Hellping

Part I

 

The brother and his friends piled up the stones. Living and Dead, they all carved out pieces of the earth and placed them gently on the top of the mountain.

They had different dreams, and moved the stones to achieve them.

In time, the masonry gradually became more sophisticated.

More and more people got involved, and more people joined to manage these people.

There were people who designed plans to ensure the stones were stacked efficiently and functionally.

Joining them were people who fed them, carpenters, Dead, and hunters protecting the Dead.

Eventually, the pile of stones became a tower.

Different people, different dreams, nurtured the tower.

Many of them found heaven there. Fathers piled stones, mothers cooked meals, and the children would gather and play. They wished for such days, and the tower was the first to fulfill their wishes.

The tower then fulfilled the dreams of many engineers. They had dreams to create wonderful arts, and the tower granted them the grand task of ‘building heaven’, gathering their great talents.

The tower greedily swallowed their dreams and grew taller. It began to realize new dreams.

The tower was a tomb.

It was heaven, it was hell,

It was the everyday, it was the extraordinary,

It was the past, it was the future.

It was now the world itself.

And so the World Tower became a place to dream.

 

The brother and his friends continued to pile stones on this day.

 

+

 

The story was written on the empty main street nobody passed by again.

Ai and Alice returned to Julie and the others, stepping over the white chalk.

“This place is weird.”

Ai said as she walked to the luggage, ignoring Julie who was waiting at the entrance.

“We’ve known that from the beginning.”

No, you don’t understand. This place is weird. It’s really not normal.”

She gently moved the luggage and found Celica hidden inside. Celica was in a good mood and gave a ‘dawww’ cry as she offered her hands to Ai. Ai carried the baby, and felt her soft warm touch on her cheek.

“… What did you find out?”

“…I’m not sure, what exactly did I hear…”

After that, Ai fell silent, lost in her own thoughts, while Celica slapped at Ai’s cheek, feeling ticklish.

What happened? Julie shot Alice a look, but Alice too was in a similar state, looking down, pondering, and did not look up. What’s wrong with you two? Dee waved her hands in the air above them.

“Mr. Alice.”

Suddenly, Ai looked up and asked,

“Are you okay?”

“…Yeah, I’m fine…what about you?”

Ai stared into Alice’s eyes.

“I’m fine too.”

“…What are you guys talking about?”

Ai quickly emerged from her sea of thoughts and looked at Julie.

“The tower is said to grant wishes.”

“…What do you mean?”

“I don’t know the specifics…and I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Ai chewed her nails anxiously.

“But they believe. There’s a group of people in this tower who really believe that their wishes will come true.”

“Are they ability users?”

“No.”

Alice took over,

“An ability user doesn’t need such a tower. If their wish is that powerful, they could have fulfilled their wish a long time ago without needing such a thing.”

Alice said as he holstered his guns back on his belt.

“There are only rather ordinary people here, you know. They have the same desires as those with ability users, but the world wouldn’t grant them that. There are hundreds, thousands of them…this tower is a cushion for them. They can’t have a ridiculous dream like ‘I want to go to heaven!’, so they have this dream, ‘this tower will lead to heaven!’, to ease their hopes, and that’s how they believe. It’s such a place.”

“…To summarize, what is it?”

“What I’m trying to say is…maybe your dream can come true, Mr Julie.”

Ai took over. She concluded so.

…My dream?

Julie thought she had said it out loud. The words however did not come out of her mouth.

“………Say, if it’s that dangerous…”

Dee raised her hand tentatively and spoke up.

“Shouldn’t we just go down? No, I don’t mean giving up now, I’m just saying we should go down for now. A strategic retreat. …”

“We can’t do that.”

“…Is that so?”

“If that’s what you want, Miss Dee. Go ahead.”

“No, I can’t do that now, you know? I just heard that we can fulfill our wishes here. “

“I’m not taking responsibility…”

Ai said, but Dee herself did not seem too worried.

“—Anyway, Mr. Julie, are you okay?”

Ai raised her head as though she was hit.

“……I mean, what situation will be considered dangerous?”

“It’s not dangerous at all. It’s just to fulfill a wish. “

Ai said, took a single breath, and hesitated.

“Mr Julie, there’s something I haven’t asked you before on purpose, right?”

“…Who knows?”

Julie tried to play dumb even at this moment.

“…It’s about that incident on that hill, when I decided to save the world.”

It was the moment when they buried Hampnie Hambart. That moment at dawn when it all began.

“When I swore back then, you said you would help me, right?”

“…Yeah.”

“Why?”

“…There’s no why. You’re my friend’s daughter. I’m supposed to help you—”

“Enough with these words.”

Ai cut off the idle chat.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t really believe it when you said that you’ll help me achieve what I vowed to do.”

Ai smiled.

“I knew there was a catch in your vow, like ‘until we get down the hill’, ‘until we find a town’, ‘until I get stubborn’, ‘until I start to act a little dangerous’, I thought there would be a time when you would abandon me.”

“…That’s what you thought?”

“Yes. I always thought so…”

Tahaha, she laughed, trying to misdirect.

“At Ortus, at Gora Academy, and now, I’m thinking, ‘How far will this person go to accompany me’.”

“……”

“How far will you follow me?”

“…Until you give up on your dreams.”

“Ahhh, I knew it.”

She giggled.

“I see. You never believed that I could save the world after all, Mr. Julie. I guess. You never did, I guess?”

“…Ai”

“You thought I would give up on my dream at some point, didn’t you?”

“…Ai, listen to me.”

“You came along not because you agree with my ‘dream to save the world’. You’re following me so that the moment I give up, you’ll be with me and help me through my disappointment, aren’t you?”

“……”

“You didn’t care about my dreams, you just wanted me to be happy.”

“……”

“You’re really an adult…”

“…That’s harsh.”

“I’m sorry…but I have to get this clear—”

“No, I wasn’t talking about the question.”

Julie gave the usual, bitter smile.

“It’s harsh to be told by a kid ‘you’re really an adult’. Really harsh.”

“What? I don’t know if I understand…”

“Of course you don’t.”

The big man tried to give an enlightened smile.

“Erm, I don’t want you to misunderstand me. I’m not accusing you of anything, okay? I just wanted to ask—”

“I understand.”

Julie said.

And he suddenly hugged Ai.

Ai was frozen in the embrace of the big man.

“………Heh? Eh? Eh? Wh-what’s with you all of a sudden?”

“I thought I understood you very well…but it doesn’t seem to be the case…”

Ai finally cowered.

“E-erm, Mr Julie? Erm, that’s not it. I’m not done asking yet. If ‘saving the world’ isn’t a dream for you, then there’s something else you wish for, right?”

“Another wish?”

Ai cowered even more, as though she was about to be thrown out.

“You helped us, because you think of us as your daughters, right?”

Ai hugged Celica tightly.

“… You’re really still reeling from the loss of your wife and daughter, aren’t you?”

“……”

“You still want to meet them, right?”

Ai was sandwiched between the two heat bags in Celica and Julie, but she was stiff and cold, unable to trust the temperature.

“I’m sure that’s the specialty of this tower. I’m sure this tower will grant it to you.”

“…Ai.”

“Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. It’s just that I don’t know what will happen if this wish is granted. That’s why—”

“Ai.”

Julie’s rugged arms patted Ai’s head delicately.

“I’m not leaving.”

“—But.”

“I’m not going to leave you.”

Julie repeated the words again and again, as though to make up for all the times he did not say so and caused her worry.

But Ai said,

“—I don’t believe you.”

With those words, the tears finally spilled over.

“I-I still, can’t believe, those words, after all……sorry, I’m really, a helpless kid. I really can’t, believe, those words…”

The green eyes sank into tears. The tears fell onto Celica’s face. The glittering tears landed on the cheeks, and the baby narrowed her eyes incredulously.

“Because!”

She lifted her. The teardrops scattered quickly.

“Because you! You’re! Always! Hiding things from me!”

“Hiding?”

This came as a surprise to Julie.

In turn, Ai was driven further to despair.

“Ah, I guess…you never thought about it at all…I’m like a fool…I was the only one worried…troubled…”

“Ai…?”

“Mr Julie… how many Gravekeepers have you killed?”

Julie’s throat rumbled. Ai looked up at him with a dark stare

“…When you escaped with your dead wife, you definitely encountered a few Gravekeepers…you killed those Gravekeepers, didn’t you…”

“Ai…that’s…”

“What’s with that look? It looks like you forgot about it? Did you forget about it?”

“……”

“If…I had met you back then …”

Ai glanced up at Julie.

“Would you still have killed me?”

As for Julie.

He did not remember the expression he showed back then.

But surely it looked hideous.

Ai took one glance, I made a big mistake, and lowered her face.

“…………………………I’m sorry.”

And then tears spilled down her face.

“……I’m sorry…that’s how……I, am…”

She covered her face and shivered.

“Argh! Goodness! Dammit!”

Julie started shouting out of a sudden. Both Ai and Celica widened their wet eyes in shock.

“My bad! I’ve killed Gravekeepers before! I didn’t think anything about it! I just thought of it as murder! I never thought that you would be bothered by it! I’m sorry! I confess! I did kill Gravekeepers!”

Julie stared firmly into Ai’s eyes.

‘If I had met you back then, I might have killed you. I admit that.”

“…I see…aha…I’m rather relieved to hear that, I guess…?”

“You’re way too practical a woman. You try to be prettier, and I guarantee you’ll have a hard time in the future.”

He got down on one knee, pointed at her and admonished her, almost exactly the same as when he used to speak to his daughter.

The old him was often a little resistant to do so, yet this time, he did so on purpose.

“Dammit! You brats are really weird! What’s with the quick thinking!? Is this what it means to be young!?”

“M-Mr. Julie?”

“You guys are living too fast dammit! You don’t need to worry about such problems that quickly! You can spend five years, or ten! Take it slow! I won’t be able to keep up otherwise! Do you understand!?”

“Eh? Erm? Ermmm?”

“You know, adults take a long time to come to terms with things! And yet, you guys come to conclusions quickly, quickly, quickly, without caring whether it’s convenient to others!”

You brats! Julie patted Ai on the head.

