Chapter 3

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Hole 2: Grave Keeper

Chapter 3

The graveyard prisoner dug holes.

That was his job–his duty.

The size of the holes were designated and marked by four cuts in the ground. But for some reason he could only find one of the markers today.

Maybe it was some kind of mistake, he thought, as he looked around the ground at his feet. Yet he still couldn’t even find another marker.

Being at the edge of the mass graveyard, the gravestones surrounding him weren’t densely arranged. It was much different than the uniformity of a city’s housing complex; here the graves were sporadically placed.

What does it mean?

Rapping on the shovel on his shoulder, the boy glared at the ridiculous single marker. Did Daribedor make a mistake? He placed his foot atop the meaningless rivet and looked up…

“…”

At that moment he finally noticed the second rivet cut into the ground, but it was extremely far from where he was standing. Thinking it was preposterous he went to check. Strangely, it was placed at the distance where the third or fourth rivet was usually placed. And if the marker really wasn’t a mistake, then this hole was double the size of the first hole he’d made to bury that giant headed monster.

Muoru’s spirits fell. How much effort is it going to take for me to finish this one?

Then he grew terrified. …how big is this one that it needs to be buried in a hole this big?

Not only did he realize the time and effort it would require, he also understood the answer to his second question. It was only natural, after all. Even though the monster would have to be smaller than the hole he was going to make, the hole was still large enough to hold a pile of three tanks or more.

“The monsters have infinite variations of size, but what they share in common is they are stronger the bigger they are.” He remembered Crow’s words from before as he tried to get to work. Was Crow and the people they were with planning to fight with the thing that was supposed to go in the grave he was digging? If so they would have to pray for safety since by Crow’s own admission the monsters were undying.

Sighing, Muoru stabbed his shovel into the ground and lifted out his first scoop of dirt. With that same action he scooped again, then another scoop, another scoop, another scoop, scoop, scoop, scoop…

…and despite how many times he’d repeated that action, by the time the day grew dark the hole wasn’t even halfway finished.

Even though he’d gotten used to the activity, as one would expect he was tired. After all the effort he made that morning to wash away the dirt at the reservoir, he’d completely returned to the filthy state he’d been in before. Even though he was a prisoner, now he felt like his condition was some kind of punishment. But if that were the case, what exactly was the punishment for?

That was a false charge. I didn’t really do anything bad. He touched his chest with his hand and recalled the sight he’d witnessed that morning.

At the same time, he felt a part of himself unintentionally harden.

Although it had been an accident, peeking at Meria as she bathed was certainly criminal.

He’d wondered all day what was the best way to speak with her if they met. Without a doubt, the first thing out of his mouth should be an apology. What he had done was shameful; there were simply no other words to describe it.

With that resolve, he went back to the reservoir and washed up. However, it seemed like the dirt had already fully permeated into his kneecaps and the tips of his fingers, and so no matter how much water he poured on his body, he could never get rid of it. But in order to cool his head, he fervently dumped the water on his head over and over again like some kind of religious ascetic.

Soon after, he headed off towards the graveyard, and in the distance he could see the familiar orange lamplight floating in the dark of the night. It approached him with the same languid speed it always had.

Good, maybe she’s not that mad.

If she was angry she wouldn’t try to meet him. That simple line of logic reassured him.

“Meri…” but as he tried to speak she halted, still quite far away. Still feeling guilty, Muoru made no move to draw closer.

“…”

“…”

An uncomfortable silence fell upon them. It’s no good if I can’t properly apologize. Muoru tried to open his mouth but before he could say anything Meria spoke.

“For a little while, don’t come out at night.”

The inside of his nose popped in pain and Muoru felt like kicking himself for feeling relieved.

“I’m sorry. I guess you’re mad after all,” he said hanging his head in shame.

Meria, whose face was wrapped by her hood, shook her head. “I’m not mad.”

The girl’s behavior seemed to be saying, “You don’t need to apologize,” to the boy.

“I’m really sorry, it wasn’t on purpose! Occasionally I wake up early and go for a walk. I heard some water and it caught my interest then…No really, I didn’t intend to peek at you, yet still I saw you there…”

Muoru’s face was turning red. Halfway through his explanation his words had devolved into rambling to the point where he didn’t even know what he was trying to say. It was like he had the demeanor of an elementary school child.

