Hellping

Part I

 

She thought it was a meteorite.

The moment Dee finished speaking, a light flickered in the western sky, and the next moment, Ai was blown away by a shockwave and heatwave.

“…What just, happened …”

She got up after tumbling over, and found the scenery had changed completely.

The graveyard was hot, as though it was set aflame. One could even see heat waves rising. Some dead trees were combusting spontaneously, and the area was filled with smoke and flying sparks.

There was a large, agape crater before her eyes.

“Ack ack ack ack…uuu, what happened?”

Dee, who was probably protected by those two, came running in and asked, coughing.

“It’s a meteorite, I think…”

“…But wasn’t there some kind of screaming before it landed?”

“Did you hear it too, Miss Dee…?”

“I think it was a man’s voice.”

“Gho~st~”

The voice came from the bottom of the crater.

“No way…”

“Witch~of~the~West!”

With those words, the smoke engulfing the crater was cast aside, and a man appeared.

At a glance, the man had the appearance of a veteran warrior. His short-cut silver hair was pointing into the sky like a hedgehog, and his scarred jacket wrapped around his equally scarred body. The scars were all old and deep, as if they had been carved into his soul as well. His fists were also wrapped in bandages made of asbestos.

And at this moment, he slowly pulled his fist out of the earth.

It was as though all this destruction was caused by that one fist…

“We got a troublesome guy here…”

Dee sounded as though she had chewed through a hundred bitter bugs.

“Do you know him?”

“Yeah…but I’m sure you know him too, Ai. Don’t you remember? At the bottom of the World Tower…”

“Ah!”

Ai remembered.

Thousands of sand pebbles. Ten thousand petals. Ai did see him at the base of the collapsing ‘World Tower’. No, not just him, the noblewoman behind Dee. They were the group of ‘justice’ led by Dee, ‘those who would save the world’..

“Is he your ally…Miss Dee?”

“Nope, strictly put, he’s more of an enemy…he has a grudge against me.”

“Eh?”

“The name is Destructive Fist. As you can see, he’s a Deformed who dreams of saving the world…”

“Why does he hate you, Miss Dee…?”

“Well…he’s going to save the world by ‘ending’ the Ghost that’s going to end the world.”

“Eh?”

“What are you whispering about?”

Bang! The man put his hands on the ground. With that, his huge body swooped up, and he hopped to the rim of the crater at once.

Dee’s expression changed dramatically to one of indifference, and she began to speak like the ‘Ghost’.

“It’s been a while, Destructive Fist. We were talking about you. Ah, what? Are you curious? Are you curious about what I said about you…?”

“Shut up. Shut up or I’ll kill that girl.”

Dee’s speech paused for a moment, as a scarred fist was raised sluggishly towards Ai.

“What are you…”

“I said shut up.”

Instantly, a bright red death ray (jab) passed under Ai’s ear.

The fist line continued to advance fifty meters, destroying several tombstones before finally stopping.

Ai could not move.

“—!—”

“That’s right, Ghost, don’t say anything. Just answer my questions.”

The man snatched Dee’s weapon away in an instant.

There was no doubt. He knew about the Ghost completely.

“There is only one question. Answer yes or no. No other answer allowed.”

“……”

“I ask you…Ghost, is it true that you have lost your invincible body and returned to being just a little girl?”

“…!”

Dee barely kept a poker face. She was still trying to fight at this last moment, with her weapon, her words, practically sealed off.

“Answer me, Ghost… yes or no.”

“—As long as I answer—”

“Yes! Or no! Talk!”

Boom! The man slammed both fists into the ground. That alone caused the air to shake, and the shockwave knocked Ai over.

Ai glanced at the two people behind her, hoping that they could save Dee at least. While they had been assisting Dee quietly the entire time, they merely relegated themselves to the sidelines this time..

“If you don’t want to answer, fine! But your friend will be burned to crisp!”

A wisp of steam rose from the man’s fist. The bandages made of non-combustible cloth heated up and a destructive heat wave filled the space.

“Stop!”

And immediately, Dee stood in front of Ai and spread her arms wide.

“S-sorr,…I’m sorry,… I beg of you, please don’t kill Ai,…”

His face was pale with fear, and even her fingertips were trembling.

In the end, Dee did not say yes or no.

But the answer was already conveyed by then.

The way she shivered and stood before her friend.

That was all the answer he needed.

“No way…”

The agitation was slowly drained from the man’s face.

With a fizz, there was a knock directed at Dee’s forehead, one that seemed juvenile compared to the previous one. The impact exploded on Dee’s little forehead, and caused a trail of blood to flow from it.

“Haha…hahaha.”

The man begins to laugh, slowly gaining conviction.

“Really, all of you, hahaha, you really seem to have lost your powers. Huh? Ghost?”

“You’re right…”

“Haha…hahaha, what is this? Hahaha, that Ghost is just a little girl now? The demon who destroyed my country… burned my hometown to the ground…is now just a, little kid?”

The man stumbled unsteadily before Dee and held out his hand tentatively, as if reaching for a star or a rainbow.

“Ohhh…ohhh…”

Dee gently leaned her cheek against his hand. The fingertip that was half charred from scars and burns, slid across her cheek that was as smooth as a lake surface.

“I can touch…I can touch…”

The man stroked his white cheek more carefully than he would touch any jewel or craft.

“How I’ve longed for this day.…”

At that moment—

“!”

The man’s hand grabbed the little head and threw it behind him. The hair tore, the skirt bloomed in a big circle, and the little scream fell to the bottom of the crater.

“Miss Dee!”

Ai saw that the man was trying to get back into the hole, and she, unable to think any further, grabbed a stick and tried to run over. But,

“Don’t do that.”

“Don’t interrupt.”

“Aah!”

Ai’s feet left the ground, and her body floated up as she did at the top floor of the World Tower.

“Both of you! Why aren’t you helping Miss Dee?”

“…We’re not obligated to save her, you know.”

“!? You’re prart of his group too?”

“Not exactly…but we won’t let you interfere…”

“! I don’t need your help anymore! Hey, you bandage monster! Look here!”

“………… You’re so pitiful, Ghost.”

The man completely ignored everything else in the outside world and looked at Dee alone. His appearance slowly changed, and began to display his ability.

At this moment, his fists were the embodiment of his fury. The bandages fluttered in the hot wind, and the similarly colored flames burned in Ai’s eyes.

He mocked.

“Hahahahahahaha!”

He mocked.

“Hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!”

He mocked for a third time.

“Hahahahahahaha! How lucky I am! There are fifty thousand people who want to kill you, and I’m the only one who can do it!”

“Ugh!”

The man grabbed Dee by the chest and lifted her up to his face. Dee’s neck and chest were tightened, her complexion pale, and she was practically frozen.

“Ugh…ack…fu…that hurts, ….”

“I see, I see. That’s good to know. But—, but the people you killed didn’t hurt like this either!”

“Hiii!”

There was the stench of clothes that were ironed and charred

The smell of burning wool, of burning animals. Dee could not determine whether it was the smell of burning clothes or her own burning.

Her back teeth clattered in fear like a malfunctioning lighter.

“Hahahahaha! The time has finally come! You! Evil! Shall pay for this! The time has finally come for justice to be served! The wicked shall be brought to justice! The righteous shall be saved! The time has come!”

“U, uuuu~!”

“Does it hurt? Are you scared, Ghost? Savor every bit of it! All that pain and fear! Everything is retribution for what you’ve done in the past!”

The man was crying.

Every time he tugged at Dee’s chest and intimidated her, he was crying as though he was the one experiencing the pain.

The crying man could not stop his torment of Dee.

Ai wanted to be there right away. Her pride, her worries, none of those mattered.

She just wanted to defeat the big man and save Dee.

And yet the victim Dee,

(Don’t come here!)

Dee’s eyes were telling Ai not to.

Dee’s eyes were telling Ai to stay out of it.

“Haha…hahahahaha.”

The man,

“Hahaha…hahaha…haha ….”

Gradually, the man’s mockery weakened, there was nowhere for him to vent his anger, and he was increasingly weary as he had lost his means to torture. A born warrior, he had no means of torture.

“Hahaha…this is…what I wanted? My revenge… is just like this…to hurt such a little girl?”

The man no longer kicked Dee, and vaporized his tears with his red-hot hands.

“So this is my…endpoint …”

With a thud, Dee finally fell to the ground. The man said with tears, as though he was dispossessed.

“Hey…why don’t you say something? Yeah? Ghost? Here’s a guy who’s been thinking…only about you, about you, just wanting revenge. A man whose everything was taken by you, left only with you, and about to lose you. Can’t you say a few words?”

“…, ….”

“Say something!”

Dee complied with the request. In spite of her wobbly body, she managed to stand up and looked the man straight in the eye.

Her eyes were as clear as lake water, and she looked at the distant moon.

The moon was a neatly split half-moon, and half of it was on the ground, looking at the man.

“Wh-What’s with your eyes …?”

The man was instantly intimidated.

“What, hey, where are you looking at? Look at me!”

“I’m looking at you. Destructive Fist. No. Machia Electus.”

“Y-you.”

The man’s eyes narrowed in surprise.

“You remember my name—”

“There’s only one thing I can say to you. If that’s alright with you, I wish for you to hear me out…”

Saying that, Dee collapsed to the ground, and rubbed her forehead against it.

 

“I’m sorry.”

 

It seemed the man was momentarily unable to comprehend, and did not seem to understand what was being said.

“W-What?”

“I’m sorry, Maccia Electus…”

“What are you say—”

“I’m sorry, Maccia, I’m sorry for destroying your country and killing your family.”

“Y-You!”

Maccia’s face turned fiery red the moment understanding dawned on him.

“How long are you going to keep fooling me! Of all times! At your last moments!? An-and you dare!”

Maccia did not move immediately, perhaps because he was too angry.

 

“I apologize!!”

 

“Retract that filthy lie right now!”

The lowered head was stomped on. But the words did not stop.

“I’m not lying, Marcia, I’m really sorry.”

“You…you!”

Maccia backed away as if he was afraid to touch her.

“You got to be joking! What do you mean, “I’m sorry”? You think that’s going to absolve you of your sins? Do you think that will make my anger go away? Do you think my family will come back to me?”

The man scorched the sky with his fists and turned his words into actual destruction.

“……”

“Answer me, Ghost!”

Dee slowly raised her head and threw her face and body into the flames of righteousness.

“You’re right…no matter how much I apologize or how sorry I am, the Dead won’t come back. It’s as you say…”

But still, Dee turned her jet-black eyes forward.

 

“But even so, I’m sorry!”

 

Tears spilled from her eyes as she was torn apart by her own sin. Nevertheless, Dee apologized profusely.

“All I can do is apologize! I’m sorry for killing your family! I’m sorry for ruining your life! I’m sorry for hurting you!”

“Stop!”

Maccia had turned pale and was shaking.

“Not now…you! After all this time!”

Maccia shouted. He punched his chest like a child exposed to the unreasonableness of the world and reached his hands forward to appeal.

“What’s wrong with you? You gotta be joking! Why are you apologizing now? Why now?”

The burly arms swung to the ground, forming a pothole.

“At this time!? You’re saying you’ve repented? You, Ghost, Witch of the West!?”

“…Yes.”

“You wished to destroy the world with whispers! You’re a demon who could do it with a smile on your face. The Ghost that laughs at the ravages of war! You’re saying that you’re sorry for what you’ve done!?”

“Yes.”

“You’ve lost all your power! Are you really just a little girl now?”

“Yes!”

“Stop messing around!”

Kaan! A fist slammed into the air. That action alone caused the space to be shaken..

“I don’t accept it. I don’t accept it…you should be evil to the end…evil should be rewarded with evil. I’m…I’m here to fight evil! I’m here to save the world! Like a warrior! And yet! And yet~!”

Kaan! Kaan! The fists tore through the space again, and the flames conjured up a gale. But none of that destruction reached Dee.

“Does this mean I’m the one who turned ‘evil’!!?”

Kaakaan!  Two fists were swung at Dee, but that justice did not reach Dee. The fists only grazed her white cheek, hitting the air.

“What did… you reflect for…you wouldn’t let me be a warrior… you turn my ‘dream of saving the world’… into rotten revenge…”

The smell of burning flesh and blood began to waft out between the overly clenched fists . Maccia’s fists began to lose control, and even he was starting to burn up.

“And I want to say sorry for that too.”

“…………Enough, with the apologies…”

After a few seconds of silence, Maccia slowly raised his upper body.

“…Die.”

The shimmering fingertips touched Dee.

“…That’s enough. I don’t have to be righteous…I’ll kill you, and then myself…”

Maccia’s body bursts into flames. He walked forward like a flaming demon.

“Ahh… no, I was never righteous to begin with…I would have congratulated you if I were …”

Maccia trudged along like a lost child.

“”It’s okay…I’m content as long as you disappear…it doesn’t matterfine with that.”

Even the non-combustible bandages were burned away. Maccia extended his fist slowly, as if to touch the treasure.

Dee wiped the tears on his fist. The tears made a small sizzling sound and quickly disappeared.

“”I’m sorry…Maccia…”

“No more…apologies…”

“No,… that’s not what I mean,… sorry Maccia. I can’t disappear with you,…”

The flaming fists stopped abruptly.

“What?”

“I was willing to let you kill me…but now I can’t give you any more…”

Dee spoke like a mother telling a child it was impossible to reach for the stars.

“……”

“” I still have a purpose. I still have a reason not to die.”

For the first time, Dee’s gaze left Maccia, which caused him to falter greatly. Dee was not looking at Maccia, she was looking in the direction of the school.

“And if I disappear, some will cry…”

Dee said, finally looked at Ai, the noblewoman, and the boy, and gave an earnest smile.

“So. I can’t die.”

“……”

There were no words other than ‘despair’ to describe his expression.

“…ku…ah…a, ah…aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh~!!!”

Maccia was despairing like a devil confronted by this angelic smile. Thousands of thoughts seemed to explode in his chest and cause his words to remain stuck in his throat.

 

“That’s not fair!”

 

Maccia yelled like a child. He spilled tears and cursed the unreasonable state of it all, as if he had forgotten a decade of his life.

“That’s despicable! Why, why! Why do I have to feel this way! You, you’re unfair! Despicable! What are you saying now! What! What! What!”

His fist lifts again, inching toward Dee.

“Why don’t! You at least finish! What you started! You dare say you want to live, even now! You say you have a reason to live! What about me? What am I going to do? I’ve lost my justice! I’ve become evil! I can only die! I’ve lost everything! And you’re begging for your life! “Because there’s more to me than you’!!”

With a thump, his fist touched Dee’s heart.

“Can’t you at least disappear with me…?”

“I’m sorry…”

Dee took his hand, letting a single tear spill.

“I can’t…be…with you, you know.”

The scorching fist had already lost its heat and did not hurt Dee’s body.

“You are…the worst. You can’t even…be a proper antagonist…you’re the worst kind of evil ….”

“I’m sorry. … I’m sorry. …”

Dee gently laid her cheek against his burnt and scarred knuckles.

Ten years. The murderous relationship ended at that moment.

Maccia softly looked at the bird-like girl perched in his fist and muttered.

“… Oh, so the Ghost I wanted to kill was long gone…”

“Yes….”

Dee then gently kissed Maccia’s fist, and Maccia responded by gently stroking Dee’s cheek.

No one, not even them, knew what these gestures meant.

“Goodbye Ghost… you are indeed gone… my revenge is over…”

And with that, Maccia wandered away.

He was about to leave the crater and back to the west side of the cemetery.

“…Maccia, where are you going now?”

“It’s obvious…my purpose is over. There’s no reason for me to be here anymore. …”

“Then!”

Dee ran over and stopped in front of Maccia.

