It was not her usual pillow. Once she noticed it, Ai woke up.
The sudden soberness seemed like an extension of her dream, and she didn’t know whether she was dreaming or awake, and the thick pillow was so hard, it’s hard to believe it was for sleeping. “Get up already” so it seemed to make a fuss.
The bedding, blanket, and even the ceiling were so unfamiliar to her. Ai slowly got up from the bed amidst this scene.
“…This place is…”
It was a spacious, bleak space, with rows of empty beds, silver stretchers lying around in shambles. The air was cold, and the spacious room was so dry that it made her throat uncomfortable. The sky beyond the window was overcast, on the verge of snowing at any moment.
The place was awfully quiet.
It was as if all sound had disappeared.
Having thought so, Ai felt this might be the case, “Ahem” and she deliberately cleared her voice to see if that was the case. Luckily and naturally—her voice was not taken away, and her dry cough was momentarily stuck in her throat before it shook the air slightly.
Amidst an ear-splitting silence, a single naked light bulb flickered.
“Why am I here”‘
Ai looked around the room, having no idea as to why, and tilted her head.Just looking wasn’t going to help, so she decided to recollect her memories over the past few days. First of all,
“First—yes, about Miss Nein.”
It all started when the witch’s daughter, Nain Saikavathi, arrived in this town. She was a girl who had white hair and skin, and appeared from the black surface. She inherited much power from the Witch, and tried to save the world..
However, even with her omnipotence, Nein was simply a person, unable to save the world, and became an existence that would destroy it.
It was Alice who defeated her.
He evolved his abilities to the utmost limit, transforming himself into a ‘silver bullet that would destroy evil’, and tried to save the world by nullifying Nein’s dream. However…
“…Fufu, that happened.”
Ai giggled. She started to recall. She recalled how she ended up standing before Alice at the very end when he transformed into a bullet, and intercepted him.
Nothing was solved, but the battle ended for the time being.
That was the scene she remembered most.
She woke up in Alice’s lap, and forgave the crying and apologizing Nein.
Beneath the morning sun that resembled the sunset, her heart felt like it was drawn by the autumn sky.
Everyone returned to town. Ai felt elated and excited.From time to time, she encouraged the devastated Nein, and also pranked on Alice’s dry face. Yes, everyone returned to town, she sat on Julie’s cat, and then,
“Eh? And then what?”
Her memory was hazy thereafter. She remembered she woke up on Alice’s lap, and she remembered herself getting excited with Nein for some reason. But then…then…
It was hopeless. She couldn’t remember.
“Well, that’s fine. I’ll just ask someone later. I probably can remember.”
And the problem here was that there was ‘nobody’ she could ask.
“………Erm, excuse me~”
Ai called out from the bed. Her voice wasn’t loud, or soft, and a little half-hearted. Well, if she shouted too loudly, someone might get angry and shout at her. When she visited the Princess of the Dead, “Ulla! Let’s play!” Some people were rather unhappy. Furthermore, Ai felt that her throat was not feeling well..
The only response was silence.
“Hello~!! Is anyone around~!?”
She called out again, raising her voice slightly. But again, there was no answer.a little. But there was still no answer.
Now this was troubling. It was pointless to be scolded for running around, so perhaps she should remain quiet here.
But in any case, it was so unlike her to remain idle, and so she decided to deduce the situation by observing the room. She was not going to play as a detective lazing on a chair, but a detective on the bed.
First, she observed the window. The weather was downcast and cloudy, on the verge of snowing. It was right after noon, which meant that she probably slept a few hours since then..
She then looked at the ground. Before her was a flaming hill that burned brightly, practically ignoring the cold. At the top of the hill was a black surface in the sky, leading to the other world. People were queuing up on the hill, marching solemnly towards the new world.
Beyond the hill was a lake. Ai unfolded the map in her mind to calculate where she was. After some deduction, it appeared this was the town council in southern Ostia. It was no wonder then that the windows were so high. After all, this was the only building that would have such a tall building.
“Hmhm. Now things are getting interesting, aren’t they?”
Feeling like a famous detective, she scanned the room.
It was a dull room, but not empty. There were light bulbs hanging from the ceiling, and many beds were lined up. There was also a slight medicinal smell.
She recognized this scent. It was similar to a hospital. It appeared this place was used as some medical facility.
“Speaking of which, I remember that part of the town council has been opened as an infirmary. So I guess this is that place…?”
Goo, she knew the time and place.
“…Now the question is, how did I end up here?”
