It was a pure white girl.

It was a little girl so small that she could be called a child, floating out of the black surface and fluttering to the ground along with her dress.

Her skin, hair, and everything else was dyed white. It was a new color, akin to the first snowfall of the season, but also an old color akin to bone fragments.

Ai gulped and stared at the reality before.

The girl landed on the ground and took two steps.

“Kya!” She then shrieked and fell on her buttocks.

Her lightly pigmented eyes fluttered open and she looked around.

Her adorable left Ai giggling. The tension eased, and her tense body relaxed.

Since she was able to appear from the black surface, surely this girl was not ordinary.

But at the same time so what? She wondered. The girl just looked so confused, so uneasy, that there was only one thing Ai should do.

“…Hey, wait.”

She was about to take a step forward, but Alice held her shoulder firmly.

“…Don’t underestimate her just because she looks like a brat.”

“I don’t care. I’m not going to change my attitude whether it’s a baby or a monster.”

“Ah, oi! Wait! At least I’ll go first!”

“No, no, I’ll go.”

Eventually, the two basically raced their way to the girl.

“Oi kid.”

Alice folded his arms and spoke up preemptively.

“Who are you? How did you get over the black surface?”

“……”

“Speak. Are you unable to talk?”

The girl immediately became frightened and raised her eyebrows in anxiety.

“Come on, be honest. This town is experiencing an abnormal time now. If your attitude is bad, be care owowowowowowow!”

“Seriously, Mr. Alice, you shouldn’t bully her. Look how pitiful she is.”

“Don’t you feel sorry for my foot that you stepped on?”

“Enough already, just let her go—sorry, this guy looks a little scary, but he’s not. See?”

Bending down and making eye contact with the girl, Ai smiled at her again.

“Do you understand what I’m saying?”

“What’s with you? Aren’t you saying what I’m talking about?”

“Mr, Alice—see? He’s not scary, right?”

Ai shoved Alice away from the girl and gently patted her on the head.

“Ah.”

But right when her hand was about to make contact, pak, her hand was deflected.

“…Hey.”

Alice immediately made a scary face.

“That’s quite a greeting, ….”

“Wait, Mr. Alice, that was me—”

Ai tried to ease the situation.

“…sy”.

But that was only for Ai’s convenience.

“Eh?”

It had nothing to do with the girl’s situation.

“I said you’re noisy!”

Suddenly, the girl shouted.

“I’m telling you to shut up!”

Ai was silent.

“Don’t you get carried away, you side characters! Don’t get in the way of my life!”

Alice too fell silent. Neither of them was moved by the words.

What stopped them were the tears that filled the girl’s eyes.

“I’m busy right now! If you’re not involved, move aside! ”

The girl then turned around, ignoring them.

She turned around and shouted at the black surface,

 

“You idiot—————!”

 

The insult echoed through the night.

“Idiot! Fool! Dimwit! Doofus————!”

The girl was insulting someone that was on the other side of the black surface with all her might. However, her insult was heartfelt , clearly resonating with each word.

At the top of the burning hill, the girl was shouting through her tears.

Ai finally realized that she had nowhere to go, and had nowhere to retreat. She was caught in a  predicament, but did her best to endure and stand upright.

“I’ll do everything! Whatever you can’t, I’ll do everything…I’ll…do it…”

Ai gently went over to her side. The girl was really a child, and was about as tall as Ai’s shoulder or so.

How could Ai ignore such a child?

“Ah, hey, you!”

Ai ignored Alice’s call to stop her, and approached the girl.

This time, the girl did not rebuff Ai.

“I can do my best…on my own…”

Despite her words, the girl gently pinched Ai’s shirt and rested her head into the latter’s chest.

Ai imitated what her mother used to do, which was so long ago that she could hardly remember, and gently patted the girl on the back.

“…So, so…uuu…”

Like the Aesop of the north wind and the sun, the girl did not lose to the harshness of the north wind, but she could not defeat the warmth of the sun.

“………Uuu……Fuuuuuuuu————”

She began to cry, quietly.

“……”

Ai did to the girl all the things she wished others would do for her when she was sad. She stayed by the girl’s side and quietly patted her head. The girl stiffened and remained in Ai’s clutches, crying with her tears scorching like a flame.

“……………Mom…”

Ai had no idea who the girl was, why she had come out of the black surface, or why she was in the form of a child. She could not understand anything.

But aside from those, she already knew the important part.

The girl must have come to this world with a mission.

She had left her mother.

That was enough reason for Ai to help her.

“It’s okay.”

Ai lied.

Her intuition told her that the girl bore a cruel fate. Like Ai and Alice, she was living under a fate that would twist even their lives.

But still, Ai said,

“You’re definitely going to be fine…”

The girl’s cries echoed in the festive music and faded away.

 

+

 

The next morning.

The girl woke up in an unfamiliar room.

“……”

She slowly got up in a dim room shrouded with thick curtains. The shovel and cologne were methodically laid out in the room, suggesting the owner’s personality.

She slipped out of bed and walked out of the room. Beyond the door was a short hallway with a staircase right across it. The girl carefully walked down each step, leaning on the handrail that was about her height.

“—♪”

The humming could be heard from the first floor.

Julie and family, who had lost their house during the prior incident, were living in an apartment. Ai was humming in the kitchen on the first floor.

“—~The red~flowers~,are like fufufu~♪”

She had her hair tied, an apron on, and started chopping vegetables in rhythm.

She adjusted the flame with a paddle, and poured the vegetables in starting from the one that would take the longest to cook. The whole process went as smoothly and efficiently as if there were a process chart.

“Now, time to wake everyone up.”

Normally, Scar and Julie would be the ones cooking, but on this day, Ai decided to do everything by herself as a service.

She stirred the soup and glanced up at the ceiling. There must be Julie and family, Alice, and Dee, who had been using this house as a vacation home.

—And that girl too

“…Hmm.”

Ai undid her apron and looked towards the girl’s room.

The previous night.

