Hole 2: Grave Keeper
What do I want to do?
And what should I do in order to achieve it?
Muoru found himself asking the same questions over and over. Probably it was because when it came to achieving his objective, there weren’t a whole lot of options to choose from.
I must escape.
How many times had he muttered that since coming here? It was an expression that should have acted as a propellant to continue his thoughts, but now in order to erase his indecision it filled his mind.
Right, I must get out of here.
But, wasn’t the very situation of me becoming a prisoner a bit strange in the first place?
“Hey, tell me Muoru, what kind of crime did you commit?” The girl asked as she gently touched his collar with the tip of her finger.
Reflexively, Muoru backed up into the tree, fidgeting slightly at her touch. He wanted her to forgive his uneasiness, but at the same time he was well aware of how the collar had been attached to his skin and the possible implications should it be removed. And even if he trusted Meria, if by accident the collar were dislodged his life would end.
And after that Muoru was strongly reluctant about the topics she tried to talk about. But Meria was serious. No, that wasn’t quite right. Though she’d only joked around once up till now, her eyes now seemed to shine brighter than ever. He felt Meria wasn’t simply curious, she was eager to know more.
With difficulty, as if his lips weighed a ton, Muoru said, “Murder. That’s why.” Well, that was what the world thought and what was written in the courthouse’s record of the trial.
One morning his superior 2nd Lieutenant Hedger Reeve was discovered dead in the corner of a trench. Because of both the neighboring country’s self-defense force, who didn’t try to come out of their fortress, and the top brass on his side, who didn’t try to force their way through the enemy’s defenses, the war situation was mostly at a standstill. So the murder of the 2nd Lieutenant of the 16th infantry unit caused quite an uproar. During all that unrest, the disappearance of a 2nd-class infantryman’s favorite shovel seemed trivial at best.
Then about 30 hours after the body was discovered, the military police regiment’s search dogs discovered the shovel in a dump of scrap wood. And it was stained with the 2nd Lieutenant’s blood. Unfortunately, as a young off-duty soldier without an alibi that could be verified, in a week the Court Marshall was over and “Muoru Reed” was deemed the culprit.
In all honesty, the guy was really clever to use my shovel for the murder.
The boy who had become prisoner #5722 laughed.
It wasn’t that there was an insufficient motive. Hedger Reeve was human garbage.
He wore things like looted sapphires and jingling dirty gold around his neck. And countless times he boasted about the terrible details surrounding how he got his hands on them. He was the worst drunk and would frequently beat his subordinates depending on his mood. He also loved dice and if he lost big he’d turn almost completely red and flip over the gambling table. Though he was the commanding officer of the moles he was never seen with a shovel in his hand. He usually, in his self-important way, observed the diggers from the cool shade.
The time when the 2nd Lieutenant was eventually buried must have been when Muoru was surrounded by cooking fires with his fellow moles and laughing again and again throughout the night. Really, it had to have been then when Hedger Reeve’s corpse was buried in the corner of the battlefield.
The restrained boy insisted again and again both in the investigation and in the military court that, “I didn’t do it, this is a false charge.” But, other than that was there anything else I could have done? They were blaming him for something he knew nothing about. And of course, without an alibi or evidence there was no one who’d believe him.
“That’s not true,” Meria said, her calm voice seeming to shake the cemetery air as it called Muoru back from the depths of his dark memories.
“You absolutely didn’t do that,” she continued, looking straight at him. From her face, Muoru got the sense that she didn’t doubt his innocence even a little…He felt she believed him.
“Aa,” something like a yawn spilled out of Muoru’s throat. He understood it as his resolve started to weaken.
In his head he recited his objective. I must escape…then a second time…and a third.
Then tearing away from the girl’s blue eyes, he said, “Thank you. If you were the judge, I would have definitely been found innocent.” He then smiled to drive away the doubt swirling about in his chest.
Of course if he were acquitted then he’d never have been sent to the graveyard and he wouldn’t be meeting with Meria every night like this.
“Well, truly you’re not someone who should be here,” Meria muttered with a sinking expression. Somehow even she seemed to feel the same way he did.