Having finished her formulas, Ai pondered over the final answer. She lost her memory, woke up in the infirmary, and from these, the conclusion she could derive was…
“… Did I collapse or something…maybe…?”
She felt a little languid once she thought of this, and her breathing seemed stifled.
“No no no, but, well, I should be in perfect health otherwise. There’s no need for the doctor to check on me—ahaha—”
Hahaha. Ai let out a dry laugh at the surrounding air, giving her excuses to the surrounding chairs.
‘…I don’t need a single injection, even if it does come to that. I’m serious..”
If it’s the infirmary, her thought was that there would be an injection, and if it’s an injection, her first thought was the infirmary…so she thought, and for some reason, she felt that her best option was to get out of here as soon as possible..
So she had such a thought, when at that moment,
“‘…! —!!!! ……!”
She heard a voice.
“‘…? What now?”
She heard a few people’s voices. They were approaching as they talked. Ai was finally relieved to hear others talking, but she immediately frowned.
“—Shut up! Scram!”
Someone was howling away.The voice was an angry shout.
It sounded like an agitated man and other people trying to calm him down as they slowly approached.
“Let me through! Don’t stop me!”
Ai recognized the voice, but at the same time, it sounded distant.”
“What right do you have in stopping a father from meeting his daughter!”
She heard this man’s voice so many times.
“Shut up! I told you to shut up!”
But never before had he sounded so pained and anxious.
The commotion quickly reached the door, and then…
“Scram already! You liars!!!!”
The door was kicked down the moment those words were said. The red oak door slammed inwards, and the screws on the hinges bounced like loaches, falling to the hand.
Appearing beyond the door was the person Ai expected.
Ai said with a bewildered look.
The man standing at the door was indeed Julie.
But his appearance had changed. His eyes were bloodshot, his lips were dry, his skin had no longer pale, but completely white, and even his stubble looked listless.
Beyond the door too were people, probably guards and doctors. They were grabbing onto to Julie’s shoulders and hips hard, trying to stop him.
A mysterious tension gripped all three parties. Ai, was not sure what was going on, and decided to wave from the bed for the time being. The doctors were shocked to see Ai for some reason.
His reaction was most obvious, and most comflicted.
As Julie entered the room, his face was akin to a starving beast, hideous looking, but it relaxed the moment he saw Ai on the bed.
The voice calling out to her was soft, and so did the face that gradually melted.
“Ai… are you all right?”
The big man staggered over, and knelt by the bed.
“Yes, of course I am.”
Ai nodded emphatically.
“Really? Are you sure you’re alright? ”
“Of course. I’m perfectly healthy…I don’t need to take any bitter medicine.”
“Ha…haha, that’s right …”
“Yes, and just to add on, I don’t need an injection… ”
“Ha…haha…that’s right…haha ….”
Julie dropped to his knees on the floor like a fallen wet sandbag. Ai felt a little apologetic, wondering if she had worried him after all.
“That’s right…haha …hahahaha! ”
Julie suddenly burst out laughing. The manner in which he laughed hysterically was akin to a Karakuri doll.
“Come on, you liars, you see it! Hahahahaha! She’s completely fine!”
The adults gathered outside the door showed extremely bitter faces, but they still answered in rigid voices, as though fulfilling their duties.,
“…That’s not true, Julie. We have ascertained—”
“Say what? You lousy doctors! Go back! Go back now! ”
“Julie, listen! She’s already—”
“Shut up! Just go back!”
“E-erm, Mr. Julie?”
Julie was so agitated, and Ai couldn’t help but yell at him.
Something was obviously amiss.
It was unusual to see such a lack of composure from Julie. He was akin to a a raging brown bear. It was impossible to think that any words would have gotten through to him in this agitated state.
“Ah. Yeah, sorry Ai, I didn’t mean to be so loud. …”
And yet he instantly softened his expression the moment Ai called out to him.
“Alright, let’s go back. Scar and Celica are waiting for us…”
“Y-yes, that’s fine, but…”
Ai was still concerned about them in the background.
‘Did something happen to me?’
“No, nothing happened…nothing at all…it’s obvious, right…?”
“Hmm. I hate it when people hide stuff from me. Tell me.”
“Haha…I’m not hiding anything…you’re just…yes, a little tired. You slept a little..”
“…Slept a little?”
It was obvious that wasn’t the case. It was obvious that Julie was lying. He knew that Ai hated such lies…
“Ahh, yeah…more importantly, let’s go back. You haven’t eaten in a while, so you’re hungry, right? Let’s go back to eat..”