Last night.

A while passed, and the girl cried till exhaustion, falling asleep as though she had passed out. Ai had no choice but to carry the girl to her room.

“Well, let’s see how it tastes.”

She mumbled to herself, and took a small sip of the soup. She was not snacking, but tasting, which was part and parcel of proper cooking. She had long grown past the immature act called snacking.

…Well, she might have drank a little too much.

At that moment,

“What are you doing?”

A voice called out.

“Woah!?”

Ai hurriedly hid the small plate and turned around.

“I-I’m just tasting, tasting!…Hm, huh?”

Ai had expected to see an exasperated looking Scar or a smirking Dee, but she was wrong.

It was the pure white girl from yesterday. The girl was still wearing the same dress as before, standing quietly at the entrance to the kitchen.

“You’re awake? Good morning.”

Ai bent down and smiled.

“……”

The girl did not reply. It appeared she was not ignoring Ai, just confused.

“Good morning.”

Ai repeated again. The confusion became more obvious.

Hmm, Ai tilted her head.

“If someone says ‘good morning’, you reply with ‘good morning’.”

Such a response would have mustered a ‘don’t belittle me’ response or the like, but the girl genuinely tilted her head.

“…Why do you do that?”

“That’s how you want to play…?” Ai groaned

“Well, I guess. If we don’t start off with this, I’ll worry about how to begin a conversation, I guess?”

“Worry?”

“Yes. Even when talking to someone, if there’s no greeting as an opening, it’s hard to talk, right? You won’t know what to say then.”

“……Yes…Yes!”

The girl nodded vigorously, seemingly in agreement. Oh? Ai wondered.

“…Were you confused for so long when you tried to talk to me earlier?”

The girl’s cheeks flushed red like an instant water heater. Her reactions were too easy to understand, pfft, and Ai let out a giggle.

There was no malice at all, but the girl immediately misunderstood.

“…Not…”

“Eh?”

“…Not at all….”

“Sorry, can you be a little louder—”

“So!”

Bang! The table was slammed.

 

“I’m not bothered!”

 

Ai blinked away.

“I am not! Why would I be bothered about talking to you!? Don’t take me for an idiot! You get me!?”

“H-huh.”

Hmph! She turned away, her long hair flying.

She was truly a fireball of a girl.

She was not the type of girl Ai had seen before. Of the women Ai met, there were princesses or noblewomen, but this girl was far more queenly than them.

But it did not mean that I disliked her. The girl had her own ‘behavior’, and this might be many times better than yesterday’s whimpering.

But that was not the point.

“But still, you should return the greeting.”

Right? Ai knelt down and smiled at her. Her stubbornness would not lose out to the girl.

“See?”

“……”

“Good morning.”

The girl kept her face averted, but eventually a small voice blurted out.

“……Morning.”

“Yes, good morning. You’ve done well. Good job.”

“D-Don’t take me for an idiot! ”

“Ah, sorry about that.”

Ai patted the girl on the head, only to be told off. Ai used to get angry whenever others treated her as a child, and she immediately regretted her actions (Julie, for example, would make an ill-advised excuse like, ‘well, I was just tall enough to pat, so I just did it’.). The most important part here was a chance to teach.

“Sorry. Here, take this as an apology.”

Ai put the cup on the table.

“…What is this?

The girl is staring at the cup, half curious, half wary.

“It’s hot chocolate.”

“……Hot, what?”

“Erm, it’s a drink made of chocolate melted with warm milk.”

“Chocolate?”

“You don’t know about chocolate?”

“I-I have! I just haven’t eaten it! Is that bad!?”

“It’s not bad, it’s sad.”

Young people these days are truly pitiful, Ai shook her head.

“Not knowing what chocolate is is a loss in life. Well, go ahead and try it. It’s hot, so be careful. ”

“……”

The cup was lifted with trepidation as if it were a bomb.

“—~It’s hot!”

“Ah goodness, I told you…do blow at it. Fuu~ fuu~ ”

Ai blew at her own cup to demonstrate. The girl imitated her and started blowing as well.

“It’s sweet….”

She took a sip and was surprised.

“Do you like it sweet?”

The girl kept nodding.

“That’s good.”

The girl drank the hot chocolate in a trance, and Ai too began to drink just as the girl did.

—I wonder what kind of girl she is? Ai wondered.

Ai had been wondering the entire time what kind of person was this girl who was obviously yet to be fifteen and had just appeared from the black surface.

She knew. This girl was just a normal, stubborn girl.

In that case, everything should be fine.

“My name is Ai Astin.”

“…Hmm?”

The girl nodded while holding the cup. Obviously, she did not respond by introducing herself.

“You can call me Ai…so, what’s your name?”

The girl responded as if she was taking a breath in between sips of chocolate.

“None.”

“Is it…’Nai’? Or is it ‘Nein’?”

The girl shook her head.

“Wait, you mean you don’t have a name?”

The girl nodded.

“Erm, let’s change the question…h-how old are you now? Actually, I’m thirteen. In this world, nobody’s younger than me…”

The girl raised four fingers.

(………Fourteen years old? No, four years old?)

Ai felt that neither seemed possible.

But the reality was even more improbable.

“Four days?”

“Eh?”

“I was born four days ago.”

Even Ai was greatly troubled by this.

The conversation skills she had crafted in her life did not work at all, and even mere greetings could not work. She had no idea how to talk to the girl at all.

This time, the girl appeared to be observing Ai closely.

“…Is it bad?”

“Eh?”

“Is it bad if I don’t have a name?”

Her expression consisted of 90% hostility and 10% fear.

“Hmm” Ai crossed her arms and pondered. Was it bad not to have a name? Ai considered both the question itself and the emotion in the girl’s eyes as she thought about her answer.

The answer came easily.

“No, not really.”

“Is that so?”

“I don’t think it’s a bad thing.”

“…Then just shut up.”

The girl’s reply was cold, but Ai noticed that her mood improved slightly.

“Fufufufu.”