As was expected, Muoru wondered how he should react to her words….how he should react to the expression on her face.
Suddenly his mouth moved automatically, “Hey, this is just hypothetical, but…,” he said, not looking at the girl. “If I tried to escape from this place…if you’d like…”
Noticing that he was probably about to blurt out something he shouldn’t, he promptly stopped talking. As he hesitated to continue he could feel Meria’s gaze. Then to ease her gaze he finally told her.
“It’s completely up to you, but…if at that time I tried to escape, would you want to run away with me?”
Meria blinked a few times then looked down to the ground.
Conversely, Muoru felt calm as he carefully and silently watched her reaction.
The words had jumped out his mouth as if they had a will of their own, but in the end he didn’t think his invitation was so bad. But though he didn’t have any clear grounds to prove it, Muoru did think that Meria wouldn’t snitch on him to Daribedor even if he revealed his desire to escape.
Though he’d thought about it many times, his idea to escape was still not something one could call a plan. However, whatever form he sought assistance in, certainly when he ran away from the graveyard the plan would involve Meria. If that was the case, then he thought that there would also be some kind of benefit for Meria as well.
Even though I don’t have an exact plan, it’s probably a good idea to place Meria at the center of the scheme, right?
Maybe her existence wasn’t entirely a hindrance. . .
While he was aware that was an overly-optimistic thought, he couldn’t ignore the fact that somewhere inside his heart he was hoping it were true.
He could easily imagine that the girl had received either the same treatment, something similar, or worse at the mass graveyard.
Mankind’s natural enemy, the monsters that went by numerous names.
The gravediggers before him had certainly met their end, being unable to handle the terror sleeping beneath their feet and the repulsiveness of those they had to bury.
And that was definitely not a story limited to the grave digging.
He recalled- the figure of Meria’s back as she stood in front of the monster made of a sack of flesh. Her arm that was torn off and flung away. Her torso that was stabbed through.
Right, Muoru already knew to what extent the grave keeper was made to suffer.
Without a change in her expression since his question, the girl remained completely quiet and still. Sometimes like she was shivering, her small lips quivered.
However, though the girl never said, “No,” Muoru did feel that at the end of her internal conflict words of rejection had entered into her mind.
Is there nothing else I can try?
Then like he had before, Muoru went to grab her hand…
But their fingers didn’t overlap; she had dodged his hand.
“I’m sorry,” Muoru quickly said. “What am I saying? Forget it. I was just…”
“No,” Meria interrupted him. “It’s my fault,” she said shaking her head. “It’s not your fault…My feet…my feet can’t leave this graveyard.”
Muoru didn’t know how to respond.
Those words, somehow Meria sounded like she was being completely literal. It wasn’t that she had a psychological resistance or anything like that; truly she was saying that it was physically impossible for her to leave this place.
Why in the world was that?
“Muoru.” Hearing her call his name, Muoru looked up. “Can you come with me for a bit?”
With the girl holding a lamp and leading him, the two of them walked slowly through the late night graveyard.
Along the way they didn’t say a word.
More than his feet which were barely visible in the dark, Muoru focused his sights on Meria’s back as she walked in front of him. Her small shoulders, the bulge of her shoulder blades beneath her clothing and most of all the back of her head, covered by her hood.
Why does she always have her hood up? The question suddenly sprung up in his mind as he stared at her.
It wasn’t flattering and he felt it was a waste to conceal all of her beautiful hair except for a few bangs. He’d only seen her with the hood down twice. The first time had been when she was out bathing and the second time was when the monster had shredded her cloak. The first time, when she was soaking wet had been fleeting, the second time when she was covered in blood…not so much. And thinking about it more, he predicted he’d never be able to directly look at her again.
If I were to reach out now and remove her hood, I wonder what would happen.
As he was thinking that idea over, he was suddenly seized by a mix of impure ideas and mischievous urges….But, soon having second thoughts, Muoru slapped his face.
I know it was just a while ago, but I wonder if she’s already forgotten how stupid I was before.