“E-erm, what are you trying to say…?”

“Ai.”

Julie looked into Ai’s wet eyes.

“I’ll be your father.”

“……………………………………………Yes?”

“Goodness me…we should be taking such things slowly, and speak up when we’re in such a mood. But you guys are always so anxious and charging forward…”

“E-erm, Mr. Julie.”

“Not Mr Julie.”

He patted his chest.

“Call me dad.”

“………………………………………… No, thank you.”

“Don’t be shy.”

“I’m not being shy. I refuse.”

Ai’s wet eyes were completely frozen, emitting a cold glimmer.

“I see…well, whatever, I’m going to consider you to be my daughter. Noemi, you and Celica are my three daughters, my pride and joy.”

“……What about Celica’s older sister, Ulla?”

“Mmm. Right. That makes four sisters then.”

“……Are you serious about this?”

“Yeah.”

“……Please don’t be silly.”

“I’m not kidding. You wouldn’t believe whatever I say anyway.”

“……Yes.”

“Then it’s your turn to be defeated.”

Julie laughed. The sadness was gone from his smile.

“You’ll see. I’m not going to abandon you. I don’t care if you don’t believe me. I don’t care what you think. But I’m doing this. Just like you’ll never give up on your dreams.”

“……!”

When Ai heard the words, she raised her head vigorously. Her tears scattered in the air with a rainbow glow.

“You won’t?”

“……………………………………………………How can you ask such a thing……?”

Ai slumped, and Celica looked up at her with concern, What’s wrong? As though asking so. Ai shoved with her right hand, breaking free from the grasp of the big man, turned her back away from him, and looked back slightly.

“……………………………………….Not that I don’t want to.”

“Really? Then you’re going to call me dad, starting today—”

“Don’t wanna.”

Ai rubbed her tear-stained face against Celica’s nightgown, to the latter’s disgust.

“So? I don’t know what the situation is, but will something happen if I climb this tower?”

“…I don’t know.”

“I see. But even if it’s dangerous. I’m coming with you.”

“……”

Ai was silent.

“Are you embarrassed?”

“Wha! H-How can you ask such a thing, Mr Julie? You’re not delicate at all! You’re the worst!”

“Sorry, sorry.”

Julie picked up the straw hat, put it on Ai’s head. And lifted up Celica instead.

Ai pulled on the straw hat with both hands, and hid her face.

“Let’s hurry.”

She spun the shovel around and carried it on her shoulder.

Got it. Julie replied, and carried Celica again.

“The one in most danger should be Miss Scar.”

The tower remained tall, and the stairs remained endless.

 

+

 

They kept climbing.

Ai climbed the stone steps before her, one by one. She kept climbing, occasionally stepping on the guiding white chalk that appeared before her.

The eighth floor contained a treasure trove of gold, silver, and treasures, just like an ancient king would have wanted. No one was interested, and they kept climbing up.

The ninth floor contained an all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant. Julie and Alice drag Ai away from there.

The tenth floor contained a beautiful palace resembling the private chambers of the gods. The graffiti showed no concern for where it was, for an arrow was left on the king’s portrait.

The peak of the tower did not appear to be coming soon, and the stairs just went on and on. The white graffiti continued to appear, with no end in sight.

The eleventh floor was a city of all kinds of weapons.

The twelfth floor was a city that was exposed to all kinds of weapons.

The thirteenth floor was filled with the smell of gunpowder, the pattern of bullet holes, and a burning city.

They went up.

Fourteenth floor, a sky habitat. Fifteenth floor, a palace of the earth. Sixteenth floor, a thousand year city. Seventeenth floor, the foundation of the nation.

They went up. Up. They kept going up.

Each level began to twist and turn in bizarre ways, and eventually they gradually took on a kind of ‘warmth’. The artificial atmosphere eased, and there was an increasing scent of these floors being used by humans..

But there was no one there.

The eighteenth floor was a forest, with its unbelievable amount of greenery and loud animal noises that would stun anyone.

The nineteenth floor was a pile of rocks, where Ai’s foot blister burst.

The twentieth floor was a doctor’s office, right on cue, where Ai got treated here.

The twenty-first floor was a laboratory, where Celica’s milk powder ran out.

The twenty second floor was a pasture. Julie was given fresh milk from a goat with children.

All of this was accompanied by a sign of white chalk ‘This way to XXX!’.

Twenty third, twenty fourth, twenty fifth, twenty sixth, twenty seventh…

They kept moving their feet up the tower. Whenever they felt tired, there would be a peaceful path lined with trees, along with words of chalk ‘do your best! It gets a lot easier on the next floor!’. Whenever they thought they were dirty, ‘Next floor is the hot springs!’ the sign would appear. The moment they thought they were running out of food, the words ‘Next stop, the shopping district!’ and it would become reality.

The group went up, focused on moving their legs, hoping for the day when Celica would turn her head to the side. They climbed up, praying that the day would come sooner.

“~~!”

“…!”

They kept climbing

“~~! ~~!”

“…! …! ~~!”

They kept climbing.”

“…!”

They kept climbing.

“Ai!”

“Woah!”

Suddenly, Dee appeared before Ai, and shouted something.

They then found that Celica was bawling.

“Heh? Huh?—Sorry Miss Dee, I think I got carried away…”

“No need for that! Wake up the other two!”

“Heh? Why are you panicking so much…”

“Just do it!”

Ai looked behind her in surprise. Alice and Julie too appeared to be groggy and just climbed up the stairs. It was then that Ai realized that this was what had happened to her.

“Mr Alice, Mr Alice, Mr Julie, Mr Julie.”

She said as she slapped them back and forth, twice for Alice, three times for Julie. Celica was still crying.

“…Oh?”

“Good morning, Mr. Alice, Mr. Julie.”

“No, I’m not sleeping—wait, woah!”

Alice~! Dee clung to Alice, looking teary.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry Celica, I didn’t notice. What’s wrong? Are you hungry?”

Julie began to coax Celica. The baby finally stopped crying.

“…Somehow, it feels like we were in a daze, huh?”

“Yeah. We have to be careful.”

“Just ‘be careful’!?”

Dee angrily lashed out.

“What floor do you think we’re on?”

“No, we don’t.”

“Ah, it says so right there.”

They were just about to reach the next floor, and the number written in chalk on the side said, as usual.

“Eh?”

“…What’s going on?”

‘Welcome to the eight hundred and twenty eighth floor!’

Eight hundred and twenty-eighth floor?

“T-That can’t be right, right? Hahaha, what is this…another prank …?”

“Y-yeah, it is. Hahaha. There’s no way…this guy has been serious lately, but now he’s starting to play pranks again. Hahaha…haha…haha…”

Following that were the words ‘it’s true!’

“……”

‘You can have a look from there.’

There?

Right after they saw those words, a strong wind blew with a ‘roar’.

“You guys, look here!”

Julie shouted. There was a window on the other side of the graffiti, and the wind was blowing in through it.

Was there a window there to begin with?

Ai suppressed her doubts and rushed to the window, pushing her face into the narrow space filled with Alice and Julie.

The sun was shining brightly.

The mist was clear. No, it was not just the mist—

The clouds were far below them.

“This is impossible…”

Julie muttered, stunned.

“We didn’t climb this high— “

They merely hoped.

They kept going, hoping to be faster.

Realizing this, the group shut their mouths.

Ai realized then that she still underestimated this tower.

 

+

 

Countless wishes gathered and intertwined.

The tip of the tower continued to grow.

The brother and the others no longer needed materials, and the wish to ‘pile up stones’ alone got the tower to grow taller. They each had their unique dream, and piled up stones to make them come true.

At some point, the tip of the towers began to branch out and scatter. The tower builders began to see different scenery based on their own dreams.

For those who desired the tip, they saw the spearhead.

For those who desired eternity, a closed circle.

For those who desired the end, the end as they wished it to be.

People continued to rise up the tall tower. The tower swallowed them up and formed more branches. People wished to decorate their own branches, and made their dreams come true as if they were flowers.

The tower grew thicker and thicker, and became a huge tree with ten thousand branches and leaves.

And the tower became a tree.

The world tree blossomed at the time of flowering. The branches and leaves were filled with the dreams of the people. Hundreds of flowers bloomed.

The flowers fulfilled these dreams, and granted rest to those hands that moved the stones, those feet that ran, and those souls that yearned.

However, at the top of the tower, there were still those who piled up stones.

Those who, even with the power of the tower, still had unfulfilled dreams.

The brother’s wish remained unfulfilled.

 

+

 

Dee was strongly opposed to this, but the group went further up the tower.

Since that level, even though they were tired and sleepy, they tried not to eat anything from the tower. In particular, they avoided anything that appeared ‘too good to be true’.

‘There’s spring water over here!’ there were words in chalk next to the morning dew they drank from. ‘There’s a hot spring over here!’ They washed their towels in the drain. Every time they did so, the chalk waters looked a little dejected. Like ‘the water’s so good…’ or ‘the hot spring feels so good…’ they could not let themselves enjoy such luxuries however.

This tower would grant wishes.

Ai and the others thoroughly realized so, and they resisted with all their might. They spent the night on the cobblestones beside the feather quilt and washed their faces in the drainage of the bathtub.

Still, the tower greedily began to grant wishes. Ai and the others ignored them and climbed up the tower, ‘hurry, hurry’…so they chanted in their hearts and climbed up the stone stairs before them.

And the tower began to grant that wish too.

Before they knew it, the blackboard in their minds was being marked with lots of X. There were at least a thousand of them, but Ai ignored them and moved her feet, staring at the stairs in front of her. Fatigue and thirst overtook her. Each time, the tower placed a safe, modest meal and clear well water before them.

The group ignored them all.

However, as if to mock the group’s efforts, the tower began to grant more wishes.

Their bellies, which were supposed to be hungry, were filling up before they knew it.

Their throats, which were supposed to be thirsty, were quenched before they knew it.

No matter how vigilant and careful they were, the tower was always ready to swallow their wishes and make them come true. It started granting wishes, starting with the smallest of them, as if trying to swallow them all.

And then, finally, the tower began to grant Ai’s wishes.

