunch, way before lunch to be precise. He had been staying up late digging recently, so he had been either eating or sleeping in class.

Gulp.

“You can’t expect anything from her.”

Alice nimbly took a bite of bread while hiding behind his textbook.

“She’s a liar.”

“I’m not a liar. It just so happens that things end up looking like I’m one.”

“That coming from you?”

The two of them bickered cordially without even looking at each other. To Ai’s right, Tanya looked annoyed, and Ai let out one sigh and opened her mouth, wanting to stop them..

And then.

“Hey, there! Close your ●● mouth right now! No talking in class!”

Shots fired.

The revolver hanging from Mageta’s right hip shot out flames.

Ai calmly watched the scene. She could see everything clearly, from The moment the right hand reached for the waist, the muzzle flash at the waist. The bullet was not going the speed of sound, and it seemed Mageta had greatly reduced the amount of gunpowder.

After a moment of hesitation as to whether to dodge or take the shot, Ai ultimately decided to take it with her forehead without doing anything.

‘Thuk’ The sound of a strange, small sound echoed, and Ai’s vision was lifted slightly.

Mageta went back to class as if nothing had happened.

Slowly returning her gaze, Ai glared at the person in the air and the person taking a quick meal.

I wasn’t talking…

Her classmates, including Alice and Dee, were oblivious to this. Ai rubbed her forehead. She did not really care that it hurt, but the whiteness of the ink and the stench of chalk on her forehead is kind of embarrassing.

“Sorry about that.”

Alice spoke up.

“‘But, well, you’re lucky it was the right gun.”

Ai ignored him. She decided that she would never speak to him ever again.

“The old lady has guns hanging on her hips, you know. As you can see, the gun on the right is a mock-up, but the gun on the left has live rounds. It’s a six-shot ‘Serpent’ long barrel. One of a kind.”

He said as he made a shooting hand sign towards the iron-colored gun shining dully on the old woman’s waist.

“For those students who really wouldn’t listen to her, she’d shoot them with that gun.”

Ai let out a sigh, thinking it really was a ridiculous place.

 

Part II

 

“So, let’s start the first Great Escape Conference!”

Ai gently clapped as she announced so. They were at a corner of the cafeteria, and the members of Q class created some strange atmosphere.

Tanya and Gigi were the only ones who were listening to the conversation seriously, and as for the others, Alice was sleeping, Rune plunged her face into a basin of water, and the twins who were playing synchronized rock-paper-scissors, a game only the three sisters could play. And there was more.

Hardy and Volrath in particular were off into their own world and never came back.

“H-Hardy, actually, well, erm…”

“What’s wrong, Volrath?”

Volrath said while blushing brightly, her hands behind her back. Hardy’s fluffy cheeks slackened as he gave a reassuring smile.

“Well, actually, I made our lunches today, but…”

Saying so, she extended out her hands, and held a cutely wrapped lunch box.

“Woah, that’s amazing!”

“So, erm…will you eat it?”

“Of course.”

Thank goodness. Volrath relaxed her cheeks and began to unwrap the lunch. It was very well designed, and every single piece of cloth was carefully thought out.

Her hand stopped just as she was about to open the basket.

“What’s wrong?”

“W-well? I made this, but I’m not confident that I made it well…”

“It’s okay.”

Hardy gave a soft smile that put everyone at ease.

“You made this lunch for me, didn’t you, Volrath? I’m sure it’s delicious.”

“Hardy…”

Volrath blushed, and her eyes looked up through the gaps between her glasses.

“I’ll open it then.”

Saying so, Hardy opened the box.

“Oh!”

There was an assortment of mud buns.

“…………………Eh?”

Ai, who was peeking over with an outstretched neck, let out a strange voice.

“Here, ahh❤.”

A silver fork stabbed at one of the mud buns, flew in the air for a little while, and reached out to Hardy. The mud buns were made of clay sprayed with white sand, and sprinkled over with sesame-like glass pieces as accents.

Nom, and then,

“H-how does it taste?”

“Yep. It’s good.”

Volrath’s cheeks quickly turned red. It certainly resembled a romance scene fresh out of a young girl’s novel, but the actual incident was horrified. The girlfriend was feeding mud to her boyfriend, who was eating it happily.

It was the little love affair that only “Super Grip” Volrath and “Mud Eater” Hardy could have.

Even Ai could not bring herself to say ‘I want to try it too’. After staring dumbfoundedly, she realized something was amiss.

“No! Please listen to me, everyone! I’m talking about the escape plan!”

Bam bam! She slammed the table several times. On a side note, while she did yell the dangerous word ‘escape’, everyone else was fearful of being a third wheel in Volrath and Hardy’s love affair, and had kept their distance, so there were no issues.

“We’re escaping! No, it’s treason then! We just can’t stay here and have our freedom taken away!”

“Haa…”

And everyone else reacted so.

“I hope that nobody else gets lured in here after me…”

“You’re the first and last person to be fooled like this.”

Alice, who was listening to the speech while lying on the table, suddenly retorted. Ai ignored him,

“We must fight this war until the bitter end! This school is a sham! We’ll uproot it upside down until it can’t grow roots again!”

“The words are all wrong, but somehow…the enthusiasm comes across very well.”

Tanya put her hand on her cheek and muttered in admiration.

“For starters, we need to imprison the teaching staff! I see that their standard equipment is only a handgun, so we can take them one on one, no problems! It’s easy! The problem is the emergency security shifts, the contents of the gun lockers in key locations, and the extent to which the outside residents are cooperating with them! The first people we need to capture first are security chief Mageta, and…”

Only then did Ai notice the subtlety of the atmosphere.

“What’s with the awkward reaction, everyone?”

“Because …”

“Well….”

The Q class members exchanged looks.

“What is it? If you have something to say, please do. It’s important to exchange opinions.”

Then Tanya raised her hand.

“Actually, Ai, we’re not really into fighting or…anything like that.”

“Hm, I understand. But don’t worry. We’re not going to hurt anyone.”

“Ah, no, we can’t do that…”

“We won’t.”

But …Tanya seemed apprehensive, and shot glances at her classmates.

“Everyone! Please hear me out seriously!”

Bam! Ai slammed onto the table hard.

“Don’t you guys hate it here? Don’t you want to go outside? Miss Tanya, you said it yourself, that you wanted to get out of here and go home.”

“Yes, I did. ”

“Then…”

“But I can’t go home.”

Tanya said, her eyes still closed–forever.

“I can’t go home like this. … If I go home, I’ll cause trouble for my parents. We’re just ordinary farmers…if I stay, our family will most likely be ostracized again.”

The place turned lively.

“It’s the same at home.” “Yeah yeah.”

The twins said.

“Nobles are nobles, they care about appearances.” “Dad was really furious when he found out he couldn’t use his three daughters for political marriages.” “Anyone marrying us has to love us three though.” “Right?” “Right.”

“…My hometown is in a desert, and I will dry up there…”

Splash. Rune said as she looked up from the basin.

The rest of the day was spent bragging about their misfortunes. The boys were silent, sipping their tea in silence.

Ai listened to their conversation—which was interesting in itself—and then cut it off.

“Erm, can everyone listen to me?”

She raised her hand quickly.

 

“Well, so what if that’s the case?”

 

So what?  Such words caused Tanya and the others to tilt their heads.

“? Sorry, Ai, I didn’t quite understand your question. …”

“Erm, actually, I might be mistaken.”

Ai said with a worried look on her face.

“You all have a desire to get out of here, right?”

Well, sort of…everyone agreed.

“Then shouldn’t I try to do that?”

Once again, nobody understood her.

“Erm, Ai, did you hear what we said? We can’t do that, there’ll only be trouble if we go back…”

“So what is the problem?”

“No, well…”

“What’s the problem about causing other people problems?”

Finally, at this point.

They all realized that Ai was talking about something strange.

“Miss Tanya, you want to be with your parents, don’t you? Isn’t that your dream?”

“Y-yes.”

“Then you should do what you can do to accomplish it. You should be looking to leave and return to your family, to go to a place where you can be happy with everyone.”

“D-Do you know of any place that would be that convenient, Ai?”

“No, not at all.”

“Hey!”

But,” Ai said, grinning like the sun.

“I believe there is! There’ll be a place where everyone can live together!”

“Such a place—”

“And even if there isn’t…”

Ai smiled.

Her smile was radiant like the sun, evaporating the little puddles left, and parching a few weeds.

“We can create such a place, a heaven.”

“H-How can we do that!?”

Ai was puzzled, why, and asked,

“Isn’t that what you dreamed about, Miss Tanya?”

“I-It is, but,”

“Then shouldn’t you do that?”

Ai beamed. She was dazzling like the desert, like the deep sea, like the moon, like the sun.

There was an overwhelming incorrigibly in her smile.

“If you have a dream, and you want it to be true, shouldn’t you go about doing it?”

She smiled.

“Isn’t that what dreams are for?”

They were all speechless.

No one answered.

Tanya was the most shocked of them all. Tanya listened. Her special hearing allowed her to hear Ai’s words and smile. It was not telepathy, but it allowed her to understand the true intention.

This was what Ai meant.

You have to give your utmost to pursue your dreams. No, it was not a statement. It was a belief, for Ai felt so, and assumed that the others were the same.

In other words.

At her age, she already had a dream worth giving her all for.

That was so frightening to Tanya.

“Ai, just tell me one thing…”

“What is it?”

“…What is your dream?”

Ai was a little embarrassed, but she said it proudly.

“I want to save the world.”

Tanya was really speechless. The sound became so distant to her, as if she was anemic from the shock. Tanya would not be this shocked if Ai was just young and innocent when she boasted so. She was however shocked that Ai had recognized the difficulty of her dream as a matter of course, and yet would give her utmost to go for it.

What kind of twelve years did she spend to give her utmost for such a grandiose dream? Tanya was afraid of this little creature in front of her. The creature had not gone insane yet, even after all this time. She was worried for Tanya while looking sane.

To Tanya, Ai was horrible, pathetic.

“I can’t!”

Tanya shouted. Her face was pale and her voice was trembling with fear.

“I can’t! I had enough!”

“It’s okay. We just need a plan…”

“That’s not what I meant!”

Tanya stood up, knocking her chair over with a thud.

“I had enough of you!”

With that, Tanya put her hand over her mouth to stifle her apparent nausea, and hurried out of the cafeteria.

“Ah, wait Prez!” “Wait!”

“…Tanya, wait ….”

The twins and Rune chased after her.

Those who were left behind looked at each other and stood up.

“Ah, everyone!”

“Sorry, Ai, we’re not sure we can follow through with it either—that escape plan.”

Volrath said. Her hand was grabbing Hardy, and she seemed to be afraid of something.

“I’m sorry, little Ai. We need to talk—you too Gigi.”

“Woah, what are you doing, Hardy?…I’m part of the escape team…”

With that, Volrath and Hardy (and Gigi, who had been dragged along) left too.

Ai sat alone in the middle of the suddenly spacious table.

Everyone’s tea was left on the table.

She felt that she had been left behind, badly.

“I’m the only one in the world.”

“Eh?”

“You’ve got that look on your face,”

Alice said. He was no longer asleep, and sat on the edge of the table with his legs crossed.

“…They said they can’t”

“So they did.”

“Did I…do something wrong?”

“Nothing.”

Alice then rocked a chair.

“It’s just, well, it was kind of hard for them, right?? For Prez, . I mean, for everyone.”

“Yep yep.”

Dee nodded away with a knowing look, drifting along like a dandelion fluff.

“But well, you’re making it tough on them, Ai~.”

“Tough…?”

“Well, basically.”

Alice said.

“Prez noticed that even though she wants to return home, she’s unable to risk her life to try.”

“But we wouldn’t know that until we try.”

“That’s right. It’s as you say. But there are people in the world who can’t do that. In fact, there are more people like that. The people here are all like that. We have adults maintaining a place that will be destroyed in a few years, children who are oppressed and would rather remain so, the Living waiting to die, and the Dead waiting for a Gravekeeper. That’s what this place is.”

