Snow fell. It fell upon the town of Ostia.

People were all looking at the snow. There were those headed for the New World, those remaining in this world, both Living and Dead quietly gazed at the falling snow.

When it first started falling, people stared at this little miracle with mesmerized looks. This did not last for long however, for they immediately let out clattering sounds that came out in the form of white air, and started hurrying off. The snow piled taller, and was truly beautiful, but at the same time, they possessed a danger that would rob humans of their heat mercilessly and kill them.

In this situation, the eternal flame created by the Witch Trial, or Madame Express, played a major role. It intercepted and consumed almost all acts of violence, but never did anything to those violent against it, so people grabbed the flames and ashes and shaked a portion with every person. The fire on the hill was broken into small pieces and scattered over the city, burning like human souls in people’s clutches and the corners of the streets.

White snow fell from the sky, red flames rose from the earth.

It was an illusory scene. The town that was dubbed the gate of Heaven and Hell, displayed a grandeur befitting its description while silently approaching the end of the year

And in a corner, there was a building filled with extraordinary livelihood..

Cabelty Hotel. It was decorated in an unnaturally flamboyant manner amidst the ruins of Ostia. The vast gardens were trimmed, and the fountains were in perfect working order even in this cold weather. Also, there were several cars, carriages, and other unidentifiable vehicles parked at the roundabout.

A party had already begun in the inner hall. The fish from the lake and the wild game from the hills were really appetizing, and the waiters handed out hundreds of jewel-toned wine glasses. The cheerful music of a bygone era was played, and the mood was certainly bright.The people gathered here were all visitors of Ostia with special status. The men were clad in suits as black as ink, and the women were gorgeous as flower beds; these were the aristocrats of Fellmigora. The men in green military uniforms with piles of medals hanging from their heads, wearing death masks richly adorned with jewels and precious metals were the Dead of Ortus.

There were thousands of people shivering in the cold air, on the verge of dying, yet the people indoors were consuming lots of heat and precious supplies like it was flowing water. Of course, they were not having their ordinary small talk, for the Heaven and Earth they spoke of was this world. They paid a visit to this super miraculous town with a ‘door leading to the otherworld’, and exchanged courtesies with those they hardly met—not just from countries far away or unrelated, but even countries that were in a state of war..

“Yaa, it’s been a while. And it’s nice to meet you all for the first time.”

A girl walked between them like a lubricant, speaking to these people whom she was definitely not on ‘good’ terms with.

Dee Ensy.

She wore a shiny black dress that looked like melted, flowing petroleum. It was a somewhat plain and perhaps even out of place attire for a hostess.

“I’m glad you can make the trip. Let me introduce everyone.”

But no one pointed this out, for Dee wasn’t the one to go along with the mood, but to create it. Her actions were a breath of fresh air and people would actually wonder the significance of her dress for futile reasons.

“—Phew.”

Four hours had already passed since the party began. The party had gotten into full swing, and hardly any new guests had arrived. Dee seized an opening during a conversation to escape.

“Good, nobody saw me…haaa…I’m tired~ …”

She slipped into a small room that she had found beforehand, abandoned her fake expression, and sat down on a chair. Thinking about it, she had not sat down for half a day. She spread her thighs wide and let out a big sigh..

‘Alright, time to have a full rest.”

Saying that, she took out a baked bread of cheese and salami from her dress. It was a prize she had seized during her escape. Dee gobbled on it, downed them with some soda water, and then let out quite a burp..

“…Goodness, what’s with that appearance of yours?”

“Ack ack ack!!!”

At that moment, someone suddenly spoke up from behind. Standing there was the Deformed Maccia Electus, the ‘Destructive Fist’.

“Wh-what, it’s you, Maccia…ack ack!?”

“Ah enough, stop talking.”

Maccia hunched over his huge body and knelt down, patting her little back with his scarred hand that symbolized his ability. He was not dressed in his usual rags, but in a freshly tailored dark suit.

He was an individual without any backing, but he was well qualified to be present due to his powerful ability. Five representatives tried to hire him over the past few hours.

Needless to say, it was not a nice story to say that he was assisting a little girl who had just choked on her food and was coughing incessantly.

“Seriously, I wondered if you were off doing something in the shadows when I saw that you were gone, but I didn’t think you’d be stealing a bite here.”

Maccia’s responsibility was to keep an eye on Dee. He tailed her to see if she, who had once tried to burn the world down to cinders, had reformed completely.

“No, I hardly had the chance to eat anything though.”

“You had plenty of opportunities during your breaks, right?”

“This won’t do. When ‘whispering’ to people, Maccia, I can’t be eating.”

“…Is that some kind of Ghost trick or something?”

“Nope. Mom said that I can’t talk while eating.”

“……”

“But really, having a body of flesh and blood is really inconvenient. I get hungry, thirsty, and tired every time I ‘whisper’.”

Truth be told, Maccia was uncertain as to whether he did fulfill his role. Dee’s thought process was way beyond him, and was not something a mere warrior could stand up to.

But Maccia was no longer troubled by this. Perhaps he was being used, or being lied to, and perhaps he was being brainwashed by her ‘whispers’. Nevertheless, Maccia knew very well that to worry over such matters was trying a dangerous thing.

That was why he clenched his fist and charged forth on the path he believed in. Such upright honesty was the truth realm of this Destructive Fist, who had triggered a miracle and evolved it further.

