Thousands of flower petals fluttered.
Thousands of rubble fell.
The fallen objects glowed in various colors, containing everything that made up this world. Peach-colored fruits, silver utensils, fireplaces at dawn, cold winter villages, a king’s chandeliers, gray corpses, flapping books, tens of thousands of flower petals.
In the middle of it all, Alice laid down, pointed at the tower, and gave a bitter smile.
“…I said that when we get down here, there’s something I want you to help with, right…do you remember?”
“Please save our class 3-4.”
Saying that, Alice Color smiled bitterly.
“—We’re sealed in our hometown.”
And he led Ai Astin to ‘Ostia’.
Ostia was already destroyed.
“…It’s a lonely place.”
The bone-like ruins burned in the red of the setting sun before here. Not a single house, street, or lamppost was straight, everything was twisted and silent. The lake, keeper of the water source, was itself twisted and soaked the city below. The bricks on the roofs had fallen to the ground and shattered, leaving only a wide sky.
Ostia was a town of tombs.
There were modest grave markers all over the street, and their shadows were terribly long.
Swoosh, Ai lowered the shovel, the shards of sandy bricks at her feet spread out like a mosaic.
“Come on, let’s go.”
Ai snuck a glance at Alice, who was carrying his luggage. She was curious to see how he would react to this place he called ‘hometown’.
“? What’s up?”
“No, it’s nothing at….”
But Alice was quite normal, he did not appear to be hurt or sad in any way.
“Let’s go then.”
“Please wait. Before we go, I’d like you to tell me what’s going on.”
It had been two weeks since Alice had asked for help under the Tower.
In the meantime, Alice had only repeatedly told them “go to Ostia”, and nothing else.
“I’m sorry, I can’t tell you.”
These were the only words he could repeat.
“If you don’t like it, you can turn down the offer. I won’t force you.”
“Seriously! That’s not what I’m talking about—”
Then Ai fell silent. It was too pointless. They had repeated the same conversation countless times on the way here.
“…What do you think, Mr Julie?”
Seeing that she was unable to do so on her own, she turned to Julie.
“Hmm? You’re asking what I think about this?”
Julie was busy with his task at hand, sometimes, packing up the belongings, and sometimes catching the fleeing Celica.
He had been acting a little strange ever since the incident in the tower.
“I mean, you would say something a blockhead would say like ‘you’re so vague about this. We can’t act so carelessly’, or ‘I’m opposed to this, we know too little’..”
“Blockhead…and it annoys me as to how bad your imitation is…ah, right. There’s one thing I want to get this clear. Alice. Isn’t this land a little weird?”
“Weird? How so?”
“Ah, I mentioned in the prior village to someone else that we’re going to Ostia, and there was some strange reaction. It’s said that 100,000 refugees disappeared overnight in the area, and that a destroyed town suddenly appeared like a mirage—”
“Do you have any idea?”
Julie probably did not really believe that story either. He gave Alice an incredulous expression.
” I do, but it’s fine. There’s nothing dangerous about that.”
“Is that so? That’s fine.”
“Eh!? Are you sure?”
Ai shouted, expecting a more thorough questioning.
“Yeah. No matter what awaits us, I know what I’m going to do. “
Then Julie glanced back and smiled.
“Julie? How do I tie Celica’s hugging strap…what is it?”
There was Scar, holding the baby with a troubled look on her face.
So Julie answered and returned to the car, not bothering with this conversation anymore.
There was a little change in both Julie and Scar at the top of the tower. Julie became exceptionally confident and prone to smiling, and in contrast, Scar lost all pride as a Gravekeeper, but seemed to have come to terms with it and was being strangely honest.
Ai felt that she was the only one who did not change.
“Let’s go then.”
Ai did not complain anymore, and did as told.
Carrying her luggage, Ai walked on looking around her at the ruins that lined the street. The walls had been scorched by the flames, buildings were reduced to heaps of bricks by explosions, and there was a message left on the wall for a stray family member.
“…So Class 3-4 is here?”
“Yes and no.”
Alice continued to say things that were difficult to understand.
The road was covered with debris and wreckage, making it difficult to walk, and there were even whole houses that had been turned upside down.
Alice made his way down the street and climbed in through the window of the house.
“Mr. Alice, wouldn’t it be better to walk by the side rather than climb in?”
Ai pointed to the land where the house would have originally been located. There was nothing on the other side, and it looked somewhat easier to pass through.
“Follow where I go. Climb in through the window.”
“Just do it.”
Again with the ‘just do it’. He did not explain anything, and only said ‘just do it’.
“Yes yes , I get it.”
Ai said, and deftly entred through the window frame. Julie followed, then Scar passed Celica to him before she too climbed off.
“Are you happy now?”
For some reason, Alice seemed insistent on following a specific route. He climbed through the window, crawled under tables, jumped from roof to roof, climbed up and down walls, and crossed the street by stepping only on the white part of the crosswalk.
“Erm…Mr Alice, what is this about?”
“Just do it.”
Again with ‘just do it’ as he played hopscotch on the moat.
As they paraded through the long shadowy ruins in the dusk, Ai felt increasingly uneasy, either because of this ridiculous path, or that it was because of the dusk.