Ai smiled sweetly and patted the girl on the head. This would be a good time to do so.

“… What?”

“Nothing.”

The girl looked like a grumpy cat, but she let Ai continue to pat away.

“Do you want another?”

“……Yes.”

The two of them kept drinking hot chocolate until the others woke up. Ai felt that the answer she got would be a lie if she kept questioning, and thus did not ask any further. She felt it was fine.

Just as being strong-willed and stubborn was not a bad thing.

Just as being half Gravekeeper and half human was not a bad thing.

It was not wrong either to not have a name.

 

+

 

“—So, this is ‘Nein’, a girl with no name who came all the way over the black surface. She’s only four days old.”

“Sure, hold on.”

It happened when they were in the dining room, finishing their breakfast.

Julie put down the tea he had just raised, and furrowed her brows, ‘hold up’ gesturing with his right hand. Of course, Ai did not wait.

“So-so anyway, I’d like to have her stay in our home…”

“I told you to wait. Please, wait a minute.”

Julie tapped his fingers on the table and pondered. He knew it, he knew this would happen. He knew from the moment this girl said, “Ah, Good morning, Mr. Julie…” He knew it was going to be one of those incidents that would be difficult to resolve.

Okay, Julie decided.

“…First, let me ask. Did the girl come over the black surface?”

“Yes, Mr. Alice and I are sure of it.”

Hm, that’s one step forward. Julie clenched his fists tightly. He could not understand, but he at least knew what the situation was. What was impressive about it? Did an impossible existence not appear from an impossible place recently? It was just that simple.

“So, this child was only born four days ago and has no name?”

“Apparently.”

“Why?”

“Well, I didn’t ask. I don’t know…”

Hmm, given how vast this world was, perhaps there was nothing strange even if that might be the case—truth be told, Julie wondered about the thought process of his daughter, given how she failed to ask such an important question. However…

No, there was no need to bother with that at this moment. The problem was the next issue.

“So, what’s with you calling her ‘Nein’…she doesn’t have a name, right?”

Ai replied,.

“I named her.”

“You did?”

Exhausted, Julie let out a huge sigh. The cause of his greatest bewilderment was ultimately the person before him. In hindsight, this was always the case. No matter how incredulous or incomprehensible the situation was, it was never as much of a fantasy as Ai was.

A hand was placed on Julie’s shoulder. He looked behind, “My sympathies” and found such a look from Alice, who shook his head. The kindness was painful.

“… Does that name mean anything?”

“Well actually, I was initially mistaken, but it sounds nice, so I decided to name her that. Ehehe~”

He had no idea how he should handle this ‘praise me all you want’ look. Why did she have such a naming sense, and the audacity to show such a face? Julie was thoroughly incredulous.

“…You’re fine with that?”

The girl who had been drinking tea (with lots of sugar and milk) said as though she was uninvolved,

“Not really.”

“But it’s about your name.”

“So?”

Hmmm. Julie crosses his arms, and groand. This girl differed from Ai, but she too was a bother.

“…I do not think it matters though?”

Just then, there was an unexpected helping hand. It was Scar.

“If we are talking about no names, I too am the same, in a certain sense.”

“…Speaking of which, that seems to be the case.”

“Yes, Gravekeepers are usually named in the spur of the moment. I used to be called various names like ‘Maria’ or ‘inhuman’. The name Scar is one I prefer, but was originally intended as a derogatory insult.”

“So that’s how it was…”

“Yes, I feel what is important is not the form or origin, but what the person feels.”

Hmm, Julie stroked his beard. Scar’s words were very convincing.

…I’m getting old, too.

Julie suddenly smiled and bowed to Scar.

“I see, you’ve taught me a thing or two.”

“No, far from it…”

“Nope, take this for example, I never knew of the origin of your name…more importantly, I never thought of the origin of a name…I really am a worthless man…”

“That is not true…you are an outstanding man now.”

“It’s nice of you to say so…thanks.”

“No…ufufu.”

Ahahah, ufufu, daw daw, the trio mentally checked out..

“Ignore the old man and the others. Let’s continue.”

“Okay.”

Alice and Ai seemingly received the baton, and leaned forward.

“I’ll ask you again. Who are you? What do you want? How did you get through the black surface?”

“Wait a minute, Mr. Alice, that’s not the way to ask. It doesn’t feel this way anymore.”

“Shut up. What do you mean, ‘feel’? Don’t make it sound so vague. I got to be certain for the sake of the town. This little fella just seems suspicious.”

The two of them loudly exchanged their opinions. They bickered away, understanding each other’s stance perfectly, and never diverged from the topic. In an instant, it became personal attacks at each other.

“You say that, Mr Alice, but don’t you always shoulder everything and then mess up? Please correct this part of you that’s so uptight yet so wrong!”

“You brat! What about you!? You’re just a fantasista who lives by intuition and feeling! Try and predict how the future will go!”

“Ahh, ahh, ahh, you’re mentioning that! Then I’ll make this clear—”

Neither of them backed down.

In the midst of all this commotion, the girl in question was rather quiet as if she were an outsider. She ate her meal alone in peace, drank her tea, exhaled and said,

“’Thanks for the food’.”

Is this okay? The tone she spoke with seemed as though she was asking if it was appropriate.  Ai stopped pinching Alice’s cheeks for the time being and gave her a thumbs-up.

The girl stood up,

“…Just to say this first, I don’t intend to laze here, so don’t worry. I have something to do too. I should go…then, ‘goodbye’.”

“Huh?”

The girl said, and simply left the room. Ai hurriedly tried to stop her, but a tad before that,

 

“But things aren’t that simple, right?”

 

Dee Ensy, who had been quietly listening to the conversation, spoke up.

Nein, who had her hand on the door, stopped and turned around.

Dee put down her cup and smiled,

“You seem to be mistaken, so I’ll make this clear. We’re not talking about whether we should take in a runaway girl.

“But I am.”

“…Correction, we, as in Alice and me.”