Thus, Maccia said,

“A report has arrived. Do you want to hear it?”

“Of course.”

Dee tossed the water bottle onto the carpet and frisked through Maccia’s suit for her makeup kit. She had him carry all kinds of tools for such instances..

“…We haven’t been able to track down that Witch’s daughter yet.”

“Hmm~.”

Dee answered absent-mindedly. Maccia glanced aside at her and saw her emotionless face be dyed differently with white powder and red.

“…Continuing on. We haven’t found Alice yet..”

“Hmm~.”

She still did not show any expression, and was as dismissive of it as though she was listening to yesterday’s weather report..

It was said that Alice and Nein both disappeared at some point while Ai was being treated. Their whereabouts remained unknown.

“I guess we don’t have to do anything about them for the time being.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yep. That was a natural disaster. To be honest, we don’t have the resources to deal with it.”

“…Got it.”

“And?”

“And also…Dust Believer, who was headed to Ortus…had just returned.”

“Huh?”

Dee frowned. Dust Believer was a Dead with powerful powers, and also acted as an emissary whose actions were affirmed by Ortus, the city of the Dead.

Supposedly, she was to return to Ortus with Madame and Isola to Ortus, the city of Dead,.

“She’s back…why?”

“I don’t know.”

“No, that’s not how you should respond, Maccia. You’re not some errand boy.”

“Ehh, I don’t want you to scold me now. Damn that bone woman. She wouldn’t answer no matter how I asked. She said she had some royal decree…”

While Maccia tried to wave off the hand that was tugging at his tie.

 

“I told you we simply have to meet.”

 

A noblewoman appeared as she pried a curtain apart.

The two of them were startled by the sudden sudden appearance of a third person, and hastily got up. However, they soon realized that it was an old acquaintance, and relaxed.

“What, isn’t that you, Dust~!? Don’t scare us like that~!!”

“My apologies, Dee, I am in a bit of a hurry…”

Standing there was the aforementioned Dead,, Dust Believer. She was wearing a solemn dress a blood-red maiden would wear, and a mask with a teary was plastered on her face, dressed for a masquerade ball.

But Dee knew that her excessive adornment was no longer just a costume or a decoration, but part of her own nature, her physical body, so to speak.

“Well, anyway, welcome. Anything you’d like to eat?”

“Then, some hot charcoal, please.”

What’s that about? Maccia wondered. Seriously, that’s why I don’t get the Dead. Those guys have some weird tastes.

“That’s what she said, Maccia,”

“…Am I supposed to get it or something?”

“Who else?”

“……”

“Ah, and please get me my drink, too.”

Maccia silently got up from his seat and went down the staff aisle to the kitchen. He explained his needs to the chef he was acquainted with, (though it did not appear that the chef understood), and managed to get some charcoal out of the oven.

“…Here.”

“Thank you very much, Mr Destructive Fist. I shall forgive you for calling me ‘bonewoman’ just now in return.”

“……”

He felt she was really an enigma.

“I shall oblige.”

The noblewoman took out the red-hot charcoal from the ice pail, and brought it to her mouth, eating it like a confeito, chewing on it. The white bones shone momentarily beneath the mask glowed with the fire sparks.”

“Oh my, Cypress? This is nice. It is a little lukewarm, though.”

A powerful Dead like her would not feel stimulated from ingesting food if she never did this much.

“…So, what happened?”

Dee said as she snatched the soda water Maccia had brought over, and asked a few questions. There would not possibly be such direct conversations during those few hours where people were being discreet with their words, and this was something only she could ask to those in the room that were well acquainted..

“There is a slight change of plans, so I returned earlier.”

“Change of plans?”

“Yes, apparently the Band is moving much faster than expected. They shall rendezvous three days after departure”

“…Wow …”

The freshly painted makeup was distorted.

“…Seriously?”

“Certainly. I suppose they will be here in a day or two.”

“…I see. It’s finally here.”

“Hey, you don’t mean the…?”

Shh.

Maccia’s lips were about to mumble the decisive words, but an amber-painted fingernail stopped him.

“Don’t say it, Maccia. After all, it’s said that you’ll die if you say that person’s name.”

“Y-yes …”

Obviously, it was a superstition, and even Dust Believer grimly denied it, but Maccia chose to remain silent.

“Anyway, I brought the news. I expect you to welcome them with the appropriate courtesy.”

“Yes, I get it. Thanks for telling me, Dust. Love you.”

“No no, Dee Ensy, I love you too.”

Dust Believer left, toying with the last of the charcoal like a candy ball.

It was at times like this that Maccia was reminded of how his thought process far differed from them. Of course, he knew what they were talking about. But he could not understand ‘why’.

He felt that whatever Dust Believer said was truly important. However, he did not understand why she had to use up so much heat to the point where she needed to replenish with charcoal, all to deliver these words..

Recently, all he could think about was the great meaning behind the words Dee Ensy said.

The things he never thought of before might, just maybe…

Perhaps there was a reason why she destroyed his hometown.

So he thought.

“Maccia…earth to Maccia!”

And thus, Maccia would think.

“Y-yeah? What is it?”

“You’re still asking? Any more reports? Or are we done?”

“Uh, no.”

He thought about the impact his words might bring to others.

He thought about how words were more capable of breaking people’s hearts compared to fists or bullets.