“I don’t want that. That ●● is ●●.”

“…Don’t imitate the dorm supervisor when you don’t understand what that means.”

It’s dangerous to say such words… Alice was horrified.

“But speaking of which, it’s really not that bad. It’s safe, and clean.”

“But you’re not free.”

“It’s just a lack of freedom.”

It was a word Ai felt was very important, but Alice merely dismissed it as ‘just’.

“…I don’t really understand.”

Ai lowered her head dejectedly, feeling a little lonely.

“…I’ve been thinking about something ever since I came down from the mountain”

“Heh? —How about you say it then?”

 

“Why isn’t everyone saving the world?”

 

They were speechless.

 

“Well, that’s…”

“… Wow.”

Isn’t that weird? Ai glared at them in turn.

“Is what I’m saying weird? Because the world is going to be destroyed, right? Why isn’t everyone anxious, and thinking ‘we have to save it?”

“But you don’t know how to save it, do you?”

“That’s true…but that’s not a reason not to aim for it, is it?”

“I guess.”

“And yet it doesn’t feel like people are interested in the world at all…”

“No, they really aren’t interested. I mean, that’s normal. Let me say this first, you’re the weird one. Normal people don’t think about saving the world. They don’t put their lives on the line for a dream. In fact, they don’t even dream.”

“I-Is that so?”

“It is.”

“But then, won’t we perish?”

“Most probably”

Ai was the speechless one.

“I-Is it really fine!?”

“I don’t think people will say it’s fine. For example, if you’re a prisoner, and you’re told that you’ll be executed tomorrow, what will you do?”

“I’ll try to escape with all my might.”

“By the way, most prisoners actually die obediently.—Other examples include: “If you put a frog in hot water, it escapes, but if you gradually increase the temperature, it doesn’t escape and will boils to death.”…or “People won’t get their cavities treated until their teeth hurt.”…or, well, humanity is pretty much like that.”

“…No way.”

Ai lowered her head in disappointment.

“…Are there actually very few people who are thinking about saving the world?”

“Well, it’s true that there aren’t many, but don’t worry, there are some.”

“Really…?”

“Like us, for example.”

Suddenly, the air froze.

Ai looked up seriously.

There was a boy rocking a chair lazily, and a ghost drifting in the air.

Ai said.

“Eh?”

“Oh, there’s the bell. I don’t really care, but those guys left without doing the dishes. Hey, Ai, why don’t you help them? At least separate the teacups and plates…”

“W-Wait a minute, Mr. Alice, what did you just say?”

“Separate the teacups and plates and put them on a tray—”

“Not that! What you said earlier!”

“Hmm? Most probably?”

“That’s way too long ago! I mean….”

Ai slammed the table.

“Just now, you know, you guys, are thinking about saving the world—”

“Ah, yes.”

“Sorta.”

Alice tickled his cheek. Dee fluttered about.

“Well, that’s fine, let’s save ourselves from being late—Ai, give me the teacup there. Tch, It’s not finished. Who’s so crude?”

“Not me.”

“No, I know you’re a ghost. You can’t touch things. Why are you making excuses when nobody’s asking you?”

“E-erm…”

“I just want to be part of the conversation…”

“You’re a bother, you know?”

“Erm!”

Ai leaned forward and called out to them. She yelled, and scampered over to hold Alice’s and Dee’s hands—but since she could not touch Dee, it was only a matter of expression.

“I’ve! Never met anyone who thinks the same way!”

“Huh?”

“Why, congrats.”

Unlike the high-spirited Ai, Alice was pessimistic, and Dee was being a ghost. Both shook Ai’s hands in a dismissive manner.

“Well, the young people nowadays really can’t be underestimated! Really nice! There’s now triple the number of people who want to save the world!”

“Oh, sorry, I don’t think I count.”

“Me too.”

“Huh?”

The lifeline was taken away, and Ai almost fell down.

“Dee, what did you say? I remembered you mentioned—”

“I want to end the world.”

Floating on the ground.

Dee Ensy Stratmitos said.

“And Alice, you—”

“I said ‘I want to destroy the world’.”

Alice Color said as he cleaned up his classmates’ dishes.

Ai was dumbfounded and wondered if she had misheard something.

“…Erm, both of you, I think you’re talking about something strange…you don’t want to save the world? It’s ridiculous. Is this hell? “I want to end the world.”

“You don’t actually know what it means to save the world, do you? Dee told me that what you did in Ortus was a disaster.”

“P-Please don’t ask me about that.”

“If you want to complain, talk to the ghost. She’s quite the evil one, always whispering to me stuff that I don’t want to hear about. Same thing about Gigi. I wouldn’t have bothered if I didn’t know about him…”

Ai’s gaze darted around, but the ghost in question had vanished, just like a ghost.

“…You’re saying you know how to save the world?”

Ai unwillingly looked back and asked angrily, as though taking it out on him.

“Of course!”

“Ehhh?”

“What are you so surprised about?”

“I mean, it’s an impossible question to answer!”

“That’s not true. There are basically only two ways to save the world.”

Is that so!? Ai immediately latched on, and nearly toppled over the utensils Alice barely cleared.

“What’s that? Please tell me!”

“Sure.”

“That’s casual of you!”

“What’s the point of getting you hooked? The first is…”

“Wait, wait, wait! I’ll write it down!”

“You don’t need to. First of all…”

“Wait, wait, wait!”

Ai hurriedly took out her class notebook and opened a blank page.

“Please start!”

“First of all, do you understand that there are two worlds?”

“? Two?”

“You look like you don’t know what I’m talking about. Shall I go about it in order? The first world is basically ‘the world as it is’, or in other words, a world that exists without observers.”

“The world as it is? Observers?”

“Even if the human race were to die out, the universe would continue, right? There will be other animals and creatures.”

“Well, yeah, I guess…”

“That’s the first world, one that really exists without anyone else. The second world, on the other hand, is the world of the ‘observers’.”

“Observers?”

“Well, you can assume I’m talking about humans, like you and me. We can’t see the world as it is for some reason.”

Alice said, and pointed at his eyes and head.

“The world we humans see is only the world we see with our eyes, and translate into our brains, isn’t it?”

“Translate…?”

“For example, isn’t the scenery we see very colorful?”

Ai nodded her head in agreement.

“But the truth is, there are very few animals that can see like this. Insects can only see ultraviolet light, and dogs can’t see red. The world as we see it is fundamentally different from the world as insects and dogs see it. In other words, different observers see the world differently…even as humans, everyone sees the world differently.”

For example, Tanya. Alice said.

“Can you understand Tanya’s vision?”

“… No.”

Ai could not imagine the world of someone who could listen to the light like that.

“Yeah. This is what I mean by ‘seeing the world differently’. Well, even if it’s not that extreme, each of us really lives in a different world. It depends on your upbringing, your environment, your way of thinking.”

“…I get that, but…”

“For example, you just said that ‘the world is about to end’. Some people don’t think so.”

“I don’t agree with that. The world is dying.”

“It’s humanity that’s dying, not the world—And that’s the position Dee stands at.”

“Hello~.”

Dee brazenly returned and took over the conversation.

“The world I want to save is the world as Alice mentioned, ‘the world as it is’—say Ai, what do you think is the weirdest thing in this universe right now?”

“The weirdest thing is…?”

“Yes. Answer that in less than three seconds.”

“Eh, wait!”

“Three, two, one, zero. Sorry! The correct answer is “Gravekeeper and humanity.”

Dee drifted in the air and discussed the ‘end of the world’.

“What do you think would happen to the world if we all died, were buried by Gravekeepers, and then Gravekeepers disappeared?”

“What…?”

“Do you think we can go back to the normal world fifteen years ago?”

Ai was puzzled by the idea.

“Do you think that all the miracles polluting the world will disappear, and the world will go back to normal? Is that what you think?”

“That! B-But the people!”

“People aren’t important here. Other living beings will still be around, and naturally, there’ll be new lifeforms taking over from humanity, hundreds of millions years from now. When that happens, I think it’s the role of humanity not to get in the way—That’s why my idea of ‘saving the world’ is to ‘get rid of humanity’.”

For that reason, Dee Ensy Stratmitos whispered to others. She wanted more winds in the storm, to open a hole in a cul-de-sac, to rip out the festering pus.

“Wait, but you’ve saved people, right?”

“I’m not helping anyone!”

Dee spat back.

“I’m whispering to accelerate human activity, to bring us closer to the end. I want humanity to oxidize faster, to bring them to their demise quicker. This is my way of saving the world. ”

So, Dee Ensy Stratmitos sneered.

“I’m grateful to you for ending Hampnie Hambert, Ai.”

“I can’t accept that…!”

“That’s because you’re standing up for humanity.”

Alice said.

“It’s all about perspective. The world really changes its shape depending on the perspective of the person who sees it. Those with the perspective of someone overlooking from a high place—like Dee, will think the world isn’t dying. For someone on the human perspective—like you, you’d think the world is dying. From an even lower perspective—for someone who thinks the town and family is the entire world, the assumption will be ‘My family is happy. It’s okay, right?’. A little lower, and the ‘world itself’ becomes a more distant concept. For those standing from ‘humanity’s standpoint’, a ‘world crisis’ becomes a ‘human crisis’, but to those who say ‘my village is my world’, the ‘crisis’ would be more of a drought or a plague. Those with such a lower perspective might find it difficult to say if the world is really facing a crisis. Of course, a crisis is still one, but it’s hard for them to imagine.”

“I’ve seen all kinds of people, but—”

Dee said.

“Everyone lives surprisingly normal lives. They grow crops, raise pigs, brew alcohol and fish, and when they die, they are buried by Gravekeepers. I guess this is probably the current normal?”

“I think so too.”

“…Hm.”

Ai held her chest, for she felt that she was hurt by these words.

—She never had a low perspective to begin with. She had no family, and was raised as a Gravekeeper. Those around her wanted her to assume a higher perspective.”

But ordinary people were different. For them, the world is their family, or whatever was within their sight.

Ai finally understood what Tanya was talking about; to the latter, the smallest world was her family, and she could not be in there if she wanted to ‘save the world’.

“My point of view is also, well, over here—‘a small community’.”

Alice pointed up into the air.

“The world I want to destroy is here.”

“Destroy…”

“You said you’re going to save the world, but here’s the problem.”

The index finger he pointed aside suddenly pointed towards Ai.

“I don’t think the world ever asked you to save it, right?”

“Ahh…yes, yes.”

This was the part where Ai felt the pain last time.

“I can’t be as materialistic as Dee, but still, the world is just the world, and there’s nothing to save. Someone’s salvation is another’s destruction, and someone’s destruction is another’s salvation. In extreme cases, from Dee’s point of view, by saving us, we may be destroying the intelligent life that is supposed to be born later on.”

“Th-That’s quite a large scale of salvation and destruction…”

“That’s why, gun to head, I’ll still never say anything about saving the world.”

“…Ahh.”

Ai sensed the mood.

“…Mr Alice, are you angry?”

“A little.”

Alice admitted honestly. The boy had always been blunt and straightforward ever since they first met.

“I’m not going to save the world. I’m just gonna destroy it.”

“I won’t save people either. I just whisper.”

They said and looked at Ai.

They wanted to see how she would answer.

“I…”

Ai said.

“I’m….”

Her words were cut off, and nothing more came out.

“…Well, your position aside—everything till this point is just a way to save the world. We need to define the world each observer sees, like ‘universe, humanity, village, family;, and then proceed to save it.”

And then, the second. Alice held up a second finger.

“The second one is very easy. You don’t have to save the world itself, you just have to save the observers.”

“? I’m not sure…”

“In other words, just save ‘those’ who say ‘I want to save the world’.”

“???”

“In another perspective, people who say they’re going to ‘save the world’ are the ones who haven’t been saved.”

Alice’s dark eyes looked into Ai.

“In contrast, those who don’t want to save the world are ‘those who are saved’ to begin with. They will think that since children won’t be born, the Dead won’t die, but they have family. It’s not the ideal situation, but it’s not the worst either. That’s how it is.”