His thoughts went to a few minutes ago when he’d tried to grab her white hand, but only succeeded in clumsily grasping at the air. And really when he thought about that, he felt if he tore off her hood here for no reason, she’d probably react no differently than if he’d lifted up her skirt.
But someday I do want to see what she looks like when angry.
As he was thinking those foolish thoughts, the girl walking in front of him stopped.
A bit in front of them was the giant tree at the center of the graveyard. The thick growth of leaves at the top of the tree were blocking the moonlight and created a shadow on the ground.
And in front of the girl stood one tombstone. Although Meria had purposefully brought him here, she stood stock still and fell silent.
Standing behind the girl’s back, Muoru read the epitaph.
On it was a date from two years ago, and-
“Ma…ri….a…?” It was the name of someone the boy didn’t know.
It was a name that had slipped out from the girl’s lips before.
“Maria was also a grave keeper,” the girl said exactly as the stone said.
“Is that your mother?” Muoru guessed, since the sound of the names resembled one another. However, the girl slowly shook her head.
“I don’t think so.”
“…you don’t think?”
“Maria and I are nothing alike. And even though our ages were not that far apart, I have lived here since before I could remember, but, I have never met any kind of person who called themselves my mother.”
That quiet manner of speaking was no different than her usual tone, but as she stood there in front of the grave, from the sorrow of her hands as she entwined them as if she were reminiscing and her seriousness, Muoru was able to understand to what extent Meria longed for this person called Maria.
“Probably…I think ‘sister’ would be closest….that is if Maria allows me to say that.” Meria once again went quiet.
Muoru stared at the girl. Though he should have gotten used to her appearance, even now Muoru felt her profile was beautiful. And her furrowing brow above her shut eyelids seemed to express the hesitation in her heart.
Muoru finally felt that the time to ask her was now.
“What is a grave keeper,” he asked.
“A grave robber who steals the power of The Dark,” Meria answered.
The boy kept silent.
….He didn’t know the reason why he was troubled. It was good that she’d answered him, but at the same time he didn’t know what to do. And unable to think, no words came to mind.
While looking over her shoulder, the girl stared at his toes.
“Muoru, aren’t you scared of me?”
He shrugged. Fortunately he was able to produce a proper answer.
“You said before that you’re not those things’ friend.”
“Did I?” The girl cocked her head to the side.
“Don’t you remember? It was the second time? The time…” he hesitated.
The second time he’d seen one of the monsters, the time when it was actively moving about above the ground, he’d largely lost his cool. And so recalling those memories was embarrassing.
Slowly turning around, the girl said, “Do you know the power of The Dark, Muoru?”
“Umm….just a bit.”
The Dark went by various names. They were devils. They were undead. And more simply, they were monsters. They didn’t appear except at night; they were immortal, and they were mankind’s greatest enemy.
He’d gotten that smattering of information from Crow, but even now Muoru didn’t know just how far he should trust them. Even though he’d had verified a bit of that knowledge with his own eyes.
-That included the girl’s body.
“Even I don’t really know what they are,” Meria said. “But the phrase grave keeper indicates people who have the power of the dark within their bodies.”
“Yeah. It’s just like you saw, they are neither alive nor inanimate….You see, for The Dark, their form is not important. I can’t really explain it well, but…take for example an apple. After you eat it, all that’s left is the core. So, then it’s no longer an apple right?” As the girl explained, sometimes she added small gestures to accompany her words.
“For living things, it is exactly because they preserve their body’s form that they are able to sustain themselves. If they lose their form, they become something different than what they were before they lost their form.
But, as for The Dark, think of them as movable clay with murderous intent. Whether The Dark are made up of a glass of clay or a bathtub full of it makes very little difference. They are not something that ‘will die’. So, no matter what ordinary method is used to damage them, they will always return to the form they had before….”
Then Meria panicked as if she noticed she’d caused him to misunderstand.
“But, ummm…. of course the clay is just a metaphor. The Dark don’t actually mix with one another. It’s not that. Rather The Dark repel one another.