What would happen to Dee if he reported so?

So Maccia wondered..

“…The hotel staff wants to hear about tomorrow’s guests. And also—”

Hence, he deliberated the topics. He instinctively pushed ‘that matter’ to the back, and started off by informing Dee of some reports that were in a sense unimportant. She would make a comment or two each time, but never gave any instructions or showed any emotion.

“Is that all?”

“Y-yeah, that’s about all…and, there’s also something that may not be worth mentioning, but…”

And thus, ‘that matter’ was spoken of in such a manner..

“…Apparently, the girl called Ai is dead after all.”

“Hmm.”

Maccia stared at the freshly painted rouge and waited for something to appear there. Sadness, shock, anything, he thought he should be able to see something.

“Is that so?”

Not there was none. Dee used Maccia’s scarf to wipe off the excessive rouge, and got up with a nonchalant look on her face.

“…What do we do now?”

“At this point, there is nothing I can do.”

“I don’t mean that…”

Maccia grabbed Dee right when she was about to return to the party, and chose his words..

“You’re not going to see her?”

To Maccia, their relationship was extraordinary. After all, Dee once got down on her knees and begged for Ai’s life. Macchia stared at Dee. It would be understandable if Dee completely gave up on the party, “I’ll go right away!” and answered Maccia so. Such a person would not be suitable to be a leader, but for her, this should be the correct choice. Or if Dee were to answer “I shall not see her”, that too could be seen as Dee prioritizing her role as a leader. However, she said,

“Hmm? I guess so. Maybe I’ll show up when the party’s over and I have time.”

“……”

“What’s up, Maccia?”

“…it’s nothing.”

There was Dee’s smile, perfect as usual. Her face was tinted with white powder and red, and her heart was armed with experience and reason, showing no openings.

“Yes, This is fine.”

At this point, Maccia decided not to scrutinize Dee’s heart through this matter.

If she was going to be hurt, it would be Ai Astin who hurt her, not Maccia. It was that cold infirmary, not this warm hotel. That was the truth he firmly recognized..

Thinking so, he felt a little …

“”What?”

“No, it’s nothing…”

Maccia eventually shook his head and bent his arm to escort the noblewoman out. Dee however latched onto that arm and went out.

But the distance between them did not really shrink much, and Maccia felt a little lonely.

 

+

 

The party was over.

Everything had to end.

 

As the organizer, Dee still had work to do. She gave a formal farewell at the party, and left the hotel. She praised the staff, nibbled on a small snack as she hopped into a car, and simply removed her dress. She threw her stockings onto the face of a nagging Maccia, and went north in the car. She showed up at the black surface management headquarters, spoke a few words, and went west to the guards. Finally, she arrived at the town council hall in the center..

By that time, it was already midnight.

Dee alighted from the car and found a strange group of people.

“Hey! Hear me out! Where’s the one they call the Witch?”

They were a bunch of Dead dressed in rags. They were grabbing the sleeves of staff members on the street, desperately pleading for something.

“What’s going on?”

“A bunch of Dead that arrived this morning. They probably wanted the Witch’s daughter to revive them or something.”

“…That’s pitiful of them.”

Nein was so cruel to show hope and then take it away.

“Do you feel sorry for them?”

“My plight’s rather similar.”

“…That certainly seems to be the case.”

“Not that there’s anything I can do about it though”

Dee then ignored them as she entered the town council. She left the leftovers from the party to the staff that were working overtime, and opened a bottle of wine. Amongst the documents left on the table, she sorted out only those documents that had the words ‘read these or I’ll kill you!’.

Still, as soon as the day was over, everything that had to be done was done.

It was over.

No, to be precise, there were still plenty of things to do. The documents were piled up, and there were still many letters that had to be written.

But it was not that she had to do so for the time being..

Dee removed various events from the balance of priorities in her mind. After removing the party, the town, the Dead, the documents, the scale tilted to a side, pointing out ‘that thing’ that had to be done..

On the tilted plate was a weight with only the word ‘Ai’ written on it.

“…”

Priorities. Priorities. Everything was about priorities.

It would be wrong to abandon the party and work and look for Ai immediately. In this world where everything had changed, it was not permissible to prioritize personal actions such as the death of someone close.

On the other hand, it was also wrong not to deliberately avoid meeting Ai. If she lost her balance by doing so, her priorities would be skewed..

Dee relaxed herself as she sat on the chair, and honed her thoughts further, weighing the reasons for whether she should or should not look for Ai.

The result was.

“Maccia.”

She let the backrest creak, and stood up like a doe.

‘I’ll see Ai before I go back. You stay here.”

“…Understood. ”

With a look of different intent, she went through the room, and onto the corridor. Nobody passed her by, and she could hear her footsteps echo loudly. She stepped on the shadows cast by the light bulbs, and went outside.

Snow.

The hard footsteps were followed by a damp one, and the pure white air faded into the fine snow that was about to land on the floor. Dee walked over the snow, as if she were making the first stroke in a freshly unloaded notebook.

The lights in the east tower were already dimmed. She borrowed a lamp at the entrance, asked Ai’s whereabouts, and climbed the dark stairs alone.

To be honest, she was still lost..

She had managed to fool him until the very end, but in fact, Dee had no idea how to face Ai at all.