“Then you’ll have to help me!”

“Help you?”

“Yeah—we’re witnessing the birth of a new world.”

Dee confidently extended her hand.

“But we’re still weak. So help us, Maccia Electus.”

“You….”

Maccia looked so dumbfounded that he could not even speak.

“You’re…really…inscrutable, Dee Ensy…even though you’re back to being a little girl, you seem more arrogant than before….”

“Ehehe.”

Dee smiles in the cutest way possible in the world.

“…I’m not going to fall for that.”

He said, sounding as if he had no regrets.

“……But I’ll be watching you. I’ll always be watching you from the edge of the wilderness. When you become the Ghost again, know that my fist will return as well.”

“That’s fine.”

Dee clenched her right hand and gently raised it forward. and Maccia did the same and did a little fistbump.

Dee then returned to Ai.

“Hehe…I’m back.”

Ai welcomed Dee head-on.

“Miss Dee!

“Oops.”

Dee, Dee Ensy, was definitely there. With an ordinary body, she had overcome death and returned. The significance of it was completely different from when she was the invincible Ghost. At this point, Dee had no unique ability. The only weapon she had was her ‘whisper’, and with that little power, she stopped a single “evil”.

But…

“You idiot, Miss Dee you idiot! That’s so dangerous!”

“No, erm—Ai, are you mad at me?”

“Of course I am!”

For every moment till then, Ai’s heart had been frozen like an ice cube. Every time the man’s fist fizzled by Dee, Ai had the urge to charge over to save Dee. However, Dee kept glaring at her, “Don’t come!”. She told Ai it was her own issue..

Ai knew what Dee was trying to do, and she was aware of Dee’s thoughts. This was not the first time it happened. She understood that the apology was necessary for Dee to be able to live.

But it At this moment, it did not matter to Ai.

“?”

Dee was bewildered, and tilted her head in wonder.

“Miss Dee…don’t you know…how I felt looking at you…like, don’t you understand how I felt…when you were about to die …?

“…You’re saying such words to me?”

Dee sounded really really incredulous.

“I’m sorry for making youYou’re the one who always pushed Julie and Scar to achieve their dreams, and now you’re saying … that?”

“!”

The words pierced Ai’s heart.

“I’m sorry for making you worry. But this is my dream. No matter how much you worry about me, no matter how much you tell me to stop. I’m not going to.”

Ai was dazzled by Dee’s apology. She felt Dee was walking on the right path, that she herself was on the wrong path, being obtuse, and she wanted to dig a hole and hide in it.

But the situation was no longer stopping, leaving Ai behind.

“Oh, yeah, Dee Ensy, I’m sure the guys behind will tell you this.”

“…What?”

Maccia suddenly started talking as if he remembered.

“I saw the Coven on the way here.”

“!”

Dee’s face changed.

“The Witch Independent Justice Troupe (Coven)!? You saw those miracle-crushing hyenas?”

“Y-yeah.”

“That’s ridiculous… I knew it would come one day, but it’s too soon! … They were on the other side of the continent five days ago!”

“You’re telling me…but they just appeared in the wilderness only thirty kilometers away from here… wait, you don’t know at all?”

Dee was no longer listening.

“That’s enough! If I still had my old body, I could fly to inform everyone at a time like this!”

Ai had no idea what Dee was talking about.

But she could feel Dee’s anxiety.

Ai had a bad premonition.

It was one that smelled far more severe than the one they had just barely escaped from.

“Ai! Run to school right now—now, wait! Look for Alice—”

“W-Which way?”

Ai did not probe any further as she got ready to run at any given moment, only to feel like she almost tripped.

And as if to mock the two panicked people.

 

A siren sounded in the sky of Ostia.

 

“W-What is that sound?”

“It’s here—”

At that moment, the pebbles on the ground began to shake.

The vibrations grew stronger with each passing second, and finally even the tombstones began to shake.

“Ai, we have to go!”

“Yeah, but, eh?”

They took each other’s hands and started running.

“W-What’s going on?”

“Shut up and run!”

The vibrations grew louder and louder and the sirens created a wall of sound. It seemed the source of the noise was right behind them, and Ai, driven by fear, forcibly turned her head to look behind.

She saw it.

“!”

She saw that ‘thing’, a monster eating everything that would look back at it, and at that moment, both of them were devoured.

They were not permitted to make even the slightest resistance.

 

Part II

 

—uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu—!!

They had noticed that ‘thing’ when it was seven kilometers away from Ostia.

“Ahhh, test test, mic test. Do you hear me?”

“Shut up! Stop right now!”

“Sounds like you can hear me. Thanks for your cooperation.”

“Shut up!”

The equipment for the Ostia guards was truly shoddy. The man serving as captain was riding right alongside that ‘thing’, shouting at the top of his voice.

“Hey! That truck…, no, train…no. Argh whatever! That ‘thing’ over there! Stop!”

The guard captain could not find the appropriate term to describe it. It was a car, a train, a horse, a man, an incomprehensible mass.

The only thing he could understand was the threat.

“Hey, stop! Damn it! You’re going to run us into the city!”

Reluctantly, the captain pulled the trigger of his shotgun. The slugs, which could kill a bear in one hit, were no better than toy fireworks when facing it.

To describe it, it was a lump of meat and machinery.

A cheetah’s legs, a car engine, a sailboat’s sail, a praying mantis’ sickle. It was a giant fast-moving object that was ana amalgamation of all these things, one that would appear in a child’s nightmare.

“I’m begging you, please stop~!”

The guard’ cries went unheeded, of course.

The ‘thing’ then charged into the city of Ostia on its hooves, tires, and tentacles.

The people who had gathered at the distribution center instantly disappeared under the huge body.

The guard captain screamed like a maniac.

 

At the same time, in the town hall.

—uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu—!!

“Someone do something about the owner of this damn siren right now!”

Bendo Gram was shouting, his perfectly set bangs disheveled.

“I don’t care if you got to use bombs, cannons, anything! What’s the guard captain doing?”

Behind him, the staff whispered,

“Hey, sounds like this whole thing is the work of Coven.”

“No way…why are the Witch’s people here…?”

“What do we do? We’re going to get killed…no, it’s going to be worse than death…”

“You people there! Enough with the idle talk and get a messenger! Get every citizen to the town hall!”

Bendo clicked his tongue loudly, emphasizing his frustration and shouting at the people around him.

A cloud of dust could be seen on the cityscape beyond the window. The smoke traversed the city as it pleased, and somehow made a sharp turn when it reached the graveyard. It made another turn on the main street, and each time it turned, screams could be heard in the air.

“I didn’t think…you’d be so forceful…you underestimate me…I’ll never forgive you… How dare you… attack my town?”

Bendo swore as he clawed at the window sill, almost crushing it.

“? M-Mayor? Is that thing—”

Then it completed its final turn.

“Coming to us ….”

The centipede’s legs, each one made of a different creature, rumbled on the ground.

“…I’ll never forgive you.”

“M-Mayor! Let’s run!”

The ‘thing’ swallowed the city hall in a straight line, ignoring roads, buildings, and everything else.

“I’ll never forgive you!”

Bendo’s cry was not heard by anyone.

 

However, that ‘thing’ did not hurt anyone. The legs that supported the giant body moved with precision, as if each one had a will of its own, and passed the obstacles like the wind. If someone with good eyesight had witnessed the scene, they would have noticed that several people in particular had been taken from the path it took.

“Ladies and gentlemen, dear citizens of Ostia, please listen to this broadcast.”

The loudspeakers and parrot heads atop the ‘thing’ started to blare loudly.

“We are the Witch Independent Justice Troupe (Coven). We are the Witch Independent Justice Brigade, and I am the executive representative, Madame Express Legion’s Hive. We will like to inform you that we shall be handling the case henceforth.”

The ‘Madame Express’, which had been hopping from house to house like a liquid, bowed its head.

“We are here to bring the guilty to justice.”

Softly skipping over the last hill, the Madame finally reached the destination. It was right in front of the black surface, in the middle of a crowded schoolyard. People ran away, and Madame’s huge body fit perfectly into the empty space.

“To that end, we are currently gathering the necessary people.”

And then the Madame collapsed.

What had barely resembled a train crumbled into pieces. The building materials that used to be walls reassembled themselves into tables, and the furry tigers ran and became carpets. The ground was covered with cotton fibers, and various deformed animals slit their throats, staining the carpet red. The red oak pillars rose up with a roar, and the walls formed by themselves.

The schoolyard quickly turned into a deformed hall.

The hall had seats for the audience, for the defense, for the accused, and for the judges.

The last task was to spit out a few people. Ai, Alice, Julie, Scar, and dozens of other people were rolled into the hall. It was the same people Madame had just taken.

Then, in the middle of the hall, the presiding judge’s seat rose up. A man was spat out. He was a thin man with an unhealthy complexion, his psychotic looking eyes narrowed and he leered. His body was covered in a jet-black robe that could not be stained by anything, and on his forehead was a legal chain made of pure gold. His name was engraved on it, along with the slave chains on him. Shaun Sullivan. The look truly did not fit him. He resembled a barbaric youth who had killed a millennium old king, arrogantly putting on a crown.

Shaun scanned the hall, ensured that everyone was seated, and raised his hand..

“—Now, the Witch trial shall begin.”

Kan, kan, kan.

 

+

 

Ai did not know what was going on.

Just moments ago, she was talking to Dee in the graveyard when there was a sudden siren, and she was swallowed by a large object. She had no idea as to why mere minutes later, she was taken to such a place.

The chairs and desks before her were neatly lined up in an orderly fashion. There was no such place in Ostia, so where was she? Did the monster have the power to carry people far away in an instant? So she wondered, only to spot the black surface in the middle of the hall

Did that mean they were in the middle of the schoolyard?

“I don’t know what’s going on…”

“It’s all her work…”

Dee replied, cupping her head in pain.

The Madame Express Legion’s Hive, the locomotive, this courthouse, it’s all one person.”

“Eh?”

Ai stood up involuntarily. The chair then followed her and basically said, ‘Make yourself comfortable’. On a closer look, the tables and floor in the hall were moving like living creatures, breathing.

“Kya?”

“These things are harmless, for now. …”

It seemed Dee was used to it, thanks, she mumbled, and sat down in her chair.

“There are all kinds of Dead people who can move. In the old days, those with ingrained common sense people wouldn’t be able to move with their heads blown off, but nowadays people can move even if they are bones—and then there are some who can control prosthetic eyes and hands even if it’s not their bodies. Madame has reached the pinnacle of this skill. She’s able to recognize everything she owns as part of her body.”

“Hu-huh…?”

Thus was the true form of this apparition, the Madame Express Legion’s Hive.

“As is common with such people though, her ego has collapsed and she is now being used by these guys …”

“Those guys?”

Dee answered with a glance. The man, Shaun Sullivan, stood on the platform in the center opposite the black surface.

At this moment, he lowered the gavel.

“—Now, the Witch trial shall begin.”

 

Part III

 

“—But—”

Kan, kan, kan.The gavel echoed throughout the hall, and the first thing Shaun did was to grin and declare, like a thug licking his tongue in front of his prey.

“—We have to wait for the jury to arrive. Apologies, but we’re adjourning immediately.”

Kan! The gavel cracked loudly.

At the same time, Dee raised her hand. At the same time!

“Your Honor! I’d like a meeting with the explainer! Also, I’d like to get some rebuttal material, so please allow me to leave the courtroom during the break!”

“No, that’s too much trouble.”

“Shut up, Shaun! Give me permission! It’s a reasonable request!”

“Tch…I’ll grant permission for the audience and the defense—are you satisfied, ‘Witch of the West’?”

Bang! Dee abruptly stood up and looked around. Around her were Alice, Julie, Scar, Class 3-4 and the city’s core people, about thirty of them in total.

‘Tihaerus! Go to Martinez and get Gel and Clear here! Hurry! I’ll explain later! Weitz! Got to the town hall and get all my notes!”

“Okay.” “Understood!”

Not a single one of them asked why or said no. They all followed Dee’s instructions without asking any questions. They had their game face on.

Ai was the only person who was not prepared for this.

Dee took a breath after giving the instructions and turned to Ai.

“Ai, calm down and listen carefully.”

“Yes…”

“They’re here to prosecute you.”

 

+

 

“What do you mean …?”

It came too quickly for her to falter.

“What is going on …?”

Ai was simply just numbed by the events taking place before her.

Dee cleared her throat once and was about to speak.

 

“Shall I answer that question for you?”

…When had she been there?

A girl in a maid’s uniform had suddenly appeared between Dee and Alice. The girl was about eight years old, and her age alone was unusual, but what was most unusual was her hair. Silver hair, faintly white, not of natural color; it resembled the white hair of an old woman.

“Nice to meet you all. I apologize for my behavior earlier. My name is Madame Express Legion’s Hive. I will now serve as your briefing officer. I would like to be acquainted with you.”

“Madame…”

Ai gulped.

“So you’re saying you’re…the body of this ‘thing’?”

“More or less. To be precise, this ‘thing’ is my actual body.”

Madame smiled ‘apologies for the inconvenience’ and thanked them for their attention, then looked at them as if she had realized her mistake.

“Ah, please make yourself at home, even though you are sitting on me. Would you like a drink? Please let me know if you need anything. It is my duty to relieve you of your inconveniences after all. ”

With these words, the chair moved, and she prodded her knees as if to say, “Sit, sit. At the same time, a drink server appeared by the girl’s side and started serving drinks.

“Have you received your drinks? I shall explain then.”

With the words, a blackboard protruded behind the girl. By this time, almost everyone had understood that this apparition before them—the courtroom, was this girl.

“We are Coven—and as the name implies, an independent judicial troupe created by Master Witch.”

Words like “Coven” and “independent” were written all by themselves on the blackboard.

“We bring crimes to justice, regardless of time, place, or target.”

“Crimes…”

The words stabbed Ai’s heart.

“What is…this crime you speak of?”

Dee was about to interrupt the conversation with a flabbergasted look on her face, but Ai stopped her, and personally asked the question..

“What crime… do you judge me for…judge people for?”

Madame softly bowed in silence and proudly replied,

“That is, of course, the crime of ‘saving the world’. We are the only organization that can judge that.”

“What is that?”

For a moment, Ai did not understand what she was talking about.

“Are you saying that…saving the world is a crime?”

“Yes, Master Ai.”

“…I don’t understand.”

“Would you like an explanation?”

“Of course.”

Understood, Madame said, bowing gracefully.

“Orders aside, where do I start—of course, since you are Master Alice’s friend, I can omit many details here. I do not know if you are aware of this, Master Ai, but the act of saving the world might not actually save the world itself.”

“This is…”

Ai nodded. Even if someone wished to save the world, it was that person’s world alone. Ai knew this from her journey so far.

For example, if one wished to return to the world of fifteen years ago in order to ‘save’ this world.

Ai gulped and nodded her head. Even if an individual wishes to save the world, it is only that individual’s world. Ai knew this from her journey so far.

For example, if one wished to return to the world of fifteen years ago in order to ‘save’ this world.

However, only the Living would be saved by this action, and the Dead that remained active would be vanquished.

In the same way, even if one saved the world of the Dead, the world of immortality, or the world of Class 3-4, there would be people who were not saved.

“You are indeed a friend of Master Alice’s. You understand things very quickly. It saves me a lot of time.”

Madame smiled innocently.

“In the past—before that moment fifteen years ago, such a wish would have been meaningless. Now, unfortunately, even the most ridiculous wishes can come true…which is a truly scary thing. The rules of the world will change—and thus, we are a group of people who are trying to prevent them from getting out of control.”

She put his hand on her chest and bowed her head, showing her pride.

“I wonder if you have a general understanding of our philosophy now?”

“Yes, more or less….”