Ahem, she coughed.

“I don’t know if you understand, but I don’t think of you as just a kid. I think of you more like a ticking bomb. I don’t know if you’ll explode, and how powerful it’ll be. We can’t just leave something like that in the town. You know that, right?”

“…So what do you want?”

Nein frowned, not bothering to hide her unhappiness.

“Are you saying you’re going to tear me apart like a bomb?”

“No, we won’t do that.”

“”Oh, that’s nice. Naïve even.”

“That’s because we can’t act freely. If this bomb is actually working, we might get blown up.”

“……”

Nein’s eyes changed, and Dee smiled.

“So, I’d like to negotiate with you.”

“Negotiate?”

“Yeah, I just need you to answer a few questions.”

“…What do I gain by answering them?”

“Well, if you answer my questions, I’ll make sure nobody gets in your way. In this town at least.”

“……Sure.”

Turning around, Nein looked at Dee properly for the first time.

“Well, ask whatever you want.”

“Thanks. First of all, can you tell me the full name of your ‘mother’?”

“…That is a weird question. I don’t mind though…Uland. Uland El Saikavati. That’s my mother’s name.”

…Who is that?

Such was the mood in the living room. Ai, of course, had no idea who that person was, and neither did Alice and Scar, it seemed.

“…You know my mother?”

“Well, sort of. Hmm~ as expected, I see…”

Dee alone was the only one nodded with a look of understanding on her face.

“Okay, good. Thank you for your cooperation.”

“You’re done?”

“I would have asked more if it had been another name, and I’m not interested in rolling for the lottery after winning.”

“I see.”

This time, Nein tried to turn and leave.

“Oh, well, you don’t have to answer, it’s just out of simple interest for me.”

Dee asked as Nein walked away.

“What is your objective?”

“Objective?”

“Yes, objective. Or I guess you could call it a dream.”

“…My, dream…”

The question must have struck a chord with her, for Nein paused for a moment as though she was struck by something. She then smiled, like a bird flapping its wings for the first time in its life.

Nobody had ever seen such a boastful and radiant smile from her, one filled with such radiance befitting her age.

“…That was decided from the start.”

Nein said.

 

“I’m going to save the world.”

 

Oh, I see, Dee replied.

Eh? Ai blurted out.

Alice and Julie were both frozen. The cold air had dominated the space at the dining table.

That answer. That dream,

“Wa-wait, please wait.”

Was Ai’s.

“When you say saving the world, that’s—?”

Ai wanted to be certain, but by then, Nein’s eyes did not seem to see them at all.

“Yes. That’s what I was born to do!”

Such was the radiance of her smiling face.

“So I’m telling you, wait…”

“Yes! I can’t stay like this! Wait for me, world! I’m coming!”

With that, Nein sped off without looking back.

“Eh? Eh? Ehhh~!”

Ai’s scream was all that echoed.

“Wait! Please wait, Miss Nein!”

The agape mouth only lasted for a few seconds, and Ai quickly followed her out into the street.

Luckily, Ai found her immediately. Nein had only walked a distance of three houses down the street.

“Goodness! Why did you suddenly walk off?”

Ai asked as she ran after Nein, who then glanced back at her.

“…You could have just left me alone.”

“Haa, haa …goodness, that’s quite a retort.”

Alice, who too had bolted out, said.

“What are you saying? You’re the one who walked out so slowly. It’s obvious you want us to come after you.”

“—!!”

“Goodness, Mr. Alice. Please stop—I’m sorry. He’s usually not this spiteful.”

“……”

Huh? Ai was taken aback by the girl’s reason. She had assumed the girl would get angry and say, “Don’t mess with me!” or “Stay back!” but in fact, she just looked frightened and hid behind Ai.

“Oh my my…you’re so cute…”

“…Wait a minute, why are you only acting like this towards me…?”

“I guess it’s the difference in first impressions. See, he’s not scary, not scary.”

Good, good,Ai said, patting Nein on the head. “…I’m going off,” the girl said and started walking again.

The two of them had no choice but to follow her from behind.

The trio walked through the town in the morning. There were a lot of dilapidated houses in this area that were repaired, and reconstruction was well underway.

“Say, Miss Nein.”

Ai asked, peeking out from behind Nein’s back.

“…What?”

“What did you mean when you said you were going to ‘save the world’?”

“…Do you want to hear!?”

“Ye-yeah.”

Nein’s eyes sparkled  as though she was a young craftsman being questioned about her work, and she answered in a sagely manner,

“It’s exactly as I say. I’m going to save the world.”

“Huh, but how?”

“I don’t know.”

“Huh?”

“I’ll figure that out later…! But! Anyway! I’m going to save the world!”

Ai seemed to have heard that line before, somewhere.

“Because that’s what I was born for! I was born to do this!”

Ai could feel her face cooling down. “Is that so?” She was able to say so with surprising calmness. That was why she said the following,

“So, can I go with you then?”

“Are you going to help me?”

“Yes, because I had the same dream once. I’m your senior, after all.”

Ai proudly puffed her chest.

“Really? That’s great!…But why do you say ‘before’?”

“That’s because…I failed so badly that I gave up.”

“I see…, but don’t worry! I’ll save the world for you instead!”

“Ahaha, thank you very much.”

“To do that, I have to see the world first! I’m going to a place with a lot of people!”

“I’ll accompany you.”

Nein waved her arms  and started walking. Ai slowly followed behind her.

“…Hey.”

Alice followed before her, his face clearly showing an urge to say something as he patted Ai on the shoulder. Ai smiled and answered, “It’s okay.” She was not lying; she was telling the truth.

She lost my dream, she betrayed it.

And she even validated this betrayal..

And yet, she was really fine. She had made peace with it.

She was just a little sad about that.

“Hurry!”

The shining child was running before them.

“I’m coming!”

Ai chased after her.

Despite knowing she would never be able to catch up.

 

+

 

The main street through Ostia was thus the most crowded place in the world.