No, she felt that it was not something to be decided prior to this, but something that could occur spontaneously. However, she had toyed with so many feelings, and met so many deaths. For the ‘Ghost’, the death of a good friend felt like a common occurrence.

No matter how great a tragedy it was, people would one day get accustomed to them. In that sense, she might be the one most accustomed to such tragedies. She had witnessed way too many deaths of many whom she had interest in, and just one more was not a big deal. Most importantly, in this world, Death was no longer something to be shunned, but merely a milestone that would arrive sooner or later.

There were still many who were bound by the common sense of the prior era, and would go out of their way to avoid so. One of Dee’s objectives was to break this common sense. In a certain way, this matter was one that should be celebrated.

She felt increasingly happy as she thought about it, and beamed. She felt that she was regaining her old self. Given the family’s usual self, she believed that they would be wailing away. Her first word when visiting them would be ‘congratulation’. Damn it, I should have bought flowers..

Yes, this was the way. She should break common sense just as when she was the Ghost. Dee’s grin deepened. At this moment, it would be them who would react. Would Ai be angry? Bewildered? Dee would bet her supper of steamed bun on the latter. If she won, both of them could eat, and if not, neither would eat. She would tell Ai about this. Surely, the latter would be stunned and say, “Seriously, Miss Dee!” Ah yes, such is the way of the Ghost, my old self.

Let’s become the Ghost again. So she decided.

Let’s destroy Ai’s everything. So she thought, and at that moment,

“Kya!”

Dee fell to the floor with a solid thud. It seemed that she got tripped up by the stairs while she was thinking of something. Luckily, it was the last step, and she was unhurt.

“…Damn this stupid foot.”

But for some reason, Dee was slow to get up..

She remained prone on the cold floorboards, and stared at her sore, creaking ankle.

She had a feeling it was an omen that she was tripped up right when she was about to become the Ghost. She could perfectly control her thoughts and body when she was the Ghost, and act independently..

Hah… hah… her breath turned white on its own, and she felt it was a bother. The heart thumping felt annoying.

A chill ran down her spine. The people of the past used to call it ‘a ‘bad premonition’ or ‘sixth sense’, but she never believed in such things.

At that moment, Dee was still oblivious of one thing. Her thoughts could only be established based on certain assumptions.

“…Hmph, I don’t care.”

She stood up, climbing up the stairs as she ignored the aching ankle, even humming as she hopped. She acted irresponsibly just as when she was the Ghost.

She continued down the hallway. The lamps illuminate each of the infirmaries, and she felt like a fool for being so bothered just moments before..

“Oh, this one?”

Dee gripped the doorknob without knocking and opened the door without any resolve.

“Pardon my intrusion~——…?”

She nudged aside the door that was just leaning on the wall for some reason, and peered inside to see complete darkness in there. Dee brought the lamp into the room and found that there was nothing but an empty bed and medical equipment.

“…It’s here, right?”

She reeled her head back to check the nameplate on the door. It was definitely Ai’s room.

“…Pardon my intrusion!”

Dee walked in while carrying the lamp that was feeble as a human soul. The room was a little messy, and there were signs of a fight.

The light bulbs were not switched on. It was lights out, and the electricity supply had been cut off.

“Ai, are you there? Uncle? Scar?”

The scene before her really showed too little sign of people waiting for her, and maybe they had moved elsewhere—so she thought as she went further in, despite not feeling any human presence in the room.

“Ai?”

Then Dee found Ai.

There was a bed dragged to the windowside, where it was snowing outside, and Ai was lying on it.

“Mmm, you’re here. You could have given me a holler.”

Dee murmured as she went to the bed, but Ai did not answer.

“Ai, are you sleeping?”

Dee, who has dealt with numerous Deads, knew that they would follow their old habits while alive, and desire to sleep and eat. If the desire was too much, they would end up ‘selfish’, but if these were satiated in moderation, they would have a stabilizing effect on the mind. It was to be expected that Ai would want to sleep on the first day of her death, and celebrated even.

“What~? I took some time out of my busy schedule to see you~ ”

……

“Hey, wake up. Let’s chat.”

……

“Oi~Ai~ I’ll prank you if you don’t wake up…Ai?”

……

“Hey, Ai. Wake up or I’ll prank you…Ai?”

………….

“Hey, Ai….”

Suddenly, Dee felt something ominous about the sight of Ai lying before her.

Ai was sleeping like an ornament, sleeping like a Dead.

No, that was wrong. She was dead, as if asleep.

“H- hey, Ai, you~”

Once she realized that she could not play dumb anymore, Dee felt very uncomfortable. Her chest felt tight, and her head was spinning. She felt like she had not buttoned correctly, and there was a great misunderstanding, but she did not know where it was..

“……Ai, wake up~”

Dee finally had enough, and shook the blanket hard. Ai did not wake up however.

“Ai! Ai!”

Dee called her name and shook the blanket. Ai still did not wake up. Dee was increasingly emotionally unstable. She did not know the reason, but she felt a mysterious impatience burn my heart.

“Hey, I’m calling you”

Finally, Dee gave Ai a little slap on the cheek.

“—!!”

She felt the coldness.

She withdrew her hand as if she had touched a flame. Such was the shocking feeling left on her right palm.

“A-Ai?”

It was to be expected, since she was dead. Dee quickly realized so and regained her composure, and also quickly noticed that it was no guarantee of anything.