And she understood the problem.

“…Can you tell me one thing?”

“Yes. What is it?”

“You judge those who save the world. Right?”

“This understanding is correct.”

“Then who are you to judge?”

“Well, that is a harsh statement.”

Madame as though she was hit in a critical spot.

“You go around like this, judging the beings that are against the world, but isn’t that also because you want to ‘save the world’? In the end, it’s all the same, isn’t it?”

Ai felt a feverish surge as she said. It was energy fueled by rage.

Madame said she was going to judge others. And yet, she was doing the very thing she should be judged for.

The lack of self-awareness was incredibly ugly to Ai—it was as if she was looking at her old self.

“You are absolutely right, Master Ai. That is why we use the judicial method.”

“……”

“We shall never operate as individuals, and shall continue to work as ‘everyone’. This also includes the prosecution and the defense. We always listen to their statements.”

“Isn’t that also a self-serving argument …?”

The moment Ai asked this question,

“Ufufufufu.”

Madame started laughing.

“What’s with the sudden—”

“No, pardon me. Ufufu, you are correct, perhaps it is selfish of me.”

Ai felt her spine tingle. It felt like she was facing the true nature of a monster who had been talking rationally, only to suddenly shed its skin.

“Well, yes. But we shall call this ‘fair’…ufufu.”

Madame laughed. She was smiling with the conviction that she was doing the right thing.

It was a smile that Ai remembered as well.

“I shall not ask for more. Any more concessions, and we shall be unable to prevent the world’s destruction…which defeats the purpose of it all…ufufu.”

Madame has omitted everything else from her mind. She never questioned her own righteousness, as though it was what it was.

‘If you have a problem, and find it unreasonable, perhaps you may try and defeat it with more unreasonableness? Ufufufufu. Of course, we shall resist.”

“…That’s enough.”

“Are there any more questions?”

“…Yes, I have nothing more to ask…”

“Is that so—perfect timing. It seems the jury has arrived…”

Then Madame suddenly directed her eyes to a completely unrelated direction, and began to mumble.

“…Please wait, Master Noellfaen. You cannot go in there like that. Ah, ah, you too, Master Destructive Fist,. That is my precious flank, ah, ah, ah, please stop—kya—”

The next moment, the hall was engulfed in violence.

First there was a roar on the right outer wall, and then an arm sprouted from it. The red oak wall, sturdier than any metal, was easily dented by the blow, and shattered by the next one.

Maccia came out of the rising smoke, along with his powerful arms.

Holding her flank, Madame protested to the man,

“Wh-What are you doing, Master Destructive Fist? What do you think you are doing to my precious flank?”

“It’s just a mosquito bite to you anyway, right?”

“That is not the problem!”

While speaking, the next moment of violence came.

An overwhelming light sprinkled down from the top of the atrium. In the center of the rainbow circle was a boy, simply floating there.

“Master Noellfaen…I beg of you, please use the entrance.”

“? Isn’t this the gate?”

“…This is fine.”

The boy, who acted and looked like an angel, landed in the jury box. The man sat next to him.

“I brought Dust along too. It’s too much trouble for her to travel long distances.”

Beside him was the red noblewoman supported by a force field of seven colors.”

Kan~ kan~ kan~!

“Finally, the bastards are here.”

Shaun, seated in the presiding judge’s chair, raises his gavel lazily.

“Then let the court begin.”

Kan!

 

“Ehh.”

Ahem, Nodding his head, Shaun fiddled with the mallet in his right hand.

“…Erm.”

Ahem. Shaun cleared his throat again, slapping the table with his left hand, searching the sides and below for something. He repeated this gesture for quite a while, and brazenly stated,

“Erm, so, where do we start?”

Like we know. Everyone’s cold gaze was directed at him, but he did not seem offended at all.

Madame was the one who panicked.

“Sh-Sho, what is wrong with you? I made you a cheat sheet before!”

“Shut up, old hag. I’ve lost it. And don’t call me Sho, damn it.””

“W-What a horrible thing to say! What is wrong with you, Sho…you used to be so cute…you’ve become such a horrible person. …”

“Just do something about it, old hag. I said I’ll work.”

For some reason, Madame smiled at the final words, took out a piece of paper and handed it to Shaun.

Ai and the others were wide mouthed as they had witnessed it for the first time. Those who were used to it showed disdain, but nobody stopped them.

Shaun, who had gotten his hands on a piece of paper, looked annoyed,

“Erm, I swear—we believe in God…ehh, we, believe in people. we, believe in the law—I believe in the true…de? Deject?…oi old hag, how do you read this? (scorn!)…ah yes, scorn. Adding the pronunciation, old hag—we scorn upon deceit and misunderstandings—the (incitement) of misunderstanding—and execute justice—”

“—Ai—Ai! Over here! I’m calling for you!”

Shaun was being so lazy as he declared, and Dee seized the opportunity to hurry over, dragging along Alice like he was garbage.

“W-What is it, Miss Dee? We have to listen…”

Ai, who had been ready to take in every word Shaun said, protested.

“…No, you don’t have to pay attention to that. You know that right, Ai? He’s a terrible speaker, and it’s all just a pretext anyway. Look, the jury’s asleep at the wheel. Just listen to what I have to say.”

“H-huh. What is it?”

“We’re gonna get you out of this.”

Dee stared at Ai firmly in the eyes.

“Ai, I know you’re worried about what Madame said, but don’t worry about it right now. If you’re wrong, that means they’re just as wrong. Don’t take it so seriously—am I right, Alice?”

Dee tapped Alice on the shoulder.

“Yeah, I know.”

“You two….”

Dee and Alice were trying to help Ai, which caused Ai’s heart to race with joy. But at the same time, the knowledge that the warmth would shatter her dreams caused her to cool off..

“Come on, buck up. Don’t be scared. Just deny whatever they ask. Don’t answer them without discussing this through with them…hey, Alice, say something.”

“Ahh, though I don’t really understand what’s going on either.”

Alice seemed confused and bewildered as well. Still, he patted his own chest, trying to assure Ai.

“You’re going to be fine, don’t worry.”

“I’m sorry…I’m sorry…”

Both Alice and Dee had good reason to hate Ai, but they stuck their necks out for her. She was so delighted, and yet felt so unbearable..

“—We believe in justice.”

—We believe in justice. The jurors chanted, and the oath ended.

“—Thus ends the oath of the presiding judge of the day, Shaun Sullivan.”

Madame took over the proceedings, looking relieved to the point of tears. Apparently, Shaun would be the presiding judge and she would be the prosecutor and facilitator.

“Now then, I shall introduce the jury—Starting from the left seat, Master Destructive Fist, Master Noellfaen, and Master Dust Believer. Three members, the minimum number of people required in attendance.

Seated over there were a few Deformed.

A man with flaming fists. A boy who simply floated. A red noblewoman whose identity remained unknown.

“We are also fortunate to have more than three jurors this time—Master Witch of the West. This way, please.”

“Eh? Me too?”

Dee pointed to herself with a puzzled look, oh yeah, and clapped her hands,

“W-What’s going on?”

“No, those jurors they speak of are just people who exist beyond the law. Like say, , a representative of a great power—or someone who has survived a trial.”

“That’s you, isn’t it, Miss Dee?”

“Yes, I was prosecuted when I was the Ghost, but I slipped out. Nobody could catch me back then. Lemme tell you, Alice got prosecuted once because, but he survived thanks to his slick tongue and my support.”

It was no wonder they were both so familiar with it.

“Good chance.”

Dee smiled gleefully.

“I’m going to go talk to the jury. They’re all like my minions now, so I’m going to try to convince them to join me…”

“Wait.”

A bandaged hand went up.

“That little girl has already been disqualified from being a juror.”

“Eh? Is that so?”

“Oh, you didn’t notice when you brought her here? She’s no longer an invincible Ghost, he’s just a little girl with a normal body.”

Speaking of which…Madame ponders. At the same time, the chairs that Dee and Ai were sitting on shook unnaturally.

“It’s true. She has weight.”

“That Maccia…”

Dee gritted her teeth tightly. Maccia in turn took her stare head on, his face clearly stating ’I’m not letting you do as you . I’m not sure if it’s a good idea or not. I’m not going to let you do what you want.

The other two did not particularly try to stop them.

“…Your minions sure are loyal…speaking of which, they never told us that the Coven’s approaching”

“Those guys~! I’m not going to talk to them anymore. …”

“Erm, apologies for keeping you waiting. Let us continue.”

The walls and floor shuddered, completely erasing the previous commotion, and Madame resumed her speech.

“Ehh—the juror’s privilege the Witch of the West has shall be revoked—now that the jurors have been decided, the accusations will be read out. There are two. The first one is about the mysterious black surface that has appeared here.”

Madame pointed to the center. Right over there, the black surface continued to swirl, ignoring the buzz around it.

“We shall seal this black surface.”

Madame quickly waved her hand to silence the protesting voices of the citizens.

“The other accusation is the revival of Alice Color. These are the two cases brought forth by us. The accused…”

Ai clenched her fists. She waited for her name to be called. She strained her legs, hoping not to shame herself.

However, in the next moment, Ai’s resolve was completely in vain.

 

 

“Alice Color, step forward.”

 

Part IV

 

“—The defendant has once died and was buried by the Gravekeeper, only to be completely revived. This is an unprecedented event, a terrifying phenomenon that will change the rules of the world…”

Madame spoke, but her words did not register in Ai’s head at all.

“—Furthermore, he is also closely involved with this black surface, and undoubtedly a central figure of the ‘world of class 3-4’”

Alice’s back was before Ai. He stood idly at the defendant’s table, fiddling with the chains on his wrists as he listened to Madame’s speech.

Ai saw everything that had happened since then, and yet did not see them. Her eyeballs witnessed them, but her brain refused to comprehend. Whether the fact was that Alice was summoned to the . So when he was called to the defendant’s seat, and when the chains were put on his hands, Ai just stood there, trapped in emptiness.

—Why?

This thought dominated her mind.

Why is he there? It should be me who is there.

He wasn’t the one who committed the crime.

“Ai, get a hold of yourself!”

Suddenly, Dee shouted and shook Ai’s shoulder. No, it was not sudden at all. Dee had been talking the entire time, but Ai had completely missed the sight.

“Miss Dee…”

“Ai, please get a grip!”

Once she regained awareness, the world became more saturated. Color returned to Dee’s face, and angry shouts filled the air around her. All the citizens of Ostia (with Julie in the mix) were yelling at Madame and the others for their unruliness.

The fear returned.

Ai grabbed Dee’s hands, shook her body and raised her voice,

“Miss Dee, what should I do… What should I do, Mr. Alice?”

“Calm down!”

Pak! Ai got slapped.

“—Also, his objective of ‘ending the world’ has been achieved, and there is a possibility of distorting the world now—eve-everyone, silence, please! W-who threw the tangerine peel?”

Madame’s speech continued. The citizens of Ostia were booing repeatedly, Julie throwing tangerine peels.

“Miss Dee…, why is Mr. Alice being accused! Why not me!?”

“…Maybe they just based it on the rumors in town. The rumor has it that Alice revived on his own. There is no mention of Ai’s name at all.”

“The-they can prosecute based on unverified information?”

“Yes. That’s them. That’s good enough for them.”

Not to be outdone by the boos, Madame turned up the speakers on the wall to maximum volume and finished her speech.

“—For the aforementioned reasons! The defendant’s guilt seems clear to us! Therefore, we demand that he and the black surface shall serve a ‘sealed sentence’!”

Silence. The hall fell silent.

A sealed sentence.

As the name implied, it was a punishment that was heavier than the death penalty in this world, to be sealed away forever.

Doh!

The silence was broken as if it existed only to accentuate the shouting that followed, and the hall was filled with rage.

“Bullshit! Does that even make sense!”

“Don’t be ridiculous! You’re getting too greedy after silencing us! Return Alice to us!”

“Yeah yeah! Return Alice to us!”

Return to us! Return to us! The audience continued to shout in unison, kicking the fence off with their boots pounding on the fence as bloodthirsty men rushed downstairs.

 

“—! Stop it!”

 

Alice, who had been silent for a long time, shouted only at that moment. The men however ignored him and charged to the hall below,

“Ahhh…oops.”

There was a sound like a car running over fruit that echoed through the air

“U-ugh! What is this!?”

One of the men (who turned out to be Julie) shouted, not knowing why he was in such a position. They were being bitten by tiger scissors that were formed from the floor.

“Ugh…unrelated people…ugh…please be quiet. If you make too much noise, I shall purge you from this world, you know, okay?”

Madame looked as if she had something in her mouth as she spoke. A smile of righteousness danced on her cheek, one that would achieve her righteousness with any means necessary. There was not a trace of the intelligence she had shown Ai and the others. It was as if she was dealing with a beast or a plant, and that she did not acknowledge her opponent.

“Keep quiet and watch if you do not wish to be disposed of like a pest who has just been spotted. Hold your breath, keep your head down, lay low and live on.”

With a swoosh, the fangs retracted and the floor returned to its original state. By that time, there was no more resistance.

“…This is what they are, Ai.”

Dee whispered secretly, holding her sore flank.

“They’ve got laws, they’ve got courts, they’ve got everything they need to look fair, but it’s all lies. They just want to crush miracles in a way that appeals to them. They’ll accept any compromise and use any cowardly trick to do so…because they too want to ‘save the world’, and are just nothing but monsters…right!.”

Hmph. Dee was motivated, snapped her fingers to make a sound, but just could not.

“I’ll step forth as the defense lawyer, and Ai shall assist. It’s nothing, no matter who the accused is, we’ll have to do what we have to. We need to save both Alice and the black surface from them.”

“Y-yes.”

Okay, good girl. Ai was finally relieved when Dee patted her on the head.

Madame breathed a sigh of relief, satisfied that the hall was finally quiet.

“—Now, let us resume. Now, let me ask the accused a few questions. Do you admit that the accusation is true and do you plead guilty? I’d like you to answer—”

“Objection!”

Dee immediately raised her hand.

“You’re making it sound like the cross-examination is over, but I want to protest the accusations.”

“Oh my oh my, erm—who was that in the audience?

“Dee Ensy, his defense attorney.”

Dee glared at Madame, not trying to hide her hostility.

“Yes, Master. Dee. Could you please file your objection after I question the defendant?”

“Then what’s the point of being a defense attorney? I want to discuss the validity of the accusation itself. Can’t I even do that?”

“No, no, of course you can. It is just a matter of rationality. You see. No matter how off putting our accusation is, there is no need for further debate if the defendant accepts it, is there?”

“That’s…”

A perturbed glint flashed in Dee’s eyes.

“…That’s true, but…”

“Is that so?”

“…Can you repeat the accusation, please?”

“Yes, gladly—the first crime is the miracle of creating the black surface. The second crime is the revival of the Dead. Based on the aforementioned charges, we shall pass a sealed sentence onto the black surface and Alice Color. That shall be all.”

“You actually said them out…I get it though. I know what you’re getting at.”

Dee probably determined that there was no point dragging this matter out any longer. While her request was allowed, she remained uneasy, and bit her fingernails in frustration.

Ai could understand Dee’s feeling. She herself had a bad feeling about this. No matter how many traps she had checked, she just did not feel safe. She felt as though she was standing guard in the mouth of a monster, already trapped without knowing the moment she chose that route.

“Then Alice Color, do you acknowledge the aforementioned accusations?”

And her premonition came true.

 

“I do.”

 

Alice declared firmly.

“I plead guilty to all charges.”

Ai’s mind went blank.

 

Part V

 

From then on, the battle was no longer just a losing process.

No matter how unreasonable the accusation was, there was nothing that could be done if the accused admitted to the crime. The guilt was admitted and fixed.

