It was night.
Ai crossed the moon.
The dry air caused the hem of her coat to flap, and her feet, paddling through the air, found nothing more than ten meters away. The moon was thin and cold as melting ice, and the darkness was dark and hollow as an open grave. The only light in the distance was a small torch held by the sentry beneath her feet.
Ai jumped over the small light.
A gust of wind blew across. The wind ruffled Ai’s body, and she nearly lost her balance. Her coat fluttered, her back muscles chilled, her straw hat flapped as she jumped across—
She managed to get her right hand up in time.
And instead, she hit her nose.
Ai rubbed her nose dexterously with her free hand while clinging onto the walls of Ortus Castle. There was no nosebleed fortunately, but there remained a rusty tinge in the back of her nostrils. She snivelled and tapped her hat to buck up. Mmm! She growled, and scaled the walls with both hands with all her might.
Once she arrived at the top of the wall that was adorned with ogre tiles, Ai tied rope upon one of them. This particular one had a chipped fang, and looked rather adorably.
She tied the rope behind her—and escaped the tower she had just intruded.
She then tugged as a signal.
And the other party tugged at the rope in response.
After that, she waited patiently for a while. The rope was taut and tied on both ends, fading into the darkness.
And appearing from that darkness was a single woman.
It was Scar.
Scar was dressed in a soft nightgown and a jacket, the silk was so thin that the moonlight could shine through it. The mischievous night wind of Ortus seemed to mock the outfit that seemed only appropriate for bed, and even the laughed at the outfit, which was only appropriate in the warmth of the bedding, and as she reached for her hem, the rope tightened and tried to trip her.
However, Scar remained unfazed. She carried the baby—Celica, to her chest. Her calves were faintly white calves when exposed to the moonlight as she walked over.
She resembled a celestial being..
And then, thud, she stepped on the ogre tiles, and stood on the wall, basked in the sharp moonlight.
“…Is something the matter?”
The celestial being called out to Ai, who recovered, and continued to climb the wall.
“I-it’s nothing. I just feel that you have become completely different, Miss Scar…”
“… Is that so?”
Scar tilted her head a little sadly. Ai had more or less taken this gesture as proof that she had changed, and sized up the reason for the change.
Celica was sleeping soundly in her mother’s arms.
“She’s a bold one. She never wakes up.”
Scar smiled at that remark like a mother whose child was praised.
“Yes, that is right. She never cries except when she is hungry—she basically declares that she will not waste energy for any reason other than to eat. Quite a glutton she is.”
“I can relate to that.”
Ai tickled the baby who was wrapped in a warm cloth, but was rejected.
“… Is this fine?”
“I understand…Let’s go.”
The moment they said so, the Gravekeepers moved. Ai went first, and Scar followed. The two Gravekeepers fluidly moved through the rugged walls, came to the ground, and leapt over the air moat without stopping for a single moment. They crawled along the flat white sand slope and up the anthill-like mound. It was terrifying as to how little sound they made, and the only traces left behind were the little distortions the two Gravekeepers made.
It was as though there was a puppet show on the main street.
They looked across the street from the edge of the air moat. The street, crowded with cars and the Dead in the daytime, was dead silent at night, akin to a backstage nobody paid heed to. The crescent moon was like a lamp indicating that it was lights out, and the cobblestones were like virgin snow, refusing to be stepped on by anyone. The electric lights resembled more like the lights of a security guard, forbidding intrusion, and there was four unobstructed lines.
Phew, Ai timed her movements. There was no sentry to be seen, and there should be a change of shifts.
She prayed that no guard would appear, that she would not see anyone, and ran down the street.
The two seconds that resembled twenty passed by.
The duo leapt onto the street of Ortus. A few steps were enough for her to pant hard, and for her heart to pound. At this moment, she had a feeling that someone would pop out and say, who’s there?
They waited for five minutes.
The two of them slowly paced around. They advanced through the darkness, looking back and forth, and looked around every corner tentatively. It was really nerve-wrecking
Thus, Ai was overjoyed to the verge of tears when she saw the blue car at the rendezvous.