At the end of this path.
They arrived at an open space.
There was a large building with a mountain on its back.
‘Ostia School for Boys and Girls‘
The school too had fallen into disrepair. The main gate had lost its fence, the walls of the building were warped and the roof had fallen off. The lawn had lost its territorial battle with wild plants and was relegated to the corner of the garden. Stone statues of outstanding people lost their their heads, their genders no longer recognizable. To top it all off, there was a surprisingly out-of-place charred truck lying on its side in the middle of the field.
They passed by the truck and entered the school building. The school building had been used as an evacuation center, and was relatively clean and well maintained. That only applied to the ground and second floors however. The roof had fallen off the right half of the third floor, and the floor had replaced it.
Alice trudged down the corridor and stopped in front of ‘Class 3-4’. There was an open wall in front of him , and one could see the dilapidated state within.
“…What’s the situation?”
Alice pointed to a flat surface where a door might have been in the past, and at this point, there was only darkness there.
The ‘black’ was neither a color, nor was it a shadow. It was just a blackness akin to a vacuum, as if rejecting light.
“Now then. “
Alice said against the dark background.
“Class 3-4 is trapped behind ‘this boundary that I don’t understand at all’.”
“Oh, you’re not scared?”
“I’ve gotten used to this kind of thing…not that I ever wanted to.”
She blurted out those words with a sigh. This black surface before her was not ordinary, even when compared to the City of the Dead, the School of the Deformed, and the World Tower, but Ai was not going to be shocked just because of this.
She put her face to the black surface. There was no smell, no light.
“…There’s no danger?”
“It’s fine. Here.”
Alice casually scratched the black surface. The arm continued to move freely in and out of the boundary.
“seems like it’ll be fine.”
“Yeah…but those who aren’t in Class 3-4 can’t leave this place. Unless everything gets resolved.
“You’re saying that at the last minute…?”
“What do we do now? This is the last chance to quit.”
“I’m not going to.”
Ai said firmly.
“I’m going to help everyone in the world. Of course, that includes Mr. Alice.”
“So I never had the option of not helping you in the first place.
Mmm! She spun the shovel and snorted. The hazy feeling she had over the past few days disappeared. Yes, it did not matter if she had the information. She just had to do what she needed to. That was all.
This time, Alice seemed to be intimidated by her attitude.
“But, you know. You’re saying that you want to save everyone—okay, everyone, that is, all of humanity, aren’t you? If that’s the case, you shouldn’t just be concerned with me alone, right? I mean, let’s face it, I’m asking you to do something difficult, and you might be stuck in there for the rest of your life. Wouldn’t it be better to leave someone like me alone to save ‘everyone’?”
“Nope, then I’ll be making a choice..”
Ai said decisively.
“If I’m save someone because it’s easy to save, and prioritizing others later because it’s harder to save them, or saving those I know and ignoring others that I don’t, it’s only a matter of time until there are people I can’t save in time…didn’t I say I want to save ‘everyone’?”
There’s no difference there. Ai smiled.
“I’ll get to ‘everyone’ after I save you.”
Ai was proud.
“One by one, I will save the world.”
Alice cut her off coldly.
“Yeah. It’s idiotic to think you’re going to save each and everyone in the world, and that it’s a matter of time until you can do so. I dare say your dream will fail one day.”
“Hypothetically, if you could save ‘everyone’… you wouldn’t be in it. You’re the only one who’s not part of the ‘everyone’ you’re talking about…”
“I guess so.”
“But that’s no reason not to do it.”
It was Alice’s turn to be silent this time.
“But I’m still going to do it.”
“Good for you.”
Alice clapped his hands in congratulations.
“You’re perfect now—sooner or later, you will fall. Your dreams will shatter, you’ll encounter setbacks, your body will rot, and you will fall to the ground. But until then, you are the perfect person to help others.”
“Maybe you can really help me, us, Ai Astin. Maybe you can destroy this fatigue and loop completely—once again, I’m asking you Ai. Please save us.”
“Yes yes , I get it—so, how many times has it been?”
“I guess so.”
Alice laughed and looked up at Julie.
“What about you, old man?”
“Since she says she’s going, I have no choice.”
“What about Scar?”
Unlike Julie, Scar was staring at Celica, and was a little lost.
“Just come along, Scar.”
“Ah…yes, if Julie says so ….”
Ai and Alice’s eyes alternated between Scar’s right hand that was held and her reddened cheeks.
“What’s with that look, you brats?”
“Now then, everyone, please hold hands—ah, the old man’s already holding hands?”
“Shut up. Just explain and don’t say anything unnecessary.”
“It’s rare to see someone get anemia. If you find the person next to you on the verge of passing out, lend a hand.
Alice said as he reached his right hand out. Ai grabbed it.
“A little tighter.”
Alice’s hands were large, and the soft and hard parts were distinct.
Ai wondered how he felt while holding her hand. She was a little interested.
She was glad the sunset was red, for perhaps she was blushing just from holding hands with Alice.
Their hands held together, they started working. She looked at Alice’s back and pulled Julie along and started walking.
Ah, feels nice. Ai suddenly thought that it was a nice feeling to go save someone with a group of buddies.
And so the group crossed the black surface.