Still, Dee kept struggling. She argued that though the ‘crime’ was determined, the ‘punishment’ was not. She argued that the punishment of sealing was too excessive, questioned the justification of the punishment, pointed out the problems with the execution, poked fun at the danger of misidentification, and even went so far as to say that she hated the haircut.

It was all to buy some time.

The purpose was soon conveyed to Madame, and Dee’s comments continued to be dismissed. That however did not deter Dee, who got increasingly agitated. She kept talking at full speed, honorifics, sarcasm, misuse, correct verbal usage, it was combat that went with anything as long as the following rule was obeyed, using words. It was the only weapon of the Ghost who tried to end the world with her words.

“—Now then, that shall be all for today.”

With a sigh, Shaun rattled his hammer. This man was brazenly dozing off in the midst of the battle between Dee and Madame.

“Ugh…”

Madame let out a frustrated groan.

Three hours had already passed since then, and the first star was shining above the hall.

“Tomorrow’s…ehh, nine o’clock, is that too early? How about we start at noon? Yes, I suppose we should continue at nine o’clock tomorrow. Yes…don’t give me that scary look, everyone.”

” Sho, please read this too. This.”

“What, old hag…what what?…Lemme see? ’This court shall hand over all legislation and related documents. Starting tomorrow, any questions that are answered in the documents shall be dismissed’. So it is written.”

“Tch, understood…”

“—Now then, the Court is adjourned!”

And so the first day of the Witch trial was over.

 

+

 

“What happened to opening the public hall to the public!?—ehh who cares about the processions! Get a grip! We’re at war!”

From the moment he was released, Bendo had been yelling at his lackeys. He ordered the main facilities near the school to be moved, new shelters to be set up, and citizens to be moved. He had been giving orders frequently since the trial began.

“Add reinforcements for security! Arm them with whatever weapons you can find to intimidate the enemy! Pull out the cannons from some history museum or whatever and point at those guys! Put some pressure on them!”

“B-But Mayor! What happens if they’re unhappy!? It looks like they’re only looking for Alice. That should be the most fortunate thing…”

“Are your brains all roses and rainbows!?”

Bendo told off his lackeys as they passed through the school’s main gate.

“They’re affiliated to the ‘Witches’! They’re the ones who’ll destroy countries in the name of great righteousness! Get rid of that naive idea right now!”

Next to him, Dee was huddling with the members of the black surface search association that was managed by her.

“—Tell those guys who are queuing up that there’s no way they can pass through the black surface now. It’s not going to be pretty if they’re going to sneak into Madame’s body.”

“Yes.”

“Tell them this is not a joke. They might actually get killed. If they die, they won’t be able to go past the black surface.”

“Yes.” The classmates answered vigorously. Dee looked up at Madame behind her, dismissing her classmate.

Madame was pulsating in front of Dee’s eyes.

There was no doubt about it.

Madame was getting bigger.

She had initially been the size of a building from the start, but the current Madame was clearly two or three times that size. Mortars and Gatling guns that were not seen earlier, were also set up on the embrasures, and there were countless alien monsters that looked like Lady’s children moving their tiny feet along the walls.

…I warned everyone just in case, but I guess nobody would want to enter such a thing, right?

Dee thought to herself, and turned to leave. She had to regroup with Julie, Scar and Ai, and discuss their plans for tomorrow.

Dee was naive.

She had omitted the fact that in the midst of everything, there was a certain soul that would decide to go in without a moment’s hesitation.

 

Part VI

 

The sun had long since set, and before her was a towering, black, deformed wall.

What was he planning?

She had to find out.

 

Ai hid right beneath the wall, waited for the searchlight  to pass as she looked up at Madame before her..

With her feet on the ground, Madame had transformed herself into a fortress. her tall walls opened with countless embrasures, various kinds of firearms she had never seen before scanning the streets below. Madame was still growing, flattening the abandoned buildings around her and transforming them into her own body.

Ai measured the distance between the searchlights and leapt into the gap. With a triangular leap, she kicked up the wall and crept into a small side hole where the wind was blowing incessantly.

It seemed Madame’s fortress was designed to resemble a human body. The courthouse was the heart. The watchtowers were the eyes. The walls were the abdomen and the floor was the feet. There were many exceptions, but that seemed to be the general structure.

In that case, she was probably inside the windpipe.

Haa! With one hand, she caught the ventilation fan that was spinning at high speed and snuck in through the gap. She did not bring her shovel, did not wear her Gravekeeper outfit, and was wearing the same shirt and skirt she wore during the day.

Gong, gong, gong. And behind her, the huge ventilation fan was whirring.

She could tell the building resembled a human body. However, this information would not help her to find Alice. Ai could not imagine a place that resembled a prison within a human body.

“…Maybe I should look for someone who might know?”

She found it.

Ai hid in the ventilation shaft and listened to the humming that approached.

One, two, three!

She removed the wire mesh, jumped down the aisle, went behind her opponent and twisted his arm. That was all Ai could do without the other person noticing.

But it was nothing to be proud of.

“Eh? That’s weird, I can’t move forward.”

Surprisingly, the man was still unaware of his predicament.

“Please be quiet.”

Ai whispered into the man’s ear, enduring the alcohol stench.

“Please take me to Mr. Alice. I won’t hurt you.”

The man turned around with hazy eyes and finally saw Ai in his sights.

Shaun Sullivan was clearly drunk.

“………Ugh.”

“If you throw up on my back, I’ll throw you out of the window.”

“…Don’t worry, I don’t have anything left to throw up…”

After that, Shaun suddenly started to vomit, and Ai carried him down the inside of Madame’s body. The infiltration was completely different from what she had originally imagined with the involvement of a hostage. The current situation was, to put it mildly, that of a drunken father’s caregiver.

“There…right …”

Shaun led the way with a few words. He was surprisingly obedient.

“You’re not trying to trick me with…are you?”

“Why would I?”

Vomiting, Shaun pulled out another bottle of liquor out of nowhere and tried to put it at his mouth.

“Hey!”

“Ah, wait, give it back.”

“—I thought you lost them all. Where did you hide it…”

“Arrrghhh, my drink!”

Putting down the bottle of liquor she had snatched, Ai went down the aisle.

“And yet. Hic.”

Shaun said, flailing his feet like a child.

“You’re a brave girl, walking into a monster like this all by yourself.”

“…Sorta.”

“I heard you’re half Gravekeeper, half human? I see~but well~that was amazing. I didn’t even notice when you took my back…hic”

It really was not something for Ai to be proud of, for any normal kid could have pulled it off.

“But well, I’m really jealous of that guy Alice. He even got a little girl like you come to his rescue.”

“……”

“No no no, it’s youth. I had a time like that too….hic”

Ai did not understand what Shaun was thinking. Even after she questioned him as to where Alice’s prison was, he just complied, and Ai could not smell any decit.

“You seem curious. little girl. Is it because I don’t resist?”

“… Yeah.”

“No, you can’t ask for that from a drunk, when the reason is that there’s no reason! Fufu~”

“I’m an idiot for asking you seriously…”

“Eh, little Ai, you are stupid? Woah…poor you…cheer up, will you?”

“Hmph!”

“Ow! Wait, little Ai! Why are you headbutting me!? Be nice to an uncle and a drunk! And double for me when I’m both!”

“…Please be quiet. You’re a hostage, after all.”

“Hmm? Are you worried about the old lady? Don’t worry. She’s sleeping.”

“…Is that so?”

The dead did not need to sleep, but some of them still did. They could not forget their habits from before they died, and they sleep as a tranquilizer.

The dead who sleep were usually bound by the common sense of the past, so it was a little surprising to Ai that Madame, who was so deformed, could sleep.

“Is it that unexpected for a seventy year old old hag to sleep early and wake up early—hic.”

She had been hearing lots of intermittent important information, which troubled her, but she continued to move on. She was curious as to what the relationship of Shaun and Madame were, why they were doing this.

—If it had been the old her, she would have prodded the matter and asked thoroughly.

But the current Ai had no such intentions. All she wanted to do was to go to Alice. That was when she resolved herself again.

“Ah, there there, that door. You can put me down now. …”

Oopsies, Shaun hopped off and pointed to the door before him.

—There was Alice on the other side.

“Phew, thanks. You helped me out..”

Shaun opened the door. Ai, who was not ready yet, involuntarily braced herself.

But what she found was not a prison.

It was like a child’s room. Brightly colored wallpaper, lots of toys, twirling decorations on the ceiling, and a fluffy carpet on the ground.

Shaun strode into the room and lay down on a pile of cushions.

“Thank you for your hard work~”

“What…is this place?”

“My room. Sorry for lying to you, I’m sorry I tricked you, but it’s not a trap, I just wanted you to carry me, so don’t worry.”

Ai was more confused than fooled. Was this childish looking room Shaun’s? it was no longer an issue of whether it was suitable for him.

Ai really wanted to ask him. About the significance of this room, their relationship, and what Shaun was thinking.

But,

“If you want to see Alice, just keep going up.”

Shaun said as he sank into a small pile of cushions.

“……Okay.”

“Here’s the key. If you don’t use it properly, you’ll wake up the old lady, so be careful.”

“…Thanks.”

“Well, take care, little Ai. I wish you all the best.”

“…You—”

—You want to let us escape?

Ai retracted her question at the last moment.

“What?”

“Nothing…don’t drink too much…”

“……Yeah.”

After hearing his strangely honest reply, Ai left the room.

 

+

 

……What should she ask?

It was as Shaun said. After leaving the children’s room, Ai climbed up the common iliac vein from the uterine vein, showed the key to the BBB gatekeeper, and kept going up to the top until she finally found the prison.

The prison was located at the head.

The accused, Alice, was trapped in a place where a human body would have a brain.

“You should at least knock when you go into someone’s room.”

“…I’m not in though.”

She really would find it difficult to call it a room. It was a real prison, the floor and ceiling were made of stone, taut iron bars, and a crude straw bed. Alice sat there, his eyes closed as his back faced the moon.

“Why is…this place in the head…?”

“Heh, you noticed. Not bad. Why then? Well, if we’re using the human anatomy for comparison, you can say that the skullcap is a prisoner, but then there’ll be questions as to whether the brain is the prisoner—”

“Wait, wait, please wait—please ignore what I said…there’s no need to talk about that now.”

Ai stopped Alice’s speech, holding her forehead. Why was this thing in the brain—she decided to forget this question for the time being.

“What are you planning?”

She grabbed the bars.

“Why did you plead guilty back then?”

“……”

“Please answer me!”

Alice looked at the moon above him and said something completely unrelated.

“It’s quite a smart move, isn’t it?”

He did not look at Ai.

“At least a moon for a prisoner who doesn’t know what tomorrow holds. Nice prison.”

“Mr. Alice!”

“I’ve been locked in a lot of places, and I can tell you this. The best place to hear the bugs and see the moon is in a jail cell.”

“Mr. Alice! Please look at me!”

Slowly, Alice turned his head to look at Ai.

“What were you thinking? Please answer me!”

“I can’t.”

“Y-you can’t!?”

He did not deny it, he said it was impossible.

“—Ar-Are you telling me that someone is keeping you silent? That has to be the case, right!?”

“No.”

“Then why?”

“Because I decided not to talk.”

Saying that, Alice looked at Ai with his pitch black eyes.

It was…

It might be impossible, Ai thought.

She felt that since Alice had resolved himself, he probably would not change his mind again.

Her knees buckled, and she sat down, clutching at the bars. The words caused her to turn limp.

“…You’ve changed.”

Alice’s expression resembled that of someone who had seen a horse with a broken leg.

“I thought you were someone who would go all ‘so what’ even in the face of the impossible…”

He was right.

He was supposed to be right.

The old her would not have believed Alice’s words, and would force him to say it out, or even drag him out of his jail cell…even if it was impossible, she would run off, firmly believing that she could…

But her heart refused to run.

“I don’t know anymore…”

She thought she was going to cry.

But no tears flowed.

She could cry at Alice’s grave. However, she could not cry in front of Alice, who was still alive.

She truly was a horrible creature.

“I don’t know…anymore. I don’t know how I’ve been living till now. . I don’t know how I’ve been dreaming, how I’ve been breathing, walking , running… everything, everything…I don’t understand everything at all…”

“……”

“It’s like I’m a bubble…my soul is gone somewhere…my heart isn’t here…I’ve searched and searched…but I can’t find it—say, Mr. Alice?”

Ai asked.

 

“Have you seen my heart?”

 

A long sigh drew a white cloud in the prison cell.

“…Is your dream such a big deal…?”

As the moonlight slid down Alice’s cheek, Ai wondered if her lost tears had been there.

“So how are you going to live from now on? …”

Alice covered his face with his hands, as a person trapped in despair would do.

“I don’t know…about that…”

She was asked again.

So what are you going to do?

How are you going to live?

What will you be doing next year, next month, next week, tomorrow?

(How are you going to live?)

Someone once asked her so. He knew that Ai found the false goal of being a Gravekeeper as her guide, and kicked her all over, wanting her to give up her dream of being a Gravekeeper.

Ai suddenly and unexpectedly realized why Hampnie Hambart did that.

‘This’ was what Hampnie Hambart wanted to do. He wanted to kick, punch, and break her dreams so that she would become a ‘normal person’.

Something like that.

It was a much kinder fate compared to this predicament..

“Do normal people…get happiness? Do they live in a world like this? Do they not think anything of this world they live in, where it’s so harsh, it’s impossible to breathe…”

“……”

“What about you…Mr. Alice? How do you…live in this world when you have lost your dreams…like me?”

Alice remained silent in the same position until the moon disappeared.

“…Ai.”

“Yes….”

“Go back…now, I’m not going to say anything.”

Alice said.

Ai obeyed him.

Because she did not have the heart to.

She had no choice.

 

Part VII

 

“Welcome back, Ai.”

Ai did not remember much about where she had returned from, or how she returned.

The next thing she knew, she was in front of the house when Dee came running up to me.

“How’s Alice doing?”

“…You really know everything, Miss Dee?

“When I was really perceptive, I wouldn’t have to ask these questions—woah, you’re like shaved ice, Ai. Let’s go inside for now.”

Dee grabbed Ai’s hand and pulled her into the house.

This was Alice’s old home, where everyone once stayed during the winter. It was a short time, but Ai, Celica, Julie and Scar liked the house so much that they decided to stay here first when they returned to the real world.

The group was greeted by a dilapidated house. Alice’s house had been completely ruined over the course of ten years. Walls had fallen down, ceilings had caved, and it became a very sunny location in the morning.

Aware of this fact, Alice and Dee awkwardly suggested that they went elsewhere, ‘this place is fine’ but everyone else insisted so. They set up a tent inside the house, drove their car in, and somehow managed to live there.

“I’m home, Ai is back.”

In the living room, the remnants of the fireplace were burning the debris on the ceiling, casting a faint light around.

Ai put the penguin cushion around her back—it too was eroded by wind and rain, to the point where one could not tell if it was a penguin or a sea lion—and sat on the wicker chair.

Ack ack. Dee coughed irritably.

“Ugh, It’s a shame for the Ghost to have a sore throat after only three hours of talking. This body really is weak.”

“You really performed admirably today, please take care of yourself, Dee. Here, have some apple tea.”

Scar handed over a teacup and smiled.

“Apple tea is good for the throat. Also, everyone said that since you performed, they will reward you, so they gave some special ingredients. This is ginger milk porridge.”

Scar, who was strangely knowledgeable about such grandmother’s trivia these days, said as she transferred the porridge from the pot. Celica, who had been weaned a week ago, peered at it with interest. So did Julie, for no particular reason.

“Here, Ai, have some, too.”

“Thank you….”

The porridge tasted gentle.

Ai felt the warmth for a moment, then quickly extinguished it. It was getting easier for her to do so.