Julie tried to bluff. Ai felt that he was very despicable, but she didn’t have any urge to resist whenever food was mentioned, “Eat?” so she couldn’t help but wonder if she was feeling hungrysaid deceptively.
No, I don’t feelt hungry at all.”
Julie’s smile quivered like a crack in a badly made mask.
“Ha, haha, that’s not true, right? Maybe I should get you something? What do you want?”
“You can’t, Julie! She can’t eat now! It’ll be harmful—”
It happened so suddenly.
Julie spun and delivered a punch a nearby man that had unintentionally approached.
“M-Mr Julie!? What are you doing!?”
Ai was so shocked that she could not react. She could not believe he would act in such a barbaric manner.
“Don’t panic! Calm down!”
The man who got punched yelled as he held his bleeding nose.
“Julie, We’ll remove you by force if you keep this up!!”
“Shut up! Shut up! SHUT UUPPPP!!!”
“It’s hopeless. Somebody get a tranquilizer gun!”
“Stop already! Calm down! What are we fighting over?”
“SCRAAAM! ALL OF YOU, SSSCCRRAAAMMM!!!”
“Oi! Someone go get Miss Scar! She’s the only one who can stop Julie now!!”
“Woah!” Everyone hollered. The doctors kept trying to coax Julie, who kept shouting at them to shut up. Ai just watched on dumbfoundedly. She felt like she was in a dream, unable to understand the reason for Julie’s madness and everyone’s confusion. She just wished someone had explained to her.
Finally, the decisive words came out.
“Listen Julie! The first awakening is more important to the Dead than anything else! You’re doing something harmful here! ”
The word struck Ai’s ears hard.
“Did a Dead appear?”
She asked. Julie and the doctors fell silent.
The silence unnerved Ai. At this moment, Julie supposedly had the initiative, but somehow, the moment she uttered so, there were stares upon her.
“That’s trouble. We have to hurry—but where’s the Dead?”
Silence descended upon the room once again. For some reason, neither Julie nor the doctors would answer Ai’s question, and remained silent..
Still, one of the doctors looked up with determination, and at that moment,
Julie roared as though he wanted to override everything else.
The confusion swirled like a whirlpool.
The madness swirled like a tempest.
Julie crouched down by the bed and said with a strangely relaxed look on his face.
“Ai, let’s go home. Right now.”
“Please wait! Please explain first!”
“Julie, stop! Don’t touch her!”
“Let’s go home. This is a horrible place. We shouldn’t be here.”
Julie was driven to a corner, and looked really pitiful. His usually undaunted face was terrified like a child, his eyes vacant like glass balls.
Let’s go back.”
Julie said as he tried to grab I. He looked so strangely distraught, driven by his sense of duty, that he tried to take his child away with him, blanket and all.
Ai did not dare to resist. Julie was clearly not normal, and she was willing to be abducted by him if it was just to buy some time and get him to calm down.
So, she rather extended her arms and jumped into his chest.
“Mr. Julie! I understand, calm down—”
They hugged each other.They looked full of love, like a true parent and child.
Ai shrieked in pain the moment she touched Julie.
Unable to endure this, she shoved away the body before her, and fell onto the bed.
Julie mumbled blankly as his hands remained outstretched.
“I-I’m sorry. ….”
Ai panted hard. She looked at her own palms that were reaching out. The impact she just felt remained on her trembling palms.
Julie felt hot.
It was an extraordinary heat. Ai felt like she was burned by a flame the moment she touched him.
“M-Mr. Julie, what’s wrong? What made you so hot…”
Seeing this, Ai noticed. She noticed accidentally..
That was not the case.
Not at all.
Julie’s arms remained rigid as he kept staring at then, His reaction was the complete opposite to Ai.
His arms was covered in goosebumps, as though they were wrapped in ice..
Seeing this, Ai understood. She understood accidentally.
Julie’s face winced. Their hearts were in sync, and he knew that Ai knew.
Julie tried to prevent Ai from saying it, as if the moment she said it, the guess would become reality. He lashed out at her, trying to overpower her voice and cover her mouth, trying to bury anything bad somewhere and pretend not to see it.
But it was futile. This was pointless. This fiction was the reality, and it had all ended long ago.
“In other words—”
“Don’t say it!”
It was the opposite. It was not Julie who felt hot, but that she herself felt cold.
“I must have died, didn’t I…”
Muttering a few words, Ai understood everything.
And Julie went crazy.