Perhaps it’s correct to say that when touched by a powerful Dark of a higher order, weaker ones become choked up. Then they enter into a pseudo dead state.”
Muoru desperately turned the girl’s attempt at an explanation over and over in his head, struggling to understand.
It was certainly something he’d heard in a first aid lesson. All living organisms if looked at under a microscope were made up of tiny, tiny particles called “cells”. He didn’t know why they retained their form instead of scattering, but at any rate he’d learned that animals had things like “bone cells” and “tissue cells” and those cells intertwined and all formed one living being.
But those monsters didn’t seem to follow the same rules of life as other living things. Their bodies were made up of something that couldn’t be killed or destroyed.
“I have a part of them inside me,” Meria said as she pressed a hand to her chest.
“How?” Muoru asked. “You’re human right?”
The girl gave a deep nod, then with her eyes still fixed on her feet she continued. “The Dark buried in this graveyard aren’t resurrected. But, their bodies are beneath the ground…and…..”
Meria looked up to the dense overhang of branches above.
“I was taught that buried under this tree is the strongest of all The Dark, something that could be called their king. From the seed that grew out of his body sprung out roots, and from that body the tree sucked out its nourishment and grew. And so within this giant tree and its trunk flow the power of The Dark it was formed from…And of course the same is true for its fruit.”
The instant he heard that, Muoru recalled when some time ago she was under the tree eating something.
-The clump that was so dark it was as if it were collecting the darkness. The fruit that was pulsing completely as if it had a mind of its own.
So, is she saying that was a mix of both a plant and the monsters?
“This giant tree bears only one fragment of The Dark. So, the grave keeper, me, eats this and steals their power. Stealing the greatest power makes me feel just like a grave robber. And with that power, even if the other Dark touch me or act hostilely towards me, in the end only they will become unable to move.”
“So to answer your question….I am human, but at the same time a part of me is the same as The Dark. So, I can’t leave from the body buried beneath this tree….or in other words, from the mass graveyard.
And…I can’t die.”
In a slightly surprised tone, the boy collided with the question that had been sitting in the corner of his mind for a while.
“Wait a sec; didn’t you say this so called Maria was also a grave keeper?”
If “Maria”, whom Meria felt was an older sister, was a grave keeper, then she also had stolen the power of the monsters. If so, then wasn’t it strange for there to be a grave for her here? The epitaph was made to mourn for a human who had died, but grave keepers shouldn’t be able to die…I’ve seen it with my own eyes.
Or, were there still things she hasn’t told me?
If that’s true, then Meria….
Can she also die?
“Maria…” with a pained, dreadful voice, like one a person would have if they were vomiting blood, she managed to squeeze out an answer to his question. “Maria….killed herself.”
Like she was about to burst into tears, Meria’s lips trembled and when she continued it was at a hurried pace.
“When Maria was here I wasn’t a grave keeper. Under the limits of the power, two humans cannot be grave keepers at the same time. Even so, at the time I didn’t know why she had killed herself. But the first night after becoming a grave keeper, The Dark in the form of a six legged tiger heartily chewed on my right arm…”
The girl ran her hand along her right upper arm, close to her shoulder joint.
From her sinking expression the boy could tell that now in her mind she was playing back the memory of when the monster had plucked off her arm back then. She was reliving the fear she felt…and the pain.
“The pain….I hate the pain,” she said.
Under his clothes Muoru felt the wound on his right thigh throb. It was where Dephen had bit him when he tried to escape before. Without a doubt the giant black dog had taken it easy on him. Yet, despite its fiendish jaw, Muoru’s leg wasn’t torn off. And as the days passed he’d even been able to forget there was even a scar.
But immediately after the bite had happened, Muoru remembered a blindingly white pain had come over him. Even though the dog had taken it easy on him the pain from the bite had been almost unbearable. And if just that could hurt that much…
Why type of thing was a body that couldn’t die?
Just some time ago he’d seen the ghastly sight.
By the countless sickle-like legs of the mass of flesh monster, Meria was killed again and again. She was pierced. She was smashed. She was split open. She was torn apart. She was broken…she was killed.