One thousand, two hundred and thirteenth floor.

There was a village there.

“…Ah.”

The village was surrounded by slopes on three sides, and had a plateau to the north. It was a peaceful village with small fields and houses. A hidden village where forty-seven residents live peacefully.

A village that no longer existed.

Her village.

“Every…one…”

Ai had a hallucination of forty-seven people there.

Anna was there, Yoki was there, so were Joanna, Dora, Yuki, Zel, Manuetta.

And there was even someone who was not present  back then.

“Mom…”

Amidst the ears of wheat, her mother of the past was standing there, smiling. Ai ran through the street of the village where she had spent twelve years. She ran to a place that had become a memory in just a few months.

Next to the mother was her father.Not Hampnie Hambart, just Kizuna Astin.

“Dad!”

A few more steps. Just a few more steps, and she could get to their side, to the place they could not achieve no matter how they prayed or did. Just three more steps and I’ll be there. After that thought, another two steps. One step.

Zero.

“Dad! Mom!”

She thought it was some kind of cruel trap. What she saw was a fake, and the moment she immersed herself in it like this, this trap would ensnare her and shatter.

She thought that was fine.

And yet, the people in front of her were real.

“Ai, it’s been a long time! You’ve grown so big!”

“Mom!”

Hana Astin hugged Ai. She had the same golden hair and green eyes as Ai, but the expression on her face was completely different. She had the smile of a mischievous child.

“Yo, you’re still the same old self. Looky look!”

“D-Dad! Please stop!”

Kizuna Astin patted Ai’s head roughly, and she got angry. The exchange was too nostalgic for one that only existed in dreams.

“Dad…”

“Oh?”

“Mom…”

“Yes yes, what now?”