Scar was breastfeeding Celica at the first floor of the town council hall.
“Yes, yes? You’re full now, are you not?”
“Thank goodness…seriously, you..”
She loosened the baby sling and gently patted the back. The baby that had grown a lot over the last six months let out a small burp and immediately began to sail into dreamland.
Scar felt that Celica was being so carefree. Goodness, whose fault was it that she was bound here, she wondered.
Time to hurry. She buttoned up her shirt, held Celica in her arms, and quickly left the dining room. Once outside, she made his way to the main building of the town council. Midway there, she spotted a window with lights shining. Julie had gone ahead with Ai beforehand, and they should be there.
Scar was waiting for everyone to return home when she received these news.
She really wanted to find Ai, but she could not leave Celica behind.
Thus, she decided to wait for them in the best way possible.
She swept the floor, cleared the entrance..
She arranged the flowers, and cooked.
She knew everyone would return home hungry anyway, and prepared so even at the expense of all the food in the pantry. She thought she should use them all on the dishes she had learned in the last six months. Baked wrapped river trout. Pig blood and bean pudding, tail meat curry, pan fried field potatoes. There was more; she baked soft white bread, sweet buns, and pastries. She baked a sponge cake, spread cream on it, and put candied strawberries, making a cake. She made more.
Scar baked hard black bread along with soft white bread. Aside from elaborate cooking, she made the stew she usually made, even making the pickled vegetables that Ai rather dislikes. Thus, there were some surprisingly simple dishes amongst the table filled with sumptuous dishes..
But that was fine. Scar felt that those dishes were the stars of the show.
Because it was everyday life that they were coming home.
For it was a daily routine for them to return home.
If it was not so, that would be a lie, no?
And Scar perfectly prepared for waiting and watited till moment. She had no doubt at all, firmly believing that would come home smiling and laughing, dragging Alice and Nein by the scruff of their necks.
Scar initially trotted briskly, but as she appeared at the town hall, her steps hastened gradually, and she stopped by the time she reached the entrance.
The initial news sounded as though it was ‘no big deal’. A young boy had run over to pass a message from Julie, saying that Ai went to the infirmary for a while, probably because she was too worn out from solving the incident. “Welcome home.” She had intended to wait at home and say so to everyone.
But nobody had returned home by noon, and she had no choice but to go to the town council.
Speaking of which, she did have a bad feeling when she covered the dishes with a piece of cloth, switched off the lights and closed the door..
The moment she arrived at the town council hall, she discovered that Julie had become quite erratic. “Don’t worry” “It’s fine”, he just kept repeating such words to Scar, but he never would explain in detail, and was hostile to the passing doctors, before he was shooed out of the infirmary..
Then, just a few moments ago, the doctor returned and said something only to Julie.
The moment he heard those words, Julie stood up, and when Scar asked what happened, “Don’t worry” “It’s fine” he replied and left.
Scar was very tempted to go after him, but Celica was so restless that she had no choice but to stay behind.
No, that was just an excuse.
The truth was that she simply did not want to go.
Scar was a Gravekeeper. The characteristics had diminished within her, but her abilities had not dwindled in the slightest. She was strong, had the ability to bury the Dead, and…could sense the Dead.
Scar has been sensing a single Dead ever since she arrived here. The location was 50 meters northeast, 30 meters above her.
That was exactly the infirmary where Ai was supposed to be.
Scar had no idea what she had just sensed. She never thought of the concept of Death when she was a Gravekeeper. She never thought it was a good thing, or a bad thing.
Scar still had no idea. She did not know what she was feeling, or what she would feel. She felt a vague sense of taboo binding her body, preventing her from moving forward..
If possible, she wanted to stay here forever, and wished that she could head home and wait for Ai’s return without knowing the answer.
But she knew that would not be possible.
“Miss Scar! Thank goodness you’re around here! Please come with me!”
A young man came running down the stairs, found Scar, and grabbed her arm.
“Mr Julie is acting weird Please say something to him!”
Scar shook off the young man’s hand and stopped.
‘Before that, please tell me one thing.”
“I don’t mind…but please hurry. Things are getting serious!”
“Is Ai dead?”
The young man stopped. He then noticed that the person before him had just lost a family member, like Julie..
“Yes or no?”
Scar closed her eyes, instantly trying to seek out what she was feeling. Was she furious? Sad? Or delighted? Joyous?
It was difficult to summarize the outcome in a single sentence. If needed be however, the emotion could be described as ‘worry’.