“Over here. Get in!”
She ran as fast as she could down the last straight, jumped into the car, and barrelled over Kiriko, who had his hand outstretched, into the other door
“Argh! Ow! Mr. Julie! Go!”
And Kiriko, who was under her feet, shouted.
Julie stepped on the gas pedal without saying a word. The car slowly turns its lights to the east and went downhill in Ortus while going perfectly within the legal speed limit.
Silence beckoned in the car.
The street lights passed by rhythmically and Ai could see the ripples of light on the window as though she was looking up from the bottom of a lake. She remained slumped in the same position as when she rushed to the car, watching the view and letting the time fly by. She had a feeling that something bad would happen if she spoke or made a move, and so did the others, it seemed, for Kiriko, who was kicked off the seat, did not grumble either.
At that moment, someone held up a pure white notebook and ruined the cautious atmosphere.
“Is my sister okay?”
A young girl wearing a blindfold and a mouthpiece—Ulla, peeked out from the back seat. Ai saw her writing and relaxed, slowly adjusting herself, and sat down.
Scar gently handed over Ulla’s older sister Celica, and Ulla embraced her firmly and brought her cheek towards it. Celica continued to smile innocently while in her sister’s deadly embrace.
The others stared at her.
The car was dark, messy and unorganized, and they were within distance to distinguish each other’s scent. The space was filled with warmth, as though it was a den filled with animals of different species that had gathered by chance.
“Are you really going…?”
Kiriko asked Scar the same question that Ai had just asked on the wall.
“Yes,” Scar replied, nodding.
Kiriko replied. It was no wonder, given the events that had transpired over the past week.
—A week ago, after the birth of Celica beneath the earth, the old men of Ortus who were the first to act. With their black, rotten bellies, they pondered over the significance of a child that should have never been born was born in the City of the Dead.
They assumed there had to be a meaning.
They assumed there had to be some circumstance for a baby to be born in the city of the Dead (Ortus), when the Living that had casted rocks upon them were so desperate to have one.
Surely there had to be various reasons, and there should be a continuation of the miracle—so they thought.
However, they did not know what it was. Their old, parched brains could not garner any new thoughts, and their bellies that had been polished with blackness and intrigue before their deaths, had shrivelled their brains further.
It was inconceivable to them that this miracle was not theirs.
Kiriko, Ulla, and naturally, Ai and the others knew, but these old men did not. They did not know that Celica was born because she wanted to. She wanted to ‘live on’ as all Life would have wanted.
Celica was neither born for Ortus, nor for these old people.
They could not see such an obvious fact.
The old men then tried to put Scar and Celica under house arrest, away from Ai and the others, and even Ulla. They did not allow the mother and daughter to see anyone, and had them imprisoned in the East Tower of Ortus.
The East Tower of Ortus formed a pair with the West Tower—the minaret where Ulla lived in. It seemed these old men simply had them locked in there for no purpose other than ‘this is a convenient place’.
But the East Tower was a similar cage as to how these old men built the minaret that was meant to deceive the little sister. At this point, they had the mother and daughter imprisoned in that minaret, and that angered Ulla Eulesse Hecmatika. While she could forgive someone for deceiving her, she could never forgive someone for deceiving someone else, let alone her older sister.
Ulla started a lonely struggle in the castle, and mobilized the golden scepter she had refrained from using the entire time, intending for Scar to move about freely within Ortus for the time being.
The result was disastrous.
Instead, the old men saw the opportunity to deprive the Princess of the Dead of her rights that had been a ceremonial role, and the Idol of Murder was split from the government, leaving her as a mere idol.
The jail was created. The city of Ortus became a place where people looked at the West—the sunset, where the god of death lived, and the East—the sunrise, where the god of live remained. Ulla Eulesse Hecmatika was no longer a mere girl or a princess, just one of the many Gods who could not be involved with the mortal world.
The old men felt their bellies with great satisfaction.
Ulla, downcast, apologized to Ai—and it was a hassle to request a meeting—“I can’t save Scar.”