“Well…I get that.”

“Then the rest is easy. All you have to do is to lower your perspective.”

“Lower?”

“Give up trying to save the world, and live happily ever after with your friends, family, and loved ones.”

Bam! Ai slammed the table. The pile of dishes clinked together.

“What’s wrong?”

“What you said!”

Ai’s blue eyes blazed as she glared at Alice.

“‘I can’t accept that!”

“‘Why not?’

“Why, you ask!?”

Ai could not believe this question was asked. It was a question so obvious to her that she did not need to think about, let alone answer.

“No, that’s not the case. People have a reason to be obsessed with their perspective.. I have one, Dee has one.”

“I just…!”

“That’s not true. How can there not be a reason for something grand like saving the world? Why do you want to save people? Why do you want to destroy this school?”

“It’s to save Miss Tanya and…”

“No, there’s something more.”

“!!”

That was…

It was because this place was so different from the wonderful school that her father spoke about—

“That’s your starting point, isn’t it?”

Alice said, as though reading could read her mind.

“You need to get this clear. You don’t have to save the world, but if the starting point changes, the perspective will change dramatically and maybe you’ll be happy.”

“That’s not going to happen…”

“Maybe you’re right.”

“My happiness is not important to me.”

“You’re absolutely right. I can relate to that.”

But, Alice looked at Ai with a near expressionless face,

“What would you do if you became someone else’s world?”

“Eh?”

“If a world from other perspectives includes you, and those people want to save you, what will you do? If to them, saving you means saving themselves, what will you do? If there’s such a person—like say, a lover who falls for you, and wants you to be happy, what will you do?”

“T-there’s no way such a person will…”

“Ai.”

Alice’s voice turned serious.

Ai had a bad feeling about this.

“What is it?”

“I love you. Let’s get married.”

“Please die.”

She blurted out without saying, even though it would be say so as a person, as a Gravekeeper, as someone saving the world. She had been keeping it sealed till this day, but she finally badmouthed someone..

“Ah…”

She was overcome with self-loathing.

Alice chuckled next to her.

“I was just kidding, but lover aside, don’t you already have people willing to be your family?”

“…”

“You have traveling companions, don’t you?”

“…”

Ai clammed up.

She was reminded of Julie and Scar.

“I wonder what’s more important to them, you or the world?”

“……”

“Whether it’s that old man called Julie, the Prez and the others, the Living the Dead, there are so many people who want to make you happy, and yet you’re abandoning them to go to your so-called world, right?”

Ai could not say anything.

“We’re both unfortunate.”

Alice said, lifting the dishes with a clatter.

“And here’s the bell.”

The afternoon bell rang, and lunchtime was over.

“Well, before the world, let’s get to class.”

He nimbly piled up the trays.

“Let’s go.”

He said, and strode off.

Ai did not follow.

 

The members of Q class spent that afternoon in an oppressive atmosphere of low-temperature lava; Ai and Tanya remained silent, and did not speak after class or in the bath.

 

Then, late at night, Ai slipped out of her room.

 

 

 

“Hey Ai, let’s go back, it’s not good to stay up late.”

Dee said as she floated in the night sky.

Ai did not reply. She looked forward silently as she walked through the forest at night. She was dressed in her Gravekeeper outfit for the first time in a long time.

“Hey, go back, Ai~.”

Ai ignored Dee. She did not look back at all. She continued to search the surroundings for enemies. There was no one in the forest.

“Hey…you’re not really breaking out tonight, are you?”

Dee asked, sounding anxious….

Ai did not answer after all, but the silence clearly showed ‘affirmation’.

“Say, it’s impossible. The security here is very strict. If they find you, you’ll be locked in the detention room, and you won’t get to eat.”

She got ignored.

“Hey, you can’t escape by yourself. It’s impossible!”

Again Ai ignored her. Ai’s pupils narrowed like a cat’s as she walked down the dark night road.

Dee muttered to her back, “This is no good,” and turned back the way she had come.

Ai was left alone, but she walked on without breaking stride. After five minutes, the forest ended, and she reached the outer wall of the school.

She quickly bolted out of the forest, ran for about three seconds, and without losing her momentum, hopped onto the wall. She put her fingers into the gaps of the bricks, moving her limbs right and left to climb up.

“What’s so difficult?”

She took a little breath while sticking to the wall. This wall was a hedge compared to the one in Ortus, which even a Gravekeeper could not intrude from outside.

Ai climbed the wall at a good pace.

And midway through,

“? What is this?”

There was an iron wire stretched out a little way off the wall. On a closer look, one could see such wires all over.

“?”

She knew what a barbed wire was. These steel lines however would not prevent anyone from escaping. Ai reached out her hand, still skeptical.

She touched the wire.

“Bzzzt!”

 

Part III

    

 

There was no light in the world where Tanya Swedgewood was born. Apparently, the reason for this was that her eyes were a little smaller than most people’s, a congenital defect.

Tanya’s parents regretted it.

—What’s there to regret?

Tanya was often misunderstood. In fact, she had never felt unhappy about her blindness.

She thought that she would feel unfortunate if something she had was taken away from her. Given her imagination however, it was hard to begrudge that she did not have these things when she never had it. She felt that she could not see what she could not.

Thus, the ‘Spirit Vision’ Tanya obtained was not out of her own wish.

It was her family who wished for the sight.

They were really grieving, suffering, and distraught about Tanya’s vision.

This made Tanya sad.

It happened on the night when she was nine years old.

Young Tanya heard her parents’ voices lamenting in bed. Her father and mother were hard-working, cheerful people by day, but at night they would quietly moan vindictively.

(Such a poor girl.) (Such a poor girl.) (Such a poor girl.)

Stop it.

And Tanya, nine years old, covers her ears. In Tanya’s world that was devoid of light, sound was an important source of information for everything in the world. At this moment, she did not want to hear anything.

And yet, the outstanding organs dutifully picked up the sounds of those close to her, and delivered them deep into her heart.

(Such a poor girl.)

Stop it.

(Such a poor girl.)

I’m not a poor girl!

Tanya let the soft comforter and the sun-scented blanket crush her, and uttered so with a voice only the pillow could hear. The blanket, which should have been embroidered with rabbit embroidery, caught the dripping salt water without a single complaint.

(Such a poor girl.)

Tanya cried without moving a muscle. Her shriveled eyeballs, useless as they were, worked well only at times like this, trickling out tears.

Tanya had never been unhappy with her eyes.

Yet, her family thought she was unhappy with them.

This frustrated Tanya so much that she—

(?)

Wait.

Tanya jerked upright. Wait, wait, wait.

Then Tanya realized.

How much difference was there between those two.

It did not matter how ‘unhappy’ they felt they were, but since they, especially papa and mama said so, since her family said so, and if it was so painful…

Perhaps she was truly unfortunate after all?

What came to Tanya’s mind when she realized so was ‘relief’.

She was always bothered by the dissonance of opinions between herself and her parents. Her parents could not understand why Tanya never thought of herself as unfortunate, and Tanya could not understand why her parents thought she was unhappy. This was a painful experience for both of us.

But not anymore.

Tanya and her parents were both unfortunate. They had the same feelings.

At this point, Tanya felt that she was twisted in the mind, but back then, she just felt elated.

And thus she wished.

Finally, she could make such a wish.

She wanted a vision.

She wanted to be what mama and papa wanted her to be.

It was a heartfelt wish, only an infant would hope for.

Perhaps if Tanya’s visual impairment happened later, her wish would have been granted normally.

However, she had not known light since birth. There was no ‘glare’, no ‘darkness’, no ‘transparency’, no ‘color’, nor ‘reflection’. She knew nothing.

Her imagination alone could not conjure anything she had never seen before.

And thus the ‘Spirit Vision’ was born.

The ability to hear the landscape.

At this moment, Tanya was walking through the forest leading to the outer wall of the Gora Academy. The moon was faint, the darkness rich. An ordinary person would not be able to walk one step further in the darkness.

Tanya’s footsteps remained steady however, for she could hear the entire landscape.

She could hear her own footsteps, the sound of her heart, her breath, the trees that covered them, the earth, and the sleeping insects resting behind the leaves and grass.

The sounds of the night, the moon, the darkness.

The orchestra performed by the Spirit Vision allowed the blind girl to see through the dark night.

(After all, it was this power that drove me into the wilderness.)

Tanya exhaled a sigh.

—The simple village farmer and his wife had the power to provide for ‘their blind daughter’, but for monetary and social reasons, they were unable to provide for ‘a daughter with special powers’. Tanya was kicked out of the village after a year, put in a monastery, moved from place to place—and was finally locked in this box garden called Gora.

(No, I can’t say so. I’m in this place by choice.)

Tanya reminisced as she walked through the school forest.

She would admit everything. The old her yearned to return home, and she actually did, but at sixteen, such thoughts were long gone without a trace.

Hope, or wish.

How long had it been since she stopped having such things? She remembered her  soul was burning on the day she made that wish when she was nine, but how distant were those days?

Another sigh blended into the night fog.

Tanya thought,

Ai—the girl who had ‘the sound of the rainbow that reaches the moon’ probably was still living in those days, probably dreaming of saving the world, like a curse. She was probably burning her soul for this.

Tanya did not envy her. Nevertheless…

The moon went dark.

“Tch!”

She clicked her tongue.

“Woah.”

In response, Dee bowed her head in exaggerated surprise.

“Eh, I’m sorry, did I say something that upset you?”

“N-Not at all! I’m sorry, I’m not clicking my tongue because I’m unhappy… ”

She hurried to explain.

Reverberation localization.

It was a technique Tanya had been using before she obtained the ‘Spirit Vision’. It was a technique where she would emit a sound and listen to the reflected sound waves, picking out whatever the objects surrounding her. Bats were able to hunt in the dark because of this technique.

Tanya had always been able to tell the shape and location of objects to a certain extent by listening to the sounds made by the surroundings and herself.

“Hmm. That’s amazing. You’re like a submarine. Do you know what a submarine is? It’s a boat that goes under water.”

The ‘Witch of the West’ was trying her best to explain, and Tanya hurriedly nodded.

“Huh? But with your ability, you don’t need such a skill, Tanya.”

“Not really. The sounds of ‘darkness’ and ‘night’ are very small, so it’s easier for me to use my voice to override them.”

“I-I see—By the way, what do you know about me, Tanya?”

“You…”

Tanya paused slightly.

“Have the sound of the dead. …”

“Ahaha, I can’t hide from your power. Feels like my mind is being read. What can I do now?”

Tanya was thrown off a loop. Naturally, she could not read a person’s thoughts, but her ability allowed her to have something close. She hesitantly watched the ghost.

Dee seemed unconcerned and continued to float forward. Her invasion really was ghostly as she slipped through obstacles without issues and moving forward.

“But I was a little surprised that you’d help Ai, Tanya—well, I went to Alice first, but he’s not there. Thank goodness I found you.”

“… Surprising?”

“Yep.”

“Is that so…”

The truth was that she really did not know what she was doing. She never had been one to sneak out late at night before, and would usually be the one admonishing. On this occasion however, she was walking through the school at night.

“…It’s not that I don’t like her anymore after that.”

Hmmm. Dee was silent and did not ask any more.

“Oh, here we are.”

“Mm.”

They passed through the forest and noticed in unison.

Beyond the 30-meter buffer zone was a wall surrounding the school, covered with steel wires, some of which were said to have electricity of ridiculous voltage.

And at this moment, Ai was about to touch it.

“Don’t!”

But her voice was not heard, and Ai touched the steel wire.

Bzzt, there was a small snap of electricity.

When a human body makes contact with strong electricity, two things could happen.

They were other ‘popped’ or ‘stuck’.

The current flowing through the human body would cause the muscles to stiffen, and If the stiffened muscles caused the person to move away from the contact point, it would result in a ‘pop’. If the stiffened muscles caused the person to hold onto the current firmly, it would result in ‘stuck’. Such outcomes were basically the same, but the results were greatly different. The former would rarely cause deaths, while the latter would greatly increase the chances of it.