The two of them answered, and Ai was very elated.

~~~~~~~~!”

“Oops.” “W-What’s wrong, Ai?”

Ai cried as they wrapped her in their arms. They had everything. Her mother’s fine scent, the smell of her father’s cigarettes, the warmth of her mother, the coldness of her father. The response when she called for her parents, one warm, another harsh.

They were all before her at this point.

“…Have you calmed down?”

“… No.”

“Pfft—You’re such an honest girl.”

The mother smiled happily, overjoyed.

“Are you two…real?”

“Who knows?”

The father cackled mischievously.

” What about you, Ai? Are you real? Or are you a fake?”

“……”

“You can’t say it. But I can. I’m real.”

“That’s right. I can answer that too. I’m real. “

“So…”

“!”

And so, Ai was shoved away.

“Dad! Mom! What are you doing!?”

“Don’t what us, you idiot? What the hell are you? Are you really Ai’s imposter? Look, I’ll tell you something, the real Ai Astin wouldn’t come to such a place, because she is the person who’s going to save the world.”

Kizuna Astin smirked as he placed the hand that had pushed her away on his hip.

“That’s cruel of you.”

Following up, Hana Astin took her husband’s arm and tugged at him.

“You don’t understand, do you? Ai-Astin is the kind of girl who gives in to temptation. The truth is that she is a very ordinary, tearful and vulnerable girl…She’s the kind of girl who cries whether she’s happy, joyful, or sad…”

The mother crouched down and wiped Ai’s face. The latter sniveled into the handkerchief.

“But then she’ll definitely stand up for herself.”

“……”

” Go on, my daughter. You’re a little young for heaven.”

Ai wiped away her tears.

“Yes.”

“Good answer, my daughter.”

Kizuna Astin chuckled.

“Live well in hell.”

“Yes!”

And Ai returned.

She ran down the village streets in the opposite direction, in the opposite direction of her memories, of time, and she could not allow herself to look back. Absolutely not.

“Goodbye….”

She said without looking at their faces. She ran off, leaving teardrops behind instead of herself.

Eventually, a mist envelops the area and concealed the reality. Ai did not stop however, and kept moving forward.

One had to wonder how long she ran, and in this mist where she nearly lost her sense of self, she heard a voice.

Somewhere in there, someone was bawling, waah, waahhh.

Somewhere in there, someone was shouting, Ai! Ai!

Ai focused on running to the direction of the voice, and then,

She woke up.

“Ai!”

Before her were everyone else’s faces.

“Woah.”

Julie, Alice, Dee and Celica were calling away, trying to get Ai back.

“Thank goodness! Really!”

Julie hugged her violently and stroked her head. Ai widened her eyes in bewilderment.

“I-Is everyone fine?”

Everyone looked away awkwardly in unison.

“…No, we all got swallowed up by this—we only recovered thanks to Celica’s crying.”

“I nearly got swallowed. Thanks Celica.”

Celica finally stopped crying, and exhaled with a relieved, “Daw…”.

“But this little pipsqueak is really the only one who’s stable.”

“…She’s definitely not unhappy with her life.””

“I’m jealous…”

“Daw!” The baby shouted, as though she was going all ‘goodness, you lot’

“Thank you for your help ….”

Ai rubbed her cheek and gently kissed her forehead.

“…………………Well then.”

There was someone staring at the scene.

“….What’s going to happen? It seems like it works, and yet it doesn’t…does it, or does it not?”

“Miss Dee?”

Dee muttered to herself, feeling frustrated. She shriveled in the air, tapping her forehead, ignoring everyone else’s voice as she was absorbed in his thoughts. And then,

“Okay, I’ve decided.”

“Huh… what is it?”

“I decided my plan—now then, sorry about this, but can we all just get out of here and give up on Scar, please?

“Are you talking about that again…”

“Oh, my bad. Sorry again, but I’m serious this time.”

Ai stared at Dee with startled eyes.

“What do you mean?”

“The tower is going to collapse.”

“Eh? Wh- Why!?”

“Hm? With explosives and, uh, various powers.”

“I’m not asking you how! What’s the reason? Why!?”

That’s because, Dee replied matter-of-factly,

“I want to destroy it.”

The ghost laughed.

“…Why…?”

Ai’s flustered mind sobered instantly to deal with the situation at hand. So too did her body.

“Hmm? You don’t understand, Ai?”

“I don’t!”

“What other reason can there be?”

Dee spread her arms wide like she was an actress..

“It’s because this place is violating the world. This tower is pregnant with eternity. I can’t allow such a thing as a tower that grants wishes to exist. The world will never end. It will go on and on in vain.”

The dark eyes stared at the top.

“That’s why I want to blow up this place.”

Dee Ensy shot a hostile look at the sky.

“Actually, I wanted you all to do this.”

She floated up and stared at the group.

“The way I see it, there’s no way you can keep going. So it’s plan B.”

“You were going to have us do it?”

“Yes, I was going to ask Ai to save those at the top of this tower, just as she did with the Idol of Murder at Ortus, and her speech at Gora Academy. I wanted you to save them and turn this tower into a meaningless piece of junk.”

The ghost’s body softly blurred and drifted to the ceiling, reflecting a place somewhere far away.

It was the top of a tower, where some boys and girls were still piling stones.

“That’s what you like, don’t you, Ai?”

Dee, the ghost, the Witch of the West, laughed.

Ai was speechless.

“…Is that why you’ve been following us—?”

“That’s a lot of reasons, and they also involve Alice.”

“In other words, you’ve been manipulating us?”

“You didn’t see it coming, did you? It’s the ghost style. If I ‘want someone to come here’, I won’t be all childish and tell him ‘come here’. That’s my ultimate.”

Dee stared sarcastically at the white chalk on the wall and spat at it.

The Ghost would ‘whisper’.

“Ideally, the subject would think ‘I thought of this idea by myself’. It’s great if I can get that person to think he decided and acted on his own.”

“That’s..”

In hindsight, who suggested the connection between Celica’s crying and Scar’s direction in the first place? Who was the one who took the scouting route at every turn? Who was to blame for not being able to catch up with Scar the day before Scar entered the tower?

“Truth be told, why did Scar come to the tower in the first place? Probably because someone whispered to her that she could go there and revert to being a Gravekeeper. Taking a step further back, why did Scar have the chance to be whispered to? Wasn’t it because Ai was trapped in the Gora Academy. Now, why is that?”

Dee Ensy Stratmitos whispered. Whispered. Whispered.

“So, you did all of it…?”

“Nope. Ninety percent of it was you.”

But that last ten percent extended like a spider’s web, tangling around the whole thing.

“The truth is, I was going to keep quiet about it if it all worked out. It failed though, so I’m telling you now. Are you mad at me? That makes me a little happy.”

“…It doesn’t matter. Please stop..’

“Hmm?”

Boom! The shovel was pointed at the Ghost.

“This is the place of people’s dreams. I won’t allow you to destroy it.”

“… Hmm.”

“Please do not destroy this tower.”

“I’m doing it.”

“…Oi, Dee.”

Alice looked at the duo, and voiced out,

“I’m asking you too…”

“For what?”

“At least wait till we get back Scar…please don’t, for my sake.”

“Why do I have to give leeway to the enemy?”

The ghost did a quick somersault into the distance.

“‘You know what? Don’t get me wrong. I already decided on this. I’m just giving you advice. This is not negotiation..”

Dee looked at Ai rather worriedly.

“Once they arrive at the tower, they’ll destroy it.”

“Miss Dee!”

“Don’t make that face.”

Dee sneered. The corners of her mouth were lifted up. She grinned like a vengeful spirit, a grudge, a demon.

“It’s pointless to plead or appeal to me now. Ai, I’m telling you that I’m destroying this tower no matter what happens. Give up on Scar and leave this tower.”

I don’t care if you die, so she uttered, showing worry for Ai this time.

“I’m fond of you guys.”

“…Same here.”

“Woah. Yay. Great minds think alike.”

It was an innocent smile. Dee showed the same smile as when they celebrated Alice’s birthday in the wilderness.

“Miss Dee…please…don’t do this…”

“I told you I can’t.”

“Miss Dee!”

“Nope. I’m not listening.”

Dee covered her ears in annoyance, put her feet on the stone steps, and sank down.

“See you in two days. I’ll see you under the tower, I hope.”

And with that.,

The ghost sank into the stone pavement.

 

+

 

There were still dozens of branches growing at the top of the world tree. There were no flowers at the end of them, for their dreams were unfulfilled, and they were still piling up stones.

There was no anxiety in their eyes. The people at the forefront were those who were really driven by blind belief, and they believed that their wishes would come true if they kept piling stones.

—You still haven’t fulfilled your wishes?

One of the brothers said to his companions.

—What kind of arrogant thing did you wish for?

—I wish for my little sister’s revival. So, what did you wish for?

They laughed at each other and answered each other’s questions.

—The resurrection of all the Dead.

—The fulfillment of an unfulfilled love.

—For death to be gone.

All of them were impossible wishes, like a childish tantrum.

—And you?

The question went to the last one.

It was a boy who was stacking stones without rest even at this moment.

It was the boy who started piling up stones to begin with.

“For me.”

The brother answered.

 

+

 

They could not be bothered anymore.

Dee had said she would act two days later, but the concept of time remained unreliable in the tower. Ai felt that it would not be strange for two days to become two seconds, or two years, for it was just a tower.

They kept climbing.

The air got thinner. And thus, their equipment felt heavier and heavier.

This time, the group wore these equipment obediently. Before they knew it, they realized that the most dangerous thing was to be made to wish. Oxygen tanks, air pressure suits, and fluffy innerwear, they all appeared at the most convenient moment, and each time, the white chalk guided them all ‘the thing is here!’ Convenient as it might be but when they saw that there was a full set of equipment for baby use ‘this air pressure suit can be worn by babies too!’ they were no longer dumbfounded by such words, and instead, were bemused.

They went up. Their legs were light. No, it was more than that. They had to be careful with every step, for fear that they would bounce.

Gravity was weak.

It was daytime, but they could see stars outside. The stars glittered in the black night sky. It was the starry sky of autumn, the complete opposite of the current season.

Ai, however, was no longer moved by such things.

The tower was a place of myths at this point.

 

—You still haven’t fulfilled your wishes?

 

And so, Ai started to hear the words of the gods.

Reality began to converge with the paranormal.

Ai ignored them and focused on moving her legs up the stairs before her.

 

—What kind of arrogant thing did you wish for?

—I wish for my little sister’s revival. So, what did you wish for?

—I want to die with everyone.

—I want to be with him.

 

They laughed at each other, making jokes. They talked about their dreams, like children.

—And you?

The question went to the last one.

It was a boy who was stacking stones without rest even at this moment.

It was the boy who started piling up stones to begin with.

“For me.”

The brother answered.

“Me?”

—Yeah, what did you wish for?

And then the words went out to the last one.

“……”

—What’s wrong? Tell us what you wished for. You’re the one to put the first stone. What’s your wish?

—Yeah, let’s hear it.

The gods were chanting.

The imagery of another place overlapped with Ai’s vision.

It was a space with many towers lined together. Each tower had a boy sitting on them. Their towers formed a circle around the boy in the middle.

—Let us hear it. Let us hear it.

—We started after seeing you, you know.

Yeah, I thought of giving up several times, but I got the courage to continue every time I saw that you didn’t give up.

Tell us your dream. Your dream must be grand and laughable, right?

“I…”

Despite being surrounded by everyone, the boy remained unfazed and continued to pile stones. He swung his fingers that were dyed black all the way down to his fingernails, naturally grabbed a block of stone, and gently placed it at a higher place..

Then the boy replied.

 

“I’m not wishing for anything.”

 