“……”

Ruu ruu, the autumn insects were chirping. The half-moon in the west was glowing.

“So, Dee, have you told your parents you’re coming here?”

“Yeah. I’ve told Papa and Mama.”

The conversation continued as before, but Ai could not breathe the warm air there anymore.

“What did your parents say?”

“They sighed a lot.”

Dee laughed and Julie lets out a sigh, probably the same sigh that her parents let out at that moment.

” Don’t worry, Uncle, I did my best to persuade them, and unlike my time as the Ghost, I’ve been upfront with papa and mama.”

“… Well, that’s good.”

—Surely Dee did talk to her parents properly just as she did to Maccia.

It was said that Dee hardly talked to her parents when she was the Ghost. Of course, it was because she did not approach the sealed world for fear of a possible reset…but another significant reason was that she did not want them to see her bad reputation spread far and wide..

But at this moment, Dee had the ability and strength to talk to her parents upfront.

A power that Ai had lost.

“…Ai?”

Finally, Dee noticed.

“What’s wrong, Ai, are you sick?

“…No.”

Ai’s expression froze as she tried to hide her inner thoughts.

“No, you’re right. I’m not feeling very well. I’ll stay here ….”

“Oh, sorry. Can you tell me something first?”

Dee’s face changed to a stern look as though she was taking care of some unpleasant work that needed to be done.

“Just tell me how Alice is doing, Ai. You went to look for him, didn’t you?”

“Yes…”

Ai sat back into the chair with a thud. The chair was as hard as an electric chair.

Ai spoke. She told them how she had charged into Madame’s body right after the trial, and how she had met Shaun there. Dee questioned every detail, while Julie frowned in anger.

“So…I found the prison, and talked to Mr. Alice…”

“So? You asked Alice, right? Why did he admit to the crime?”

“……Yes.”

As she spoke, the feelings she felt at that moment returned to her. The fire in the fireplace and the warmth of the cup in her hand seemed so distant to her, and her heart had flown to that prison. It was a more comfortable place than this warmth and kindness.

“Mr. Alice didn’t tell me…Why? I asked, but he said he couldn’t answer…because he decided not to talk ….”

“So you just returned dejected?”

After all.

“Because…it’s impossible.”

“I see.”

Dee did not say anything more. She was no kinder than Alice, and therefore kinder.

“Well, yeah, Alice’s not going to say what his objective is.”

“……Mr Alice’s …objective ?”

A beat later, Ai looked up.

“Mr Alice’s objective is ….”

Dee stated so flatly, Ai’s dull mind did not react.

“Miss Dee, do you know why Mr. Alice said that?”

“I noticed it right away…wait, don’t you get it yet Ai?

Dee glared at Ai as though she was looking into the heart.

“I-I don’t know…”

“You don’t know what Alice is thinking? At all?”

“B-but how do I…”

“Are you an idiot?”

The look on Dee’s face was one of utter contempt. There was a cruel smile on her face, the smile of a child making fun of a toddler who could not figure out a one plus one problem.

“Use your head….this is something that everyone but you noticed. That includes Scar and Celica. Even Uncle has noticed.”

“E-even Mr. Julie?”

Why am I ranked lower than a baby? That was the face Julie made.

Dee sighed, not trying to hide her annoyance.

“Hey Ai…I beg of you, think about it. The usual Ai would have noticed this right away. Why did Alice say he was the cause? What do you think would have happened if he hadn’t? Why did Alice lie?”

Ai could not get to the truth, even after all that. Her thoughts were stagnant and her head refused to think.

After a full minute of pondering, the answer finally came to her. She felt the answer she derived was wrong. She hoped so.

Why did Alice plead guilty when he was accused? Why did he not say they were wrong? If he had not admitted to being guilty, who else would be accused?

 

“For…me?”

 

She felt that was ridiculous; she thought Dee would deny it immediately.

And yet, Dee just nodded coyly.

“For us, to be exact.”

Julie and Scar both nodded gravely.

“I’m not completely sure of this, but my guess is that Alice was the one who brought them here. He probably felt that since it’s a matter of time until they sniffed it out. That’s why his reaction initially felt so off. Like, when I said Ai was supposed to be the accused, his reaction was so mild. In other words, Alice already knew he was going to be the accused—seriously, he’s the same as always, always slipping up at such moments.”

Ai’s head was in a daze.

“I’m sure the outcome is that Alice and the black surface will be sealed off. The citizens of Ostia will be under probation. In a certain sense, the town has a shield backing it. The protection means that they’ll assist in our revival, and this deal is basically perfect. Minimal costs for maximum effect. In other words, Alice has saved Ostia (the world) again.”

He really hasn’t changed, huh? Dee muttered, and then lowered her voice,

“…I used to think Alice was the same as Ai. I thought that just as Ai survived her broken dreams, Alice lived on after fulfilling them. It doesn’t seem to be the case though…Alice hasn’t changed at all…he hasn’t changed even after you revived him. To be honest, I’m kind of glad about that. Even though he’s going to disappear, I’m still happy…so I won’t stand in his way.”

Dee glanced at the clock. The date was about to change.

“…Since there’s an opportunity, I’ll go explain to Uncle and Maccia. Tomorrow at court, I’ll prioritize the protection of the black surface. I’ll try to drag on the issue about Alice’s personal freedom as long as possible, but I’ll give up in the end.”

“Miss Dee…are you sure you want to do that?”

“Nope.”

It was an instant answer.

“But if that’s what Alice wants…I…we can’t say…anything about it. We decided, not to mention this…”

Dee said, her hands clenched white. Her rules were already set in stone.

“But that’s…but that’s!”

“If you don’t like it, you can do it.”

“Eh?”

“Just like you stopped Alice from disappearing that time. You have to stop him this time. I believe you, no, you’re the only one who can do this. You’re the only person in the world who can stop Alice.”

Dee said, hoping once again for the miracle that had caused Ai’s dream to fail.

Dee had told her to break her dream once more.

Ai purred like an abandoned cat.

“… What’s with that face? Didn’t you fail before? What reason is there to hesitate about a second time? Even if you can’t, you should just try. Or…”

Dee was taunting Ai, or so she intended,

 

“Do you think that Alice’s disappearance will erase your sin?”

 

Ai felt scared. Not at the words, but at her own heart.

She was scared of her own heart, that she saw the dream of Alice dying.

“Hey, hold on a minute. Why aren’t you angry…Ai, are you actually—”

Dee had completely overestimated Ai. She assumed that Ai would be motivated if she had taunted the latter.

“Ahh…ahhh…”

Ai unconsciously reached out her hand to the side of the fireplace. There was a shovel that she had not touched ever since she returned to the present world. She grabbed the shovel and hugged it. But naturally, the Gravekeeper’s shovel would not save Ai.

She thought she would cry. But she could not.

“…~…~…!!!”

Her head hurt. She felt sick.

The air felt like it was rotting. She could not believe that she did not have a stake hammered at her head. She felt like she was wandering naked on an ice field or in the desert.

“Ai, Ai, get a grip!”

“She’s cyanotic!”

The whole world was denying her. She felt that she was an ugly duckling, a beggar in a royal palace, the black in the white. She felt so out of place that she could not breathe. She felt as though she was thrown into a different universe.

She could vaguely see Julie’s panicked face. Dee’s voice was echoing as she called out Ai’s name.

And so the world became increasingly distant.

 

+

 

“Welcome back.”

Julie turned around as he finished putting the wood in the greatly weakened fireplace. He turned around to see Dee standing dejectedly in the darkness.

“……I’m back.”

“How’s Ai doing?”

“She’s asleep now, but Scar said it’s okay for me to come back because she’s there…”

Dee sat down in the rocking chair Ai had been sitting on, her legs folded in, and buried her face in a cushion that resembled either an otter or a sea lion.

“You messed up.”

“……………Yeah.”

Dee was disappointed and depressed.

“……Uncle. Are you angry?”

“Why would I? You were just trying to cheer her up, weren’t you?”

“……Yeah. I was trying to. But…”

“Well, it definitely backfired…”

Julie knew immediately that Dee was trying to taunt Ai into recovery, and did not stop her.

“Still, it’s a problem she has to face at some point.”

“…Yeah.”

“And there’s a time limit.”

Yes, that would be more of a problem at this point.

“… I thought Ai was just like Alice. I thought even if she was a little dejected, she would perk up immediately once she encountered trouble like Alice. That’s what I thought. …”

“I guess not.”

“Yeah. Ai is different from Alice. …”

“Oh, no, I didn’t mean that. I meant Alice…he’s not perking up either.”

Dee widened her eyes, clearly looking puzzled, and probably did not expect this part to be denied.

“Alice hasn’t changed, right? Why else would he do this?”

No, it’s not that he hasn’t changed, it’s just that he’s stubborn. Think about it, the reason why he’s so determined to die is because there’s no hope now. Right now, I don’t think it’s that bad now. He just doesn’t care about himself, he’s just looking for something big to sacrifice himself for.”

“Mmm. What’s that about? What do you know about that, Uncle?”

“I do. I’ve been there myself.”

“……”

Dee paused.

Julie could not help but chuckle when he saw that. It seemed even the battle-hardened Ghost would be troubled when the matter involved herself.

“Good grief, love is blind. Blisters are dimples. You’re the kind of person to spoil your lover, aren’t you?”

“Ugh, what’s with that bemeaning look of yours? Uncle, you’re getting to cocky.”

“—Why do you guys think so little of me…”

“That’s because you’re talking about love to Dee Ensy, who never had a lover…and might never have one in the future… ”

Dee puffed out her cheeks in a huff.

Julie stopped. He would admit the words he said might have been a mistake.

“…Did you really like Alice that much?”

“…Yes.”

“And you’re saying it’s okay for him to be sealed?”

“Because…”

Dee cringed.

“Because Alice made the decision…”

“I don’t get you guys.”

Julie scratched the back of his head.

“…You won’t understand, Uncle. You won’t understand what we did, and how Alice responded. But that’s why we can’t make mistakes anymore, we have to fulfill Alice’s wish.”

“…Even if it might be wrong?”

“Yeah.”

Love is blind….Julie repeated again.

“Well, you can do whatever you want. I’ll do it my way.”

“? Uncle?”

Ignoring Dee’s questioning look, Julie started to move towards his goal.

He looked around. They were not in the kitchen, not at the stairs leading to the second floor. They were in the darkness behind Dee.

“Oiii, Noell, Dust, can I talk to you for a minute over here? Aren’t you part of the so-called jury?”

A crimson noblewoman appeared as though emerging from the darkness, and there did not appear to be signs of anything else appearing from there.

The lady did not seem to be interested in talking, and rejected Julie’s invitation with a mere movement of her hand, before sinking into the darkness.

“What, Uncle, did you want to talk to Dust and the others?”

“Mmm.”

“No, no, no. They’re all so tight-lipped. They don’t tell me anything either.”

“They’re not your comrades?”

Julie had heard about Dee’s relationship with them before Ai did.

They were assassins who had come to kill Dee for their own reasons. They were also said to be Deformed who followed Dee for their own reasons.

“Not comrades, but allies, I guess.”

Dee burst out laughing, and one had to wonder what she was happy about. Julie let out a sigh and stared at Dee, who was clearly getting more scrapes and bruises on her kneecaps and arms.

As for Julie, he really hoped that Dee would not have to do such things anymore. He felt that while apologies and atonement were important, Dee’s safety was more so.

But…

“Don’t stop me. Uncle.”

“…I know. ”

In the end, Julie was the one who was ‘persuaded’.

“And if they’re not our friends, are they our enemies? They’re part of the jury, but they aren’t neutral or anything, right? Are they spies?”

“No, they’re not.”

“Why not?”

“Well~ this is something the Deformed understand clearly. Basically, the Deformed only have interest in their own wishes. Especially those with powerful abilities.”

“Is that…so?”

“Yes, that’s right. Think of me, Alice, and Hampnie Hambart as examples.”

She was very persuasive.

“I know Dust and Noell’s ‘wishes’—and including that, I can be sure that they’re neither our enemies nor our allies. They’re actually affiliated to—”

“Ortus and Fellmigora?”

Dee looked up as if she had been hit.

As everyone knew, Ortus was the advanced country of the dead,

In contrast, Fellmigora was the country of the Living.

“—Yes. Dust is the ambassador-at-large of Ortus, and Noell is a noble of Fellmigora. How did you know that, Uncle?”

“Well, I heard a little.”

“…I see, you have a friend in Ortus. As for Fellmigora, did you hear that from Hampnie?…You have a few unexpected tricks up your sleeves, Uncle. And it seems like you met the Witch before…”

“We’ll talk about it later.”

At this moment, the priority would be those two.

“…I’m curious though. Why are they here?”

“I told you, they’re here to kill me.”

“That’s not enough to get the ambassador-at-large from Ortus and a nobleman from Fellmigora to come here, right?”

“Not enough…”

Dee, as expected, was flabbergasted. Julie used to be Hampnie’s aide, and was competent at this level of politics.

“Dee, I want you to listen to me calmly. Ask yourself, are you blinded by the price of your own life? Is there something wrong with what I’m saying?”

With those words alone, Dee changed her attitude.

She curled up in the rocking chair, her brain spinning with tremendous concentration. One could hear the remnants of her thoughts forming murmurs, and her vision was swimming about, seemingly clearing her memory.

“…Something’s fishy.”

Yes, Dee concluded.

“Damnit, I guess I’m a little out of sorts after all.”

“Do you think killing you is just out of convenience to them?”

“I hate to say it, but I guess so…”

A dark cloud suddenly began to form.

Coven alone was a problem, but Ortus and Fellmigora were also involved behind the scenes.

“How could those two countries, of all places, be working together with Coven?”

“You don’t know either?”

“Not at all.”

They cupped their heads and groaned.

“Have you told everyone about this at the meeting?”

“No, I thought it would only complicate things.”

“I guess so.”

The Ostia Town Council was in the midst of a full scale meeting. which Dee and Julie would have liked to attend, but there was nothing they could do.

“What’s going on with the meeting?”

” I don’t know. It should be over by now…do you want me to go ask?”

“No need for that!”

An extremely loud voice shook the ruin, and the man arrived. It was Bendo Gram, the most dashing man in Ostia, who strode across the damaged floor with his lackeys in tow.

“Shhh!”

“Oops, pardon me.”

After bowing in apology to Scar, who had peeked out from the tent, Bendo began to speak with a volume that showed no repentance.

Goodness, those old heads at the Commerce and Workers Guilds really love to kick up a fuss. They try to overturn our decisions whenever they get a chance. You can never be too careful with them!”

“……”

‘I’ll leave him to you’ Dee showed Julie just a face as she ignored Bendo, and Julie quietly sighed to himself.

“Hm? What’s that, Julie? Ohh, milk porridge? And apple tea, too! Di-did you prepare for me because I was talking at the meeting…such wonderful citizens! Don’t mind if I do. Ah, there’s no spoon—the lady there! Can you get me a spoon? ”

Throwing a spoon at the annoying mayor who did not let her ignore him, Dee let out a heavy sigh.

“‘What are you doing here, grease cockroach?”

“Aigo!”

Bendo let out a mysterious cry and spewed out the porridge he contained. In the darkness, his cronies were also spewing porridge.

“L-lady, isn’t that…too hurtful? Even I feel pain from that…”

“That’s a nice heartwarming story.”

“…Goodness, you and Alice have become completely rotten. There’s no point teasing you guys nowadays. Hmph, what, Ghost? You idiot?”

“Sorry about that.”

“…You used to be more obedient when I was changing your diapers.”

“Th-that’s foul play!!”

Dee took the cushion and kept slapping Bendo. The mayor regained his composure and ate the porridge with gusto,

“Seriously, it’s been a real mess over here, you know. Alice’s situation is unfortunate, but even Julie wasn’t there.”