I hope Ai is not crying, Scar thought.
Celica suddenly woke up and slapped Scar’s cheek in a seemingly worried manner. Scar brought her face close and hugged her tightly in response.
“Let us go.”
Scar was no longer lost.
“Please show me the way.”
They climbed stairs.
She did not matter. If she had to be sad, so be it. If she had to be hurt, so be it.
More importantly, it would be better to meet Ai quickly.
It was time to let Ai see her.
Then a gunshot echoed.
“Don’t come here! Get away! Don’t you dare approach us!”
Julie’s eyes were dyed with madness.
“Calm down Julie! Just cool it—”
“I told you not to come near!”
Julie carelessly whipped out a pistol and pointed at them without a second thought. The doctors merely looked dumbfounded, unable to react to the outburst.
The trigger was pulled without hesitation. The accuracy could only be described as perfect, and it Ai had not jumped over, the man’s head would have blown up like a crushed pomegranate.
The second shot echoed through the air, leaving a small bullet hole in the stone wall. Even so, nobody moved yet
Ai screamed as she clung to his arm.
The doctors finally shrieked and bolted to the entrance. Bang! A bare light bulb popped. The commotion ended like a firework thrown into a rat’s nest, dissipating in a flash, leaving only the muzzle of a smoking gun.
“Don’t come here! You too! You too! You too!”
But Julie’s rampage did not stop. He pointed hi gun away and kept firing. “And you” Bang! “And you” Bang! “And yooouuuu!” Bang!
It was a sight akin to a parent bear guarding the remains of its dead cubs.
“Why? Why won’t ‘you people’ leave me alone?”
The trigger clicked, and the bullets were exhausted. But Julie pointed the muzzle in all directions and pulled the trigger often enough to kill thousands. Click click click. Click click click. Click click click.
“It happens every time! You’re like this every time! You’re always taking my most important things!!”
Julie spun around, his heart in a frenzy, his soul raptured, his future in a mess, and he was torn to shreds.
He just wanted to destroy everything.
“Why!? What did I do? Why wouldn’t you let go off!!?”
He just wanted to destroy the ‘inevitable’ that filled the world.
Click! The bed was killed.
Click! The stone walls were killed.
Click! The light bulbs were killed.
Click click click! Click click click click click—the air was killed, the earth was killed. He pointed his gun at everything threatening Ai—his daughter, and squeezed the trigger. Click click click!
It was all ‘their’ fault. These things were called stuff like ‘fate’ and ‘gods’, but they did not show even the tiniest of happiness or normalcy to Julie. No, the reality was harsh. They gave it to him, made him envious, and snatched it away from him when he wanted it, never giving it back.
Julie just wanted them to spare him, or that everything would die.
Click click click! The world spun around. Everything was destroyed, disintegrated, and the sun’s warmth would never recover. Click! The ceiling was shot. Click! The windows were shot. Click click click! The world was shot.
“Why…why… why…just why…”
Finally, the gun was pointed at his own temple.
Click, click, click, click…and the empty metallic sound kept echoing.
“Stop, Mr. Julie! I beg of you, please stop!”
All the while, Ai was screaming. She clung onto his waist, reaching out, trying to snatch the gun. Julie however was so out of it that he didn’t manage to notice Ai.
“Arrggghh! Eehhh! Mr Julie! Look at me! Mr Julie!”
Ai finally snatched the gun and threw it to the floor. The silever metal landed with a clunk. Ai called out his name and slapped his white pale hard. Julie widened his eyes and blinked away as though he had suddenly came to his senses.
“Y-yes, it’s me. It’s me…have you calmed down …?”
“But that was only the beginning of a new madness.
Julie showed something akin to a smile, and said,
Ai knew that name alone.
It was the name of Julie’s dead daughter.
“N-No, Mr Julie, I’m Ai.”
“What are you talking about, Ai? Of course I know that.”
“More importantly, let’s hurry. We don’t want Hampnie Hambart to find us, Noemi.”
The madness nutured from sanity began to move in order. The spoilt gears started to use certain things as a sacrifice to keep running. The clock of madness moved at its own pace, shredding the past.
It began, and ended. Something went haywire.
“Let’s go to the mountains. Let’s find a place there and live in peace.”
“Whhatt, you don’t have to be scared even if Hampnie Hambart or a Gravekeeper comes,. Papa will kill them all.”
“You can’t…you can’t…Mr Julie.”
Ai kept shaking her head. Julie smiled gently, so gently that she had the urge to cry.