They were injuries that should have been fatal. And whether it was extremely fortunate or unlucky, with injuries like that there was no need to ask about the victim’s health. Having only one life, an ordinary human could not suffer more than one fatal wound.
…But in just that night, how many times did Meria’s body taste the pain of death?
Certainly the wounds she’d received had disappeared, no matter how deep they had been. However, the memories couldn’t be extinguished. The memory of the pain, the memory of the fear, they were unable to be alleviated and were building up like sediment.
It was like torture. And it was in terribly bad taste.
No matter who it was, one day they would become unable to tolerate that experience. And if someone had to suffer the pain equivalent to dying over and over again, then without a doubt they’d soon think death was preferable.
-Grave keepers can’t die, Meria had said.
But that was a lie.
The grave keepers do die.
Their hearts die.
And they lose to Thanatos.
-Meria was no different.
“The girl dissolved in the sunlight,” the girl said in a cruel, matter of fact tone.
“As the east sky brightened, the stars disappeared. Though I wanted to stop her, I didn’t know what to do. Nothing I said was getting through to her, so I couldn’t do anything but watch.
Then the first ray of light struck Maria.
Though the spring light should have been gentle, for Maria it seemed to be like boiling hot oil, and as her entire body was bathed in the light, like a worm she writhed on the ground. It seemed like the power of The Dark inside her was ripping her body apart….”
Muoru didn’t know the person Meria was describing. So when he closed his eyes the sight he imagined in the back of his eyelids was instead a girl with reddish brown hair, burning up in the sunlight.
There was no way to confirm how accurate his imagination was, however one thing he was not mistaken about was that it had happened here….at this grave….at his feet.
“The girl enveloped by the light seemed to be extremely, extremely suffering. Yet despite that, she also seemed happy. To be able to die made her happy, that much I could understand as I watched from nearby.
But then Maria wept. She wept for me, the girl she was leaving behind. You see, she knew that after her body was destroyed I would become the next grave keeper.”
The girl lightly brushed the edge of the tombstone as she spoke.
“Then I buried her soulless corpse here.”
Muoru couldn’t find any…any…any….words to say. His feelings were massively shaken by this event which was something he’d never experienced in his life.
“I’m sorry, Muoru,” she suddenly said.
Why did she need to apologize? Muoru’s confusion again intensified. The person who needs to apologize is me…but…but…I…
The girl looked in his direction, but her gaze didn’t meet his.
“You didn’t come here because you wanted to, so I don’t think you should hear these things…” She said, but then as she continued her tone was much more cheerful.
“Since becoming a grave keeper, I have been completely alone and nothing good has happened to me. I haven’t been able to see the sun and…I’ve had a lot of painful thoughts. I can’t go anywhere else so I thought just being able to guard this grave would be enough.
But I was never happy.”
Using her hood to cover her face even more, Meria then placed her hand above her mouth.
“That was until you let me become your friend.”
Peaking beneath her hand, Muoru could faintly see Meria’s expression soften…and for the first time he also saw…her smile.
Muoru’s temples were pounding.
I will escape. Again he recited those words in his mind. That was the only reason why I got close to you.
In order to get someone who seemed to know the graveyard well to cooperate with him, he had to first get closer to the girl. That had been his plan and now the plan was in the process of bearing fruit.
She trusted him and she understood that he shouldn’t be here.
Just looking at that, there was no mistake in thinking that the matter was progressing to a great success. But…
If it’s such a success, then why do I feel this empty?
Is it just me covering up my feelings of hatred for myself?
To just achieve his important objective, there weren’t that many options available to a prisoner like him. And everything would be for nothing if he weren’t able to achieve his objective as a result of his methods. So he strongly asked himself:
What should I do?
What’s the best way to escape from this place?
Those questions should have been the only important issues at hand.
However, even though he was well aware of this fact, he couldn’t stop himself from wondering over and over again if there was anything he could do for Meria.
 The actual Kanji reads: The earnest desire to die. Thanatos itself is the personification of death in Greek Mythology. According to Sigmund Freud, it is also the Death instinct, or the desire to die.