“Then let’s steal them.”
That was Ai’s only reply.
“We’ll escape at night.”
So Ai charged headfirst into Castle Ortus, scaled the walls, jumped over the sentry’s head, snuck into Scar’s room, gave Celica a “Peek-a-boo” and a little “grow tall grow tall”, and led them out here.
Kiriko exhaled a sigh as he looked at the girl who did this and merely commented “that was nerve-wrecking.”
(What the hell have we been doing? …)
If it came down to it, she could have freed Scar so easily.
He glanced over at Ulla, who was holding her sister, and Ulla looked a little devastated.
Ai and the others would be leaving Ortus after this.
—I really want you to stay with me. He could practically hear Ulla’s thoughts.
“Miss Scar, is that fine? It’s true that Ortus’ intentions are underhanded, but they’ll definitely try to protect you…I can’t guarantee your safety in the wilderness.”
Scar looked at the embracing sisters and frowned. Her face, which used to have a steady, unmoving smile akin a stone statue, was now painted with a variety of emotional colors, including the purple of hesitance, the gray of weariness, the pale pink of reassurance, and the green of distress.
That was the color of human skin.
“I am a Gravekeeper, the mother of this child.
Scar said, stating these words that should not be put together.
“…I shall protect her from all harm. I will not let any blade touch her skin…but in that black tower, I could not tell what is harm and what is evil.”
The mother looked at her child with compassionate and confused eyes. The moment Celica woke up, she saw her beloved sister, and immediately became happy, her mouth causing her sister’s shiny black hair to be all sticky.
“I can protect her from the blades of evil men…but I do not know how to protect her from the shapeless malice of the people in that tower…that is why I cannot stay there.”
Kiriko and Ulla both bowed their heads together and apologized, blushing in shame. The older sister seemed tired of the taste of hair, and became interested in her sister’s blindfold as she tried to pull it off. In various ways, this 15-year-old baby was not to be underestimated.
Scar stared at them and said,
“You have nothing to apologize for, Mr Kiriko, and—”
And then she called out in a very unaccustomed tone,
“Please call me Ulla, Mom.”
Ulla turned the page she had prepared.
“Since you are my sister’s mother, you are also my mother.“
Scar said with an expression that clearly showed she did not anticipate this.
“Humans are really complicated…”
“It’s hard to be a mother, I suppose.”
Ulla and Scar stared at each other and smiled faintly with troubled expressions. Kiriko watched them carefully and filed the scene in her mind. Ai politely ensured that she would not distract their conversation by remaining silent on the sideline and listening to their conversation happily. Julie in turn continued to drive while smiling.
The car slowly drove down Ortus, and the moment of departure was near.
The sky was white by the time the car arrived at the West gate.
“It-it might be too loud for an escape night.”
Do do do. Ai stood next to the car with its engine still spinning, and looked up at the city gate.
The West Gate before them was being activated at full speed, and the engines propelling the gates were on fire, devouring gasoline at an alarming rate as they lowered the three-story gate with all their might. Of course, the noise echoed everywhere, and the busybodies that were the people of Ortus immediately gathered around to see what was happening.
There were many employees and soldiers at the gates, faithfully working under the guidance of the vanguard.
“Are they okay? Won’t they be scolded by their superiors if they help us…?”
“P-probably, I guess.”
Ulla and Kiriko replied with no concern as they snuggled together in the sun.
“You’re amazing Ulla! You’re really a princess after all. You say you’ve no authority, but that’s not true♪!”
Ai turned around while feeling the adrenaline caused by her staying up all night, and she flailed in a dancing manner, saying,
“I really don’t have any authority.”
Ulla wrote with the same gesture.
“Again with that? Look, can’t you see that everyone is coming to work for you, princess?”
“No, I really don’t have any power. And just because I’m a princess doesn’t mean I have permission to open the door, does it?
Ai suddenly stopped turning around, and her mind started running.
“Well, now that you mention it, that’s…”
“So why did everyone …?”