“What do you mean, I can’t…don’t worry, papa will always be by your side no matter what..”
“Alright, let’s go.”
The strong, reliable arms hugged Ai firmly. He felt gooseumps due to the chill on his hands, but he did not appear flustered, and one had to wonder how he adapted..
The only thing left was the madness that had begun to swirl.
Ai grabbed his shirt hard while she was in his burning clutches..
Julie was about to go ‘there’.
This strict, serious big man who loved common sense was going to the ‘other side’ for Ai’s sake.
Ai wanted to stop him. However, she could not, for she was Ai..
Julie reached his right hand out before the group and curled his index finger. However, he was not holding a gun. The gun Ai snatched was thrown to the other end of the room.
Even then, no one could relax anymore.
“I’ll kill anyone who gets in my way.”
His outstretched right hand twisted as he pointed it at a young man with a muzzle –like darkness. Julie then slowly raised the nonexistent firing hammer in a motion he had done thousands of time before.
‘For the last time…back off.’
The big man raised a gun that did not exist, but nobody dared to laugh, and nobody dared to make a mockery out of him. Julie’s madness had invaded the world, and the border between fantasy and reality had thinned to the utmost limit.
“No…Mr Julie, don’t …don’t go…”
Ai frantically reached out her hand, but nobody could snatch away the gun from his hand. At this moment, Julie had indeed become a ‘monster’.
No one could stop him. Not the doctors, the young men or Ai could stop Julie’s madness.
Only one person could.
“Do you include me too when you say to back off?”
Only the violet-eyed, broken Gravekeeper could do so.
Julie’s madness could not be any deeper, yet he simply crossed the line once Scar arrived..
I’m here too! Celica reached her right hand forward.
Julie called out with the plain expression of one whose sanity and madness broke at once.
“What are you doing with your hand, Julie?”
“Ah, no, this is…”
He was not doing anything dangerous, and probably had no reason to be reproached, but Julie lowered his right hand that was pointing at his wife. This gesture simply caused the look of madness to disappear like a ghost in the light.
It was akin to the process of taking a broken clock apart to fix it. The clock was disassembled down to its bolts and springs, and it appeared to be more destroyed than it was at first glance. Nevertheless, it was still a necessary process.
“May I come in?”
“Y-Yeah, of course. ……… No.”
But the mad clock no longer wants to be fixed.
“…Wait a minute.”
The hand that had lost its power of madness continued to put at her, as though untilling to give up.
“Is something the matter”
Scar stopped. Celica was happy to find Ai, “Uu!” and kept pestering Scar to go faster. Scar too felt the same and just wanted to head over to Ai, wanting to pat the frowning face of despair.
Julie stopped Scar for some ridiculous reason.
“Scar…you were a Gravekeeper, right?”
Initially, Scar did not comprehend the meaning of those words. She could not grasp the reason why he had to ask something so trivial.
But once she saw his eyes, she understood..
His eyes were staring at her with suspicion and fear. She used to see lots of such expressions by humans many times..
It so happened to come from Julie, her husband, of all people,
“You’re not going, to bury Ai, are you?”
He doubted her.
“‘No, I’m not doubting you. It’s just that, you know?”
Julie continued to make clumsy excuses. He was acting based on the inexplicable, matured sanity and madness.
“Answer me…are you…”
At that moment, Scar took a step forward and swung her right hand with all her might.
The sound of a paper bag bursting open echoed.
The blow rather shocked Scar, who was the one who struck it.
“Please pull yourself together.”
Clecnhing her aching right hand, Scar let out a heavy sigh.
“What am I supposed to do if you are in such a state? ”
Scar gently reached out the hand that had just hit, and stroked his cheek.
“Please get a hold of yourself and return to your normal self!”
Julie tried to come up with an excuse. But still,
He could no longer escape to the madness.
But sanity had no purpose..
“But-but…Scar…I can’t go back…because…”
The right hand had warmth. The form of water borne from life flowed out. For the first time, Julie said,
“Because Ai…is already dead…”
Like a strong dike breaking apart, like a ripe fruit bursting, he was at his limit.
The eyes that were completely dry with age, were wet with tears, and a whimpered escaped from the large throat.
‘Ah… ah, aaaaahhhhhhhh!”
Julie cried. He cried like a child, like a baby. The crying that was only filled with sadness immediately filled the hearts of the people.
Celica suddenly began to cry, triggered by the big man’s tears. She appeared to be driven by fear, and was terrified as she kept crying..