People queued up to get to the black surface, seemingly forming a giant snake that coiled around. coiling. It was no longer a ‘line’ but more like a ‘crowd’, and the line functioned as a kind of community. People ate, slept, and went about their daily lives. Some even started new businesses.

This incident happened at a particular corner.

“Hey! You!”

Nein caught a passerby again. This time, it was a middle-aged man walking around selling bread.

‘Yes, yes, my dear. Would you like to have one?”

With a good-natured smile, the man offered a loaf of bread. But Nein shook her head.

“I don’t want any bread!”

“Then what about sweets? We have cookies and donuts.”

“Don’t want them!”

Listen to me! Nein got angry.

“Enough with them! Are you saved right now?”

“Huh?”

The man gave a bewildered look.

“You know what? I’m saving the world! Right now!”

“H-huh?.”

“So, for starters, I’m going to save you! Now, tell me what you want!”

“……”

The plastered courteous smile peeled away immediately, but Nein did not notice..

“I’ll do anything! I’ll make it happen!”

“…Tch, an abandoned child?”

The man did not bother to reply, and chanted to ward off bad luck before leaving.

“Ah, wait, you!—Goodness! Why!?”

Nein’s body trembled with frustration, and she clenched her fists, stomping with tears in her eyes. The next moment, however, she found someone else, cheered up, and said, “Hey! You—” and attacked.

 

“Hey, listen! I’m saving the world!”

 

Ai leaned against a nearby wall and watched the scene.

“……”

It was already around noon.

Nein had been repeating these actions the entire time.

“…You’re not stopping her?”

Alice said as he fiddled with a skewer he had bought at a nearby street vendor.

“…….”

Ai lifted a nearby plate and stood up. On the plate was Nein’s meal, which had gone completely cold.

An old woman with a bent back was running away.

“Ah, wait!”

“Thank you for your hard work.”

Ai stepped in to cover for the old woman’s escape, and spoke before Nein could.

“Why don’t you take a break and have some food?”

Nein turned her face away with a disgruntled expression.

“…No need.”

“Well, don’t say that. Why don’t I buy you a new one?”

“I said no! Seriously! Just scream, Ai!…Ah! You! I’m calling you”

The fruit vendor boy ran away.

“Take a break, you might have a better idea.”

Ai said to a huffing Nein.

“…….”

“Alright?”

“…Just leave it. I’ll eat it later.”

Unable to say anything else, Ai put the plate on a nearby fence and returned to the wall.

“How did it go?”

“There’s progress. She said she’d eat it later.”

“…I see.”

Once again, they were leaning against the wall, watching Nein’s struggle.

She called out to anyone and everyone, was ignored, shunned as an abhorrence, but she went on to find a next target.

As Nein tried to chase after the fleeing man, she slipped and fell. She fell face first into the mud, and the manner she did so seemed so pitiful. However, she did not cry or wail in agony, and suddenly lifted her face and stood up. There was no murkiness in her eyes, no hint of resignation.

No matter how many times she was rejected or ignored, Nein never gave up and just kept running forward.

“Hey, Mr. Alice.”

Ai said, leaning against the wall with clear feelings.

“I wonder if Mr. Julie has always felt this way.”

“……”

Alice did not respond.

Ai imagined herself in Julie’s shoes, watching someone getting wet in the rain from a safe place.

That big airhead of a childish man who could never read the mood…

Was still an adult after all.

With a pat on the head, Alice nodded. It was very good timing.

“Say.”

Eventually, Alice asked, seemingly having decided on something.

“…Are you sure you want to help her?”

“No way.”

Ai immediately replied and slowly her head, “I guess” and Alice exhaled.

“Yeah, you’re right…”

“Yes, I’m just going to watch and wait…until the moment she fails.”

Just as the big man did.

“That’s fine…but it’s going to be a long while.”

It was not going to end in a day or two. After all, it took Ai almost a year.

“I guess. That girl seems to have a lot of guts.”

“Haha, that’s saying something if you say…let’s prepare ourselves mentally then.”

“Yes.”

They had enough of sticking to the wall the entire time. The two of them bounced away.

“Well, I’m going to force answers out of Dee. She definitely knows something.”

“Please do. Please also ask her about Uland El Saikavati, especially.”

“All right…by the way, do you have any impression of this name?”

“No. What about you, Mr. Alice?”

“I’d say me neither, but I felt like I heard this name before, or not…”

“Maybe you can ask Miss Dee about that too.”

“I guess so. Well, I’m off. If you have to go somewhere else, get someone to give me a holler.”

“Okay.”

And right when they were about to move.

 

“Don’t mess with me!”

 

Snap! And then the plate of skewers was stepped on and cracked.

“Kyaa!”

Nein was pushed away and fell on her buttocks.

‘Mr Alice.”

“I know.”

They both started running at the same time.

“What’s the point of saving the world? What granting wishes? You’re an idiot!”

In the back alley, a man was enraged.

The man was a traveler who appeared to be on his way to the black surface, seemingly angered by Nein’s words. Under his feet were trampled skewers, and Nein was wide eyed after she was shoved.

The man swung his leg up—

“Oh no!”

Alice immediately intercepted the opponent, and hooked his foot from behind.

“Gwah! What!?”

It seemed the man did not know what happened, and noticed Alice’s presence only when the latter hooked his arms and pinned his shoulder down.

“Hey! What are you doing?”

“That’s my line. Calm down. You’re dealing with a kid.”

“Like I care! This girl! This brat! She just has to…damn it! Let go! Let go of meeeee!!”

“Miss Nein, are you okay!?”

Ai rushed over and gently lifted Nein’s body.

“Owowowowow…”

It seemed Nein did not hit the back of her head, and merely rubbed her back waist. Ai let out a sigh of relief.

Nein was full of vigor as she got up and glared at the man.

“Hey! What are you doing? I’m just asking for a wish!”

“Miss Nein, please stop!”

“W-wait, Ai!? Why are you stopping me?”

“Stop!”