“…please, for heaven’s sake…” Muoru said, but his desperate words didn’t seem to reach the girl.

“I’m not mad or anything, so please. For a while, just stay in the stable at night. By no means go outside. Please, I’m begging you….”

She grabbed the edge of his cloak so tightly that the color drained from his fingers. And in that grip she did nothing but plead for him to remain inside, over and over again.

So not having a choice, for the days after that Muoru would return to digging the giant hole during the day. Then at night he would spend his time in the stable, his mind worrying endlessly as he stared at the crumbling tattered wall to pass the time.

He had no idea how long the girl had meant by “for a while” but she had only said not to go out, that didn’t mean she had broken off relations with him.

If what he thought was true then just as the words “for a while” implied, soon the suspense and anticipation would die down.

…but for two or three days nothing could be done about his body itching with impatience. Could it really not have been helped? It was unintentional…. That excuse had once again begun to make its presence felt inside his mind. And the only way to quiet those thoughts was to hear directly from Meria. That’s right, even though he didn’t feel like he could properly say what he wanted to her, there was nothing else he could do.

Then one night he unexpectedly heard the dog’s howls coming from the direction of the graveyard.

Unable to relax for some reason, Muoru tried leaving the stable.

The completely cloudless, starry sky looked just like usual; as if there had been no changes in the two days he’d stayed in at night.

But…why? Why is my skin prickly with goosebumps?

The boy tried gently rubbing his arms. He’d gotten used to the graveyard at night, so it wasn’t that his day-dreaming was causing both his fear and the goosebumps. …it is probably just my imagination.

But he couldn’t trust his feelings about the current atmosphere if his mind was deceived by misapprehension.

Then something happened. If an earthquake, as the name implies, is a phenomenon where the ground shakes, Muoru thought the area seemed to be trembling slightly. He would describe the feeling as being the same as watching a giant tsunami rise over the horizon. Within that wave were a swarm of possibly countless enemy soldiers, now vigorously rushing towards him, preparing to attack.

Maybe he was feeling the beginning of a premonition or something. No. Whatever the feeling was foretelling, it was going to happen soon.

With those feelings he returned to the stable, but he didn’t think it was possible to wait completely still until the morning-

Maybe I should get ready to run or something.

Right after thinking that, Muoru ran out of the stable and rushed towards the mansion’s gate. At a glance he thought the night graveyard was nothing more than ordinary. On the sloping, wide ground the ground was sprinkled not with humans, but gravestones. The wind made the forest trees howl, and the entire area was shrouded in darkness.

Muoru ran towards the large tree growing in the direct center of the graveyard. He wasn’t very skilled at climbing trees, but if he were able to climb it then he’d probably be able to look out over the entire graveyard.

But when he finally arrived at the root of the tree out of breath….he saw it.

It was his second experience where his brain was unable to grasp what he was seeing.

Muoru couldn’t quite single out the previous memory as he stood confronted with a creature that wasn’t something you saw in the everyday world. The first experience had been quite recent. It was when that giant-headed monster was bound hand and foot and buried.

Now.

In front of his eyes now was an extremely gigantic sack of flesh.

If he forced his eyes to look up he’d see that the distorted, spherical, soft mass of folded over flesh resembled the head of an octopus…but octopuses didn’t come this far inland, they should have eyes, and they definitely weren’t bigger than a two story building.

It was a monster.

Or as Crow said, a devil. Or as the gravekeeper girl said, The Dark. And this one was even bigger than its companion, the other giant-headed monster he’d buried.

But this was different from that time. This time, it wasn’t bound or anything like that. This one had moved. The giant fleshy octopus-like head was not supported by eight legs with suction cups…no its legs were harder, just like a beetle’s, and they only helped make the monster look bigger.

The tip of each leg abnormally tapered to a sharp point and looked like a claw, depending on how you looked at it. Of course it wasn’t natural for it to have things like a rough and bony claw anywhere on its body. And as for the number, countless legs of varying lengths extended out from the bottom of the sack of flesh, all wriggling restlessly like the legs of a centipede.

It was extremely bizarre and creepy and he definitely got the feeling it wasn’t a creature of the natural world.