It’s like rain, Ai thought.
The rain of tears landed on her, Celica’s new tears and Julie’s old tears burned like flickers of fire with the exact same heat.
“I’m sorry…Mr Julie…”
Ai reached out and stroked his cheek. His tears were hot, like molten iron.
It was the first time she saw him cry. In hindsight, Julie was the one who always had others cry on him, nad never cried to others before..
The cheeks soaked in tears were of the same temperature as a flame.
It was the temperature of life.
Ai felt strangely sorry for some reason, and couldn’t help but apologize.
“I’m sorry…Mr Julie…”
Ai did not cry. So instead, they cried for her, and their teardrops landed on her..
The first snow of the year fell outside.
Please let the four of us discuss this.
The doctors were mostly reluctant to comply with Scar’s request. However, given that Ai herself too pleaded for this, they reluctantly accepted the request. They gave a few words of advice before leaving.
The infirmary was thus left to the family. It was not the apartment they were used to living at, and there was no food prepared by Scar, but the four well-traveled people quickly became accustomed to this place, and soon after, they were back to the mood of a family. As per the doctor’s advice, they moved the bed to the window to keep the Dead cold, and even brought a little heater and hot water pouch for Celica. Ai was acting way too normal, and Scar took the initiative, so the atmosphere was not too bad. The terrifying thing—and also, deflightfully—the four of them gradually became accustomed to Ai’s death.
The family huddled in a circle and talked forever..
They talked about that dazzling sunrise on the day they met.
They talked about the night they spent in the wilderness, wandering around in the blue car..
They talked about the many Dead they met in Ortus.
They talked about the friends they met in Goran.
There was so much to talk about, and they just went on and on. Most of the stories were just trivial memories, but surprisingly, there was so much that Ai did not know about, which shocked her. They said that when Ai first started her journey, she often cried to sleep. She had no idea. On that note, it seemed Scar never realized that she was fond of eating raisins, and was taken aback when everyone said so. Celica never cared about whatever they said, while Julie wept as he recalled the past.
The snow was falling in the sky. The snow absorbed all the sounds and heat as it slowly piled up, and it was as though the world cease to exist except for this room.
Scar brewed a pot of tea. It was a souvenir someone had given to them back in Orus, a rich tea for the Dead. There were also incense sticks that were given to them a long time ago. There used to be one whole bag, but they gradually used them up, and had almost none left..
“Ahaha, is that so. Right, Mr Julie…Mr Julie?”
It was dusk, and snow covered everything.
“…He fell asleep?”
Julie was asleep with his head resting on Ai’s pillow. It was to be expected, for her had been running around everywhere over the past few days, and probably hardly slept at night.
“Let him sleep.”
Scar unfolded a blanket softly and wrapped it around him. The big man looked worn out from all the sky, and showed an innocent smile. Celica too was the same. They were wrapped under a blanket, curled like a ball and sleeping soundly.
“You’re not sleepy, Miss Scar?”
Rolling up her thin sleeves, Ai set a small cup down on the cot. The cup was left with just a little bit of hellishly dark rich bean tea.
“I had some sleep pior to this, so I feel fine. Do you not feel sleep, Ai?”
“I’m fine for now…and will I feel sleepy? ”
Hmmm, the two of them tilted their heads and pondered. It was unspeakable that both Gravekeepers would not know, and Ai giggled. It would be really awkward to discuss such a cheeky topic if Julie had been awake, but thanks to this little chuckle, they felt better.
“…Ah. I know this may be weird to ask, but does your body feel well? ”
Once Scar asked so, hmm, Ai tilted her head once again. Was she really alright?
She lifted her arm and check her pulse. Naturally, it had stopped. She tried breathing, but she felt that she did not feel suffocated even after she held her breath. She did not know whether her body temperature was normal, but since she felt it was a only a little warmer than the outside air, it appeared to be rather cold..
Ai lifted her arms slowly and shook them around, finding something a little amiss. She felt that muscles and bones were rubbing against each other, and it seemed like ‘they were moving because she moved’. Also..
She coughed again.
“This…probably isn’t a cold, but something’s stuck in my throat..”
“The doctors say they have done the bare minimal postmortem.”
“I do not know the doctors, but it is said to involve neutralizing the stomach acids and washing out the stomach…”
It was said that from the moment of death, the Dead would inch closer to death, the mucous membrane of the stomach would be dissolved by the stomach acid, and the organs would cease to function, no longer processing the wastes inside the body. The body would thus erode slowly.