Ai was fortunate to be ‘popped’. But that did not change the fact that she was in danger. Her small body was thrown up in the air, and her hands left the wall without being able to grab anything.

She fell.

“Tch!”

Tanya clicked her tongue to affirm the situation. She was too late. Such was the moment when the weakness of reverberant localization would show itself. Compared to sight, which could be perceived at the speed of light, the speed of sound was not even a millionth of that.

The little body was dragged down by gravity five steps ahead in the air. The body continued to fall, about to land head first onto the solid ground.

I can’t make it in time!

At that moment, a black shadow ran past Tanya’s side. It jumped out of the forest at top speed and arrived at the landing like an arrow.

“Oya—!!”

In the nick of time, the shadow slipped between Ai and the ground, catching her body by her stomach.

Bam! The two of them collapsed in the darkness.

“… It hurts. Seriously, you’re like, falling out of the sky or something. Is it a fad?”

“I boss…”

“Ahaha, ‘I boss’, you can’t even talk properly.”

Alice quickly got up, dusted himself off and tried to help Ai up. Ai however was on the ground with her buttocks down, unable to get up.

“H-huh? Wait? Why…”

“You’re numb.”

“May feet bah sore…sore.”

“Ah, I know I know. You get this taste when you lick a battery. It tastes like  electricity—So, how’s the taste?”

“Not bad.”

“Wait, you’re saying it’s great!? You can eat electricity too!”

Scary, Alice shuddered all over.

“Here.”

“? What is it?”

“I’ll carry you.”

“I’m fine.”

Ai looked aside in a moment.

“I bate Misha Julie.”

“So now ‘I bate Misha Julie’? Fukukukuku.”

“!”

Smack! Smack! Ai kept hitting Alice while blushing furiously.

“You holibble! Albays laughing at pose in trabble~!”

“Ahaha, I don’t get what you’re saying at all.”

Alice quickly grabbed Ai and gave her a piggyback ride. Ai tried to resist, but her body was too numb to move.

“Eh? Dee and Prez?”

The two of them finally noticed the other two.

Instantly, Dee snapped at him.

“Seriously~!! If you’re going to come, come early! It’s not trendy to show up at the last minute, you crazy idiot!”

“Shut up, I don’t need a flying girl to tell me about common sense. If you’re going to leave a message, you should have told Hardy, right? Why Gigi? It’s hard to understand him. And he’s begging to come along…”

Alice bickered with Dee as though they were greeting ‘good evening’ to each other, and their attitudes immediately changed thereafter, for he turned around and said,

“Prez…are you here to help this one too?”

“Y-yes.”

Hmph, Alice nodded and smiled.

“Thanks.”

“Wh- why are you thanking me, Alice?”

“I like it when you do that. It’s kind of nice, isn’t it?

The smile was truly that of a ‘boy’, and Tanya’s cheeks were flushed for some reason.

“Alright, you should thank her, too.”

“…Thanks u.”

“You’re welcome ….”

The two of them bowed to each other awkwardly.

“Shall we go back?”

“…”

Ai did not reply. This time, she did not complain.

The four of them returned through the forest. Dee floated around, keeping watch, and the trio cautiously advanced as per her instruction.

“I’m sorry….”

Ai said abruptly. Her voice had finally returned to normal.

“I caused everyone trouble…”

“Then you should be obedient for now.”

Alice pouted.

“Five days.”

“What’s that?”

“We’re escaping.”

Alice looked over his shoulder, and into Ai’s eyes.

“I’ve already spoken with the dorm supervisor.”

For a moment, the forest regained its midnight silence.

“…What do you mean?”

“What else? Our plan to dig a tunnel out is a no go. This is Plan F. Negotiation.”

“Negotiation…”

“With that dorm supervisor?”

It was unbelievable to Ai and Tanya.

“That old woman lady has already realized that times have changed. She’s willing to close an eye if we just die obediently. What do you intend to do?”

“What do you mean by that…?”

“Are you coming with me?”

Ai was silent.

“What about you, Prez?”

Alice did not wait for Ai to answer, and proceeded so.

“Y-you’re asking me too?”

“I thought I could bring along a few alone, so I wanted to ask the entire Q class.”

“I…”

Tanya imagined herself leaving, wandering the wilderness, and returning home.

“Well, I’m not asking you to decide now.”

Alice was the only one who remained aloof and steady.

“You have until the end of that day to answer me.”

 

+

 

The next day was a rest day which all the students were happy about. However, the students of Q class were the only ones unable to enjoy it.

Alice’s suggestion had reached everyone by noon, and the class atmosphere into a tense one.

Tanya would be discreetly called by the girls to be asked in the bathroom or in any secretive place. She did not know why everyone was looking to her for advice. In fact, she herself was unsure.

It seemed, the twins seem to be planning to stay.

Rune is unsure. She said she wanted to go to the underwater city of ‘Estia’. Tanya was a little shocked, for she had never heard of this before.

Volrath’s answer was easy to guess. “Anywhere with Hardy”.

It seemed that while everyone had a consultation, they did not need an answer from anyone else. They already had one. Tanya merely nodded and gave a few words, but everyone thanked her, and smiled as they left.

Finally, Tanya asked the same question to every smiling face.

“What is the ‘world’ to you?”

The answer from the twins was ‘we wish to be together, always’.

Rune’s world was ‘self’, and she wanted to ‘enhance’ herself.

Volrath’s world was ‘Hardy’ and she wanted to ‘love’ him.

Each answer and career path seemed to be intertwined.

She even asked the boys herself.

Gigi’s world was ‘The Mountains of Elha’, and he wished to “protect” it.

Hardy’s world was ‘one where everyone had their full’, and he wanted ‘to reach that place’.

Tanya walked through her own, dark world and asked her classmates.

On the way, she came across Mageta, who was in the eaves leading to the dormitory and staff offices. As usual, the dorm supervisor walked confidently, as though assuming she was the most righteous person in the world.

Tanya might have been a little crazy at that moment, for normally, she would not dare to do so, yet she naturally posed this question,

Dorm supervisor. What is the world to you? What do you want to do with it?

Even though Mageta was asked such an abrupt question, she was still full of confidence.

“For me, the world is this school. I want to protect this place.”

Even though it’s guaranteed to collapse?

Mageta’s eyes lifted up in surprise. Once she saw that no one was around, she suddenly relaxed her eyes and answered honestly.

“But still—for us, this is the only way we can live.”

The moment Tanya heard this, she felt something drop into her stomach.

No matter how wrong they were, no matter how there was no future.

Some people had determined the place where they belonged to.

Mageta was one of them. So was she.

“Tanya Swedgewood, you’re not thinking about leaving here, are you?”

…….

“Don’t do that.”

It was the first time she heard the dorm supervisor sound so kind.

“There’s no way you can live out there. You don’t have the guts to live in the outside world, with your special powers. That’s who you are.”

…Thank you. Tanya said, bowing deeply, and left the room.

She wanted to hear what those three had to say.

 

+

 

Alice, Ai and Dee were hard to find. While she did all three of them during mealtime, they disappeared like ghosts the rest of the time however. (Dee was a ghost, though.)

Tanya had no choice but to go out unannounced at night, and entered Ai’s room.

“Ai?”

Fortunately, Ai was there. So too were Dee and Alice.

“Why Alice too?”

“I have no choice. This idiot’s always doing something stupid…”

He said as he smacked Ai’s forehead. Ai did not react at all, and merely groaned as she lay prone on the bed. After questioning, she learned that Ai spent the entire day trying to escape, wanting to contact her companions outside

“Just from what Dee saw today, she climbed cliffs, went under water, waddled through sewers, climbed over walls, through forests, broke barriers… and many other things we don’t know about…”

“………Did you really do all that today…?”

“Yeah, and she failed them all.”

It’s hard to keep up with her. Alice grumbled as he twirled his neck, creaking it. Dee also said, “Even I’m a little tired. This time…” and drifted away like a rain cloud.

Ai lay slumped on the bed. She was black all over, her hem was burned at the edges, and she smelled a bit grimy.

But her eyes were still alive and well, as though going all “You got a problem with that?

Tanya sat down gently by the bedside. First, she asked the ghost floating in the air.

“Miss Dee.”

“Hmm?”

“What does the world mean to you?”

“The world? Hmm~, I guess, myself.”

“I see. So you want to end yourself?”

The moment Dee heard so, she felt as if she had been struck by lightning, for she realized that she had inadvertently spoken words that came out of her soul unwittingly.

Tanya, however, took this little drop of soul from the ‘Witch of the West’ and weighed it equally with her classmates’. I see, and so she answered.

“Mr Alice.”

“…Wh-what now, ‘Tanya’?”

“What is the world to you?”

“…! You…”

Alice’s eyes widened in astonishment, and was even sweating profusely.

“How can you ask such a question, Prez? It might be a fatal wound to us here! It’s like hitting a monster with a ‘silver bullet’.”

“Erm, if you don’t want to answer…I won’t really force you here…”.

“Now it’s a fatal wound if I don’t answer or try to bluff my way through…”

Alice cleared his throat and replied squarely.

“For me, the world is my ‘friends’. My world is ‘the eighteen members of Class 3-4’, that’s my everything.”

“I see. You want to destroy that, don’t you?”

“Yeah.”

Tanya’s response remained the same.

“I see,” she merely uttered.

“Ai.”

“Za warudo?”

“Hm?—Ah, that’s right. Another electrocution again?”

“Unbortunatly….”

Ai laid on the bed, squirming, practicing her words.

“For me, the world to me…well, let’s see…”

She mumbled again, and finally, her answer was still,

“… I don’t know.”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

Tanya nodded her head. This answer was most similar to her own.

“You know, Ai, I asked everyone that question today…”

Tanya talked about their classmates, the students in the other classes, the teachers, the ‘worlds’ they lived in, and how they interacted with it.

“Some of them started with ‘I don’t know’, or ‘I never thought about it’, but when I listened to them closely, I realized that everyone has their own world…so I think we have a world too.”

“…Is that so?”

“A somewhat vague answer is fine.”

“Somewhat vague…”

Somewhat vague, Ai repeated so many times.

“I have a feeling…it’s ‘I want to save everyone’.”

“Everyone.”

“Yes, everyone…”

Oh, I see, so Tanya thought. She felt that the words were somehow appropriate for Ai.

“I see, so you want to save everyone, Ai.”

“’’I want, to save, everyone’?”

Ai slowly uttered the words, as though chewing and swallowing hard at it.

“Everyone…? I want, to save, everyone…? But everyone is ….”

“Ai?”

Tanya called out, but Ai was in her own world, and did not answer.

“Looks like you did something really bad here, Prez.”

Alice smirked.

“I-Is guess so.”

“You did. Look at her. It’s super scary.”

“Everyone…What is everyone…? The living, the dead, the Gravekeeper… me… its resolve, its attitude… involvement… …Plants and Animals…Space…Pineapple…”

“A-Ai?”

Tanya called out tentatively, but Ai continued to murmur, and had no response..

“Goodness me…”

Seeing this, Alice chuckled.

“Well, let me ask you this instead. What does the world mean to you, Tanya?”

“…”

Silence. Tanya had no idea, and that was why she was asking everyone.

“…I don’t know.”

“Oh, come on! You asked us.”

“Uu, I’m sorry…”

“Goodness—a sorta answer will be fine, you know?”

Vague.

“What do you think?”

“…No, I’m not good at this ‘sorta’ thing.”

“Seems like Ai is.”

Tanya pointed to the bedside.

“The Sun and the Moon…Stones and Life…Fish Sausage at Dawn…”

“I see…no it’s not…this isn’t ‘sorta’.”

“It’s not?”

“Yeah, it’s not ‘sorta’.”

“… I still don’t get it.”

“Sorta?”

“Sorta.”

“You’re doing so though, sorta.”

“Oh, that’s ‘sorta’?”

“Sorta? I kind of get it—sorta.”

“I think I get it. Sorta.”

“I’m sorry. I don’t know what’s going on here.”