The gods were silent. It was a silence that seemingly lasted for a thousand years.

—What did you say?

“I just piled up a bunch of rocks, that’s all.”

He piled another one.

“I didn’t wish for anything, I didn’t have a purpose. I just decided to pile up the stones until I disappear”

—Chatter chatter.

The gods whispered amongst each other, and one of them asked, representing the others.

—Why did you do that then?

“I had nothing else to do.”

A stone, and another.

—Then, you were just acting like a kid, ‘you piled stones because there are stones’?

“That’s right.”

—Are you saying that we put our dreams into your image and were encouraged by you?

“Well…I’m sorry, I’m not really sure.”

—How did it happen?

The surrounding chatter got increasingly louder.

—We didn’t think that the one who piled stones more earnestly than anyone else didn’t have any wish at all…

“…Are you angry?”

—No.

—Nobody’s going to be angry about such a thing.

—Nobody of that little mettle would be at the front like this.

The chatter stopped.

—We just feel sorry for you.

“Sorry?”

—That’s right.

One could hear sobbing. The crying struck the towers like a storm, and the tears flooded and coated them.

—Our stones are finished. Ahh, look—

The indigo cherry blossoms bloomed on the tower of the boy who said this, and flew out from their circle.

—It doesn’t matter how impossible the task is. If you stay in this tower, it will come true one day—

The jet-black hazel grass bloomed abruptly.

—But you have no dreams to begin with, and none to be fulfilled—

Steel roses bloomed abruptly.

—Even this amazing tower can’t make a wish come true if there’s no wish—

Caramel tulips bloomed abruptly.

—So you will never stop to pile on stones—

The poppies of flesh bloomed abruptly.

—But we’re too far away from the ground to give up—

Twin Rafflesias bloomed abruptly.

The extremely vibrant flowers of dream bloomed as if to celebrate the boy, and then left, leaving behind a single petal.

 

The petals wrapped the boy’s tower, forming thousands and thousands of flurries. They rained down on the master of the tower.

 

But there were no flowers in his tower.

—I thought we should pray together, but we can’t escape the dream that’s scorching our bodies—

The flaming Casablancas bloomed abruptly.

—’You will be the only one after this’—

 

The World tree bloomed abruptly.

 

The tree was adorned with thousands and thousands of flowers of dreams, and Its majesty towered over the sea of the human world.

However, the world tree lacked perfection. It stretched to its peak, but the oldest branch had no flower.

……”

But, again, it did not matter to the boy.

He just piles up the stones.

With his pitch black hands,

With a wishless heart,

On top of a tower, with petals flying,

Alone.

 

Part II

 

Finally, each piece of stone lost its bond, and the tower began to break free from the yoke of gravity. Ai, Alice, and even Julie gave up and no longer complained as they stepped on the fluffy floating stairs.

“Miss Scar!”

Ai shouted. The air was too thin, and even though she had shouted with all her might, her voice was too feeble, it was terrifying.

“Miss Scar!”

They were about to reach their limit, the limit no human could break through even with the power of the tower.

The walls loosened. Through the gap, the world begins to show itself.

Billions of tiny stars.

And one big green star.

The spiral staircase had gaps between each step, and while on it, Ai paused for a moment to take in the view. With her right foot up and her left foot down, she pushed up her goggles and looked at the world that appeared to be at night even though it was day.

Lightning flashed in the distance, and the aurora swayed in the polar caps.

And Ai saw it.

There were other towers around the tower, thousands and thousands of towers, stretching out like treetops.

There were lots of people there. People who climbed towers, people who built towers, people who lived in towers.

There was that old man. He was giddly chatting with someone, an old woman close to his age.

There was that young man. The young man was laughing while surrounded by an old couple and an unfamiliar girl.

There was that girl who had fallen in love with the Gravekeeper.

There was a woman who wished for heaven.

There was a young man who wished for hell.

They all existed in the tower, one by one, fulfilling their wishes.

Ai had the urge to cry when she saw this scene. She did not envy nor feel jealous, but she felt a little unbearable.

The air was loose. The oxygen was thin. Her vision was shockingly clear. All the sounds were distant, and instead, the sounds inside her body were loud. They had no idea if they were going up or down anymore, and their bodies naturally floated up. Every time they blinked, stars twinkle beneath their eyelids.

A shooting star passed by before their eyes.

No matter how clear the night sky was, it was impossible to see a meteor shower at zero distance.

That was the limit.

The rainbow aurorae. A blanket of stars. Murderous ultraviolet rays flying around in a haphazard manner.

Anything beyond was not a world for the Living.

At the very least, it was not a place for those who wanted to live on.

But one would suppose they all crossed over..

All the people floating around them must have crossed this place.

Those who piled the stones,

And those who ran up the stone steps,

—And the Gravekeepers who followed them.

The surroundings of the tower showed the fate of those Gravekeepers.

This tower would grant people’s wishes. Only people’s wishes.

The Gravekeepers were not included in this.

There were satellites drifting around the tower. They were the corpses of the Gravekeepers, expressionless and emotionless as they crawled into the world of stars. They, too, had crossed the divide.

For the sake of burying the Dead.

Without hesitation, they ventured into such a place where it was impossible to go on.

But that should be the case, the way a Gravekeeper should be. Even if Death was before them, that it was self-destructive, meaningless, that there were hundred, two hundred reasons not to go, they would continue on without concern. Such were the Gravekeepers.

Ai stopped. She could not continue any further..

At that moment, she knew that she could not be a Gravekeeper.

And there was Scar, too.

“…Miss Scar.”

“…Ai.”

In response to Ai’s call, the face buried in Scar’s lap was slowly lifted up. Her messy bangs tumbled down and hit her cheeks.

Scar sat haggardly on the last step of the stone stairs. The thin air made her pant, but she was not fatigued because of it.

“Ai…is something the matter…?”

She stood up, hobbling to her feet with her shovel acting as a cane.

“We’re here to pick you up.”

“…That will not be necessary.”

Scar turned her back to Ai and faced the aurora. She looked up at the world of Death with bloodshot eyes.

“I am…a Gravekeeper. I am going with them…”

Over there were all the dead Gravekeepers.

“Scar!”

Julie shouted.

“Don’t! What about Celica?”

Scar shivered and stared at Julie and Celica, who was at his chest.

“Scar!”

Julie went next to Ai. Scar pressed her chest, and said with a voice filled with love and hate,

“P-please do not do this. Do not bring that child close to me! When I am with her…! I feel unbearable…! It is scary!”

“Scar!”

“Please do not come!”

Scar put his right foot on the top step. Her eyes looked towards the darkness there.

“I am…a Gravekeeper! I am a…Gravekeeper, just like them!”

I have not malfunctioned! Yes! Scar shouted.

There was not a smile on her face.

There was merely anguish, madness, anxiety, hope.

Those were all human expressions.

“You can’t…”

Ai said.

“You can’t do this anymore, Miss Scar…”

“…That is not true…look. I shall die for my mission now!”

“It’s impossible for you to do this anymore…”

“Your attempts…at persuasion…”

“I’m not persuading . I’m just stating the facts.”

“Nonsense!”

“You hesitated.”

Ai said.

“You only had one chance. You left us, climbed the tower with the other Gravekeepers, came to this place, and the moment you arrived here, you should not have hesitated. You would have moved forward without hesitation, but you couldn’t. You can’t think of yourself as a Gravekeeper anymore…no, that aside.”

Ai lifted her gaze to stare into Scar’s eyes and the beads of water between them.

“Gravekeepers don’t cry.”

“…”

Scar stared blankly at the water beads floating before her eyes, and blinked away. This has to be a mistake. She wondered.

Each time she blinked, the tears turned into droplets that drifted through space.

“Ah…”

Scar’s face winced.

“Ah, is that, so? I, see…”

Her hands grabbed her delicate chin. The fingernails grazed the old wound on the right eyebrow, and caused blood to .

Blood and tears. The fluids of two colors floated in the air, blended together, and spun around nearby.

“I, cannot, remain, my old self, no matter, what I, do now, I suppose…”

“Yes.”

“…ten.”

Scar’s eyes were, strangely enough, clear.

But the skin and flesh surrounding the eyes were severely contorted, showing her mental state.

“Henceforth…what am I supposed to do ?”

Ahhh.

It was then that Ai knew she had this expression on her face back then.

Forty-seven Dead, a hill of graves, the end of winter, the taste of nosebleed in her throat after she got kicked away.

Back then, there was Hampnie Hambart’s fiendish smile ‘what do you want to do for yourself’.

Perhaps that was the expression she had when she saw his smile.

There was only one word to describe it. Lonely.

Scar was lonely, in pain, and bawling like a child.

Her expression resembled that of a newborn baby bird.

“…Ai.”

The little bird asked.

“How can I live…in the future?”

Ai was certain of one thing. Scar would probably accept whatever she said.

If Ai told her to die, she would; if Ai told her to live, she would.

It was the same as what Ai did back then.

Ai closed her eyes and recalled back to that time. She remembered what Hampnie Hambart did for her back when she was in that state.

“Like hell I know, you idiot.”

He said.

“—I don’t know anything about that.”

He rejected her. He did not say something awful like ‘you should carry that heavy burden yourself’, but said something worse instead..

“You ask me about that, but what can I say?”

“…”

Scar showed a look of betrayal.

“Please decide on your own. Miss Scar, for yourself.”

“I do not have such a function!”

“That’s not true.”

Ai said.

“Wasn’t it your choice to escape all the way here?”

“Ah—”

“You abandoned Miss Celica, decided on your own, and escaped all the way here, didn’t you?”

“!!”

Her face winced in guilt.

“And over here, you have nowhere to escape….didn’t you arrive here because you decided and acted on your own?”

Ai took a handkerchief out of her pocket and used it to wipe away Scar’s tears and blood.

There was a brand new expression on the freshly wiped face.

“Please think about what you want to do. If you wish to go back to being a Gravekeeper, please do what you have to do.”

“Can…I?”

“Yes, but of course, I think we’ll complain ‘please don’t do anything too crazy’.”

Ai combed Scar’s messy bangs and gently stroked the scar on her right eyebrow.

“But that’s not important now.”

“……”

“Please decide for yourself. “

Ai said, and seemingly abandoned Scar as she turned her back on the latter.

Scar was still trying to cling to her back.

“Scar!”

But the moment she saw Julie’s foot step up, Scar let out a little whimper.

Celica was at his chest.

“Celi…ca…!”

Scar’s face contorted. She wanted to reach out to her beloved daughter, but she could not. The hand remained there.

She stayed. She did not run away.

“Scar!”

Julie hugged Scar together with Celica. Scar froze up, and stared with trepidation at the baby that was forced towards her.

But her hands betrayed her,

She hugged her daughter.

“Celica! Celica! Celica! I am sorry! I am so sorry!”

The baby returned to her mother again, basking in the torrent of tears.

“Scar!”

Julie shouted again. Scar heard his call for the first time, and this time, turned to look at the platform her daughter was riding on.

“Ah, Julie…when did you?”

“That’s why I can’t stand these Gravekeepers…”

The big man shook his head.

“Argh! You know, Scar, Ai said that, but I don’t think that’s the case! Taking responsibility for one’s own actions? That’s just talk! It’s impossible and meaningless for ordinary people!”

“Wait!”

“Look at her! She can’t do it either!”

Ai was speechless.

“A person’s happiness has absolutely nothing to do with self-freedom!”

So! Julie stared ferociously at Scar, who was in his arms.

 