That creature was facing ahead, where…Meria was.

Muoru forgot to breathe.

She wasn’t running or trying to escape. Rather, she and the monster were facing each other.

Even with the hooded cloak wrapped about her, she still appeared to have a slender body, which in front of that monstrous giant beast looked terribly tiny. And even from his far distance, Muoru thought he could see the same quiet expression she always had on her face.

The monster brandished one of its legs like a sickle.

Run, he tried to say, but his voice wouldn’t come out.

But whether he shouted or not made no difference. It was already too late.

The leg wagged side to side like a reptile’s tongue, the end equipped with its sharp claw.

Then… the girl’s left hand twirled over and over in the air like the tip of a broken sword, before hitting the earth and rolling on the ground.

There was a feeble, tiny scream.

And though it wasn’t loud, it couldn’t possibly be that loud; the sound of her voice still pierced Muoru’s eardrums.

In the next moment four of the creature’s tentacle-like legs, extended and pierced Meria’s body. Her screams soon disappeared. There was a claw stabbed through her body, right below the throat she needed to scream. The other scythe-like claws were stabbing through her right arm, her left thigh, and through her navel….each of the four jutting out from her body from their tips to their centers.

Then the monster used those four extended legs to lift her up into the air.
Blood rushed out of the girl’s mouth, and one moment later, as if her body couldn’t hold it in, a large amount of the red liquid spilled out from the lower half of her body.

The monster shook the helpless girl in the air and hurled her body to the ground. As it threw her body, its claw that was pierced through her navel split her open to her inseam, allowing her abdomen and entrails to spill out from her body like a long tail. Then she hit the ground, her blood splattering the surroundings as if the monster had just crushed a fruit full of juice. And on the earth her intestines painted an arc on the ground.

Meria…

She was still alive.

She was sobbing.

No matter how muscular or strong a man was, they’d definitely cry after receiving terrible injuries like those. Of course, it wouldn’t be strange for them to die before crying, since they were in other words, fatal wounds.

…but despite all that, the girl stood.

At first she was unsteady, resting her hands on her knees. But then she straightened up and her legs stood firm.

Then the boy saw something that was more unbelievable than even the monster.

The guts that had spilled out of her torn abdomen wriggled like worms and crawled back inside her body. Then after everything that should have been hanging outside her body was once again inside her body, the grievous wound splitting her from her inseam to her back automatically sealed itself up, stopping the bleeding.

That wasn’t all; her left hand that had been ripped off at the beginning of the assault rolled across to her body as if pulled by a magnet. It then crawled up her leg, stomach, chest, and back, before joining with her wrist, restoring her to two complete arms. It was as if she was a doll and her hand and body were being stitched back together by some invisible tailor.

Witnessing that unbelievable spectacle made Muoru recall the words Crow had said to him once. “These things do not have what we call life. Just like the words suggest, they are undead. Even if you cut them, burn them or chop them into very small pieces, like a joke the will come back to life…”

Meria was pierced multiple times, and her body was split apart. And each time she was injured she would mutter a scream as if giving up…but then her ripped arms and legs, her scooped out organs, her split apart torso, and her smashed-in head, would all return back to how they were before. No matter what kind of injury she received, it couldn’t kill her. However, like someone who took pleasure in grisly homicide, that giant monster wielded its edged tentacles and continued its slaughter on Meria for what seemed like forever.

5

Underneath the shining moon and the stars, on a ground that seemed to stretch on forever, the unnatural monster continued to ravage Meria’s body. It seemed like the cruelty would never end, but as time went on the monster’s energy seemed to be gradually weakening…

The reason was simple.

Its moving legs were decreasing.

Underneath the giant’s mass there still seemed to be countless sharp legs sprouting out, but now more than half were not moving. One by one the legs that should have been wriggling restlessly, suddenly stopped and never moved again.

But they weren’t stopping randomly. In fact, looking closer it seemed like the legs that stopped moving were always the ones that touched Meria.

He had no idea why, but as for the facts: the girl approached and whenever the monster’s legs wounded, cut, or pierced her they would eventually stop moving and hang loosely as if the nerves inside had been severed. Gradually the monster’s energy depleted to the point where the remaining legs could not support its mass. And when the mass of flesh crumbled to the ground, it caused a tremor that rocked the earth.