“Because I asked them to.”
“Yes, I wrote “please” to ask people. They might get scolded or arrested, but I went ahead and asked for their help.“
Ai stared at the small, insect-like shadows as the workers on the gates banged on the bolts that held them in place.
“And everyone is chipping in?”
Gong gong gong! The heavy tremors shook the morning air as the chains were rolled up. Ai stood beneath the wall and looked up at the princess of Ortus, saying,
“I think that’s real authority…”
Kiriko nodded repeatedly at these words.
“Is that so?”
Ulla, the person in question, tilted her head slightly with a puzzled expression.
“It’s not authority. I can’t even grant freedom to my sister and mother. That’s not power…”
Ulla started apologizing again, and Kiriko followed suit. Ai immediately consoled them.
“I’ll try my best.”
Ulla wrote these words on the few remaining pages.
“I will try to make it possible for everyone to enter and leave Ortus freely, and for Ortus to stand firm.”
It was a silvery morning with snow and frost falling.
The morning breeze contained lots of moisture that remained from the previous day, and the sunlight slowly grew stronger as it shone through everything, leaving shadows on the ground that were as vivid as paper cuts. Present in the lights and shadows were Ulla, Kiriko, and Ai.
Each of them has a different dream.
Ai would head to the cold wilderness where the Living was…
Ulla would remain in a warm city where the Dead lived…
They had different dreams.
Ulla finally wrote this word.
Ai too replied.
“…I’ll leave sister to you, Mother Scar.”
Scar nodded in the back seat, while Celica slept soundly in her arms.
“So, Ai, take care of yourself… We’ll meet again, preferably here.”
Ai replied immediately.
“We’ll definitely meet each other again.”
The last ring of the chain was lowered, leaving a humming echo.
The west gate was open.
Just as they were saying their goodbyes.
Dozens of soldiers emerged from beyond the gates, each wearing a rich green coat. It’s the Necrosoldiers.
“Ah, it seems they were alerted of your escape.”
“…Well, we caused quite a ruckus after all—what do we do?”
Ai looked up at the fully opened West Gate and asked with a dumbfounded expression. The soldiers got into formation while she talked, and the Dead who appeared to be the commanding officer had a large pile of clattering badges on his chest as he waved his arms in a rage.
“Your Highness! Your recklessness is causing us trouble! Please hand over Her Highness Celica and Master Scar immediately! Otherwise, you’ll be punished, even though you’re the Princess!”
“Punished …? They still don’t understand how serious this is…”
Kiriko muttered with a surprised expression.
“Certainly. The old men think it’s just a child being rebellious…and I risked my life on this …”
Ulla raised her right hand and then lowered it.
Badadadadadadadadada! There was a loud banging volley causing this noise that could never be caused by a handheld firearm.
Ai instinctively covered her ears and looked back to see that two machine guns and four heavy machine guns had been set up at the east gate without her knowledge, firing away.
Countless tracer bullets flew like meteors and fell to the ground, leading a hundred times as many steel bullets to assault the soldiers.
A battlefield unfolded before her in an instant, and the Necromongers were torn apart like thin paper.
“U-Ulla? You, what are you doing!?”
“They have steel-like skulls and steely concepts of life. These are the Necromongers Ortus is proud of, and they pay no heed to such attacks.”
She said the truth. The soldiers’ arms and legs were shredded apart by the preemptive attack, but they immediately regrouped and started to fight back. The bodies picked up the separated heads and popped them back into place so that they could see. The sergeant who had three vocal cords started yelling behind the messenger. Another three soldiers started their own dispute, “That’s my right hand! ” “No, it’s mine!” “More importantly, did anyone see my right foot?”
“Okay, Ai, continue with your night escape…”
“It’s not a night escape anymore. It’s clearly war!!”
Da-da-da-da-da-da! Da-da-da-da-da-da!! Whoosh! Bang! Whoosh! Bang! Pew! Pew! Pew!
“We would have used bigger weapons if this is war. So, erm, I suppose this is a mere scuffle? “
Swoosh. The shoulder rockets flew towards the wall, but was shot down, and exploded.