The man was violent, but Ai could not bring herself to reproach the man.

At this moment, Ai understood the predicament he was in.

“Hee!”

Suddenly, there was a strange sound

The strange sound echoed around. At the same time, the man screamed and held his shoulder.

“? Hey, what was that noise? Are you hiding something?”

“I-I’m not hiding anything! Okay! I’m not gonna struggle anymore!”

“enough, take off your clothes for a second. Let me see your shoulders.”

“That’s…”

“You don’t want to?”

Crack, crack.

“Hee! All right, all right! Let me go! Don’t grab me so hard!”

It was bad.

“Mr. Alice, let him go!”

Ai shouted.

“No, but he might still try something—”

“Just let him go!”

But it was too late.

“Huh?”

And then, Alice blurted out in confusion.

The next moment, the man’s arm came off his shoulder.

“Gyyyaaahhh!”

“Wha! I didn’t mean to…”

Alice held onto the right arm he pulled off, looking confused.

“Ahhhh! My arm! My right arm!”

The man snatched his arm away and hugged it firmly.

“…Ah, are you, actually.”

Alice too noticed.

The man was a Dead.

“Uu, uuuu…don’t don’t. Don’t look at me like that. …”

The man cried, huddling to hide his body.

But his eyes were so dry that not a single tear spilled.

“Damn you…why, why am I…this is too much.”

The man sobbed and grieved as if his swollen pus had burst. Ai could roughly deduce the situation after seeing him like this.

It was one of the major problems plaguing the town at the moment.

The black surface was a door leading to a new world. However, the door was only open to the Living, and the Dead could not pass through.

Still, there were many Dead who came for the black surface. They were deceived by vague rumors , or harbored a glimmer of hope when they came over. They tried to pass through the black surface, but they could not and slowly gave up, but were unable to do so completely. Thus, they could only wander in the town.

Surely the same fate befell upon this man.

“…A door to the new world finally opens, but if I die…it’s pointless, right?”

The man cried. He was no longer able to shed tears, but he was still crying out with all his might.

He was basically living in hell on earth. What would the situation be like if a stranger said to him, ‘I will make your wish come true’? What would happen if someone lied to him while he was in the depths of despair?

The answer was clearer than fire.

“Then I’ll tell you! Yeah, sure, I’ll tell you!”

And the man said,

 

“All I want is to ‘come back to life’!”

 

Ah…Ai had the urge to sigh.

“Come on, make my wish come true! Save meeeee!!!”

The man finally broke down in tears and fell to the ground. He was not bothered about preserving his pride, and was plunged in real despair.

“…Miss Nein, please apologize.”

She knew that Nein’s dream would eventually be broken, but it was heart wrenching when the moment came.

Still, Ai nudged the girl in the back.

“Why?”

But the girl only tilted her head puzzledly, just as she had done when she did not understand the etiquette of greeting others.

“…Please don’t be silly.”

Trying hard to control her frustration, Ai continued to speak.

“You’re the one who made him sad by saying things you can’t feel, right…you should apologize for that.”

But again, Nein tilted her head.

“So why?”

“Miss Nein…”

Ai exerted more strength as she grabbed the shoulder.

“…This isn’t a situation where you should be stubborn.”

“I don’t need you to decide for me. It’s unpleasant, you know?”

Nein, however, squirmed uncomfortably and fled from Ai’s grasp.

“So, what do you want me to do, bring him back to life?”

That’s easy, isn’t it? She smiled as she said.

“eh?” Nobody could believe their ears. Not Ai, nor Alice’s, nor the man’s.

And Nein nonchalantly approached the man before them.

 

“Come, the ‘Witch’s Daughter’ shall grant a wish!”

 

Saying that, she touched the rotting scalp of the man.

Something was about to happen.

“Wh-what are you doing!? What do you want!? Hey! ”

The man sensed something was wrong and backed away. But Nein did not stop.

“I don’t care if it’s god or devil! Make my wish come true!”

“O-Oi! What!? What are you doing!?”

And then she said the words of the wish.

 

“Revive! This! Man! ”

 

The next moment.

“Whoa! Whoooooaaaaaaa!!!”

The man’s body was engulfed in light.

“Wh-what is this!? Whoa! Whooooaaaa!!”

The man’s body gradually changed in the light. It was as if a film was being rewound, his old wounds closed quickly, his missing parts were regenerated, and his decaying skin peeled off like scabs.

And then.

“Yes, it’s done.”

Nein said, removing her hand.

By then, the Dead was nowhere to be found.

There was only a  man in rags.

“Eh?”

The man looked at his hands and blurted out in skepticism. His skin had regained the color of freshness.

“There, this should be fine, right?”

Nein smiled proudly.

Ai and Alice were stupefied.

The man patted his face.

“… This is ridiculous, is this a dream?”

“No, it’s reality.”

“Reality…”

The man’s hands touched his head, then his body, and finally, his chest.

“I-It’s beating!”

Thud, thud, The man’s heart was throbbing through his clothes.

“My heart’s beating!”

“Told you so.”

“T-thank you! You’re my savior!”

“Kyah!”

Crying, the man picked Nein up in his arms. Tears that were never supposed to flow again were spilling from his eyes.

“Please, let me thank you!”

“I don’t need that. I just want to save the world.”

“My God! Are you a Saint?”

“I’m not that—seriously, I told you who I am.”

I have no choice now. Nein beamed, looking as though she had no choice but to introduce herself again.

“I’m Nein Saikavati…”

Ai was still frozen in place.

 

“I’m the ‘Witch’s Daughter’.”

 

That day, news of the ‘Witch’s return’ shook the world.

 

+

 

“Witch.”

Of all the many Deformed in the world, there were fewer than five who bore that title.

“Witch of the Far North,” “Witch of the West,” and “Witch of the Pumpkin”.

They were all exceptionally powerful, but it was not enough for them to be dubbed Witches. In addition to their power, they needed a special orientation to bear the name.