If this were what was normally considered a fight, then it would only be natural for there to be an overwhelming difference in strength between the monster and the girl. If the monster had been confronting Muoru, even if they fought a million times, he’d probably die each time. And truthfully there really was a gigantic difference in strength between the girl and the monster.

Still, the hideous, fiendish monster was unable to kill the girl who was as thin as a plant stem; in fact its body was weakening bit by bit. It was like a rock, weathered down through long months and cycles of endless rain.

Of course, since it was a giant, the speed in which it weakened was terribly slow.

Until finally the last leg stopped moving.

The chunk of folded flesh, larger than any kind of statue, now couldn’t even struggle with something like an ant. As the extremely violent creature stopped moving, though it was strange to say, it seemed to look despondent and discouraged, like a patron at a festival that had just closed.

Covered in blood despite not having a wound on her body, Meria slowly, with the same slowness she always showed, stepped up to the monster and touched its flesh with her right hand.

The atmosphere vibrated without a sound. It wasn’t a change he could see with his eyes, but, it did become quiet. So quiet, it was like the world had stopped.

The creature didn’t move an inch. Meria crouched to the side of the creature, limp with fatigue. She took ragged, deep breaths over and over again. And even though she was still alive after being stabbed, pierced, and ripped apart her pale profile now looked like a corpse.

“…Muo…ru?” the girl looked up with a face dripping with tears.

The boy didn’t try to hide the sound of his footsteps.

Looking at him, Meria stopped crying. No, it was probably better to say she held them back.
He didn’t know why she did that. Especially since it would have been much easier to understand her if she’d sobbed on him like a child.

Should I approach or should I leave?

…The only thing he could think of was getting closer to her.

But before the reason he hadn’t shouted was self-defense.

If he’d shouted, “run” that monster would probably have turned its weapons on him and killed him the moment after it killed the girl. That’s why he couldn’t shout – why he didn’t shout. And really, there was nothing wrong with that hypothesis; it just didn’t include the possibility that Meria would still be alive.

He painfully regretted what he did, but it was difficult to excuse himself for running away just to save his own skin. But despite what others may think, he really didn’t intend to run.

…but,

“Meria.” There was no energy in his voice.

The girl’s expression as she held back the tears was harder than any kind of mask, and Muoru was unsure whether or not she could take it off.

-Are you okay?

– Are you hurt?

-Tell me, what in the world are you?

Those questions flitted through his head but if he asked them he didn’t think they would ever get through to Meria.

After defeating that monster, trembling with pain, being scared, being wounded, and now covered with blood and hanging her head in shame, what could he possible say that would be good…? He didn’t care who it was, he just wanted someone to tell him.

“…Want to be my friend?”

“…What?”

The boy forcefully grabbed Meria’s right hand.

The right hand that had finished off the monster.

“Even though you rejected me the other day, I’ll let that slide,” Muoru said, pretending to reminisce as he smiled awkwardly. Just like when he’d asked her before, Meria blinked as if it was amusing or something.

“It’s not really fair to say no a second time after you’ve rejected someone once already.”

Like a magician who can captivate the hearts of children by producing a flag from their palm, Muoru spoke with the same smooth, talkative manner he usually used. But more importantly, Muoru was bestowed with composure, and if he continued with that tone and look, even his kindness would ooze out of his demeanor

“…Well, am I right?”

There was no change in Meria’s expression. She didn’t say anything, nor did she even shake her head from side to side. She just stared at the ground.

Looking at her was like watching the liquid start to spill over the edge of a cup filled to the brim. And then from her wet eyes a single tear ran down her cheek.

“Are you unable to stand?”

The girl nodded, a tear falling down her face with the movement.

Muoru craned his neck to the side and averted his eyes from Meria’s body as much as possible. He then let go of her hand and swept his strong arms under her legs. He placed his right arm behind her knees and his left under her back as he scooped her up into the air. .

“…Wha, what are you doing?” the girl cried out flustered.

“You probably need to wash up. And after that change clothes, and stuff like that,” Muoru just replied in a direct and flat tone.