“This is too relaxed for a war!”
“Ai, get in the car!”
Julie shouted with the explosion echoing in the background. For some reason, the man looked stupidly great with the explosion.
“Go on, Ai…”
“…Is this really okay?”
Kiriko stepped forward.
“I will definitely protect Ulla.”
Ai looked at him carefully.
She nodded, and jumped into the passenger seat.
“Alright kids! Hang in there!”
Julie yelled this out, gahahahaha, and stepped on the gas.
The blue car guzzled down lots of gas as it revved up its engine. The The brand new tires spun on the ground, shifted smoothly into second gear, and drove through the gates of hell.
And so the car returned to the wilderness.”They’re gone. …”
Kiriko said as he saw the car move anxiously slow, fading away. Ulla nodded and took the hand of the man beside her. Kiriko’s heart pounded, but then he remembered recovered and stopped being nervous.
“Can you still see them…?”
He could feel her index finger sliding on the back of his left hand.
“Do you want to see them?”
“Yes, so Kiriko, you have to watch it for me.”
Kiriko nodded vigorously and looked at the scene in her stead, for she could not look at the Living, and conveyed in words,
“It’s a beautiful day, the perfect day to go on a trip. The wilderness looks to be swaying in the heat, and the blue car is shining brightly. Ah, Mr. Julie was waving, and I can see Miss Scar in the back window, holding up Celica for us to see. Hahahaha, I think that’s a little too forced.“
“…What about Ai?”
And so he proudly answered the question that was cautiously written on his right hand.
“Your friend kept waving her hand very hard. Ahhhh~, her head and hands are sticking out from the passenger seat. Mr. Julie will surely give her a talking to later.“
Ulla also waved her hand hard in response.
And so did Kiriko. Ulla was still holding his left hand for some reason, so he waved his right hand as hard as he could.
Not long after,
The dark gates of the city closed heavily, separating the young friends.
“Yes, they are.”
It felt as though they could still see the car as their eyes remained fixated on the black gates blocking their sights. Ai did not cry, and neither did Ulla and Kiriko.
Because they should not be sad about this farewell.
They turned around in unison.
“We have a lot of work to do here, too.”
The war had yet to end.
Ulla pointed to her eyes and mouth.
“Take these off for me.”
It was the first time Ulla had said such a thing. For the first time in her life, the Idol of Murder requested to remove the blindfold and the mouthpiece from her mouth.
But Kiriko did not waver, and naturally stood behind her.
He reached into the sea of Ulla’s long, silky black hair, touched the straps that were pressing against her soft skin, unfastened the buckles one by one, and let them fall to her feet.
Ulla took a deep breath.
Then she looked at Ortus with the eyes of death.
She saw the glittering street scene, the gun battle, and the citizens of Ortus yelling from the sidelines.
“Yes, everyone’s in good spirits.”
Ulla smiled at the sight.
“Everybody listen to me at ～～～～～!”
She threw out the words of death.
By no means was she loud, but all the Dead hearing her froze in place. They really appeared like the Dead as they remained still.
Ulla put her hand to her chest and breathed deeply, trying to bring her flushed face back to normal after she had shouted too loudly.
At the same time, she reached out with her other hand and grabbed Kiriko. Her hand kept trembling.
Ulla turned back slightly, and her blue eyes looked at Kiriko.
“You have to stay with me.”
Kiriko replied as she grabbed her shaking hand,
That smile is mine.
Serves that Ai right to be unable to see this smile. Such a pity.
“Everyone is waiting for you to say something.”
The two of them held hands as they saw the same scene.
The actual Ortus was right before their eyes.
—Although I don’t have a lofty dream of saving the world.
But I can at least try to keep this little grand world a little cleaner…
So that my friend, my sister and my mother are willing to come back.
In order to make this small wish come true, first—
“Now then, it’s time for a rebellion.”
The two of them decided to destroy Ortus.
The boy and the girl dreamed of saving the world.