That would be the nature of ‘helping people’

Take the Witch of the West, Dee Ensy, for example.

She “whispered” to people to end the world.

If a village was about to be attacked by bandits, she would tell them of the danger. If a general was bent on righteousness, she would tell him of the secret passages of the palace.

All of these actions were done for the personal purpose of ‘making Alice give up his dream’, but it was still true that she had saved people.

“Those that grant the wishes of others in order to fulfill their own wishes.”

Such was the condition of those who were dubbed ‘Witch’.

—Even the original ‘Great Witch’, Uland El Saikavati, was no exception.

 

Running up the flaming hill, Ai barged into the building beside the black surface.

“Miss Dee!”

She shoved the staff members aside and entered. The room was filled with a ruckus, and there was the name of the ‘Witch’ echoing everywhere.

Only her surroundings were quiet.

“Miss Dee!”

“Yes, yes, it’s Miss Dee. Wait a minute~.”

The owner of the place was reading papers, listening to reports, writing, and talking to Ai like a juggler tossing more balls.

“I can’t wait!”

Ai’s suppressed emotions exploded, and she raised her voice.

“You! You knew about that girl, didn’t you?”

An unpleasant air filled the tent. Everyone here was an adult, and nobody had the time to bother with a child’s tantrum. Furthermore, Dee was their leader, and the hulking man next to her, Destructive Fist, Maccia Electus, got up, ready to usher Ai out.

However, Dee was the one who stopped them, as though indicating that it was important to talk to Ai as she put her pen down.

“All right—let’s talk. Sorry to keep you waiting.”

Her attitude was that of a king bowing to a beggar.

“…No, I’m sorry I yelled at you.”

Ai turned her head aside awkwardly. But, of course, Dee did not spare her.

“Ah yes, Ai. Would you like a cup of coffee or tea? Dust isn’t here, so I can make you a cup of tea if you want. Maccia can massage your shoulders if you’re tired. He might look like a brute, but he’s pretty good—”

“Goodness, Miss Dee!”

Ai could not help but shout out. She preferred to be shouted at rather than be toyed by Dee.

Dee laughed and actually brewed some coffee.

“Have you calmed down a bit?”

“…Yes.”

Ai frowned and drank her coffee, feeling as if Dee dealt with her as she had done to Nein this morning.

“Good good. We don’t want to start panicking. Now, to answer your question. You ask me if I know the girl?”

Ai licked the sugar-laden coffee.

“Of course I don’t.”

Dee’s attitude seemed pretentious, and Ai was inadvertently wary.

“…Are you serious?”

“It’s true. I’ve never met her before.”

“…But it seems like you know something about the girl.”

“I don’t know anything, I just guessed with my knowledge and wisdom.”

Dee laughed like a master handing down her secrets.

“It’s a simple process of elimination. If we’re talking about any Deformed who can pass through the black surface and return, there’s only that woman I can think of..

“Deformed…”

Yes, let’s talk about that first. Dee said and sipped some coffee to douse her lips

‘Don’t be surprised, okay? Conservatively speaking, she’s on a completely different level from those who are dubbed ‘West’ or ‘North’ or the like—if there’s one way to describe her ability, she’s ‘omnipotent’.”

What does that mean? Ai tilted her head in confusion.

“Omnipotent…so basically, what can she do?”

“Pretty much, ‘anything’, she can do everything. She can revive the Dead, or create something out of nothing.”

Ai had assumed it was some kind of metaphor or joke. However, Dee remained serious the entire time.

“—The Deformed are gifts God grants to those who wish—that’s what people say, but she’s different. Usually, they’ll receive one in a moment of yearning desire, but she was seemingly beloved by God, and got as much as she wanted. She could summon rain just because she was ‘thirsty’, or summon a fire because she was ‘cold’.

Ai used to assume that she herself had strong understanding skills and a flexible mind, but it seemed this was wrong.

“No way….

A chill ran down her spine as her understanding finally caught up with her.

“No way! Isn’t that the power of God?”

“Maybe. That’s why everyone initially didn’t call her the ‘Witch’, but the ‘Child of God’ instead.”

“I didn’t know there was such a person…”

Witch.

Ai had heard that name before, and actually saw many who asked for the Witch to grant their wishes, like Madame of Coven, or the flawed pentagram in the city of Dead.

The Witch would make wishes come true.

But at the same time, these wishes would not necessarily work in the way those wishing wanted to.

When the group of five wished to have a child, she granted them a clone made from their flesh.

For a crazy adoptive mother, she created a crazier monster of the law.

She gave hope to despair, and despair to hope.

That was Uland El Saikavati.

She truly was a ‘Witch’ who would appear in a fairy tale.

“So? She’s of a completely different level, right?”

Dee said proudly to Ai who was too dumbfounded to say anything.

But Ai had a question.

“…But why did Miss Witch do such things?”

“Meaning?”

“I understand that people say what they wish for, but just because she has the power to fulfill everything, it doesn’t give her the reason for the Miss Witch to fulfill wishes.”

“That’s a good question.”

Dee clapped her hands.

“Seems like your head cooled down already.”

“Go-goodness, Miss Dee—”

“Now that you figured this much, think about it. What do you think, Ai?”

Ai pondered as she was told, “This is what I like about you.” Dee beamed.

Every action had a purpose. For example, Dee’s “whispering” was actually to protect the sealed world.

“…Miss Witch has an objective?”

“That’s right? She’s not helping others out of charity, and she definitely has her own aims…so what are they? Can you tell?”

“… No way.”

Ai did not derive this answer through deduction. It was just a connection.

 

(I’m going to save the world!)

 

Ai felt like I could hear the girl’s voice.

“…Does, Miss Witch, dream of saving the world?”

It seemed like an outlandish idea. But at the same time, she felt there was no other answer.

The Witch who would provide salvation to others out of amusement,

Was seriously trying to save the world.

Ai never expected so.

Dee nodded quietly.