Dee was all dizzy as she muttered, sorta here sorta there sort everywhere.

“W-well, think about it. Sorta.”

At that moment, the last bell of the day rang.

“All right. It’s time for a roll call.”

Alice stood up and said.

“Once you come to a decision, let me know—and tell me whether or not you’re leaving.”

He did not wait for the response as he gently flipped out of the window. Sorta, Dee wobbled after him as she muttered.

“Okay, good night.”

“Good night.”

And so.

This was Ai’s fifth night at the school.

 

+

 

 

 

The next day.

Many classmates seemed to have regained their composure. Everyone seemed to have no doubt left as they swung their shovels, dug into the earth, and rolled the carts to transport the earth and sand away.Tanya had unwittingly separated herself from her old friends and started to spend time with Ai.

It was a commonplace phenomenon. Gigi, who had been attached to Alice for a long time, had been chatting with the twins, and Volrath had left Hardy to be with Alice. It seemed everyone wanted to finish whatever they had yet to do in lieu of the coming changes. Such was the atmosphere.

Tanya wondered if she and Ai were the same. They spent time together to prepare for X-Day, which was coming in four days.

The two of them chatted in moments, as though they were talking over scraps of notes in class.

At meal times.

At recess.

In class.

Tanya talked about her eyes.

Ai talked about her hometown.

They talked about themselves. They talked about their favorite foods. They talked about their parents. They talked about last night’s dream.

At some point, the class members began to join in. Rune and the twins stood next to each other, and Volrath and Hardy sat down. Gigi would look uncomfortable when caught, but he never left. Alice laughed, and Dee floated away.

Class Q broke up, gathered, and then broke apart again—like tide, coming and going, and becoming tranquil before they knew it, when everyone stopped.

But everything was still destined to separate.

Tanya and her friends spent their days there.

Four days passed like an arrow.

 

+

 

“Are you going?”

Tanya asked.

“Yes.”

Ai replied.

It was dusk on the fourth day.

Classes were over, all the after-school work was done, and they were on their way back to the dorm.

Q class was walking down the path in various groups, sometimes together, sometimes separate. Ai had been playing with the twins, while Tanya was talking about cooking with Hardy and the others.

Suddenly, they reshuffled, and the two of them were at the back of the group, watching the sunset with their classmates ahead of them.

“What about you, Miss Tanya?”

Ai asked. It was the last moment for her to hear this reply.

They would be leaving on this night.

“Hmm, I’ll stay…”

Tanya replied.

“…Is that so?”

There was a moment of silence.

“…Did you get the answer to that question?”

“The question about the world?”

“Yes.”

Tanya sighed.

“I guess it comes back to that after all…I can’t think of anything.”

“Can’t you just have an answer, sorta?”

“Sorta, yes.”

“What?”

Ai stopped dead in her tracks.

“Isn’t that amazing! What is it?”

Tanya also stopped, yes, and nodded,

“For me, the world is still my family…that’s what’s most important to me…”

Then! Ai was about to say, but she could not muster herself to continue, and kept quiet.

She’s a really smart girl, Tanya thought. Days ago, Ai did not know that others would have such thoughts, and at this moment, she knew very well where the difficulties were, and was troubled so.

Ai was right. If family was important to her, she should be with them, and face difficulties together. They should fight against discrimination, alongside each other, argue about important things, and win their place in the world. It had been seven years since then, and things had changed a lot. Perhaps the village was much kinder than before. They might even accept her. Even this school, which used to be like an iron wall, had changed, greatly in fact, for it was on the verge of collapsing.

But…

She still could not go with them.

“Sometimes.”

Tanya felt a hint of tears.

“I despair of myself. Why can’t I live ? Why can’t I do the right thing? Why can’t I be as pure as the sun rises and the moon falls?”

The useless eyes moistened the edges of the eyelids, fulfilling the only functioning ability they had.

“I wish I’m as strong as you, Ai. I wish I had a dream and go for it. I wish I was that kind of person.”

“That’s because I’m an idiot.”

With a sigh, Ai turned her head away.

“I just didn’t have that thing in me all this while, the thing that prevented me from taking the step out like you are all buried, Miss Tanya. That’s why I won’t be lost, that’s all…I just don’t know. I’m just ignorant…”

In two mere seconds, Ai cried along and grumbled..

They took out their handkerchiefs in unison, blew on them in unison, and then heaved sighs of relief.

“…I’ve only recently come to understand what kind of person I am—Tanya Swedgewood.”

Ai scrunched her nose with her handkerchief again.

“…What kind of person?”

“Yes. A good-for-nothing.”

“A-A good-for-nothing? I don’t think so. …”

No, I am one.. Tanya replied. She really was a good-for-nothing, always unable to conclude, always being vague about what she wanted, just living in the moment, had no dreams, nor anything she wanted to do. The one thing she was no inferior compared to others was her, and she dared not to expose herself to reality.

She had hoped that this was not the case.

Unfortunately, it seemed she was.

“Goodbye, Ai.”

Tanya said.

“I can’t go with you.”

“…”

Ai was silent again, appearing to be on the verge of tears. She fumbled for words in her mouth, and appeared to wonder whether to say them or not.

“I—”

Another five seconds of hesitation passed,

“I’m ….”

In the end, Ai could not say anything.

“Goodbye, Ai.”

 

+

 

Tanya did not remember much of the time that followed.

She just remembered that the life that had been turbulent over the past few days was stable. She returned to her dormitory, had her meal, bathed, and no longer hesitated to do so. She could live on without any doubts, just as she did before she met Ai.

This made her even sadder. All the things she had been frustrated about were forgotten, and she was simply worrying about tomorrow’s class. She really was a good-for-nothing.

She went to bed at night, and the moment she closed her eyes, she thought about Ai and the others.

Surely they had left by now.

Even though she thought so, Tanya’s mind was calm, and merely shed tears in the eyes that had forgotten to.

 

And so they left.

 

Part IV

 

It was morning.

She had to get up.

Tanya slowly rose from her pillow, waited for the blood to rise to her head, and listened to the morning sounds. There was the curtain of the early summer sun scorching the curtain, the sound of a midget hazel hunting for berries in the backyard, and a deep snore coming from the next room. Yes, Ai is definitely still asleep, so I should go wake her up….

No.

Perhaps that was not necessary anymore?

Tanya lets out a sigh. In this room, she could not hear her roommate. The latter was a heavy sleeper, so there was one explanation as to why she was not here.

…Tanya was unsure as to who left…and who remained.

Tanya thought of this question that came too late, “Unnnn” and stretched. It was probably going to be a busy day, since at least ‘three people were dead. The thought of the other classes questioning her and Mageta’s demand to silence her left her with a headache..

But that was still child’s play.

It was truly easy compared to the life-shattering worries she had yesterday.

Tanya quickly got up from the blanket, and opened the curtains and windows to let the morning light in. Her skin felt warm and fuzzy, and she was bathed in the most powerful ‘sound of light’ in the world.

She felt as though she had ‘returned home’.

She had returned to her own little world.

She should be able to survive with those alone. She could live as long as she had the warmth of the sun, food to eat.

Like Ai, Alice, and Dee.

Just living alone would not allow her to survive.

She was different from them.

She felt a little sad, and yet was a little relieved.

“…Time to go.”

The dormitory was flooded with the sounds of the sun.

The sounds of night were shunned to the West, and disappeared—

“Miss Tanya.”

At that moment,

She heard a rainbow voice reaching the moon.

“Ai…?”

Just beyond the window, on the bare grass, stood the Gravekeeper.

“W-why are you here?”

“Because I stayed.”

“What do you mean stayed…why…?”

The feet beneath her trembled, for she could predict the answer to this question.

“Of course, to save you, Miss Tanya!”

Ahhh,

Why was she such a good-for-nothing.

“…Ai”

“Yes?”

“You’re making a mistake…”

Why could she only drag other people down, and prevent them from pursuing their dreams?

Tanya dragged her feet, leaned against the window sill, squirming.

“You can’t. You can’t do that. Ai…It’s impossible to save everyone. You need to give up on some people…I’m a perfect example of someone to be abandoned. I don’t have any happiness or unhappiness to say. I have no dreams, and I’m so indecisive. You should be able to give up on someone like me.”

“That’s not true.”

Ai stared up at Tanya.

“I might not be able to save everyone after all, but it’s not my style to accept it from the beginning.”

“Goodness…spare me already…”

Tanya did not want Ai to highlight how ugly she was.

“And also, you’re mistaken.”

Eh?

“Miss Tanya, you’re mistaken about yourself.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You’re not a good-for-nothing, Miss Tanya.”

I’ll prove it to you—

With that, Ai spun the shovel around and placed it on her shoulder. With a clatter, she scampered away.

Tanya stood by the window and blankly watched her leave.

Five minutes passed.

She assumed Ai was going to fetch something, the latter did not appear to be returning back at all. but there was no sign of her coming back at all. It was getting late in the morning, about time for wake-up time was approaching. She had to change into her uniform.

“—bbrrrrr.”

Just then, the speaker lit up and the wake-up siren sounded. There would be a brief announcement by the staff after this.

Only today, however, the rest of the message was not played.

“?”

Instead, there was a lot of commotion behind the microphone. There was the sound of things falling, and one of the teachers was shouting something. There was a metallic sound resembling a sword fight, and maybe, just maybe, a gunshot.

And after all that, silence returned.

No, it was not silence. The microphone picked up a distant sound. “Alright, time to tie up everyone first.” “Eh, where’s the microphone?” “Ah! I found candy! Students can’t eat them, and they hide them for themselves! So despicable. I’m confiscating!” “Ah, found the mic. Test test. Ahh~ Mic test.”

She was all too familiar with this voice.

“Ehh—ahem, eh, good morning, everyone. I’m Ai Astin from Q class. I apologize for the suddenness. The staff room has been occupied.”

Then the voice declared,

“I’m here to talk to everyone today.”

 

+

 

“That idiot~~~~!!”

“Kya!”

Suddenly, the earth cracked open, and a figure popped out.

“Alice? Why are you coming from there…?”

“It’s leftover from the tunnel project—wait, that’s not important now! That terrorist! I’ve always thought she’s an idiot, but I expect her to be a really big idiot!”

On a closer look, popping out were Alice, and the other members of Q class. There were Rune, Volrath, Hardy, and Gigi. Basically they were the escape team. Tanya and the twins were the only ones who stayed in the end.

“Wh-what’s wrong, everyone? I thought you escaped last night. …”

“Master Alice was opposed to something, so we delayed it by a day. He said he was worried about Ai…”

Gigi said.

“Oh.” “Worried~.”Finally, ‘worried’~~.”

The twins, who had stayed out of the escape plan from start to finish, shouted teasingly.

“Shut up, your triplets. You’re noisy! Ahh dammit! What do we do now!? Isn’t our escape plan ruined now!? That idiot! Dumb eggplant! Country bumpkin!”

“Everyone shut up!”

Tanya shouted, and everyone was dumbfounded, clamming up. They had never heard the chairperson of Q class raise her voice like this before.

Tanya however paid no heed to their reactions as she listened attentively to her little friend’s voice coming through the speakers.

“Uh, everyone.”

She cleared her through.

“Uh, everyone.

She repeated herself again, seemingly uneasy.

“Is this switched on? Can everyone hear me? Well, even if everyone can, they can’t tell me. I guess this question is meaningless. Ahaha…huh? It’s not funny?”

“That’s some lame broadcast from the start…”

“It’s like a pirate hijack radio done by an amateur”

Alice and Gigi uttered.

“Quiet!”

“Yes.” “Sorry.”

“Ah, yes. Well, I’ll ask the people involved now—system is on when this light is. Okay, I understand. You can go back to sleep now. Thank you very much.”

One could hear the sound of something being tightened.

“…What is this dark broadcast?”

“This is scary.”

Volrath and Hardy noted.

“Quiet!”

“Yes.” “I’ll shut up.”

“Let’s see. There’s no other reason why you’re all here today.

Rune thought to herself, “…We aren’t gathered though…”

“Quiet!”