“Shut up and follow me!”

 

“—” Ai and Alice were speechless.

Scar too widened her eyes and looked up at the big man. “Julie?” She whispered. Perhaps she had expected a different answer.

Julie was gasping for air as a reaction to his vigorous shouting, and Scar was dumbfounded the whole time.

Taking advantage of the pause, Ai and Alice looked at each other.

“……A love confession…?”

“No!”

“…How’s it not?”

“It may look like it, but it’s not!”

“I don’t understand adult relationships…”

“Not at all…”

“That’s not what I’m talking about!”

“Ju-Julie? Erm—”

Scar finally snapped out of her confusion and tried to say something.

“Not listening!”

“Kyaah!”

Julie said, carrying Scar in his arms.

“Wa-wait a minute, what are you doing, Mr Julie!? Miss Scar has the right to choose!”

“Like hell I care about that!”

The middle-aged prince charming confidently announced.

“Can free will feed you? I don’t care about such things! I’ll do my best to make you happy regardless of that! Prepare yourselves! That’s what I call the existence of free will!”

“Ugh!? I can’t argue with that!”

Gahahahaha, the man in his thirties guffawed, his laughter spreading through the thin air. Celica were the only ones directly shaken by his vibrating chest.

“Come on! Let’s go home!”

Julie shouted.

Scar watched her eyes at that fact. She was in no mood to think, and had no time to do so. Julie however wanted her to answer, “Hm” and brought his face closer.

Scar opened her mouth, unsure as to what answer she had derived.

The answer was—

“…Yes.”

She affirmed.

“Alright! Let’s go!”

Julie smiled when he heard the answer, and took a step down with Scar in his arms.

Scar was a little surprised. She did not expect herself to give such an answer.

But,

(Well, this is fine.)

Scar hugged Celica tightly, while Julie hugged her. She curled up, surrounded by people on the inside and outside.

It did not feel bad at all.

She felt that she could survive today, at the very least.

 

+

 

Starting from that moment, the destruction of the tower began.

“Wh-what the!”

The tower shook. The impact of the explosion traveled through space and up to the sky.

It was two days later.

 

+

 

“Well, it’s exactly two days now.”

Dee Ensy Stratmitos, drifting through the mist, raised her chest and gave an undaunted smile.

“…This tower sure is unpleasant no matter how many times I look at it.”

Before her eyes was the World Tower piercing the sky

“Now then, everyone, cheer after me? Ohhh~”

She turned around and punched her right fist lightly..

“Oh…oh…”

“Come on, come on, a little louder please. ‘Ooohh’!”

“Ohhh…oh…ohhhh …”

There was a crowd trudging sluggishly out of the mist.

There was nothing in common for them. Amongst them were Dead, Living, deformed, ordinary, beautiful, grotesque, independent, and ‘selfish’.

“But are you sure, Ghost? Aren’t there some people inside? Like the ones you’re worried about…”

A man with scars and bandages on his hands asked.

“Yes, they’re in there.”

“That’s troublesome…”

A maiden in a bright red dress said.

“You want to save them?”

“Of course…”

A young man in a tuxedo and a 10-gallon hat said.

“You guys too?”

Dee asked all the members. Most of them nodded.

“I’m impressed. You people who really want to save the world.”

Dee giggled.

“Well, why don’t some of you go save them?”

“No.”

He shook his head.

“A small sacrifice is to be expected before a great salvation.”

“Hmm? What about you?”

“They went in on their own, didn’t they? That’s their responsibility.”

“What about you?”

The others too accepted this argument, but for different reasons.

“Teehee,” Dee sneered. “Teehee.”

“Okay. So, please. That’s where evil is, heroes of justice.”

The Ghost rose, and drifted to the side of the ‘selfish’ Dead.

She whispered.

“Now, guys, take it down.”

“Ahhhh…ahhhhhhhhhh!”

She whispered in the ear of a rotten and ‘selfish’ Dead, almost kissing his rotten ear as she spoke up close..

‘Whispers of Evil.’

She would whisper words directly to the Dead who no longer remembered the words of others. Their rotten brain would accept all the words of the ghost without the ability to discern.

“Ahhhhhh!”

A hundred rotting Dead charged towards the tower.

“…Are the lot of them useful?”

The man with bandages on his knuckles asked.

“They’re broken, so let them be broken. The world will be a cleaner place.”

“…I see…”

“Enough of this…Broken Fist?”

“Got it.”

The bandaged man began to run past the slow trudging Dead, swung his fist at them the moment they instinctively leapt at him, and hurried to the tower.

“Crumble—!”

He swung his right hand greatly as though he was lifting something heavy and as he ran forward

“Down!”

Kwaaaannn! There was a sound akin to a battering ram rocking through the mist. The giant tower trembled at the blow from the puny human.

“Dust Believer.”

“Then I’ll go too.”

The bright red dress caught fire. Her hair burned, and so did her skin. She was burning. The smell of burning flesh filled the air, and then into ashes, showing white bones.

“Kerakerakerakerakerakerakerakera!”

The white bones broke apart and burst into flames. The skull cackled in the flames. The bones of the flames soared up in a red lotus, drying up the mist that guarded the tower.

“BBB.”

“This is for you. That is for you. And this is for you.”

“Yes.” “Yes.” “Yes.”

The man in tuxedo handed the children tins of chocolates. The children hug them happily.

“Now then, goodbye.”

“Bye bye!”

The children ran towards the tower while holding the chocolate tins. They ran through the entrance, picked their favorite spots, and opened the chocolates..

Explosions.

Ignition..

The man watched it happen, shed three tears from his right eye, and took a deep drag on his cigarette.

“Goodbye. Goodbye. Goodbye. That’s for three people. Next. Next. Next goodbye.”

The children stepped forward. There were still more of them. Worry not, for there was enough chocolate tins for every one of them.

“Purple Soul Jars.”

“Kuararara!”

“Kuwaba!”

“Rarakuara!”

“Bakuwa!”

An army carried a flag of coffins atop a tree, and yelled out loud. They were the Dead soldiers who were starting to enter the selfish phase. The only Living among them, a girl in an obviously ill-fitting military uniform with the Major’s emblem, shouted.

“Rairararararara!”

“Rairararararara!”

The old corpses charged into the tower with brand new weapons. The military maneuver was so well drilled, it was unlike anything the rotten heads could do..

Fists, flames, and explosions drilled into the tower and made several large holes in its walls. The tower spewed out its contents from there like a spray of blood. Food, treasure, water, trees, all kinds of treasures spilled out and were consumed by the violence.

“Good, good. That’s the allies of justice. That’s what I’m talking about.”

Dee was alone, drifting through the mist with a smirk on her face, only to show a worried look.

“I hope everyone can come down here soon…”

It was a worried look, unbefitting of the person who had created the disaster.

 

+

 

The stones trembled. The already loose connectors became looser, and the large stones began to spin in the air.

“Wh-what the!?”

Julie, holding Scar, shouted.

Ai knew at that moment that it was two days later.

“It’s Dee, isn’t it?”

That’s right, Ai nodded.

“Impossible! Didn’t she say it’s two days later?”

“Then it’s been two days, isn’t it?”

Right? Alice nodded.

“What the hell is that? How’s that possible!? Logically, it hasn’t been a day!”

“Adults sure are thick-headed. Just accept it, old man.”

“I wouldn’t be suffering this much if I could do that, you idiots! Don’t underestimate us thirty year olds!”

Ai jumped and drifted in the air to escape the tremors , “Not bad” and Alice immediately replied, imitating her. Julie looked at them with even more dismay.

“Our children sure have such soft brains…”

“Well…”

Ai mimicked a certain someone and repeated, Well, well, well.

“Well, time to put our bets.”

“Right.”

The two of them exchanged looks.

“Then I’ll stay here by myself. Mr. Alice will bring you all down.”

“I’ll stay here alone. Bring everyone else down.”

Sparks flew.

“You were thinking about that after all! Please stop messing around!”

“You’re the one messing around! What other choice next? Do you know what’s going to happen after that?”

“Wait, wait, wait, you two.”

Julie frowned, looking like he had a headache. Celica patted away at his eyebrows.

“What are you talking about? Why are we talking about one of us staying? We’re just leaving, right?”

“No, not yet.”

“Nope, not yet. “”

They both look to the heavens above.

They could still see a hallucination of the boy there, still piling stones.

“We can’t leave without him.”

“Yeah.”

“…Our kids sure have guts…I got my hands full.”

Julie sighed, holding the weights in his hands tightly.

“Speaking of which, how are you going to get there?”

“Like this.”

Alice fumbled his hand into the back of the rumbling stone steps.

“Ahh, there it is. Just as I imagined.”

He pulled out a pressure-resistant suit with a gas cylinder that covered his entire body like a diving suit.

“I think I’m starting to get the hang of this place.”

“I-I can do that too!”

Ai too put her hand in the same shade “Huh? Huh?” But she could not find what she wanted, and shouted “Why!?” It was then that she noticed the lack of chalk. The graffiti that always appeared coincidentally had vanished.

“W-why!? It’s not fair, Mr. Alice! How did you do that!?”

“You can’t do it. Just let me handle it.”

“B-but!”

“Enough already.”

“…You may die.”

“I’ll just die, right?”

Alice said as a matter of fact.

“…That’s!”

“Just joking, just joking. I don’t intend to die at such a place.”

“…But.”

“I promise you that I definitely won’t die.”

“…If you dare lie, I’ll make you swallow…”

“Sure.”

“A whole…”

“Eh!?…Are you talking about a fish!? …No, whatever, it’s all the same…”

Alice gave a wry smile and picked up the pressure-resistant helmet.

“Wait for me to come back. I got a favor to ask too.”

“A favor?”

“Yeah, I need your help with something.”

Ai smiled. It was no exaggeration to say that was her life’s work.

“Well, I don’t have a choice then. I’ll accept it.”

“Thanks.”

Then Alice smiled and said,

“See ya!”

He said, and was about to cross the divide.

Then,

 

‘You guys don’t have to go.’

 

A somewhat familiar sounding voice rang.

Neither Ai, Alice, Julie nor Celica had heard of this voice, yet it seemed so familiar for some reason.

Ai looked at the wall where the voice came from. There, she saw white chalk writing there, ‘You guys don’t have to go’.

The group was stunned as they stared at the white chalk that had suddenly appeared. The white chalk gradually increased its presence before everyone’s eyes, and eventually, the white hands, shoulders, waist, legs, and finally the dreamy face of an unrealistically beautiful Dead appeared.

The Dead girl beamed and tucked the white chalk in her hand into her pajamas pocket.

‘You guys don’t have to go.’

There was a strange qualia in her voice, and Ai felt a strange familiarity in it.

‘Alrighty.’

The girl moved as immaturely as her age, passed both Ai and Alice, and easily crossed the divide.

‘Someone.’

The girl grinned.

‘Someone has to tell him, you know. Like, ‘that’s enough already’.’

“You…”

‘But that’s not what you’re supposed to do.’

Ai did not know what the existence of this girl was.

And neither did Alice, nor Julie, nor Scar, nor Celica.

 

‘That’s my role.’

 

They only knew that she was in the midst of a very important destiny.

‘Thank you. Thank you for coming to this tower, and climbing up it without a wish. Thanks to you, I’ve finally found my way up here.’

And with that, the girl bowed her head.

‘Thank you—but that’s enough.’

She lifted her face, showing a smile.

“Please wait!”

Ai wanted to save that smile.

“Wait! Listen to me…”

She wanted to help the girl.

‘It’s okay.’

The girl refused.

‘Because these people really aren’t related to you people…’

“!”

Ai stopped at those words. She had to.

She really wanted to help the girl,

She wanted to lend the girl a helping hand,

And yet, the girl said ‘it’s okay’.

She said it was fine.

‘See you!’

And she left.

‘Bye Bye!’

With the same smile on her face, she walked up the stairs.

Ai just stood there dumbfounded, acting as an outsider as she saw the girl leave. The girl bounced up the floating stone steps one by one.

She had gone to a place where Ai could not go.

And then, eventually, she could not be seen.

 

‘Big brother! That’s enough!’

 