“You’re right. No matter how ridiculously strong the Witch is, the starting point of the Deformed is still just a desire…and her wish was to save the world…more than a decade ago, before people called her the Witch, the Child of God used her power purely for the good of mankind, for her dreams.”

It was like a myth or a fairy tale.

“…But it seems that even she, who has the power of omnipotencne, can’t save the world. I don’t know the details of that, and I’m not interested in it. I’ll just tell you what happened afterwards…that’s the most amazing part, the ‘afterwards’. She has the power of omnipotence, but she doesn’t believe it. Once she realized that she can’t do it, she arranged for the next step.”

“…Next step?”

“Yes, it’s to leave it to ‘others’. She can’t do it, but maybe someone else can. That’s her thought when she started granting people’s wishes.”

And the Child of God became Witch.

“At first, she was just granting wishes normally. But later on, she started saving others in twisted ways…and still, it seems that she can’t save the world after all.”

Dee said, and looked afar.

“…And after a while, she disappeared—for many years. I thought her ego had collapsed long ago as she disappeared…”

Dee looked up at the sky and exhaled. There was the face of the Ghost that Ai did not know.

“I didn’t expect her to actually cross the black surface…that damn woman wouldn’t inform me beforehand….”

“……”

Ai was initially skeptical about Dee’s story.

However, she was wrong. Dee had her basis, and Ai could not see it.

“…Were you friends?”

“Us? No, no, no. She’s my enemy.”

Maybe they were not friends, maybe the Witches just could not stand each other.

But such an ‘enemy’ might be more interlinked with Dee’s will than Ai herself, or Alice.

Ai felt a little jealous the moment she thought so.

And so she hugged Dee.

“Miss Dee!”

“Heh! Wh-What? What’s wrong, Ai?”

“Nothing at all.”

“You’re hugging me for no reason…fufu, it’s certainly like you.”

Dee ruffled Ai’s head.

Ai did not know the Witch.

But Dee Ensy knew.

Ai knew everything about this ex-Ghost, a Witch, a damsel in love

In the same way, Dee probably was as acquainted with the Witch.

Then Ai would just have to take Dee’s word for it.

“Tell me, Miss Dee, why did Miss Witch go to the New World?”

“…Who knows? Maybe she just wanted to check something, or maybe she’s just running away. Regardless of the answer, these aren’t important not. The issue is what happens after…looking at the situation, it seems she hasn’t lost her ability ever after going to the new world.”

“What? But shouldn’t the Deformed lose their power when they go over to the New World?”

It was a verified fact, but Dee denied so.

“If her ability is stronger than the new world, that’s hard to tell. After all, when two abilities are clashing, the stronger side will win…take the Princess of the Land of the Dead for example. Ulla’s power has no effect on Celica, right? That’s about the same…I think the power of the New World is rather strong, but it might be too difficult to contain the Witch’s abilities”

“…She’s really ridiculous, isn’t she?”

“That’s what everyone says about her.”

Dee beamed happily,

“And then she wanted to come back here again, but there was one problem—the rule of the black surface is that you can only pass through the black surface once in your lifetime, right? That’s where she’s stuck.”

Ai felt it seemed to contradict what they discussed earlier. If she was that strong as a Deformed, she should be able to overpower that rule..

The moment she pointed that out, “Thinking about it, she can do it after all.” Dee admitted

“But that would mean completely breaking the rules over there. The worst possible scenario over there is that the New World will be destroyed…she probably didn’t want that to happen…”

Tch. Dee clicked her tongue for some reason.

“In other words, she’s still the ‘Child of God’…she’s the one to save the world, not to destroy it…you might find it surprising, but she always has everything in consideration—that’s why she transmigrated herself to legally pass through the black surface.

“…What do you mean?”

“Exactly what I said.”

Dee said, but Ai could not imagine.

“She basically revived herself like a certain famous story…she gave birth to a replica that’s not completely her, but not someone else entirely.”

“It’s really ridiculous…”

Ai felt that her head was going to explode.

“That’s not unusual for her. She already transmigrated several times like this. She felt that even if she could not do so, maybe a different her could.”

“And that’s why she appears like that…”

“That’s right. Well, that’s pretty much it.”

After she had said that much, Dee tried to ease the mood. She slouched deeply into the backrest of the girl, causing the front legs to rise. She looked exactly like the Ghost of old.

“Well, don’t worry about it. It’s quite an uproar now, but compared to the last time—when Coven almost destroyed the town, she’s not a dangerous existence at a.”

“Is that so?”

“That’s right. Well, those who are implicated will have it tough, but there’ll be a lot more people freezing to death in the winter instead.”

Dee let out a depressed sigh. It was a high view that only a politician could have.

Ai felt relieved to see Dee’s reliable state. She was completely confused when she saw Nein, but after grasping the situation and being told not to worry, she was seemingly relieved.

But that reassurance did not last long.

Dee said,

“After all, even though she did say she’ll fulfill wishes, it’s not like she can make one wish come true out of a thousand. ”

Hmm?

“…Is that so?”

“That’s right. Also, she’ll fulfill wishes in eccentric ways. She’s already infamous for that, so I get the feeling that nobody will go to her for wishes.”

“But the girl seemed to welcome all comers though?”

Dee froze immediately.

“…Sorry, what?”

“I said it seems like she wants to fulfill every wish. She’s not fulfilling them in strange ways. Someone wished to be ‘revived’, and she just revived him as nor…mal…”

The last part of the sentence trailed off, for Dee’s face paled.

“Impossible…so, she…I’m saying that kid really grants wishes non stop, regardless of who it is?”

Ai realized that she was mistaken; Dee had only been talking about predictions based on experience, not an accurate understanding of the current situation.

What would that result in?

“H-hey, guys! We’re in trouble!”

At that moment, one of the council’s staff members who was outdoors came running into the room and shouted,

 

‘All the Dead in the city are revived! They’re all gathered here, asking to get through the black surface!”

 

There was an overwhelming commotion behind that person.

The world began to distort again.

 

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