“No, I’m just….”

“What are you talking about? Do you know how awkward it was for me when the Security and Ops departments grabbed me and asked me why you weren’t there when they were supposed to be on my side?”

Dee stared at them with a bewildered expression.

“Surprise number two—I didn’t think you’re that important, Uncle.”

“Well, Dee, as for who’s more important, you…well, we’ll talk about that later—”

Bendo chowed down the porridge, finished the apple tea, and slapped his knee.

” Ostia Town Council has just made a decision.”

Julie and Dee suddenly stopped moving.

The decision of the city council. In other words, the the citizens of Ostia had finally come to a decision. They had been holding that meeting since the middle of the trial, discussing it until then.

Bendo’s gaze flickered to Maccia, Julie and Dee nodded deeply and urged him to go on.

“We—”

Bendo then spoke the consensus of the citizens of Ostia. Bendo’s low voice drifted across the pale darkness that was torn by the fireplace light. It was like a kind of silence, like the sound of insects in the darkness or million of ripples.

“… What’s that?”

The silence was torn apart by Dee’s voice.

“What kind of greeting is that?”

“That’s stupid!”

Dee stood up instantly.

“This is impossible! You’ve seen what their abilities are!”

“I don’t care about that.”

Bendo, Julie, the lackeys—all the adults smirked.

“But we will do it. That’s it.”

 

Part VII

 

Alice was looking at the moon.

The small moon was in the middle of the barred window, shining brightly and lengthening the shadows of the prison.

Alice leaned back against the wall next to his bed to look at it.

It was a half moon, the dark part assimilated into the surrounding universe as if it were truly lost. The lonely half-moon was swimming alone in the night sky, as if searching for its lost half. Alice thought it resembled someone else.

Sitting alone in the corner of his bed, Alice thought about the moon.

Which half-moon was that?

Was it the half-moon that was about to fill up?

Or is it a half moon that would disappear further?

He did not see the moon the previous day, and he probably would not be able to do so the next day. In other words, there was no way of knowing which half-moon it was on this day.

Well, technically, there was a way. It was possible to determine the type of moon by calculating the direction of the waxing and waning of the moon, the position of the stars, and the calendar. However, Alice deliberately slowed his thoughts down and tried not to think about it.

He wanted to know, but at the same time, he did not want to know. He didn’t know what the sealing punishment would be like, but he was certain it would be terrible. After all, everything in history that had the word eternity never was never wonderful.

Instead, he would take the moon on this night as a consolation for that long and distant time.

He would spend eternity wondering what kind of moon it was.

Alice thought about this and muttered, “But, if possible—”

Yes, if possible…

“I hope it’s the waxing moon…”

Muttering this, Alice closed his eyes.

 

Part IX

 

 

Inside the tent, Ai secretly thought to herself that the moment she was most awake was when she had just woken up from her sleep.

Her waking brain was calmly grasping the current situation: Alice’s rejection, Dee pointing out the fact to her, her own ugliness. She remembered everything, and accepted them all with the dullness distinct to someone who had just woken up.

“…The sun rises even in times like this.”

She was surprised.

She tried to get up, and felt a dull ache in every part of her body. It was not a muscle pain, but a nerve pain.

Ai wondered if this was how it felt for a fish that was washed ashore from the sea.

Then, she suddenly noticed that the pain was less so on the left side of her body.

What is that? She wondered, and turned her head. And there was—

Scar and Celica were holding her left arm.

Ai, unable to move, gazed at the scene.

It was a happy scene.

Scar probably did not intend to fall asleep. She was in a cramped posture with her legs bent over, wrapped in a single blanket as she breathed away. The blanket appeared to be draped over her later on by someone else. In her arms, Celica clung to Ai’s arm like a pillow, smearing her sleeve with drool.

This was the only place where she was protected from the pain of the world.

Ai felt the increasing urge to cry. She really almost cried, but the tears did not flow.

Then, she noticed something else on the right side.

It was a Gravekeeper shovel.

“…Why?”

She probably reached for it when she was lacking in oxygen. It was probably placed there just as a toy would be given to a child throwing a tantrum. She looked over and saw that Scar’s shovel was also next to it. The more the merrier? Ai wondered.

Ai smiled as she imagined Scar carrying her shovel to bed with a serious face. But the smile only took shape in her mind, and her cheeks did not move even a millimeter.

That was fine. The thought of smiling was good enough.

“Miss Scar…, please wake up.”

Ai quietly made up her mind as she called out to the warmth of her left hand.

She would save Alice.

She would bring him back.

She did not know what would happen after that, but she believed it was the only thing she could do.

 

Part X

 

Madame continued to expand.

She had been contained within the school grounds the previous days, but at this moment, her body had swallowed the school building and was almost overflowing the grounds.

There were more than three hundred embrasures from what she could see, and an unprecedented variety of cannons she had never seen before.

Fortunately, there was no footing beneath the wall as she was this big, and it seemed impossible to move. Instead, there were three long-range cannons the size of buildings on top of the outer wall, and beside them, small monsters moved hurriedly like ants crawling on a giant tree.

…It would all be over if they antagonized this thing.

Ai knew that she had to avoid this, and walked through the door to the courtroom.

 

+

 

“Eh, Ai?”

Dee was sitting alone at the counsel’s table, flipping through her papers, and sounded bewildered.

Ai walked in, took the seat she did not enter the previous day, and took a deep breath.

“—I’ve come to ask you for a favor.”

She bowed her head.

“Please let me be the defense lawyer—I want to help Mr. Alice too.”

“……”

Dee stopped with her breakfast scone in her mouth.

“? Miss Dee?”

“…Ohhh, ooohhhh!”

The rebooted Dee was so happy that it shocked Ai. Dee wanted to hug Ai, failed, but Dee continued to beam away.

“Yep! Yep yep! This is how Ai should be!”

“M-Miss Dee!”

“Okay! Of course I’ll support you!”

She quickly pulled herself away and gave a thumbs up.

“Ai, you’ve made up your mind.”

…I didn’t do anything. The mumble was too soft to be heard by the excited, yapping Dee.

“Yep! Let’s do our best together. In that case, let’s begin our strategy. Ai, lend me your ear—”

Dee hugged Ai and whispered the “strategy” into the latter’s ear so as to avoid Madame who truly had ears on the walls and eyes on the shutters. Whisper whisper.

After hearing what was said, Ai stared at Dee in disbelief.

“…………Can we do that?”

Of course you can! Dee assured, but Ai was left with only anxiety.

Just then, kan kan! The sound echoed throughout the entire courtroom. Looking over, all the actors were present. Dee and Ai were at the defense table, Destructive Fist, Dust Believer, and Noellfaen were at the jury table, a hungover Shaun at the presiding judge’s table, and a smiling and affable Madame at the prosecutor’s table.

And finally Alice staring forward with the exact same expression as the previous day..

Kan!

The gavel sounded.

“Court is in session!”

Then the second day began.

 

+

 

“Ehh, let me start by explaining the parts that I couldn’t explain yesterday because of a lack of information—”

Like the previous day, the second day began with a verbal battle between Madame and Dee, with Dee asking trivial questions and Madame giving trivial answers. That was how it all progressed.

At this point, the battle was divided into three forces.

The first was Madame and her group, who wanted to seal Alice and the black surface.

The second was Dee, who was trying to protect the black surface at least.

And finally, Ai, who wanted to protect Alice.

The dialogue was primarily driven by Madame and Dee.

“It just doesn’t make sense, does it?”

Dee tapped the desk in a tone as if she were bargaining for potatoes.

“You want to seal both Alice and the black surface? You gotta be kidding. We’re talking about probation at best. There’s no precedence for this case after all.”

“There is a precedent! There was a case once where not only the defendant but an entire city was sealed—”

“Oh, that’s right. I think it was because of that that a new Deformed was created?”

“That!”

The dialogue was generally carried out at Dee’s pace. In fact, Madame, who was a straightforward person at heart, was caught by Dee’s traps at every turn and had to be restrained from proceeding.

“—No, Your Honor! The defense’s questions are inappropriate! This is the place to discuss the punishment to be meted out, not whether the punishment is valid!”

“Ahh, so be it.”

“Please apply the penalty!”

“Ah? What is that anyone? (On page 14.) Ahhh, this? Eh, ‘If the defense attorney repeats the same point again, it shall be deemed a deliberate delay, and the attorney shall be disqualified ‘.”

“Oopsie, that’s scary. Understood, Your Honor. I’ll never ask the same question again.”

“Oh, please do.”

Madame’s face flushed with victory for a moment, but then her shoulders slumped when Dee asked her many more questions.

Since the previous day, Dee had been stalling for time consistently as a strategy. This was strange to Ai. While it would be troublesome that they could not pass judgement immediately, further delay did not mean there would be reinforcement.

“That’s right. If this keeps up, things are going to get worse. We’ll lose the case when the judgement comes.”

In the short time they had in the morning, Dee had compared their negotiations to playing cards.

“For example, my “I’ll give up Alice if it comes to it” card is really weak, like a 7 or 8 on the strength scale. If I play it now, there’s no chance of winning, or rather, I don’t think there’s a chance of winning. As for the opponent’s card, I can already see ‘Madame’s use of force’(Jack of Spades), ‘jury’s guarantee’ (Queen of Hearts). It hadn’t been used, maybe they’ll use a ‘Witch’s Direct Support’(Joker). It’s like trying to get a straight flush with a dead hand.”

So why don’t we do something about it? Ai asked, to which Dee replied, “I’m working on it.”

Ai did not understand. The tactic of buying time would only be effective if there was hope for reinforcements, or an improvement in situation. Buying time for the sake of it was meaningless.

“But that might not be the case in reality~. Here’s a hint: ‘the strongest card in a negotiation is neither the ace nor the joker.’ What do you think it is then? ”

I don’t know. Ai replied at that moment.

“We’ll see. We have a chance of winning. There are many ways to win, whether we have a bad hand or they have the best hand.”

Dee chuckled at that.

It was the smile of a Ghost who had tried to destroy the world with merely words.

 

+

 

The time passed quickly and it was afternoon.

“—Hey Miss Dee, shall we have a little heart-to-heart talk?”

It was just after the two o’clock break when Madame, without leaving her seat, turned to Dee and spoke.

Ai was so startled that she dropped the fries she was picking. At the same time, Dee, who was nibbling on a cookie next to her, was emitting a shimmering heat.

“…It’s finally here.”

Dee said, slowly getting up. Ai did not understand what had finally come, but it seemed Dee had been waiting for this.

“What’s the matter, Madame? Saying that we need a heart-to-heart talk. You’re making it sound like I’m not being honest with you. I don’t like that at all. Or are you talking in the physical sense? Uuuu, I’m pretty sure I don’t have a flat stomach. But I’m not fat at all!”

“Yes, yes. I am saying, enough with the nonsensical talk.”

Interrupting her somewhat roughly, Madame put a small hand to her forehead.

“I don’t understand…”

Madame glanced at Alice.

“What is the situation here? We’re a little confused because we thought this was going to be an easy trial.”

Madame said, as though she was addressing both Dee and Alice.

“We’ve already got a group of people on their way here with supplies for reconstruction. We’re going to have to ask them to wait outside.”

“What’s that about? Is the outcome of the trial already decided? I think I’ll have to pursue this matter later—

“I said, enough with the nonsensical talk.

The air in the room froze. It was a break, but no one had left their seats. They all stayed in their seats in case something happened.

“It seems that Master Alice’s request was not the consensus will of your people—I shall formally ask again, Miss Dee, what do you want?”

“Well, who knows?”

“There is nothing to hide now, is there?”

“Well, I don’t know. Is there really no benefit? Maybe while we’re talking, I have many unexpected benefits you didn’t dream of. And what I want might not be what I need. But what if those are what I really want?”

“…It does not work.”

Madame furrowed her brows.

“Your whispers shall not work on me. …”

Her voice sounded slightly shaky.

(Could it be that Miss Dee is trying to—)

Ai finally understood it.

The strongest card in negotiations was the ‘card that could not be seen’.

Madame’s hand was like a straight flush. It was a strong hand that could win 99 times out of 100. But conversely, it was a hand that can be beaten 1 time out of 100..

At this moment, Madame was frightened by this improbable possibility.

It was because Dee’s hand was not seen by anyone else. She did not show her hand, and there were countless terrifying cards scattered onto the table.. The ‘ex-Ghost’ card might not seem impressive to those allied, but it was a different matter to the opponent. Nobody in the past would have expected her to go back to not being the Ghost. Also, she ‘survived the fatal hits from Destructive Fist’, which was also another terrifying fact. It was similarly abnormal for someone normal to survive a Deformed. The card of ‘time wasting for indiscernible reason’ ensured that Dee’s playing cards were many more than they actually were. Just as Dee was terrified of the ‘Witch’s Entry’(Joker), Madame was terrified of Dee’s hand.

Ideally, Dee wanted to force her opponent to forfeit. In that case, the ‘cards that could not be seen’ would truly become the ‘strongest card’, and the authenticity would not be an issue.

That would be the way to defeat a straight flush with a band hand.

In that case, ‘simply stalling’ was no longer ‘just stalling’.

This was what Dee was aiming for.

“…Amazing.”

Ai exclaimed, impressed.

But that was not the extent of Dee’s goal.

“It’s not enough. We can’t win with just this.”

“Eh?”

Dee whispered, still facing the front.

“… Madame is too weak a player to make her opponent drop. But her hand is too powerful. If we call with…she’ll go all in.”

“What is the matter!? Do you not want to talk with me anymore!?”

Madame raised her voice at the sight of their private conversation.

“Well, let the show begin— I’m going to pull my opponent off the board.”

Dee licked her lips flippantly.

“I’m sorry, Madame, but it’s kind of awful when you ask me to be open with you and you’re the one asking questions, isn’t it?”

“…What are you trying to say?”

“Nothing, I’m just trying to ask a simple favor.”

This time Ai thought the moment had come. In the morning, Dee had announced that she would eventually bring up this topic. She declared that she would find a chance for direct negotiation (though Ai had no idea how she was going to do so), and decide this battle beyond the card table.

Beyond the card table. In other words, it would be beyond the game of ‘Trial’ prepared by Madame.

Up until this point, Dee’s strategy had been based on the rules of the game. In contrast, Dee was intending to deal directly with the dealer outside the game.

Dee was no longer a player in this game of ‘trial’ that they had been forced into. She had become a game master, making the rules of the new game.

Moreover, Madame had no idea what Dee was doing. She did not understand that she went off the rails, away from her assured path to victory, and was playing another game with her opponent.

“…Well, it shall depend on what this ‘request’ is.”

Madame said with a lot of caution. But it was too late for that, She was worrying if her shoes were worn properly while falling off a cliff. She was being wary of the wrong thing..

Nothing, it’s simple. I’m just trying to collate the questions you were asking, Madame…actually, there’s a lot I don’t know about, can I?”

“…If I can answer.”

“Thanks, but first—”

When Ai saw Madame nodding with caution, she felt sorry for her despite knowing she was the enemy. It seemed Madame was oblivious of the fact that Dee had taken command of the conversation.

“Tell me what your priorities are, Alice, black surface, and Ostia’s protection. Tell me which ones are important and which ones aren’t. And then we’ll answer, and we’ll tell you.”

“I guess so…first…”

Dee asked as she led the conversation flawlessly. It was the first time Ai has consciously seen Dee’s strategy. She never realized so when they went to the World Tower, and at Ostia, Dee was…somehow…well…harsh.

Ai only noticed as she had been paying special attention…but what if it had been usual?

(…This person is …)

Ai could not help but click her tongue. She felt what she heard in the morning was ridiculous, but it was all happening. Dee then told Ai of what would happen next.