The anxiety left her breathing hard, and her white breath leaked out in gasps.

In any case, this was way too weird, no?

The Dead usually had shallow sleep. It was to be expected, for the Dead were not truly sleeping, just imitating it. But Ai just never woke up, so why was that?

“No way…”

Then Dee realized the possibility.

In this day and age, Death was not the end. That was correct.

Death was no longer a big deal. That was also correct.

But that would only apply to those who had similar thoughts.

Ai once said, “My dream is for all Dead to have a happy ending.” She did act reservedly, but she did have a little disdain against the selfish Dead.

Why did Dee not foresee that possibility before?

She even buried her own father for the sake of this belief.

Would someone with such a firm mindset make an exception for herself?

“……A…i”

Was the a possibility that Ai was not sleeping like a Dead,

Or not dead like she was asleep?

Was she not simply, dead?

“……!”

Her reason whispered that it could not be possible. Given Ai’s style, she might accept Death, but she could not bury herself. That was what Dee’s Ghost ‘whispered’.

“Haa… haa…!”

But the noisy body did not listen to these whispers. Her heart was pounding and her ragged breathing drowned out the little whispers. Her soul was telling her to ‘calm down’, but the body shouted back ‘shut up!’

“Hah—hah!”

Dee just wanted to go back to being the Ghost, and just wanted to have that invincible body where all sorts of tension and fatigue seemed so alien to her. She would not be disturbed by her heart, and would not be tripped by the stairs.

At that moment, the Ghost and Dee Ensy were perfectly separated.

“~~! Ai! Hey Ai! Wake up!”

Dee wanted to save Ai.

She wanted to destroy common sense and use all words to get Ai to live on, even after Death.

But she never dreamed that she would not even be given that opportunity.

She knew what the discomfort was.

She had misassumed. She assumed that Dee Ensy’s idea of death was the same as Ai Astin’s. She got careless, thinking that she should party first, and was so late..

“As a leader and a friend, when is it appropriate to go see a dead friend?” She found it terribly awkward of her to be wondering about such a problem. Stupid Ghost, stupid Dee, all this ended long ago when you were eating your pudding.

“~~~~! Ai!”

Dee never dreamed that this was where it would end. There was still so much more to tell. And yet she could no longer speak, laugh, or get angry, and she could not experience the scenes she could see along with Dee. Nothing was resolved. This was definitely wrong, but Ai would never be able to hear her complaints again.

“Ai, open your eyes!”

It was then that Dee first understood Death. It was not a new stage of life, and was not the end of the physical body.

 

They would never meet again.

 

That was Death.

Tears spilled. Breath oozed out like a bellows. Her heart was noisy and annoying. Her vision was dyed black, and she couldn’t stop the nauseous feeling. Her head hurt, so much that it felt like exploding. She did not know what to do, or how to react. For Ai died. Ai had died after all.

And then,

“Ai!”

“Eh? Ah, yes. What is it? Sorry, I was just sleeping.”

Ai simply woke up.

“……Eh…?”

Dee’s legs buckled, and her body dropped to the floor. “Unnnn~!” Ai stretched herself before Dee.

“Yes, it’s me, Miss Dee. Feels like it’s been a while.”

Her body that resembled a lifeless one until a moment ago slowly got up and stared at Dee with her eyes wide open, the smile so gentle that it was unbelievable..

 

“It’s nice to see you again.”

 

Those were perhaps the words Dee most wanted to hear in the world.

Thus, this was why Dee could not hold it in anymore.

 

+

 

A little while later, Scar, Julie, and the others went to get their chores done; Scar went home to deal with the food and prepare for acceptance; Julie went to apologize to the doctor and asked him about what a Dead needed to take note of. Celica obediently fulfilled her important task of going back to sleep..

When Dee heard this, “Is this the time for that!?” she lashed out. “Auu…” but she then noticed that she misspoke, and froze up. It seemed she was stung by her own words.

As for the three of them, Ai was no longer worried. They spent the richest time together, and Ai was confident that even without saying any more, they would understand.

Instead, she was more worried about Dee.

“I was a little surprised.”

Ai sat on the bed and patted her stomach area. There, to her surprise, was that former Ghost who was crying away, burying her face there like a little child.

Ai will never forget the look on Dee’s face the moment she woke up. She bawled and screamed so loudly, the voices echoed throughout the tower, and even the guards came to check if anything happened. Back then, Dee clung to Ai’s belly and would not leave.

Ai naturally patted Dee’s head like a mother cat would do with her newborn.

“I thought you’d never cry, Miss Dee.”

……”

“In fact, I thought you’d say ‘congratulations’ or something.”

“…………”

The fact that the Ghost, who had quite a glib tongue, could not refute a single word left Ai really uncomfortable, so she did not say anything and merely continued to pat her hand. Ai combed the iron-colored hair with her fingers. Dee’s hair was severely damaged mostly because of overwork. Ai took a brush from under her pillow and brushed her hair carefully, and was concerned about that makeup, so she washed it off with water.. Dee was like an overfed cat, not resisting at all, and let Ai do whatever she pleased even though her crying face was seen as Ai washed her face.Nothing ended until Ai got carried away and started braiding her hair.

“…Actually…”

“Yes?”

“…I was actually going to say that…”

Dee said with a slightly calmer voice than before, but she remained in Ai’s clutches and did not let go.