What about her? Was she fine?
She died, her heart stopped, and her body would rot. Was she fine with that?
Scar, who had learned to care so much over the last six months, soon realized the meaning of her own question,and looked apologetic.
Ai however gave such an answer. She had died, her heart had ceased to beat, and her body was rotting, but she was fine with it.
No, truth be told, being able to say she was ‘fine’ in this situation showed that she was not fine, but Ai was fine. She was not exactly in such a fine condition that she was not fine, but she was fine.
“More important, do you know what happened, Miss Scar?”
“I do not know much either…”
They exchanged information briefly, Ai talked about the showdown against Nein, and Scar spoke of everything that happened since the morningUnfortunately, neither of them knew any details. They did not know why Ai had died or where Alice and Nein had disappeared to.
But in any case, they did not want to wake up the sleeping Julie and ask him..
There was no hurry. not anymore.
More importantly, Ai just wanted to talk to Scar.
It seemed the latter felt the same too.
“You died, no?”
The surroundings were terribly quiet. Snow was falling outside the window.
Scar observed Ai carefully, and closed her eyes.
“In times like this, human cry, I believe…”
She opened her eyes at a big man next to her.
“How do you feel right now, Miss Scar?”
Ai was aware it was a terrible question, yet she did not really tink it was the case. Lots of time and significance had accumulated between them, and the words they spoke did not simplhad more than superficial meaning.
Scar stared at her palm silently. Her eyes were like the ripples on a clear lake. She was desperately trying to read something from them.
“…I do not understand…”
It was the act of naming a newborn being.
“My heart rate is increasing…so is my blood pressure…I am perspiring…I suppose this is the phenomenon…however, I do not really understand how I should react to them.”
Ai did not reply. She knew very well it was pointless.
“…If I have to say, the closest experience will probably be at the rooftop of the World Tower. When I learned that I was no longer a Gravekeeper…the sense of loss I felt…might be similar to how it is now. Yet, it feels a little different…Ai, do you know what that is? ”
Scar’s eyes were anxious. They did not look anything resembling a Gravekeeper, and looked so anxious, unsure, and she resembled someone who was on the verge of being crushed..
It was exactly like a reenactment of World Tower. The moment when it began, it ended, and when it ended, it began again.
So, Ai said.
“I don’t know.”
Ai showed a smile. A smile that would have Scar reproaching her for being a traitor.
Please decide on your own. Miss Scar, for yourself.”
“…That is…quite a task.”
“Yes, but everyone does it.
“I see… so everyone is doing it. Goodness…I do increasingly feel that being human is tedious, no?”
Scar suddenly lifted her right hand and touched Ai’s cold cheek.
It was sudden, but Ai was neither shocked nor uncomfortable with it. Scar’s hand was as natural as Ai’s, and Ai felt that it was expected that she would be touched. Her feelings were emitting from the scorching fingertips like signals. The trembling little finger conveyed confusion, the intertwined finger conveyed regret, the stiff middle finger conveyed tension, and the powerless index finger conveyed disgust.
The thumb conveyed nothing gently touched Ai’s unscratched left eyebrow before leaving.
Scar hugged the left hand as though she was collecting something, closed her eyes, and let it sink into her heart.
“…I still…do not understand this emotion…”
And from the depths of it, she found something that Ai did not understand, and named it.
“I have decided. I shall call this my grief…”
Ai nodded quietly. She neither disagreed nor agreed.
‘I shall think, decide, and continue on every day from now on…”
“Thank you, Ai, for teaching me to grieve and for giving me another piece of personhood.”
She was like a machine trying to assemble herself. In this world, Scar had nothing other than her mission as a Gravekeeper, and finally stood on her own feet, until she gained a heart and a name.
Hence, she burst into tears.
The scorching arms grabbed Ai’s body; Ai too grabbed Scar with her hands, and buried her face into Scar’s chest. At this place where where her father’s and sister’s tears had flowed, she received her mother’s tears as well.
Ai felt very apologetic for some reason.
All she could do was apologize.
“I never wanted…to experience this at all…”
“I’m sorry … I’m sorry XX—”
—I’m sorry, Miss Scar.
That was what Ai had assumed she wanted to say. Her heart was calm, and would not falter. Logically, she could not have misspoke,
And yet, all she said was,
Perhaps these words were not for Scar. Perhaps Ai had mistaken the warm, soft person before her for the one she should most apologize to.
But the next moment, all the mistakes vanished with these words.
Both of them continued to weep, like the snow that fell silently.