(They’re definitely going to want to prioritize protecting Ostia, then sealing Alice, and then the black surface. They’ve always been big on people and politics, but they don’t care about what’s happened.)

But here, for the first time, Dee’s prediction was wrong.

The most non-negotiable thing is the sealing of the black surface. After that will be the sealing of Master Alice, and then the protection of Ostia.”

“Hmm.”

On the surface, Dee did not appear rattled.

“If you don’t mind, I’d like to know why. It’s not what we expected.”

“The reason? It’s because the black surface has already devoured at least a thousand living people.”

“……Erm, is there, a misunderstanding?”

Dee sounded a little impatient, and Ai could not tell if it was an act or not.

“Well…Madame, did you think the black surface forced a thousand people to disappear? That’s not what happened.”

“It has nothing to do with us.”

“No, it does, right? They’re looking at another world beyond the black surface…”

“I am saying that these things do not matter to us. It does not matter to us what is beyond the black surface, and where the people who disappeared went to.”

“W-What?”

The surrounding exchanges started to be louder. Ai wondered if Dee was pretending not to understand, or if she knew and was just playing dumb.

“The problem we have here is that they simply disappear.”

“???”

“We shall not back down until this matter is resolved—even if this body is to be shattered.”

“Wait, wait a minute. What’s going on? Is that thing something worth being that serious over? Once you feel that you can’t win, like whether it’s against me or others, won’t you immediately leave it to the jury and let the accused off? Why are you so serious this time?”

“We are always serious!”

“Lie! You hyenas! You’re the worst of the worst, ruining miracles weaker than you, wagging your tags at miracles stronger to you! If you’re so scared, why don’t you just turn tail and go home like you always do!”

“W-what!? This…this…this…fool!”

“…No, fool…I’m sure you were a really good girl when you were alive, right Madame? I had enough, please insult others with more excitement, will you?”

“Grrr!”

Surely this was another one of Dee’s advanced strategies.

When the situation ended up as insults “Stupid! Ugly! Trash”, tugging on each other’s cheeks and and all the “Grrr” noises, gone was the serious mood.

“E-erm…”

Ai had no choice but to slowly raise her hand.

The entire courtroom gathered their stares upon her, and she could not help but shrivel

It was the first time for Ai to realize how painful it was to assert something to the world without any dreams or aspirations.

Still, she pushed herself to her feet. At the very least, she tried to speak loudly.

“…Well, I’m sorry if I’m wrong, but isn’t the reason Miss Madame can’t let the black surface go, because the world is still being ended?”

And Ai returned to the world.

 

“‘It’s the other way around, Miss Dee, the other way around.”

“Th-The other way?”

Dee shook her head between Ai and Madame, not knowing who to look to.

“It’s not the missing thousand that Miss Madame cares about, it’s the other way around. Miss Madame cares about those other than the missing thousand.”

Is that right? Ai turned to look at Madame, who looked over with a wary face. It was the first time she looked at Ai.

“?? What do you mean, Ai?”

“Those people who aren’t the thousand who vanished, in other words, all the Living left in this world might vanish beyond the black surface, right?”

“Ah!”

Dee must have thought about it. If the black surface continues to remain unmanaged and swallow the Living, what will be the outcome?

She thought of the possibility of all the Living disappearing into the black surface.

“B-But that’s not a bad thing, is it? They can be saved…”

“It’s the opposite, Miss Dee. The ones saved here aren’t the thousand people, or the Living people besides the thousand.”

“???”

“It’s the rest of us that Miss Madame is worried about.”

“The rest of the…”

“The Dead.”

The word ‘Dead’ made Madame jump.

“After all, isn’t Miss Madame a Dead?”

“…Yes, but that has nothing to do with our policy.”

“I know.”

Ai looked at Dee, thinking that Madame did not need to be so cautious towards her.

“Miss Dee, that black surface won’t let the Dead through, right?”

“!”

Finally, Dee seemed to notice.

There was no Dead who went through the black surface. What would be the meaning here then?

“The Living are fine, since there’s a new world beyond. But what will happen to the Dead who are left here?”

“That’s—”

They probably would face the same thing, destruction. Death was supposed to be the great equalizer. This was supposed to be fact even in this world where life and death were almost no different.

And yet, the situation was that only the Living could go to the new world. What would happen if such news were to spread throughout the world?

“—In a way, it would only hasten the process. The world would become a place of only the Dead.”

Ironically, the supposedly reformed Dee was still fulfilling her role, the role as ‘Witch of the West’ who was trying to hasten the oxidation of the world and end it..

“…Those in the know already know of the existence of that black surface.”

Madame then looked at the jury box. There were Noellfaen and Dust Believer, who had been silent since the start.

“… So that’s it.”

Dee chewed her nails.

“So that’s why Ortus and Fellmigora were backing this…”

“? Ortus aside, isn’t Fellmigora the land of the Living, isn’t it? Why would they be opposed?”

The black surface should only be harmful against the Dead, and beneficial only to the Living.

“…The upper echelons of Fellmigora are afraid that their influence will diminish, Ai. They want to preserve their authority, and they don’t want to redo everything again, in a world where everything is ‘reset’. They want their people to obey them.”

“What! But how!?”

It was a frightening thought.

“Were they really thinking of such a horrible thing…”

“They’re more terrified of the black surface. ”

“It is not just Fellmigora, you know—Diamantos, Uppapose, and the rest of the ‘Northern’ countries have agreed to this. What we have here is the result of their coordination.”

Madame glared at Dee as she rattled off the names of the major powers.

“…Are you threatening us?”

“You can take that as a threat—but in my heart, I am confident this method shall be the least disruptive method.”

The black face might indeed save billions of Living.

But at the same time, it will bring despair to billions of Dead.

If they sealed the black surface and concealed its existence, they could mention the status quo at least.

“…Everyone, why do you think our maximum penalty is not annihilation, but sealing?”

Madame said abruptly.

“Who knows…”

“We do indeed go around judging miracles, but that does not mean that we have full confidence that we are correct. We do believe we may be wrong at times, that we may make the wrong judgement. We may think we are judging those who are destroying the world, but we may be hindering those who are saving the world. We always go about our work with this anxiety in mind…and thuse we abolished the annihilation penalty.”

“…Hmph, you’ve never officially released anyone from a sealed sentence though.”

“So far, yes, that has not been the case.”

Madame was no longer devastated.

“But we shall always be ready.”

“Heh, tell me more about this ‘readiness’ then.”

Dee, in a calm voice, winked at Ai as she probed further. It seemed she had completely recovered. Ai heaved a sigh of relief, and returned to her seat. Dee would be invincible whenever she spoke, but once she realized her mistake, she would end up so rattled like she was before.

Ai simply needed to support her from the side. Ai heaved a sigh of relief and stared at the hall, ready not to miss out on any clue.

Hope was in the air.

She was beginning to think that perhaps they could save Alice at this point.

Dee was talking more and more and dominating Madame. A complete victory might not be a dream at all. Perhaps the black surface could remain free, and Alice could escape punishment.

“Can I interrupt?”

But Ai knew that was not going to happen.

For the biggest obstacle to that still remained untouched.

“If that’s what you’re talking about, I’m getting involved.”

With that, Alice slowly stood up.

 

Part XI

 

The sun is setting. slowly approaching the Ostia’s lake surface, and the evening stars slowly showed themselves brightly. The open-ceiling hall was filled with the yellow light that came before dusk, lamps and lights began to be switched on everywhere.

“This is not going to end. ”

Clank, the shackles rang, and Alice stood up at the accused table unhappily.

“Let’s get the facts straight.”

All eyes were on Alice’s every move, and all ears were focused on what he was going to say, as he had been silent since the beginning of the trial.

Ai did the same. She leaned forward from the counsel’s seat and looked at Alice.

Alice was not looking anywhere. All eyes were on him, but he did not look anywhere but his own feet.

“We got too many factions involved here, Ortus, Coven, Dee, Ostia, and a whole bunch of others, it’s easy to get confused here. Let’s split them all into two great factions. One of them affirms the black surface—that’s the Living, in other words, and the other denies the black surface—the Dead, and those who are going to be Dead.”

“Wait a minute,”

Dee said, as if she couldn’t take it anymore.

“I don’t see the point of simplifying the factions that much now. I think you’re overgeneralizing the Living and the Dead. The ones debating now are just us and Madame’s side.”

“That’s wrong.”

“Ugh. Why not?”

“It’s true that we’re the ones fighting this case, but the whole world is watching from the shadows, and it’s pointless to ignore their existence here—look Dee, I know you’re trying to talk Madame into a victory here, and you’re capable of it, but it’s meaningless here. Even if you win now, if the factions behind them can’t accept it, they’ll just send a second and third Coven.

“That’s—”

“It’s just one quagmire after another. The conflict you start to minimize the damage will end up increasing the damage. You see what I mean? What we need now is a solution that will satisfy the entire world. That’s why I’ve divided the forces into just two.”

That would be the Living and the Dead.

There was no better way to divide people than this. The Living and the Dead would mark a distinction beyond Male and female, old and young, rich and poor.

The black surface was the salvation of the Living, and also the destruction of the Dead.

Alice argued that the conflict would never end unless they chose a solution here that satisfied both of them.

“—That’s true, but.”

Dee admitted with a pouty look on her face. Like before, she had not thought about what would happen after she had won, and her face was filled with awkwardness.

“—But what are you going to do then?

“It’s easy, just reconcile the two sides and do what they say.”

A dark chill crept into Ai’s heart.

“First, we need to seal off the black surface. From the Dead’s viewpoint, this is something they can’t compromise. The Living probably can’t come to a consensus here, so they probably won’t reject this too harshly.”

Oh no.

“Then punish those responsible.”

No. No.

“It’s a necessary step. No one’s going to be happy if there’s no one to blame for why there’s a hole in the world—so that’s me, isn’t it?”

He, Alice Color, continued to insist on doing so.

“So I would argue that sealing the black surface and Alice Color is the best way to resolve this…speaking of which, that was the initial decision.”

“That’s!”

Ai shouted before anyone else could.

“You can’t do that! You can’t just find someone to sacrifice!”

Alice did not even look at Ai. He responded in a dull manner, as though he was facing a face that was blotted by the sunset shadow, unable to be distinguished.

“…… Did you even listen to me? If we don’t do this, we’ll just end up doing more damage than that. That’s what I was talking about.”

“Then!…Then we’ll figure out a better way! Without sacrificing anyone! We just have to come up with a way that works for everyone!”

“I agree.”

His eyes were suddenly tinted with kindness.

“You’re that kind of person, aren’t you—I feel the same, that it’ll be great if we can do it.”

“Then!”

“Then tell me. How can we do that?”

That was,

“…….I don’t know about that right now! But we’ll figure it out together with ‘everyone’!”

“Then think about it right now. The trial will be over by today. That’s what was agreed. We don’t have time.”

As if to prove his words, the sun was slowly setting.

Ai thought impatiently. Her usual self would have come up with an answer immediately, a way to ‘save everyone’.

However, her mind wavered, and she could not come up with anything.

“—Then, Then!”

“That’s enough, Ai.”

The voice was full of tenderness and compassion.

“No matter what you say, no matter what you try, it’s not going to touch anyone’s heart anymore.”

“W-why—why would you say that!?”

“—Why? Because you don’t believe in your own words anymore.”

Ai almost covered her ears instinctively. She did not want to hear those horrible words.

“You already know, don’t you? You know you didn’t save ‘everyone’. You know that you failed, didn’t you?”

“Uu, uuuu~!”

She had a throbbing headache. The ringing in my ears caused her cochlea to creak. Her body felt like it was falling apart. Her mind was listless.

“Uuu, uuuuuu~!”

An animal-like moan echoed from the back of her throat. Dee had been watching their conversation fearfully, and finally had enough as she reached out to tap Ai’s shoulder.

That gestured triggered Ai to shout like a launched spring.

 

‘Then I’ll do it! I’ll take that role!”

 

Her vision was spinning in circles. She had no idea what she was thinking.

“………Ai.”

“I-It doesn’t matter who the sacrifice is, right? In that case, I should be the one to take responsibility for bringing back Mr. Alice!

“……Ai.”

Ai felt that the world was spinning, and could practically hear it. She could hear wha sounded like a broken mechanical doll that was being destroyed. Her body involuntarily moved, laughing.

“Ha, hahaha, hahahaha! Th-that’s right, everyone! It’s me! I was the one who brought Mr. Alice back to life! So I’ll take his place!”

“That’s…wrong, Ai….”

Alice shook his head sadly.

“It’s…self-sacrifice, which is…a path you’re supposed to deny…didn’t you say you’re going to save ‘everyone’?”

“N-no. Don’t you remember, Mr. Alice, that I’m not included in the ‘everyone’ I’m talking about?”

Ai laughed. She laughed in a daze. Her cheeks were contorted as though she was forced to contort her already snapped limbs.

“I’m fine with it. I don’t mind. I’m not included in ‘everyone’ after all.”

“You’re lying.”

“I-I’m not!”

“No, you’re lying. You’re already part of everyone, and you want to save yourself too.”

“That’s not true! I’m not trying to save my own life! It’s nothing compared to my dream! If you want, I can dig my heart out right now and show it to you!”

Her heart was cold.

Her body too was cold and dull, and her senses were heavy and weakened. Her words were the only aspect that were passionate. She clung desperately to that heat, letting it devour her mind and body. She said what she should not, and thought of what she should not.

One would think that surely, this was what it meant to be a monster.

Then Ai was about to say the fatal words…

 

“If it’s for the sake of my dream! No matter what happens to me—”

 

“Ai!!”

Dee hugged her, with increasing tightness.

“Let go of me, Miss Dee!

Ai grabbed Dee’s arms and shoved the latter away, yet Dee quickly returned and held Ai.

“No! You can’t, Ai! You can’t say that!”

“Miss, Dee—”

“Don’t you dare say that you give up on yourself!”

It was as if the fire had embraced Ai.

The Ghost (Dee) had a body that was supposedly devoid of heat, yet it was so hot that it nearly scalded her. The tears that fell on her face were as painful as meteorites.

“You idiot! You idiot! Ai you idiot! You…you’re already a part of ‘everyone’, Ai!”

“Miss Dee…”

“We don’t want you to disappear, Ai!”

Ai tried to reject the heat. She tried not to let it get in the way of her dreams.

And yet,

Ai’s body slowly heated up, and warmth slowly filled her heart.

“Ah…”

Still, Ai protested. She tried to argue fervently with all the words she could muster.

“Ah……”

And yet, the words finally trailed off.

Dee’s warmth had taken away all resistance.

She felt a hint of tears from within her eyes. A feeling she had long forgotten was about to be released.

Just before that,

“Ai.”

A silver bullet shot Ai.

“I’m sorry that I relied on you.”

The scenery of the world was distorted.

“But that’s over now. The distortion will be corrected, and you can go back to where you came from. You can forget about me.”

Alice was smiling through the distortion.

He looked as though he was someone who had lived for a hundred years.

It was as if he was nearing the end of his life.

“Dee.”

“…What?”

“Thanks for all your defense…but that’s enough. Please stop.”

“!”

The next bullet struck Dee.

“I’m going to die here. … That’s what I want.”

Dee was sweating profusely as she stared at the bullet that struck her chest. The bullet pierced Dee’s heart with precision.

If Alice wanted it, the members of Class 3-4 would accept it.

That was Dee’s rule.

“Now then, Madame.”

“—Yes.”

“I’m sorry it took so long, but now that we’re all on the same page, about Ostia after that—”

“Of course. Nothing will change. We shall assist you as we originally planned.”

“Is that so? Thanks then.”