“I was going to congratulate you and smile, Ai.”

“Yes.”

“And then it seems like you guys just resolved everything after an argument, and now I feel like I’m the one who doesn’t know what’s going on. ”

“No, when you say that…”

“I don’t feel like me…”

Dee pressed her head hard onto Ai’s belly.

“I’m the Ghost. Unlike before, I chose to become the Ghost. I chose to become a real monster that would whisper, pass through walls, and become someone else.”

“…Yes.”

“And now I already like this just because one of my best friends is dead…I can’t continue anymore…”

“My my.”

Ai felt like she was spoken of harshly, but she did not refute and merely passed the head. Dee would not listen, “I-Im not a kid~”and appeared to dislike this gesture as she flailed her arms about.

Ai knew exactly what was bothering Dee. However, she did not know how to express it, so she started off by asking carefully.

“Miss Dee, you’re sad that I’m dead, right?”

“Yeah…”

“But you think it’s wrong, right?”

“…Yeah.”

“Why is that?”

Both of them were acting like a real mother and child as Ai let Dee cry on her belly, asking the reason for those tears. This was fine. At this point, she probably was more exalted than all the Living.

“I have a dream…”

“What kind of dream is it? ”

“That’s…”

This might be the first time Dee was converting her dreams into words. She paused for a moment, and then declared who she was.

 

“I want this world to become a ‘normal world’.”

 

Ai nodded.

“There are Dead, there are Living, there are Gravekeepers, there are Deformed. But everyone thinks this is normal. I’m going to build such a world slowly, starting from this town..”

“Well, that’s a nice dream.”

What a pretty dream, Ai thought.

But at the same time, such an ugly dream, she thought as well.

“I’ve decided that I’ll give up a thousand people, even thousands for that dream. But I…”

Naturally, Dee had already noticed beforehand. Her dream could save millions, but she would have to abandon the tens of thousands who would be omitted..

But still, she had decided to move forward.

So she intended, but

“Boooo…Aiii~”

Yet she cried only because Ai had died..

Dee could not forgive herself for this.

“…You don’t have to be so pessimistic.”

Ai gently patted her good friend’s head.

“Feels like this happened before, right?”

“…You’re lying…I wouldn’t cry to you, Ai.”

“It’s the complete opposite of how it is now. I was the one crying, and you encouraged me.”

“……”

Dee probably recalled too, and did not say anymore. Yes, the current situation might be similar to the time when Ai inadvertently revived Alice.

At that time, there was a conflict between Ai Astin and her dream, and they tried to destroy each other, screaming.

“But I just can’t do it.”

It was what Dee had taught her, but Dee herself did not understand, which Ai found a little funny.

“I just can’t…my mind knows very well, but my body just wouldn’t obey…”

“Yes.”

“My heart thumps, my blood rushes up my head, and my ears are screeching, everything is stopping me…I could have done a lot better without them…”

The cause for everything was here. The biggest enemy to one’s own dreams would forever be oneself.

Ai realized it when she failed that time, but Dee’s enemy was the ‘body of flesh that had revived’, and it was very cruel..

“I wouldn’t be like this when I was the Ghost. I was whole back then, and my heart was mine…”

She might be stronger back when she was the Ghost compared to this moment. Her lack of a physical body and emotional volatility were perfect for her dream of ‘ending the world’.

“I didn’t need such distractions…”

Dee said. So Ai replied,

‘Then do you want to die?’

It was then that Dee finally noticed something was amiss.

“As long as the heart stops, as long as you stop breathing, you won’t be bothered by ‘those’ anymore.”

“Ah…”

Dee then realized to ‘whom’ she was saying ‘those words to.

“…S-see? This is what I mean.”

Dee was aware that she said something harsh, but she just had to say it. Ai was very ‘calm’ as Dee had said.

“…I know I have to keep nodding, but my heart’s still distracting me…I know it’s just a stupid instinct, but…”

The contradictions were blaming Dee. Various components in her heart just could not come together, which left her in pain..

“… No, maybe I should have done that; I intended to die when Madame appeared, and maybe I wouldn’t have lost to my instinct, and I could have died…”

“Wait wait wait, Miss Dee, Miss Dee!”

Ai found it a little funny, thinking that people really were incredulous..

Someone who could observe others clearly would end up lost as an outsider when viewing oneself. Even the things one would be certain of would feel offputting once there was a little change..

But that was fine.

For that was what friends were for.

“Miss Dee, I have a question.”

“Sniffle…what?”

It really was a re-enactment of that day. Ai shared a portion of the thing that Dee gave her that day..

“Why did you have such a dream?”

“Why…?”

“Why do you want this world to be normal?”

“That’s…”

Again, Dee was silenced. And then, for the first time, she converted this dream that came too naturally to her, which she never thought of, into words.

“It’s for…myself.”

Fortunately, unlike Ai, she did not make a mistake there.

“I want to live in a world like that…a world where Ai, Alice, everyone can understand, and I want to be in such a world…”

“Ahh, that’s a very nice dream.”

This time, Ai could nod.

Now once again, Dee Ensy’s dream took shape.

“In that case, you just need to start thinking from here. There won’t be any contradiction then. Didn’t you say so yourself, Miss Dee? Saving the world is just an ‘afterthought’. ”

“Ah…”

It appeared Dee finally remembered, and the expression she showed was really similar to Ai back then.