“…Th-this is unreasonable ….”

“I’ve come to talk to you today. “

Ai began.

“I’m going to leave this school today. My time here is short, but I’ll like to start off by thanking all of you for your kindness and support. Thank you very much.”

One could then hear something hit the microphone with a thud.

“…She definitely bumped her head while bowing.” “I’ll float over and check it out—yep, as expected, she’s holding her forehead.”

“…Eh, continuing on…”

“She’s acting like nothing happened”

“I’d like to tell you about my dream.”

A beat there. if she was nervous, for her breathing sound could be heard. Tanya Swedgewood could ;see Ai behind the microphone.

“I want to save the world.”

After saying so, she was suddenly distraught

“But, to be honest, I don’t know how to do that. The world changes with the times, and everyone sees the world differently. I can’t do anything about something I can’t grasp.”

There was a slight audio feedback.

“…So, I’m going to decide what world I want to save. I’m going to define my world, and save it!”

“Now then.” “It’s coming, isn’t it?”

Dee and Alice folded their arms.

“What will be born? An enemy of the world?”

“Or an ally?”

 

“I want to save everyone.”

 

Ai decided.

She had decided on her attitude.

“My world is made up of everyone. Everyone’s world is crowded together. They resonate with each other, and go on forever. That’s the kind of world I like. I want to help ensure that happens. But to do that, I really need your help…because your world belongs to you. It is not possible for me to save it in the first place.”

Ai seemed sad. Even though she had found an answer, she looked sad.

‘So, everyone, please don’t give up your world. I’ll protect the world from any other harm as long as you won’t give up…but if someone wants to destroy their own world, I won’t be able to stop. If that someone has given up and doesn’t want to struggle, I won’t be able to save.

 

“After all, every person has a world to save.”

 

“It’s decided.”

Alice slammed his fists together.

“She’s on my side.”

“I’ve settled too.”

Dee muttered disinterested.

“She’s my (world) enemy.”

“I told you to be quiet!”

“Yes.” “I’m really sorry.”

“Miss Tanya!

She was suddenly called out.

“Please! Don’t give up on your world! It’s okay! I know! You’re not really… “

“………?Ai?”

The broadcast was cut off abruptly.

“Ai!”

 

+

 

–“The Johnson Bears are here to intercept. Looks like we can only laugh—alright, looks like it’s about time, so thank you for listening. I’m Ai Astin, and I’m honored to be the DJ for today’s show. The song to be aired at the end of this 3Q☆ program will be ‘Fifteen’s Monsters’ by The Off Raps. I wish you all the best for the whole day, bye bye~~”

Ai carefully placed the needle on the record, fiddled with the mixer, slowly increased the volume, and removed the headphones like a pro, heaving a sigh of relief. She knew she should not brag, but she felt that she ended off pretty well. She even said three of her best jokes, so surely the others were laughing away. She might be able to make a living doing this.

Now then.

She put down her headphones and looked around the staff room again.

The room was in shambles. Several staff members who had been on duty early in the morning were tied up and knocked out, the tabletops messily covered with papers papers, cigarette butts spilled over from the ashtrays. Half of it was not Ai’s fault, for it had always been like this.

“Yoo-hoo!”

Dee floated above the wreckage.

“Hello, Miss Dee, did you hear the broadcast?”

“Yes, I did. Thank you for your effort.”

“Why, it’s a little embarrassing, isn’t it? How does it sound?”

“It was good, I think, but the line to the dormitory got cut off halfway because of the teacher. The part we heard was more than enough though.”

“Eh? Wait a minute. Did I get cut off in the middle of the broadcast? T-then, the joke about the ‘unexpected common point between a two humps camel and a potter’s wheel’ and the ‘surface-to-air Hampnie Hambert’…”

“It doesn’t matter here..”

And…

Dee looked at Ai with a clear smile..

Seeing this, Ai’s expression deepened.

“Ai, you’re going to save the world, right?”

“Yes.”

“Is that so? Then, I’m going to end the world, and you’re going to be my enemy.”

I guess so. Ai answered immediately.

Dee giggled, and Ai simply puffed out her chest.

“I like people who prepare themselves so. Let’s have a contest to see whose dream will come true first…or whose dream won’t, and get beaten to the ground. ”

“Yes, I guess so…ah, but there’s one thing I want to correct.”

“Hmm? What is it?”

“We’re not enemies.”

Dee was puzzled.

“Miss Dee, you may think of me as an enemy, but I do not think of you as one. You’re a part of Ai Astin’s world after all.”

“…”

Dee, the ghost, the Witch of the West, was,

Momentarily distracted.

“… Ah well, have it your way.”

She quickly regained herself and disappeared into the floor.

“…I’ll lend you a hand until we get out of here…don’t get me wrong, it’s not for you, Ai, it’s for Alice and everyone else.”

“Yes, that’s fine.”

“…”

She disappeared.

After seeing off her moody friend, Ai looked out through the curtains. She could see people watching in, but they did not intend to shoot. Ai assumed they were about to intervene, but there was no action…

At that moment, she was literally knocked off her feet. The bricks on the ground crumbled away.

“Hyah!”

Ai fell on her butt. It’s the raiding party! Wait, that’s where they are attacking from!? But if I can counterattack here!

“Alrighty~~~~~~!”

She grabbed the dominant arm, pinned the assailant with her right foot, and pinned him with her left hand.

“OW ow ow ow ow! Hey stop it, stop! I’m here to help you out! What the hell are you doing!”

“Heh? Ah, Mr. Alice?”

He was not the only one present, for the rest of Q class burrowed their way out of the hole.

“You’re heavy, and it hurts. Get out of the way!”

“S-Sorry, but it’s amazing how many tunnels you dug.”

“No comment about that. I don’t know how many holes that idiot ghost got me to dig over the past week…”

Wew~♪ Dee whistled without appearing.

“‘But, well, I guess I can thank you for once. Thanks to you, we got everyone but the twins to join us.”

The others were trying to shuffle their way out of the hole. Hardy was the second one out, and everyone was slow to get out as a result.

“…Except for the twins?”

“Yeah, they want me to pass the message to you, ‘We chose to stay, so don’t mind’…they’re the oldest of the bunch after all. They did think hard about it.”

“Hmm, I understand.”

“Oh, you’re okay with that?”

Yes, Ai nodded.

“I’m okay with it somewhat as long as the three of them can stay together—more importantly, I’m worried about Miss Tanya…”

Hardy finally slipped out of the hole, followed by Volrath, Gigi, and finally…

“Ai!”

Tanya jumped out and hugged Ai.

“Ai! You idiot idiot idiot! That’s a dangerous thing you did!”

“Mgh! Miss Tanya. Mfh!”

Ai was hugged so tightly that her whole face was buried in Tanya’s chest.

“Oy Prez. I think the way you’re hugging her is more ‘dangerous’ than anything.”

“Eh? —Ai, Ai, are you okay?”

Fuaahh, Ai was released right when she was about to be suffocated, and gulped in the air around her..

And then she sized up Tanya closely…

“Pfftt.”

“Ai?”

“Pfft fufufufu.”

Ai laughed like a squirrel in early spring, clearly ‘overjoyed beyond words’.

“A-Ai, what’s wrong?”

“You’re here after all, Miss Tanya.”

“Yes, but…what’s so funny about that?”

Tanya was a little miffed, but Ai did not apologize and stopped giggling.

“Miss Tanya, why did you come?”

“Huh?”

“Why did you come here?”

Ai giggled happily, and her tone left Tanya a little annoyed.

“Isn’t this weird? You say you’re a good-for-nothing, that you’re always scared, fearful of the unknown, and dare not act? So why are you at such a dangerous place, Miss Tanya?”

Tanya was very annoyed.

“You don’t…understand?”

“I don’t understand~.”

“Of course it’s because he’s worried about you!”

“Yes, thank you.”

Once Ai heard those words, she gently hugged Tanya.

“A-Ai?”

“See, I knew it, You’re not a bad person, Miss Tanya. You’re not scared as long as it’s for the sake of others. You didn’t even notice it until I told you. You are not a hollow husk. You are—”

—The green eyes and the closed eyelids stared at each other.

“You’re the kind of person who risks herself for others’ sake. You’re someone who saves the world.”

“I’m not that kind of person! I’m just useless…”

“You’re so persistent. Well, let’s take it as that then.”

“What?”

“It’s just words, that’s all.”

Ai clung to Tanya, as though wanting to be spoiled, or latching onto her.

“Because in reality, you’re here with me.”

Ai beamed as she hugged tightly..

It seemed Tanya had no choice but to give in.

“By the way, Miss Tanya, I found out where your family is.”

Ai pulled out a sheet of paper and showed it to Tanya.

“Eh!?”

“I’ve asked Miss Dee to investigate. Both your parents have left the village and moved to the city, and are going around looking for you—but it seems your father’s lung is ailing–”

“Where are they!?”

Tanya approached Ai, reaching out, trying to snatch the paper,

Ai deftly ducked aside.

“The outside world, you know?”

“So what?”

“Eh? Ah, no, it’s nothing.…”

Ai dejectedly handed over the note once she saw the sudden change in temperament. Tanya shook the note, and listened intently to the sound of the words.

Ai was a bit taken aback by her attitude, and then smiled as she told everyone.

“Okay, let’s go!”

 

“You idiot, who’s going with you?”

 

Alice delivered a chop at the head way shorter than his. Chop chop chop.

“It hurts! What are you doing?”

“How do you intend to get so many people out of here? You ruined my perfect plan. I’m sure you have another plan, right?”

“Nope.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me…”

“No, because. I never thought there would be that many people.”

I mean, why are Mr. Alice and the others still here? Ai tilted her head.

“Hm…well…it’s true that this isn’t your responsibility.”

“If that’s what you think, then please, stop, chopping, and apologize, to me.”

“Strangely, I just don’t want to stop.”

Alice continued to chop, and Ai continued to be chopped.

“Well, there’s only one way out of this, right?”

“Well, there’s only one thing to do, right?

The whole of Q class stared at them, wondering what they were talking about.

“A frontal assault.”

“A head-on breakthrough.”

 

+

 

Mageta knew this day would be a troublesome one, but even she did not expect it to be this bad.

Ai had taken over the staff room, Alice and the others had escaped from the detention room. She had sent a few people to the staff room, but none of them returned, and that ridiculous broadcast never stopped until the end.

Yes, until the end.

“A frontal assault.” “A head-on breakthrough.”

“‘Are those kids stupid?’

Mageta laughed at her colleagues. They laughed wholeheartedly.

They were laughing partly because of the foolishness of the frontal assault, but the real reason was that the broadcast was still going on. The line to the dormitory and the school building had been cut, but the line to here was still connected.

“Disband the raid team.”

“Are you sure?”

“They’ll come out here. There’s no need for us to look for them.”

Mageta and the other teachers were guarding the main gate, the only entrance to the school. The gate was sealed with two locks and a huge bolt, and further beyond was a low concrete wall meant to defend against bullets.

“A few guns are in their hands. Be careful, everyone.”

“Yes—dorm supervisor, where are the keys to the gates?

“I’ve got one. One of you has the other.”

“Yes, ma’am. Do we kill them?”

“No.”

Mageta pulled out the gun on her right hip and released the cylinder, dropping the white ink bullets at her feet.

“It’s vexing, but we’re in the middle of important negotiations with Ortus and Bayak . There’ll be bad publicity if we kill seven students. We need to avoid that from happening.”

Everyone’s enthusiasm was doused.

“…I guess it’s rough, huh? What about the remittances from our home?”

“We’re still getting by, but the bribes to the officials are making a dent. Well, the school isn’t getting shut though…we just need to be quiet for a while…”

She took out my cigarette case, but contained inside were not cigarettes, but bullets. She took out six rubber bullets from it and put them in the cylinder.

“But, well, a successful escape would be even worse of a scandal.”

With a wave of his right hand, he retracted the cylinder, made sure the palm and grip were snug, and holstered it. Normally, she would have put the hammer into the strap as a safety device, but she eschewed it at this point.”