“No—you really live with dignity, Alice.”

That’s not the case at all, Alice smiled wryly.

“Well, shall we get this over with?”

Kan~kan~kan~

The high-pitched clanging of the gavel brought the court to its final phase.

 

Part XII

 

“Ehh~ defendant, Alice Color prayed for an unprecedented miracle and revived himself, and prayed for a miracle to create a new world, creating a black surface–which has the potential to cause chaos in the world, and the sealing is certainly warranted—”

By the end, Shaun was reading the verdict with absolutely no interest in the trial.

“—Therefore, Alice Color and the black surface are hereby sentenced to be sealed.”

Kan, the gavel swung once.

“—And now, the court is closed. Good night.”

The hall was silent.

Ai was sitting on the defense attorney’s seat with her heart frozen.

The swing of that gavel signified the end of everything, yet she did not feel the direness of the situation, as though she was in a dream.

She wanted to laugh and point at Shaun, asking what the latter had said. She wanted Dee to say, That’s right, isn’t it?

“Damn it….”

But Dee just slammed her desk and turned her head away.

The moment Ai saw the tears on her cheeks, her heart finally started to buzz.

Alice let out a breath and walked to the back, not looking back at all.

Words began to rush back into the hall in waves, and Ai’s mind began to buzz with them.

 

“—Can I have a word?”

 

Just before Ai was about to say something—

A man stood up from the audience. He had a broad belly, a strident voice, and a suit as old as he was, but as shiny and well-kept.

He was the mayor of Ostia, Bendo Gram.

“—I have a few questions to ask.”

Bendo, who was usually surrounded by his young lackeys, had none of them. Instead, a group of old men, high profile faces of the town, stood up from the aisle.

Bendo glared at Madame, ignoring Shaun, who was already stirring a bottle of alcohol.

“—Yes, what shall it be?”

Madame too frowned at the prospect of disturbance and turned to face them. To describe the difference in fighting strength, it would be akin to ants taking on an elephant. Nevertheless, these ants were intimidating the elephant with an unusual vigor.

Ai stared at the situation without knowing what was about to happen, when a voice called out to me from behind.

“…Ai, Dee, listen to me. We’re going to move as planned.”

“Mr Julie…?”

Julie had arrived by their side without them knowing, and said such ridiculous words. For some reason, Dee turned away a pained look on her face.

“When this starts, we’ll start off with attacking Madame. You guys take the chance to run outside.”

Ai looked over and saw several strong men lurking behind Julie.

“P-please wait. What are you saying? What do you mean by move’?”

The question was answered by Bendo.

“No, no, we’re just having a little trouble understanding, and we’d like you to explain it to us—it’s really not a good thing to be old. I know it’s hard for you to understand though, Missy.”

“No, no, I understand. I was over 70 years old when I died.”

“……That’s part of what makes it so hard to understand. Missus.”

“Understood—then, please ask your questions.”

“Thanks. First of all—I’d like to know the result of this ‘show’ trial, and what will happen to us.”

Tension returned to the hall, and Madame’s right cheek twitched, a few wrinkles appeared.

“…Understood. I shall inform the ‘Witch’ of the results of the trial. First of all, due to safety concerns, we cannot inform you of Master Alice’s sealing. As for the black surface, it is difficult to move, so we shall simply bury it. I believe the elevation of this hill will be doubled.”

“I see—that can be changed now, can it?”

“…Such an appeal should be made during the trial.”

Madame’s gaze finally strained. In contrast, Bendo shrugged his shoulders in bemusement.

“That’s a strange thing to say. I’m sure you’ve come to the conclusion, and all appeals shall be for naught. Didn’t you already conclude that everything you’ve done isn’t even a ‘show’ trial? You just unilaterally presented your demands and unilaterally exercised them. We are well aware of cases similar to yours–bandits.”

“…What are you trying to say?”

“‘I’m telling you that you’re nothing but bandits, Missus.”

Bendo smiled and curtsied, completely unruly the entire time.

“Therefore, we shall treat you as such.”

“So, we are, bandits, to you…”

“That’s right. Now, since we’re dealing with bandits, that’s easy. All you have to do is weigh their size and their demands. If it’s worth it, we accept it, if not, we fight””hmmm.”

Bendo’s gray eyes stared at Madame.

“The opponent is a group of Deformed that goes by the name of ‘Coven’, They have created an inexhaustible supply of weapons and have taken over the town. The damage will be enormous if we’re to fight—and for comparision, your demands are some black surface we have no idea what it’s about and a shitty brat—hmph, I see. That makes things simple.”

Bendo stroked his beard and grinned fiercely.

 

“This deal isn’t worth it!”

 

It was Alice who panicked more than anyone else.

“Be-Bendo? You idiot! What the hell were you thinking!?”

The chains on his hands jangled as he screamed.

“You just said it yourself! The town and me! There’s no need to compare the two!”

“Yeah, that’s right! There’s no need to compare this problem!”

The politician’s finger pointed at Alice.

“Alice, you don’t know how grateful we are to you at all!”

“What…?”

“You’ve forgotten, Alice! We are truly grateful to you!”

Bendo held out his hands like a phoenix., to which the citizens agreed.

“Alice, kid…you have brought our broken home back together again. We’ll never forget that.”

“I’ll never forget how you took in my entire family when our entire clan was starving to death!”

“Alice!” “Alice!”

The people thanked him, but Alice’s expression intensified with every word.

“How about it Alice!? Look how grateful we are to you! You don’t know, right? Did you forget? I hate to say this, but I feel the same way as them! We’ve left you to die twice or thrice before, but we’re not shameless enough to let this happen again!”

“You idiots!”

“Oh, you’re right, we admit it! We’re a bunch of idiots! We’re idiots who don’t live too smartly! What’s the point of intelligence in this ending world!?”

With a snap, Bendo took off his jacket, balled up his fists and swung jabs.. The old men beside him finished their preparations for battle with their ‘old moves’.

Ai could understand why Bendo did not have his usual lackeys with him. He had left the younger ones behind.

“Listen up, you bandits! Touch that boy and you’ll see! All of us Ostia citizens won’t stand for it!”

Oh! The men shouted, and the voltage in the hall reached its peak.

But despite the buzz, Alice’s expression was cold.

“No, Bendo….”

Dee muttered.

“That’s not good enough…that’s not going to stop Alice…”

Ai knew that.

She knew it was not enough.

“…Can you give me a minute?”

Alice said softly.

“What are you waiting for, Alice?”

“I wasn’t talking to you, I was talking to Madame.”

Saying that Alice looked behind.

There, an old-haired girl had a mix of of two expressions on her face. One was the expression of a child worried that a trial was to be ruined, and the other was a monster licking her tongue at the prospect of coming destruction.

“Madame, please. Wait.”

“Oh? What are we waiting for, Master Alice? Ufufu, ufufu.”

Fang clashed against fang, and jaws buzzed like wasps.

“…I’m telling you to hold those fangs.”

“Yes, of course I shall wait, I do not want to ruin it all either. But I do not have long to wait though. Ufufu, ufufufu. ”

“I’ll get them to shut up in a minute.”

Then Alice took the jug on the table and slammed it onto the floor.

Glass shattered. Ice water flowed. Everyone was silent, unable to grasp his intentions.

With all eyes on him , Alice crouched down, picked up the sharpest piece of shattered glass and,

He plunged the blade at his own neck.

The tip of the blade dug under his skin, and the transparent blade glowed red.

For the third time, silence filled the hall.

“Everyone, stop resisting.”

Ahhh.

“If you don’t stop. I’m going to cut this head off and let the Gravekeeper bury me.”

Why?

Why was he so insistent on being Alice Color? Why did he become so sharp?

Alice had the Buzzer Beater ability. At this moment, he had the ability to seemingly shooting himself out. He was a silver bullet that had been fired long ago. The magic bullet that ran with the curse of ‘certain hit’ on its body.

One would be certain the bullet would not stop until it shattered.

“Alice, you!”

Bendo’s fists were shaking. His face turned red as if it had been boiled.

“It’s no good…this isn’t going to stop Alice…”

Dee covered her face in despair.

“Schwartz. Hailette. When I give the signal, take these two and run away immediately. The rest of you follow me.”

Julie was no longer listening to them anymore, and was simply sharpening his fangs in preparation for the fight that was to come.

“Ufufu, ufufufufufu.”

Madame laughed. She laughed as though she was gnawing on a piece of chewy meat.

And Ai….

Ai was looking at Alice. She leaned forward and watched his expression for a long time. She was looking at him, expecting to see fear and hesitation. She had been looking at the expression of the sixteen-year-old boy who had shouted that he did not want Class 3-4 to die.

Alice,

 

Alice was smiling.

He looked like someone who had lived a hundred years.

He looked like someone who had lived a full life.

His expression was calm.

 

It was a smile that Ai could not help but notice. Ai’s rule was that the Dead had to die, and the Living had to live. Alice’s smile was that of a Dead, which she was powerless against.

Despair slowly strangled her heart.

Ai Astin could not save Alice Color.

The reality of the situation had taken shape in front of her eyes.

Ai Astin could not save Alice Color.

That was a simple fact that could not be changed.

Ai Astin could not save Alice Color.

It was the absolute proof that even if one was to dedicate oneself to a dream, it might not necessarily come true.

Ai Astin could not save Alice Color.

It was the last scene of the story, just as it was declared from the beginning.

Ai Astin could———————————————————

“AHHHHHH!”

Ai shouted. Her body was seemingly about to vanish like bubbles. She felt an impact all over, one which her heart, feelings and even her body were on the verge of disappearing.

“Mr. Alice!!”

All eyes were on Ai. Enemies and allies alike, everyone was looking at Ai.

Alice Color too,

Alice Color was also looking at Ai.

“Mr. Alice!”

“…What.”

“Mr Alice! Mr Alice! Mr Alice! Mr Alice!”

“I’m asking you, what…Ai Astin?”

Ai called out his name. She kept shouting, wanting to ensure that particular person was still around.

“Please don’t go!”

And Ai began. She began the most painful three minutes of her short life.

“Please don’t go! I beg of you! Please, don’t do this anymore!”

Ai Astin could not save Alice Color.

“Why! Why are you like that? Why do you keep running towards your dreams even if it means hurting yourself all over!?”

“You…”

Ai Astin could not save Alice Color.

“What is your ‘dream’? What do you ‘want’? It’s nonsense! It’s stupid!”

“Ai, what are, you …?”

For every word she spoke, her body was ripped in two.

Bones shattered, flesh tore, skin bubbled and disappeared.

Ai Astin could not save Alice Color.

Then…

She did not have to be Ai Astin.

“What are you talking…”

“You’re just trying to act cool! You just want to die for your own dreams! That’s fine for you! But what about the rest!? Us! Me! How do you think we feel?”

The words tore Ai apart the moment they left her mouth.

“Do you know how the people around you feel when they see you become so sharp? And then you finally break!? ”

“! Enough!”

“Think about the feelings of those around you!”

“Enough, Ai!”

“Please treasure yourself more!”

“Ai!”

“Please—”

 

“Live on!”

 

“………………………You got to be kidding…”

Alice’s hands shook uncontrollably. His face was flushed with pure anger.

“You’re kidding, Ai Astin…you…you….”

He exerted more strength into his right hand that was grabbing the glass shard glass, and more blood dripped from it.

“You don’t have the right to say that!!”

Alice yelled while gripping his own blood.

“You don’t have the right to say that, Ai! You’re the one who sacrificed everything for your own dream! You of all people!”

A bullet of words shot through Ai’s heart. Hundreds and thousands of fatal wounds perforated Ai.

“You said you didn’t even care about yourself! And you’re saying that now!?”

Ai’s mind disappeared, his body was ripped apart, and her spirit vanished.

“You’re the monster who goes about saving the world! And now you’re telling me consider the feelings of those around me! To treasure myself!? To live on without my dreams!?”

 

“Yeah!”

 

And…

The Ai before the age of twelve was shattered.

She was born to a Gravekeeper and a human,

Raised on falsehoods and lies,

She buried Hampnie Hambart, communed with the Princess of the Dead in the Capital of Death, grasped her dream in the School of Living,, and abused his practice in the Tower of the World.

In the World Tower, she fulfilled it—and then freed the sealed town,

Ai Astin, who had dreamed of saving the world was finally shattered to dust.

Ai was no longer Ai. The twelve-year-old girl who dreamed to sacrifice everything for her dream was gone.

“I’ll say it again as many times as I want!”

Her body felt heavy. She felt dead, as though she had lost her soul.

And yet,

“Please live, Mr. Alice!”

And yet, she cried.

“I’ll live too!”

The tears that had formed within her eyes immediately burst the dams that were her eyelids.

The tears she had forgotten for a long, long time returned.

“It’s so hard, so painful! My body feels like it’s about to fall apart, but, I…hic…I’ll keep…I’ll keep living… …”

The tears were as hot as flames, and warmed her body from where they flowed.

“So—!”

And Ai started to run.

She had no shovel, no Gravekeeper clothes.

She had abandoned all her dreams and hopes.

She just ran to him as Ai.

Time began to move slowly. Each moment seemed to melt away.

One step.

She flipped over the fence and stumbled as she ran. Bendo and the others cheered, and Julie’s fingertips, outstretched to stop Ai, just barely missed her.

Two steps.

Madame laughed as her cheeks seemingly tore away. The floor and tables became woodmen that started to suppress this ruckus. Destructive Fist rushed out, and Noellfaen floated

Three steps.

Ai took a big step with her right foot. Her teary, distorted vision caught sight of Alice. She raised her hands and took the last steps.

Four steps.

He was right in front of her—

 

Five steps.

 

And so Ai jumped into Alice’s chest.

They fell to the floor due to her momentum. Time began to flow again. The sounds of fistfights echoed and battle cries were raised.

But none of that mattered right now.

“Please live …Mr Alice…”

She put her hand on his chest and whispered while tears flowed down her face.

“Please don’t be alone…please be with everyone…with me…please live on….”

“…You’re saying that…?”

Alice remained limp as if he had been shot through the heart.

“Yes….”

“…I never thought…you would…say such a thing…”

The glass in his right hand fell with a clink.

Alice covered his face with both hands. There were two persons’ tears flowing down his face.

“Ah-ahhh…what is this situation? What kind of miracle is this? Now Ostia and Coven are at war. It’s a mess everywhere, and Dee is somehow leading the Deformed …”

He puts his hand on her head and ruffled it.

“You’re crying.”

“Wh-whose fa…”

“And…”

Alice said, and looked up to the sky. There was something shining in the sky, reflected in Ai’s eyes.

“The moon is rising.”

It was a half-moon, split down the center—no.

On a closer look, the moon was a little plump.

“What kind of miracle is this…?”

The moon of the tenth day of the month began to regrow its lost half.

Alice called the moon a miracle. Ai sat beside him, watching it as well.

Half of the moon was shining through her tears amidst the orange twilight.

Ai did not understand the tears or the meaning of the moon in that month. It did not matter. Ai Astin could not understand Alice Color.

But that was okay.

“Live on…huh?”

“Yes.”

“I have no dreams or hopes, but…just live?”

“Yes. ”

She stood up, as she had been doing for a long time. There was a crucial difference however. She stood up as though she did so for the first time in her life..

The world seemed rather interesting to her.

Bendo was beating up every woodman that came at him, the old men were showing surprising strength, Julie was calling out their names in a very pathetic manner, Dee was hiding under the desk, protected by the Deformed for some reason.

The setting sun and the rising half-moon looked down on them.

“Let’s go, Ai.”

“Yes, Mr. Alice.”

They quietly walked back into the room.

No shovel, no Gravekeeper’s outfit, no twin guns.

Just the two of them, Ai Astin and Alice Color.

They returned to the world.

 

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