“Miss Dee, you wanted to create a world where people don’t have to feel sad about dying, right?”

“…Yes.”

“But you felt sad when I died, and because you feel sad, you feel that your dream was shaken.”

“Yes. Yes.”

“But that doesn’t contradict anything. Because your dream hasn’t come true yet.”

“… Yes!”

While combing Dee’s damaged hair, Ai untangled her good friend’s heart. She brushed through those tangled thoughts, and straightened out the knotted thoughts.

“Dreams exist in the future, not now. So if you dream of ‘some day’, you need to prepare for that day.”

“…Yes.”

“So I think it’s okay to be sad now.”

“………Yes.”

 

“Tears are definitely shed the moment we stop crying.”

 

Ai herself was quite a crybaby.

She felt the crying and finished crying were inseparable. No matter how sad one might be, how unbearable it was, the tears would take the sadness away and soothe the soul a little. Thus, Ai liked to cry.

But she would not cry anymore.

Her eyes were beginning to parch, and could not let anything flow.

But that was enough. Because her own tears had taken another form that flowed down Dee’s face..

“I’m sorry, Miss Dee.”

“Yes …”

“I’m sorry…for making you sad.”

“Yes…yes…”

Dee, the Ghost, the whisperer who tried to destroy the world with just words.

Said not a single word more as she cried in Ai’s arms.

 

+

 

Julie felt that Scar had become much more human these days, but also had more eccentricities instead.

After preparing to move out, Julie returned to Ai’s infirmary, only to see his wife not enter for some reason, and instead peer in outside the door..

“…What are you doing?”

“Ah, Julie.”

Surely Scar too was done with her preparations. She brought some clothes to keep Ai warm (given the situation, it was to keep her cold instead), and coaxed Celica on her back..

? Why aren’t you going in?”

“Someone’s here ….”

“!? Alice!?”

Bending down, Julie peeked through the gap. He had assumed the big damn idiot finally showed up to meet Ai.

But it was Dee in the room.

She was kneeling by the bed, clinging onto Ai …and apparently crying.

He was shocked, and also enlightened.

“I see, so that’s why you were waiting outside.”

“Yes, it appears they have lots to say.”

“Hmm.”

But there did not appear to be anything to worry about. Dee was crying, and appeared to be able to talk to Dee. A peaceful time occurred between the two of them, and there was even laughter.

“…Looks like she really cried.”

“Yes, and she really bawled so loudly, Ai and Celica have to admit defeat.”

“Hoh? Now that’ll be quite a sigh…how long ago was that though?”

“…About thirty minutes ago, I suppose.”

Of course, this was the reason for Scar’s troubled look. It seemed the two girls were in the endless talk mode girls usually would have. Given the situation, the two of them would most probably be chatting the entire night.

Julie would have given them some time if he could, but the situation would not allow for it.

“Ai, it’s me. I’m coming in.”

He knocked on the door without saying another word, and heard frantic voices from inside “U-Uncle!? W-Wait a minute!l”

At the same time, Scar apologized, looking sorry.

“My apologies, Julie…”

“No, it’s fine.”

He would bear the slander of being called indelicate and inopportune. In fact, Julie had the tendency to willingly take such a brunt.

“Oi~, are you done yet?”

“Come in~.”

Julie waited for Ai’s reply and opened the door. He had assumed there would be Ai, sitting on the bed, and Dee, poised as always while sitting there, showing no signs that she had cried before…but he was wrong..

“Wait! Uncle, not yet! Read the rood! Wait, Ai! Let go of me!!”

He saw that Dee was struggling like a cat that had been doused with water, and Ai pinned her to her belly, not letting go.

“Don’t wanna~. It’s rare to see you act so cute, Miss Dee. I want to look at you a little more. I’m not letting you go!”

“…What are you two doing?”

Julie shook his head, looking dumbfounded.

“Come on, you can leave the flirting for another time.”

“I’m not flirting!”

“Tch.”

“Don’t ‘tch’ me!”

Julie naturally smiled and gently patted Ai’s head. Ai acted like an old cat as she nudged her head up his hand..

His arm felt goosebumps like before, but Julie was no longer afraid of this phenomenon.

“…Hmph, weren’t you two flirting out there?”

“What, little girl? Are you feeling jealous? Sorry about that.”

Julie said, and then patted Dee on the head as well. “I don’t mean that! And even then, I’m not asking for headpats!” Dee murmured and tried to duck away, but Julie’s habit was to give chase after she ran away, “watch me catch you to ruffle your hair good” and thought so.

“Gyaa! Ai just combed my hair!”

“Ugh. Mr Ju…dad, you’re really indelicate.”

“Hahaha, sorry about that…now then, shall we head home?”

Julie curtly apologized as he prepared the wheelchair. He had Ai sit on it, and got ready to head home.

“Wait, answer one last question.”

Before they left, Dee said.

 

“Ai, what are you going to do now?”

 

Julie gasped. It was the question everyone had abstained from.

“Will you continue to exist?”

Her words did not sound disturbed, and her face showed no gloom. Dee looked at the Dead with a brighter expression than the sunrise and sunset, even if it blinded the other person.

“Or do you want to die?”

All eyes turned to one corner of the room. There was a Dead, one who had just turned thirteen, looking at everyone with eyes like the moon that no longer emitted a radiance.