Even Muoru knew what carrying her body must have looked like, but he didn’t think this was the time to worry about it.

Well…she probably wasn’t a princess or something.

Having said clothing, Meria blushed, as if she finally noticed her appearance. .

Even though there were no wounds on her body, her clothes were in tatters. The black coat she always wore had been ripped to shreds and only bits of it clung to her body like the fragments of a shell on a chick that just hatched; a state that could be called “barely clothed”.

The condition of her clothing led to the mystery of what was inside her thick, dark shade of a robe finally getting solved. It looked like she was wearing nothing but a thin dress as her undergarment. Nevertheless, the girl in his arms had very little fabric left to cover her important parts and what did remain was stretched tightly, exposing her relatively longish legs more than halfway up her thighs. All of which made it difficult for Muoru to know where to cast his eyes.

If only there weren’t blood stains running down her skin…

Being able to think those foolish thoughts was probably a sign that he’d finally calmed down from before.

A few minutes after he started to walk, Meria asked with a timid voice, “I’m not heavy?”

Although her voice seemed to be cracking, it wasn’t frail. Her life didn’t seem to be in danger, but she probably wasn’t completely safe. Her cheeks looked like they were suffering from a rush of blood to the head caused by fever, her breathing was labored, and he could feel her heart was beating terribly fast through his hands on her back.

…the girl was certainly not usual. However he didn’t want to be a hindrance and pry too deeply. So as best as he could, Muoru tried to put her at ease.

“Even if you were three times heavier, I’d still be okay”

Her body was uncomfortably slender, to say nothing of its lack of weight. Or maybe I have more energy in my arms because I’m nervous. 

“…”

Meria looked away and sighed quietly.

Even though she was covered in blood, her profile was still beautiful. Her expression appeared meek, but he could sense she was certainly thinking desperately about something.

As he walked, all of his concentration was focused on Meria, as if his field of vision were sown to her. He looked at her long eyelashes, her eyelids, her white and scarlet colored cheeks, and her pink lips. And if he were to bend down just a little, he’d be close enough to touch them.

Instead he listened.

Those lips were muttering something incoherently, barely making a sound.

And as a deep emotion spread across her face…”Maria,” the girl called out someone’s name.

Those words weren’t meant for him, he had no doubts about that. And not only did Muoru have no idea what the name was, but Meria’s mind seemed to be somewhere else.

The name had sounded similar to other female names、a connection he pondered in his mind over and over….

But, then she fell silent.

All the power had left the girl’s body, as if she’d fallen asleep. For a moment he thought his arms could feel a change in her body, but that thought quickly blew off into the horizon.

As she wasn’t taxing his muscles, he realized he should walk carefully so he didn’t shake that much.

As a result, walking to the mansion’s gate must have taken several minutes.

But for Muoru, he felt the time he spent carrying the girl across the long distance to the gate passed in an instant.

Then he sat Meria on the ground, her body still paralyzed from exhaustion. The first time he was dragged here was when the military police had picked up the receiver, as if it was some great accomplishment. He had wanted to look, but he couldn’t, so now he didn’t remember how to use it.

Two or three times he heard a tuning sound like on a radio come from the receiver.  It probably only worked by having the other side call…however, there was no one who came to answer.

“Is right here okay?”

Meria took out a key and pointed towards the side entrance.

“But…” Muoru said perplexed.

“- Mr. Prisoner, you found her.” A voice said from behind Muoru.

Daribedor looked up at the boy without trying to hide his unusual and unpleasant expression.

“Since right now there is a demon in the graveyard waiting to be buried, I would like you to please attend to your vocation for me,” the old man said.

“But she’s injured…”

“Injured?” The man interrupted, then like an imp bent backwards and released a roar of laughter into the air. “Where?”

Meria, crouching with her head hung, didn’t have a single injury on her body after all.

“She…”

“It’s okay if you don’t know.” The noseless old man grabbed the girl’s arm and though there was no difference in their sizes, he dragged her beyond the iron gate. Muoru tried to follow, but the black dog came out and intercepted him.

In the end, he couldn’t even see Meria as she was drawn into the house.

Then, he remembered the “vocation” that the old man had mentioned.

—Burying that monster. Whether he agreed or not, that was the prisoner’s job.

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