“Just do what you think is appropriate.”

Copy that, the teachers picked up their weapons. Many had rubber slug shell shotguns, and the history teacher in particular cleverly loaded a grenade launcher with a wooden warhead. Some had submachine guns with low explosive rounds.

All of them were equipped with weapons designed to be non-fatal as long as the critical areas were not hit. If they still died, it was just bad luck.

“Well, if they’re dead, we’ll just send them back to Ortus.”

Mageta laughed, and released the gun from the leather strap on her left hip.

It was loaded with .45-caliber enhanced ammunition to begin with.

“Dorm supervisor, I have a question.”

The math teacher asked . He was a nervous-looking man with thin glasses.

“What is it?”

“Their abilities include enhanced hearing, strengthened grip, breathing underwater, hibernation, and the physical abilities of a half human, half Gravekeeper. So far, so good. But this Alice Color’s Buzzer Beater’ is…”

“Ahh, that?”

Mageta tried to explain, only to hear—

 

“Oh yeah, do you have any strange powers, Mr Alice? You’re in Q class after all.”

“Well, I do.”

“Oh! Then what is it? Please tell me. Maybe that might help us escape…

“Well, for example, here’s an eraser.”

“Yes.”

“And over there is a mug.

“Yes. Why are you speaking respectfully?”

“I’ll throw the eraser.”

“It’s in. And you just ignored me.”

“I’ll throw the eraser again.”

“Ahh, amazing, they all went in.”

“In other words, this is my ability.”

“Aw man!”

 

“And that’s about it.”

Mageta pointed to the speakers on the gate.

The teachers chuckled.

“Looks like it’s a piece of cake.

“Save it until we win. Even without Ai, we’ll be in trouble if they get any firearms—”

“—Clank clank clank.”

“Okay, gun locker’s open. There’s my gun! Hey, you guys, take one!”

” I have a shovel, I don’t want it.” “Guns are too noisy, I don’t want it.” “Guns are too soft, I don’t want it” “Guns aren’t tasty, I don’t want it.” “The people of Elha fight with bows!”

“You guys…”

A huge wave of laughter erupted amongst the teachers. Mageta, as expected, could not pay attention because she cupped her head.

“Well, then, we’d better get going…”

Just then, Alice’s voice came over the speakers, strangely clear.

“Just wait.”

The broadcast was cut off with a buzz.

A suspicious bewilderment began to spread amongst the teachers.

“Hey, dorm supervisor?”

“That was…”

“Don’t worry about it, you lads.”

Mageta tightened the reins on all of them, looking unconcerned.

“There is no other way out of here. They will come here. We don’t move. We just have to fortify the gate. In position!”

Everyone panicked, and hid behind the defensive wall. However, Mageta was the only one who stood exposed, standing proud with her hands on her hips as her eyes stared straight at the school building.

Eventually,

“They’re here!”

A dusty wind howled. The wind scattered the wild sand on the road, creating a thick cloud of dust that blurred vision.

They walked on, cutting through the smoke as they kicked it aside.

Tanya and Rune, Volrath and Hardy, and Gigi.

They all appeared in uniforms, completely empty handedly.

They stood in front of Mageta, and as though premeditated they had a plan, they took off their ties and threw them in the air.

“Pick it up.”

Mageta frowned and bellowed at them, but the five of them only looked a little frightened and did not obey the order.

Only two of them did not throw away their ties, for they were not wearing school regulated uniforms to begin with.

Ai carried a shovel on her back, wore a straw hat and her Gravekeeper garb. She was full of confidence completely unlike her first day.

And Alice was wearing leather boots and a tattered uniform from some unknown school. He was the only one armed, wielding two pistols just as Mageta did. The one on his right hip was a six-shooter revolver, while the one on his left was a twenty-one round automatic.

These were the two.

These two were the cause of everything.

The two of them stopped in their tracks, and both sides faced each other. The distance between them was twenty-five meters, and so was the distance to the gate.

“Usu!”

Alice raised his right hand and casually called out,

“Yo, dorm supervisor. Sorry to keep you waiting, but the seven of us will like to go outside as promised…”

“It doesn’t count.”

“… Well, of course not.”

Alice sighed.

“You lot!”

Mageta taunted.

“I’m not going to take your lives since you’re being courageous. Surrender now, and we won’t let you suffer.”

“So she says.”

Alice turned around to ask the other members.

All the faces were speaking. No.

“They say no.”

“Is that so?”

Mageta pulled the gun from her right hip.

She did not care about their reply either way.

“Then crawl and lick the dirt.”

With a click, the safety on the guns behind her was removed.

“Sleep.”

A gunshot rang out.

 

 

 

Fire, fire, fire.

Revolvers, shotguns, riot guns, submachine guns.

Every weapon spewed fire. With so much kinetic energy concentrated in the air, there was little difference between live ammunition and rubber bullets.

The Q class members, clustered together, immediately fell to the ground. Even so, Mageta showed no mercy. The moment her bullets were depleted, she reloaded another six rounds and fired again, and once done, reloaded another six rounds. She continued to shoot until all the rubber bullets in the cigarette case were depleted.

Dust rose in the air as a result.

“…Did we overdo it?”

One of the teachers called out accusingly. He was the first one to stop shooting.

Mageta grabbed the shotgun out of his hand and fired into the dust.

Thunk. It sounded as if a bell had been struck with a log.

Looking through the smoke with a murderous look in her eyes, Mageta waited for the smoke to clear while holding the shotgun at her waist.

The wind blew slowly, carrying the smoke far away.

 

“Ack ack—…a-achoo!”

 

Ai sneezed loudly as she inhaled the last of the smoke.

“Hmm~ this attack was nasty. I can’t stop sneezing.”

“Impossible…”

The teachers, hiding in the shadows, were horrified.

“Is everyone okay? Achoo!”

“I-I guess so…”

Ai’s classmates, who were lying on the ground behind her, were horrified.

Mageta was the only one who remained calm.

Bam! Another rubber bullet was shot out.

Ai swung the shovel in her right hand without even looking at it.

Thunk! There was a dull thud, and the bullet was parried away by the thick shovel.

Eight hundred times.

That was how Ai protected her classmates.

“You guys!”

The teachers, who had been in a daze, hah! came back to life with that one word, They discarded their useless guns and took out self-defense pistols loaded with live ammunition from their pockets.

This time, there was real murderous intent directed at Ai Ai and the others.

But,

This time, the shooting was not one-sided.

Alice flicked off the hem of his jacket and grabbed his pistols, he had a revolver in her right hand and a machine pistol in his left.

He fired.

The speed was mind-blowing. The teachers had yet to take aim.

However.

“?”

“…Heh, of course. There’s no way you’d hit?”

There was not a scratch on the teachers’ bodies. They were hidden behind a concrete barrier, their bodies barely visible.

“Wait a minute, Mr Alice! You just said ‘Leave the guns to me!’ but you didn’t hit them at all! Of course I know you shouldn’t shoot them though!”

“What choice do I have? I’ve never hit a human being with a bullet in my entire life.”

“You’re useless!”

“You’ve got to be kidding me!”

One of the teachers, hearing Alice’s words, stood up. No longer thinking about his own safety, he readied the revolver and pulled the trigger.

But no bullet came out of the muzzle.

“It’s not firing?”

“Same here! What the hell is going on?”

“Firing pin.”

Alice tersely pointed out. The man looked at his gun. The firing pin was an iron pin that would strike the detonator of the bullet and ignite it.

The pin was broken.

“…Metal fatigue?”

“Dammit!”

 

Behind the concrete, someone pulled out a gun again, Alice glanced at him and then fired. The bullet did not miss its target, grazing the firing pin and snapped it. There was only a small impact on the man’s hand.

“‘You knew about my ability, didn’t you?”

Bam bam bam! The guns in Alice’s hands started to blare away, and every single time it happened, the teachers’ weapons were rendered useless. He continued to shoot away the enemei’s hammers and barrel bushings through a gap the size of a dictionary.

“This is the ability to send an object to a targeted location, ‘Buzzer Beater’.”

Bam bam bam bam!

“I’ll never hit a human. Don’t worry.”

“Tch!”

Even so, there were too many of them. The others aside from Mageta noticed the fact that Alice only had two arms, and four of them attacked simultaneously.

“Oops.”

“Damn you!”

Shots fired. At the same time, Ai stepped forward.

Clank!

And then there was a sound that no one had ever heard before.

All the bullets were blocked by Gravekeeper’s shovel. Each time the silver blade swung, circular sparks scattered in the air, and all that was left were lead bullets flattened like cracked crowns and crushed fruit.

“M-monster…”

“Mm, that’s rude.”

Ai lowered her shovel.

“I’m not a monster. I’m me.”

Clap clap clap. At that moment, an out-of-place applause sounded.

It was Mageta.

“…What is that about?”

“I’m praising you. Ai Astin, Alice Color, I’ve underestimated you. I apologize for laughing at the idea of a head-on assault. You have the power. I’ll show respect to you and leave you to your own devices.”

“Eh?”

Ai showed a dumbfounded face, and Alice immediately doubted her words.

“…What are you talking about, old lady?”

“I’m talking about our philosophies. This school is a school for the weak. We exist to protect them. And you’re the strong ones.”

“Oh…”

“Thanks for that…”

“It’s our mistake to allow you to enroll here. Alright, since you know, hurry on…leave the others…”

Mageta glanced behind the other two.

“I refuse.”

“‘Why not? They’re weak. They’re not like you. They’re just dragging you down, and they’re not doing you any good, no?”

“…”

“Only the strong can improve the strong, Ai Astin, you shouldn’t associate yourself with those of a lower level than you. Yes, let me introduce you to our main school. The world’s greatest minds gather there… ”

“You ●●.”

Everyone was speechless.

Alice was the only one with his head in his hands, groaning, “You should really stop using that kind of language, seriously…”

“Ai Astin!”

“Shut up. What is useless? What are weak people? You’ll lose right now, not to me or Mr Alice, but to Miss Tanya and the others! —Let’s go, Miss Dee!”

“Righto!”

At Ai’s shout, Gigi and Rune raised their hands in the same motion. The next moment, the two collapsed and fused together to form a single schoolgirl wearing a uniform from another school.

“Yahoo, everyone~. I’m Dee Ensy Stratmitos.”

“What! Who the hell are you!?”

“Where did you come from?”

“Shut up, you guys! Call the other departments! Those two were never here to begin with!”

Mageta calmly commanded

“That’s too late!”

Alice laughed.

“Do it, Dee!”

“Uuu, I don’t really want to do this because it’ll stretch out my ego boundaries too much.”

“Just do it!”

Okay, okay.Dee Ensy Stratmitos melted. The melted body spread out like a thick, milky white mist, densely enveloping the area.

“Wh-What the hell is this?”

“That’s disgusting! Ehh, get away from me!”

“Quiet! Don’t shoot! They’re in the same situation! As long as we don’t leave our stations, they won’t be able to escape anyway!”

The teachers shivered and waited in this biological, nauseating fog, which sometimes gave an illusion of strange landscapes, as though they were in a different place. There was a snowscape, ice, fire, and hordes of corpses…

The nightmarish fog seemed to go on forever. The teachers were shaking and trembling, and they were one step away from killing each other. Right at the last moment, there was a wind that seemingly dispersed everything.

The fog dissipated.

Mageta quickly glanced around, searching for the five students.

There was no one in front of her.

“Where did they go?”

Mageta swung her gaze from side to side. There was no one to the right, nor to the left. When did they retreat? She could not imagine them retreating at this moment.

There was a cool and refreshing gust behind her, blowing against my sweaty skin. It blew away the strange fog from earlier.

But wait, where was this wind coming from?

A gust of wind blew from behind.

The wind was strong and dry.

It smelled of sun and wilderness.

Mageta turned around.

A powerful light pierced her eyes.

—Why do I see the sunrise?

The wind ruffled her clothes.

Why is the wind blowing?

Mageta held up her hand to the light and squinted her eyes, finally looking in that direction.