There was a gentle smile on his face.

She’s scary. Julie thought. He always felt that her personality always scared him. The intelligence, the madness, and the fact that he could not understand Ai left him sad and terrified.

“…Miss Dee, Miss Celica.”

Ai called out everyone’s names, and discussed her own death with a smile on her face.

“Mom…”

Surely the reason was because he felt so distant from Ai. He was certain that this child would one day leave him, and that became a fear that bound his heart.

And indeed, that did happen.

She, too, had abandoned him.

Even then,

“Dad…”

“Yes?”

Julie said. Softly.

He killed off his fear, hid his tears, and lied as always.

If she was going to leave him, he thought, so be it. He was no longer hesitant. He would just remain. That was what he could think..

And then,Ai said,

 

“Three days, please.”

 

At this moment, the child still looked apologetic.

“I’d like to think about it for a while.”

 

+

 

Let me think, Ai said. Three days to think.

Dee wondered what she would be thinking about. Was she thinking about ending it, continuing to live on, or when to end?

She wanted to think. She wanted to think about whether she wanted to live or die. The words sounded so strange and horrible. How many people actually thought of this issue properly in this world fifteen years ago? Dee naturally did not. She, who remained trapped in that day fifteen years ago, never thought she would have died when she fell out of a window..

But in this world, everything was different. Everyone had to decide for themselves whether to live or die.

How cruel a fate was it? On further thought, while the end called Death was cruel, it might truly be a form of salvation. Everyone had no choice but to kowtow their heads when the god of death would appear without care of their will.

That God was no more. He had mysteriously abandoned the world and disappeared somewhere.

All that was left in the world was the child of God. The child of God cried while holding some incomplete omniscience. People could no longer find an excuse. Death was no longer an unreasonably abrupt end, but an end point of one’s own volitional choice.

In other words, Man had to decide till when he would live on to..

After all these, Dee felt guilty about what she was doing. She wanted a world where Death was the norm. Most people would not have noticed how terrifying this was, and accepted the ‘Ghost’s whispers. It was exactly what a whisperer would do, the ‘Witch of the West’ at her best. These people would gladly receive Death, and then realize that the Deathscythe that was supposed to be wielded by the Reaper were unwittingly handed over to them.

It would mean they had to decide on their own value. They had to decide on their own end, their own life, for themselves. Puny humans had to personally finish such a sacred task, no matter how terrified or sad they were..

But those who can do that were still good.

If they could not decide, what awaited them was something really terrifying. It was something more terrifying than an end, called ‘eternity’.

At this moment, Ai was a prisoner to this intangible hail.

That was why Dee could not say it. She definitely could not say anything that would get Ai to remain just for the sake of it.

 

“I’ll see you later then, Miss Dee.”

Dozens of minutes later, they were at the roundabout before the town council hall. Ai was seated in the blue car, the window pulled down and she bowed to Dee, who remained alone.

“Make sure of it! Alright!? I’ll never forgive you if you dare get buried beforehand!!!”

Dee nodded her head at the same speed as the snowflakes that were fluttering around. The Ai immediately felt the heavy atmosphere, and she lowered her eyes apologetically.

“Yes, definitely. I’ll let you know as soon as possible, Miss.”

“I don’t care about that! That’s why …that’s why…I don’t want you to be buried…”

“… That’s.”

Here we go again, Ai gave an uneasy look. Dee’s heart would throb whenever she saw such a face..

“I’m sorry, Miss Dee, I didn’t mean to make you feel restless…”

“Y-yes, I know that. I’ll wait since you say you’ll think about it…but, think of this as me pleading. I still want to be with you… ”

“Yes, me too.”

Those words were true. Ai certainly felt the same, and wanted to be with Dee.

But that was no guarantee of anything, even for her.

She did not know. Dee did not know at all. She felt that there was a 99% chance of it being the case, but at the same time, she felt that the remaining 1% was the true Ai.

“Ah! When you say three more days, when is it technically!? Three days including today!? Or three days starting tomorrow?”

“M-Miss Dee, you’re desperate.”

“Of course!”

“Erm, then, three days starting tomorrow…I’ll make the decision on the morning of the fourth day.”

“Hmm. Okay. …”

“See you later.”

And the blue car drove off. The car spewed pure white exhaust gas, and the chains on the wheel screeched away as it disappeared into the town formed by darkness and white.

“…Now then.”

Instantly, Dee switched her consciousness. She had to clear her thoughts a little, and rewrite her ‘Ghost’ mode as the ‘Dee Ensy’ mode. She sneezed, rubbed her hands, and went towards the town hall.

There were two main possibilities..

One was that Ai chose to be buried.

Once that happened,, in a sense, Dee’s choices were simple. She had to keep objecting until the very end, and nothing else. Until then, she would cry and pout, and cry way more than she did just then. She might even have to roll about on the floor, and even grab Ai’s leg..

On the other hand, it was hard to imagine that Ai would choose to remain. It might be the mixed signal that someone like Ai would say, “Please wait.”

So what was Ai waiting for?

Or who?

“…That’s obvious, right?”

Puffing out a pure white warmth of loneliness, Dee decided on a future course of action.

“Where did those two go two…”

She stared into the town that was shrouded in darkness, and begrudged those two who were probably hiding in this town.

 

“Ai’s waiting for you…”

 

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