With those words, the tower stopped.

 

Part III

 

Gogogogogo, the tower was about to collapse. The tremors were so violent, and the walls started to collapse, the ceilings were starting to be caught by the weak gravity, and collapsed one after another.

“Wawawawawawawah!!”

“Hurry hurry hurry hurry~hurry~~~!”

The group hastily dashed down the stairs. Ai and Alice jumped down the stairs two steps at a time, while Julie jumped down in three steps. Scar hugged Celica tightly in her arms, while Julie held Scar tightly so that she would not fall.

“I-I-It’s impossible! We’ll never make it!”

“You idiot! Don’t say it’s impossible! If you think you can, you can! If you think you can’t, you can’t!”

“T-that’s right!”

“Yeah! You get it? Keep it to heart once you understand! Keep repeating it!”

“Yes!…If you think you can’t, you can’t. If you think you can’t, you can’t. If you think you can’t, you can’t. If you think you can’t…”

“Don’t repeat that part~~~!”

The tower seemed to be collapsing faster than before.

“It-it’s really impossible!”

Ai burst into tears. The stairs were no longer in the shape of stairs, and they did not feel like stone steps at all.

“Tch! No choice here…”

Alice came to an abrupt stop on the place which appeared to be either falling or landed.

“D-Do you have a plan?”

“Yeah. It’s a last resort. Old man! Take care of that!”

What is he going to do? The moment Ai stopped in her tracks.

Alice gently carried Ai.

“Alright!”

“Huh?”

He approached the window.

Ai had a bad feeling about this.

“LET’S GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!”

“WHHHHHHHHHHHHHHYYYYYYYYYY!!!?”

 

+

 

“Oh?”

Dee puts her hands over her eyelids and stares at the tower.

“Looks like a critical hit. Is it gone?”

The tower, which had simply withstood the attacks of her friends with its own mass, began to collapse. The overly huge chiseled stone blocks appeared to be falling really slowly.

“Did Ai and the others make it in time…”

Haa…Dee let out a sigh. She looked up at the tower, thinking of offering a silent prayer.

“Hmm?”

And at the far end of her sight, she saw something.

 

+

 

“Noooooooooooooooooooo!!!”

“Woaaaarrrggghhh!!”

We’re falling! We’re falling!

Wind! Cold! Rocks! Windows! Rocks! Scary! Scary Scary Scary!

There’s nothing under my feet! There’s nowhere to put my hands! Nothing but thin air to hold me up, and I don’t feel like doing much about that!

The wreckage of the tower fell in a very helpful manner. There was rubble, tables, tea sets, a bunch of colorful magazines, a private car with its parking lights flashing, a house they would like for themselves in the future…and there were three neighboring houses falling opposite!

They were definitely falling really fast, but the ground in the distance did not seem to be getting any closer.

There were beautiful stars shining green before them.

“Wow, so pretty.”

Ai beamed.

“This is no time to be escaping reality!”

“Of course I’d want to escape reality now!”

She twisted her body dexterously, and escaped from Alice’s armpit.

“You idiot, Mr. Alice! You’re the worst! You don’t think at all! You stupid! How can we possibly survive from such a high place!?”

“Woargh, it hurts! Stop it, you idiot!”

Ai quickly learned how to glide. She spread her limbs wide and adjusted her angles accordingly to control her descent, and then began to tangle with Alice in the air.

“Idiot! Idiot idiot idiot! Mr. Alice’s an idiot!

“Hey! Idiot! Listen to me! Come here!”

“Don’t wanna!…I’m at least going to crash in peace where this idiot doesn’t exist…”

“Enough already! Just get over here!”

Alice waved over in a breaststroke, and ignored Ai’s flailing as he took her hands.

They held hands and spun in a circle as they fell. Ai was relentless as her face remained blank as ice.

“I~diot i~diot, Mr Alice you i~idiot. Fool, Dumbo, you mother anteater”

“HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA………you’re really the worst.”

“…So that’s how you are when you’re so stressed out?”

Ai looked at the stars below her.

“…The only thing better is the view.”

“Sure is one hell of a final view.”

A karate Chop.

“…Well, it’s a good last view, isn’t it…?”

It was windy, and they were talking with their faces upside down.

“…I’ll probably die, right?”

Ai chuckled weakly.

“I’ll, probably, die~♪”

Alice, who heard the “I’ll, probably, die~ song’, asked,

“What will you do after you die?”

“……That’s a weird question.”

“No, no, isn’t it a normal question nowadays? It’s almost no different from ‘what are your future plans’.”

Ai looked at the ground that was still far away though inevitable, and said what was on her mind,

“…Well, I don’t know what’ll happen to me…?”

“Oh? That’s surprising. Someone like you didn’t think of this before? “

“Because…”

Ai looked at the distant ground in the distance. It felt so surreal.

“I’m half Gravekeeper, half human.”

“So?”

“Do you think there’s any afterlife for me?”

“—Ah.”

Alice looked away awkwardly once the possibility occurred to him.

There was no ‘afterlife’ for the Gravekeepers. Once broken, they would never wake up again. They would just return to the earth.

“I used to think, ‘That’s better’. I thought it’d be better to return to the earth without struggling to live.”

“……”

“But now…I have a dream.”

Surprisingly, she was actually not scared at all.

“I don’t want…to die.”

It however did not mean that she wanted to live that badly.

She just did not want to die at this moment.

Ai inhaled a breath of air high up in the air.

“Wooooooooooooooaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhh!”

She shouted.

“…I really wish to live a little longer….”

But they were at an altitude of 1,000 meters, where the temperature was eight degrees Celsius, the wind was blowing from the east at a speed of 20 meters per second.

There was no way she could survive.

“…All the more reason to think of what you want to do after death.”

“…Haa, there’s not much time for that…it’s coming.”

“Nope.”

Then Alice chuckled.

“Not necessarily!”

 

+

 

“Ohhhh~~~!?! Ohhhhh~~~~!!!”

“What’s the matter, Ghost?”

“Hey hey! Look at that!”

Dee spun around and pointed in the air, and everyone around her looked up into the sky.

“What is it?” “”A bird?” “A plane?” “No, I don’t hear any propellers.”

Dee pointed.

“It’s Alice and Ai!”

 

+

 

First, Alice found a torn rope in the junk floating around him—something that was part of the tower’s structure, and tied himself tightly to Ai (Ai resisted, of course). He dug his hands into the junk again, and pulled out the item he wanted with great ease.

“Yes! This is it! This is what I wanted! “

“What’s with the ragged cloth…?”

“Don’t call it ragged! It’s more valuable than any silk right now! It’s an angel’s wing!”

With that, Alice put the bag on his back and immediately pulled on the cord that extended from his side.

 

+

 

“It’s a parachute!”

Dee shouted, jumping up and down and waving her hands. The wings of yellow cloth fell softly through the mist, and she could see Alice and Ai beneath. Not too far behind them was another blue parachute, where Julie, Scar, and Celica were attached to it like a monkey carrying its family.

“Oi~! Ai~!  Alice~! It’s me!”

Dee waved her hand, then realized that she should just fly over, and tried to go.

But before that.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa!”

“Gyaah!”

“Rakra! Kura Kura!!”

“Kuwaa!”

The wreckage of the tower rained down on the comrades in the area.

“Hey, Ghost! Where are you! Find shelter…for us…”

“Ahhh, that’s so troublesome! Figure it out for yourself!”

She said as she circled the tower, and it so happened that there were no fallen rocks near where Ai and the others were planning to land.

“Okay. Just right. Everyone, let’s go!”

 

+

 

Alice stumbled at the last moment.

Ai, unable to move, sneered,

“You’re horrible! And I had a different opinion of you just now! Correction! You’re the worst!”

“Like, what can I do? I’ve only used a parachute once before!”

“Woahhh~~! Another thing I don’t want to hear! You risked our lives for that!?”

“It’s fine, right!? I saved you anyway! What the hell! You should be a little more grateful!”

“Thank you very much!”

“You’re welcome!”

While the two of them bickered away, Julie landed on the ground without any trouble. He ran gently across the ground to kill the inertia, cut the rope before the sail got tangled, and stood on the ground.

“Are you okay?”

“Y-Yes.”

And then he lowered Scar, who was in a princess carry.

“…Huh? Why’s Mr. Julie being so cool…”

“Enough already, just stay where you are! Ahh goodness! It’s all tangled together!”

The two of them continued to bicker and argue until Julie cut their ropes.

When Ai was finally released, she badmouthed Alice and stood up, looking around.

Dust was flying in the air.

There was a smell of gunpowder.

And the world was spilling out of the tower.

Every possible item that made up the tower was being thrown out like a cracker. Stone, bricks, water, food, creatures, buildings, furniture, guns, and corpses.

One could see the ruffians who had caused this phenomenon In the distance, crying out as they were pelted by the rubble. On the other hand, no debris was falling upon them. It was no wonder, for they were of different status. The tower would never hurt those involved with it.

But that was only the beginning.

The mist was about to clear.

“Oiii~! Aii~~~! Alice~~~~!”

The hordes of ruffians charged towards them, pew, and Dee, leading the way, was the first to drift over, circling them happily.

“I was so worried! You guys didn’t come out for a long time. I thought you were doomed, but—”

“Please don’t come near.”

The angry glare was fixed on the ghost. Dee stopped four meters away.

“Oh my…Ai, are you still mad at me?”

“Of course I am!

“I’m sorry…but what else can I do? My priorities are different. My first priority is to ‘end the world’. And you’re my ‘enemy’.”

Dee smiled, and simply surmized.

The result left Ai speechless.

“You’re useful enemies, but your importance can’t be compared to my dreams.”

Dee laughed, whistled, and looked up at the tower.

“….Phew. I guess we managed to save the world today.”

I’ve done my job, that was the face shown.

Dee was immediately hit by debris. But this ghost remained unconcerned, tch, and clicked her tongue.

She looked at the debris of the tower with hatred in her eyes.

The once magnificent murals were reduced to garbage. All the gourmet food were soaked in mud. Beams that were perfectly balanced were in flames. Revolutionary design structures fell apart.

And there were corpses.

It was raining corpses.

The Living corpses, the Dead corpses, the Gravekeeper corpses.

All of them fall to the earth.

Dee let the entire tower shine through her body, and mocked it with an icy expression.

“…What World Tower? What miracle? Aren’t you like this inside after your belly got cut up? It’s all just filthy rotten guts, a pile of wreckage. a pile of garbage, a waste of time, a waste of bones.”

Dee Ensy Stratmitos sneered.

“Suck it up. There is no heaven.”

“—!”

Pak! A slap echoed in the wilderness.

Everyone heard such an auditory hallucination.

In reality, it was just a small hand flailing through a white porcelain cheek.

“I dare you to say that again.”

Her green eyes blazed.

“Tell me where those people have gone. Tell me! Tell me what this tower is! Tell me!”

“They’re not going anywhere.”

Dee said.

“And this is just a bunch of junk.”

She stared into the eyes of the ghost, hoping for a single trace of lie within them.

But she could not find any.

“This place was heaven…a heaven they created, a heaven they built with their own hands…can’t you just believe in that…?””

“If that’s what you want to believe, sure. Don’t force it on me.”

Dee said with a disgusted look and floated about fifty meters away. Her comrades too had caught up with her.

“Miss Dee!”

“I’m not listening.”

Alone in this hell, Dee drifted, unaffected.

“Now then, what shall I do next? How about a fight? It does seem to be trending this way.”

“Miss Dee…”

“Say, Ai, you know what I mean…”

Dee Ensy Stratmitos sneered.

“I’m such an existence, you know? I can’t help it. I’m your enemy. …”

Dee laughed with sadness, contempt, and a little bit of pity.

“Just give up on me…”

Maybe, Ai thought. Even if it might seem ridiculous, she wondered if Dee put so much effort planning this for this moment.

Perhaps Dee had planned all of this just to break Ai’s heart.

If that was the case, all the more she could not succumb.

“Miss Dee…”

“Begging for your life? Okay, I’m listening.”