Standing there were the children.

The five of them were standing against the powerful backlight of morning sun. The wind was blowing hard to bless them, and their uniforms were as dirty and flapping as any delinquent’s.

They were already outside the school.

“Impossible…the key is with me…”

“You mean this?”

Volrath opened her hands and showed two spherical locks that had been smoothened.

“And the bolt…”

“It was quite tasty. The guy who made it was good.”

Hardy tapped his ample stomach in satisfaction.

“…How did you make your way through the fog?”

“Ahh, that was me—”

Tanya raised her right hand in the same manner as she would have if someone had pointed it out to her in class.

At that moment,.

When Dee created the ectoplasm to obstruct everyone visually, Tanya was the one who listened to the scenery and led everyone to the gate. There, Volrath ripped the locks off, and Hardy ate the bolt.

“Uuu, I’m so tired. You guys are really horrible to work this world famous ghost so hard. Do you know how much energy it takes to assume another form? Brrrrr, the Living are scary.

Out of nowhere, the ghost came flying out of nowhere and bemoaned.

“Shut up. How’s your situation there?”

“Of course we made it, Rune and Gigi are headed to the rendezvous point.”

They split into two teams. Rune would head through the sewers with her underwater breathing, while Gigi would let her pull him along with his hibernation ability.

“Okay, everyone.”

Ai said to a stunned Mageta.

“Until we meet again, goodbye.”

“Wait!”

Mageta shouted.

“Wait, Tanya Swedgewood!”

Tanya reacted, spooked when her name was called.

“Don’t follow them! Have you forgotten about your ability? There’s no way a deviant like you can survive in the outside world! Stay here!”

“Please don’t associate me with you.”

Tanya hugged her chest, trembling with fear, as she shouted back.

“It’s just you people. You are the only ones who can only live by staying here.”

It was a structure that had somehow been reversed. It was initially a place that was supposed to isolate children with abilities that had been scorned by society, but before they knew it, the children started to dwindle in number, and it became a world for the adults attached to it.

“I will return to the wilderness.”

“!”

Mageta’s left hand rebounded. The force of gravity, not muscle, caused her wrist to drop, and she pulled her grip from her holster as if it were hooked. The recoil causes the gun to cock.

Ai jumped in front of the muzzle of the gun.

“It’s no use!”

She readied her shovel. Alice shouts from behind her.

“Idiot! Duck! It’s not a .32 or a .38, it’s a .45!!”

“I’ll be fine! I got this shovel from mom! It can block a bullet from any baddie!”

Boom.

“There’s a hold~~~~!”

“Oh, come on you idiot, don’t cry. Look, it’s not a big hole. You can put a key ring in there. Isn’t it in vogue nowadays?”

“Shut your mouth right now, you little brats!”

Alice stepped forward to protect Ai, who was on her buttocks. Five lead bullets that would tear any personalities into flesh were waiting to be fired.

“What if I say no?”

But Alice did not shut up.

It was Mageta who closed her mouth. Then she shot.

Alice too pulled his gun out with godlike speed. He even used the muscles in his little toe and pulled out the six-shooter from his right hip, setting it at his hip while Mageta struggled with lifting the weight of the double action gun.

But even so, they fired almost simultaneously.

The trigger was pulled, and the pin penetrated the detonator. The quick combustion shocked the shell casing, and the gunpowder that was slow to ignite flared up. The pea-sized lead ball had an initial velocity that exceeded the speed of sound, and the bullet, now a high-speed object, was caught in the rifling and acquired rotational motion.

Coincidentally, both of them chose the same gun, the same bullet weight, and the same amount of gunpowder. It was the same amount of gunpowder.

The only difference was where they were headed.

The lead bullets were fired a little later after the muzzles flared. Alice’s bullets were directed towards Mageta’s side, while Mageta’s bullets were flying towards Alice’s right ventricle.

But the two bullets did not complete their route.

The two bullets faced each other, and slowly approached, approached, and approached.

They collided.

The lead balls of equal weight collided head-on, devouring each other’s kinetic energy and stopping each other in midair.

Mageta was a really good gunslinger.

She maintained her composure in the face of this impossible situation, and with a slight movement of the muzzle, she aimed at the kidney and fired.

Alice too shot.

Two lead balls floated in the air.

Mageta shot. She shot. She shot.

Alice shot too. He shot. He shot.

Five rounds in total.

Mageta continued to pull the trigger. However, she could only hear a click.

The remaining lead balls in the air, in turn, fell to the ground as though they had woken up from a dream.

“I told you about my ability, didn’t I? I can hit whatever I aim at.”

Alice said as he pointed his gun at Mageta. There was one last shot left in the chamber.

Click click click. Mageta pulled the trigger..

“We’re leaving.”

Alice said, lowering his muzzle.

The demonic dorm supervisor merely nodded. She looked as though she had suddenly aged and become a real old woman.

“You…”

Ai tried to say something to Alice, who was walking towards the sunrise. But she could not come up with the right words, and so,

“You’re weird.”

“I don’t want to hear that from you.”

“Well, that’s fine. I’ll save you too. ”

Saying this, Ai took a deep breath.

“Students of Gora Academy! You’ve been watching me!”

She could not see the dormitory as her line of sight was blocked by the wall. However, she believed everyone was watching and listening.

“I’m free! And you’re free too! If you want to go out, you can go out!”

Ai shouted with a heartfelt cry.

“If you want to, please step forth! Miss Dee will go over to you, and you can get out!”

The ghost who had been listening to the noise by the side looked startled, “Hey.”

 

“I’ll! Save you!”

 

A silence returned as though it was after a lightning strike.

“…Are you happy now?”

“Very!”

“You’re weird.”

“That’s rich coming from you.”

“No, no, no, you’re both weird.”

Ai, Alice and Dee were arguing with each other.

As she watched them, her ‘friend’ Tanya let out a sigh and thought that the three of them were clearly weird. Them being weird in the heads could not simply be dismissed as them being different. Normal people—if she was normal, would never approach such people.

But…

“Let’s go!”

Tanya shouted, taking Ai’s hand and walking away.

“Whoa.”

“Rune and Gigi are waiting for us.”

—This is fine. So she thought.

She felt it would be wrong to distance herself from Ai because the latter was weirder.

Even if they could not understand each other,

They could still be friends.

“Let’s go!”

Before the five of them, the sun began to rise, and the future had just begun to open.

 

“Ai~~!”

 

And then, after everything was over.

The man appeared.

While Ai and the others fled, a blue car appeared behind them from a side street along the school wall. The car pulled up to the main gate, and colorful hand grenades rolled out of the driver’s seat.

The teachers rushed out, pulling back the flabbergasted.

Klunk!

And the second dawn of the day appeared from a flash grenade that came in the opposite direction of the sun, followed by a sound bomb bursting with high frequency, low frequency and audible sound.

“Uuuu~.”

And Tanya collapsed on the spot.

“Ai, where are you? I’m here to save you!”

A rocket launcher was thrust out of the driver’s seat. The man pulled aside the safety, not forgetting to open the window on the other side of the car, and fired it into the gate.

The precious flower ornament Ai received from Ortus, on display in the passenger seat, was blown away by the backfire.

 

“Aiii~! Where are you~~~~!!”

 

“………….Say, Ai, he’s calling for you.”

Tanya, who had taken the most damage from the sound bomb, crouched down and said,

“I don’t know him.”

Ai, also crouched down, squirmed defiantly.

“There is no such person as Ai here, and there is no such person as Julie.”

“Shut up, you idiot! Time to clean up the mess!”

Alice kicked Ai in the buttocks. Ai scampered off without complaining, teary eyed and gritting her teeth.

“Ai~~~~!”

Finally, Julie was about to get out of the driver’s seat. He had an assault rifle in his right hand, a submachine gun in his left, a bulletproof vest covering Celica strapped to his chest, and for some reason, his upper body was naked.

“Ai, where are you?”

“Over here!”

Ai delivered a dropkick with enough acceleration on the big man.

Julie tilted a bit, recovered and caught Ai still in the air.

“Ai, I found you!”

“Nooo~! I got caught~~~! Let~me~ go~~!”

“Seriously! I was so worried! Thank goodness I listened to that stinking ghost. If anything happens to you, I don’t know what I’d say to that guy in the bottom of hell!”

Julie hugged Ai with utter relief, and was completely deflated. Ai however did not want her guardian to continuously embarrass her in front of her friends, and wanted him to stop. Also, she wanted to enact revenge on Dee, who led the big man here.

“M-Mr. Julie, more importantly, Miss Scar….”

Celica happily yapped away in the big man’s chest, but Scar was nowhere in sight.

“…Ah, ahh, yeah. About that…”

Julie stammered, and people began to gather behind the main gate. They were not wielding weapons meant for suppression, but heavy weapons.

“Uh oh! Anyway, let’s get out of here first. Get in!”

Julie said as hopped into the driver’s seat. And then,

“That’s great. Thanks, old man.”

Alice got in.

“Sorry to bother you.”

Tanya boarded in.”

“It’s squeezy,” Hardy said. “Well, we can get in,” Volrath said.

“More brats!?”

Julie was astonished.

“Two more to go,”

Ai said happily.

“♪.”

Dee sat on the roof with her legs dangling. Celica’s eyes twinkled, thinking, ‘I’ll do that next time’.

Julie stepped on the gas pedal as though it was a sworn enemy.

“So, what’s up with Miss Scar?”

Ai continued to ask, even though it was a stupidly busy moment.

Julie answered in desperation.

 

“She abandoned the kid!”

 

A few days.

A car was driving through the yellow wilderness, a blue wagon with three rows of seats, carrying seven children, a baby, an adult, and a ghost, chugging on.

The three girls in the back seat screamed.

Rune, soaking wet from the exodus, was sniveling as she spoke..

“…Something smelly, Celica pooed…”

Alright! Ai raised her hand confidently.

“Yes! I’ve already learned to change diapers! Let me do it! Let me do it! ”

Tanya calmly went through the luggage.

“Ai, we don’t have any more diaper cloth…”

“Ehh? W-What should I do? Julie, Julie, Julie!”

“Shut up.”

Julie replied nonchalantly.

 

In the middle seat, there were two people watching over an itchy, crying Celica.

“She’s so cute, Volrath.”

“Yeah, Hardy, we want one too, don’t we?”

“Vo-Volrath, not in front of everyone…Mr. Julie’s watching too.”

“Shut up.”

Julie, in the driver’s seat, tried his best to ignore the noise behind him and focused on being a steering wheel and pedal machine.

“Well, well, Un, cle. No pressure~.”

“Shut up.”

“Ugh, you’re denying the existence of a ghost…uu idiot idiot! You idiot!”

“Just shut up.”

“Well, give it up, old man. She gets clingy with those she’s fond of.”.

Alice said, spreading out a map on the passenger seat. Beyond the map, Gigi poked his head out. Everyone asked why he was on the roof, and he answered ‘I’m a child of Elha after all’. At this point, Julie no longer cared.

The car was filled with various noises, creating a ding-dong-like buzz in the tranquil wilderness. The wild skin lizards would always look twice at it and squeal curiously, ‘Kyui?’.

“Old man, three hundred meters ahead, turn left.”

“Shut up.”

“Ueh? I’m just being the navigator, right? Why do you always always say ‘shut up’, old man?”

“Just shu…uu…uughh.”

Julie finally recovered and drove as per Alice’s instructions..

“…You guys are really going to alight in that city?”

They were headed towards the city where Tanya’s parents lived.”

“Well, who knows?”

Julie’s gut was telling him however that the kid next to him and the ghost had no intention of doing that.

He let out a heavy sigh, thinking that he got into so much trouble just when he needed to go find Scar…

“Ah! Uncle! The left just now!! Back up!”

“M-Mr. Julie, we’re out of diapers~!”

“Hey, Uncle, turn on the radio! I’m sure they’ll have my favorite show, “The Pearl of the Sea Turtle,” around this area… ”

“…For God’s sake, everyone shut up.”

And so,

The car returned to the wilderness.

 

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