“No, that’s not it. I’m just declaring something.

“?” Dee prompted with a glance.

 

“Miss Dee, I will still save you.”

 

Ai carried the shovel and took a bow with her hand on her chest.

“No matter how much you hate the world, no matter how much you try to destroy me, no matter how much you try to be my enemy. I will stand by you.”

Dee froze on the spot.

“I refuse…”

She shuddered.

“Don’t be silly. What do you mean ‘save’? It’s none of your business. …”

“I know.”

“Huh, like hell you do!”

The Ghost approached. She smiled and leaned towards Ai like an intimate friend.

“Ahh, deary me, you’re so cute, Ai. So cute it’s infuriating. You’re smart, straightforward, and you’ll climb up even after falling. How cute. But it’s so infuriating.”

The Ghost’s face winced in agitation.

“Ahh, I’ve decided now. Let’s fight after all. Let’s kill each other. No, our side here is already dead, so I don’t think it’s a fight till death? Should this be called Dead killing Living? Revenge? Vengeance? I don’t know. Anyway, it’s just to maintain balance.”

The Ghost’s hand caressed her cheek.my cheek. There was neither feeling nor warmth.

“I’ll kill you, Ai-Astin. I’ll gouge out your heart and cut off your head. Then I’ll listen to you again. Do you still want to save the world after all that? I’ll ask the head after I cut it off.”

“…I’ll refuse that.”

“Aha, you’re not sure? If you’re not sure, then your dream is a fake.”

In fact, Ai was not worried about whether she could harbor such dreams, but whether she could move after she died.

Dee softly floated back about fifteen meters. Just then, the deformed caught up with her.

“Everyone, that’s the enemy.”

Enemy? Enemy, you say? Where’s the enemy? Is that the enemy?

The ghost whispered, telling them the way to save the world was to defeat that enemy.

“Do it.”

“Uooooooooooahhhhh!! Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh!!! Gyagyagyagya!!!”

Bullets flew, blades, flames, explosions, attacks loomed like a maelstrom.

Ai braced herself, grabbed her shovel as she readied herself to intercept. She shouted and stomped her foot.

But before then, someone jumped before her.

Bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang! And thus echoed the sound of an explosion akin to firecrackers.

All the bullets lost their power and fell to the earth.

“Alice?”

Dee asked incredulously.

“What are you doing?”

“What am I doing, you ask? When you’re shot at, you fight back.”

“They’re not even aiming at you. Don’t get in the way”

“No can do.”

He ejected the casing. He reloaded.

“I’ve decided on this one.”

When Dee heard those words, she froze.

“You’re lying …”

“It’s true. So I guess you’ll have to let me off the hook here.”

“I don’t believe you ….”

Dee whispered.

” I don’t believe it! Do it, everyone!”

The murderous will loomed ago, and Alice met it with his will to live. With that will to save, he shot down the murderous will.

Bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang!

Equal numbers of bullets were fired from both camps. They collided at the center point and formed a mountain. The flaming skeleton tried a sneak attack, but was shot precisely at its sacrum and was blasted away. The tendons of the groaning Dead were severed and they fell to the ground. The bloodied fists collided with the bullets, and were immobilized.

But the stalemate lasted only a moment.

He ran out of ammo.

Alice finished reloading almost instantaneously and began firing again, but this one moment of delay was enough to cause the colliding bullets to loom towards him. It was miniscule, but certainly starting to tilt.

The second time.

The third time, and each time he reloaded, the killzone loomed towards the two of them.

“That’s too little bullets! Pomson! Are you saving ammo!? Focus on them!”

In addition, Dee knew Alice’s abilities well, and gave appropriate instructions.

“Alice’s ability can’t hold them off for long! her mass! Use your anti-material weapons!”

“Woah. That’s bad.”

Boom! A cannon-like gunshot sounded, and a bullet was fired like a cannonball.

Alice aligned the firing lines of his right and left hands, redirecting the trajectory of the shell just a little bit.

But even that was too late.

Ai tackled him in the side.

“Mr Alice!”

Shocking, even though he was out of position, Alice was still firing. He took advantage of the gap created by the blow to push the killzone further away..

However,

“Okay~ everyone, don’t panic. Just focus on what’s in front of you. They’re almost out of ammo. Ten, nine…”

Dee was not talking about the gun, but the total ammunition Alice had. He was able to run out of bullets.

“Five, four…”

“Probably! Not! Though!”

“Hmmm, some tough talk from you…. Two, one…”

The count reached zero.

The hammer of the revolver In Alice’s hand hit a blank. The slide of the automatic gun slid and di not retract..

There was a pile of empty shell casings at their feet, and a group of warriors licking their tongues out of the corner of their eyes. The Ghost saw that their demise was near, and showed a tragic face. Scar hugged Celica to protect her, while Julie protected Scar.

The surroundings contained a mixture of the remaining mist and dust. There was tower debris that fell slowly, along with debris of dreams, and Vinyl sheets flying like a kite.

Alice’s hands released his beloved guns. The overheated guns fell onto the casing as though they were dead.

“Kill them.”

“Woooooooohhhh!”

And then, his hand plunged into the wreckage of the tower that was still raining down around him. There was a mug full of fluid, a blizzard of thousand bandages. He weaved his hands through the scattered junk.

The warriors fired in unison.

The bullets were closing in. There was no place to escape, the barrage was like a wall.

There was no place to escape.

“Alrrriiiigggghhhhtttt!”

At the same time, his hands burst into flames, knocking all the bullets out of the air.

In his right hand was an assault rifle with thirty-two rounds of ammunition.

And in his left hand was a submachine gun with sixty-four rounds of ammunition.

“Huh?”

Everyone present was stunned.

There was no way Alice was going to miss that opportunity. He finally broke through the wall of bullets and shot down the firearms of the enemies.

“Wh-What the hell is that? I’ve never heard of Alice having such an ability!”

“Of course! I just! So happened! To pick them! Up!”

Once the guns ran out of bullets, Alice immediately discarded them, swung his hands in the air again, and guns fell into his grasp again.

“Th-that’s a foul! That’s cheating! It’s just a coincidence! There’s no such thing as coincidence!”

“There is! That’s what this place is for!”

The panicking Dead resumed shooting, and fired double the bullets they did.

“You guys~! I knew you guys were saving your bullets! You should have done so from the beginning~~~~~!!!”

Alice did not bother to grab the gun anymore. He merely reached his hands into the storm of guns raining down of him, and stroked the trigger. The bullets fired in such a way all reach their intended targets however.

‘Buzzer Beater’ and “The Tower”.

Their powers were truly on display

A pile of guns began to build up at his feet. The empty machine guns fell to the ground, and the automatic ones unable to escape the recoil were jammed and flew away after just one shot.

Alice gritted his teeth and let his arms flail like two snakes. His muscles stretched and contracted incessantly, heating up and causing steam to rise from his back.

Bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang.

He fired.

Bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang.

He kept firing.

Bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang.

And after a while.

The gunfire ceased.

“Wh- Why are you stopping? You’re one step away!”

The Ghost whispered hurriedly to her comrades.

“It’s impossible.”

“It’s not impossible. Look!”

At where she pointed, Alice was completely battered. The fingernails of his hands were completely cracked, and his fingertips were peeling and dripping blood. His eyes were hollow, and he had probably passed out.

But he just would not let go of the guns.

“It’s impossible. Ghost.”

The Dead packed up their gear. The Purple Soldiers started their roll call. The fists were sheathed in the bandages again, the flames were extinguished and the bones were covered in clothes.

“That’s a war god.”

“So what!?”

“Actually, we really wanted to seize this chance to slaughter such a guy, but,”

One of the Dead raised and showed his gun.

It was out of ammo.

“I didn’t think we’d be the ones out of ammo…”

“You still do! There’s more there!!”

That’s the minimum for dealing with Gravekeepers. I can pay you the toll down the river Styx, but not these bullets.”

At that moment, the sky turned white.

Silent thunder struck the tower.

Many, many strikes.

“Hiii, the Gravekeepers!”

“Damn it. What the hell is this place? Is this reality?”

“Dear Ghost! I’m sorry, but we’re going to have to leave you here! Kuraba!”

“Ah! Hey, come on! You guys!”

The Dead began to escape. Dee looked at both sides, twice,

“Ah goodness!”

Eventually, she left the tower.

She did not bother to insult.

Lightning struck the tower. Many Gravekeepers emerge from the pile of rubble and begin to bury the corpses scattered around as naturally as attending someone’s deathbed.

But Ai did not bother to look at them.

“Mr. Alice, Mr. Alice!”

She kept yelling the entire time, but Alice continued to grab the guns and did not let go. Ai tried to wrestle them away from him, but they were stuck to him, as though they were ingrained as part of him.

“Mr Alice! “

“…………Ah?”

Finally, there was a reply. A weak fire lit up in his hazy eyes.

“It’s over! You can let go now!”

“…Heh? What………wait, ahhhoh …?”

Alice looked around, looking completely dehydrated, and seemingly realized his predicament as he immediately let go of the guns in his hands.

And then he collapsed.

“Mr Ali—”

“I’m exhausted———————”

He pointed his bloody hands to the sky “I’m dying—” and yelled.

“……I want to drink beer……”

“You can’t do that. You’re underage.”

“Just kidding. I don’t want to drink it. It’s too bitter.”

Alice seemed to be really agitated, laughing and making jokes that were not funny at all.

Ai sat down next to him, relieved.

She was really worried that Alice had died.

“Where’s Dee?”

“She ran away with her tail between her legs.”

“Hahaha, serves her right—what about old man and the others?”

“They went to find the car.”

Buh buh! I a horn could be heard in the distance. They looked over and saw that the blue car was running with all its parts intact.

“Wow! Amazing! How did you find us?”

“Oh, you’re good, old man. You’re surprisingly soft-headed. “

“? What does a soft head or a hard head have to do with finding a car?”

“It does now.”

Then Alice thrust his hand into the air and grabbed a leaf that had fallen into the air, bringing it to his mouth.

The sound of a grass flute echoed in the area.

It was a somehow sad song.

Ai stared at the tower as she listened to it.

There, the tower was collapsing. The thunder of the Gravekeeper danced wildly.

And it was about to end.

And then,

“Ah.”

“…— ♪..”

Petals.

Thousands and thousands of various of petals began to fly out of nowhere.

Indigo cherry blossoms, jet-black hazel, steel roses, caramel tulips, flesh poppies, twin Rafflesias.

They were all blooming and falling.

“So pretty…”

“Yeah…”

All kinds of flowers were in bloom.

But Ai was a little dissatisfied.

“…There’s no mountain lilies…”

“Do you like them?”

“Yes.”

“I see—no water lilies either.”

“Do you like them?”

“Yeah.”

Besides those flowers mentioned, there were all kinds of other petals dancing together.

And at the end of it all, softly.

A twin-cornered cherry blossom flower gently fell.

The two of them were lying on top of those petals.

They looked at the tower.

It had almost collapsed, and lost its power.

“When we were on the tower….”

Alice pointed at the tower with his fingertip that was stained reddish-black with blood.

“I said that when we get down here, there’s something I want you to help with, right?”

Alice said, blowing his bloody grass flute.

“Do you remember?”

Ai just nodded her head.

I see, Alice confirmed, but did not say further, and remained silent for a while.

Ai sat down and waited without prompting.

“Say, Ai—can you help us?”

Alice said.

“Us?”

“Yeah.”

Alice said. There was an ashamed look on his face.

 

“Please save our class 3-4.”

 

Saying that, Alice Color smiled bitterly.

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