Hole 3: Grave Robber
The final stars disappeared.
Muoru couldn’t even see the moon anymore.
In the pale sky the nearest star, the sun, seemed to be approaching. He could sense that giant celestial sphere rising up from right under the eastern horizon. And sure enough the first light of morning finally arrived, with his death following closely behind.
His body was already sensing his ominous fate. It was a sensation completely different from when the monster tore and scattered his body apart. In fact, the feeling was a pain which seemed like someone had directly stuck their hand into his back, grabbed a hold of the central nerves around his spinal cord and brain stem and squeezed them tightly.
The snake made of countless blades was gigantic. And powerful. Each of its double-edged blades had severed Muoru’s body, inflicted fatal wounds, then became motionless, creating a process of death and rebirth that repeated throughout the night.
But despite the pain he felt when the last blade pierced through his chest, when Muoru realized that the blood spewing out of his mouth was gradually decreasing, he felt relieved.
I made it through.
The monster’s long and massive body was now in the giant hole he’d dug out. And each of the creature’s blades, which were densely packed together like the needles on a hedgehog, were stained red with Muoru’s blood. The area that the monster had rampaged through not only had sharp gouges in the ground, like a trough had been used to plow the land, but also many of the graves had been mowed down in the attack.
However, now wasn’t the time to bury it. Anyone could do that and besides, when the sun rose neither he nor the monster would be able to move within its light.
With his silver shovel in one hand, Muoru ran.
He ran to the place right beside Maria’s grave, at the feet of the tree where the king of the monsters slept.
Well …he tried to run.
The shadow of The Dark within him felt extremely heavy, like he was dragging a giant steel ball and chain. In fact, no matter how much energy he put into his legs, he couldn’t move faster than a stagger. And trying to get his body to go a bit faster seemed to exhaust all of his energy. His cumbersome body made him click his tongue in frustration.
His surroundings were already so bright that there was no need for an oil lamp or an electric lantern.
How much longer until sunrise?
His mind was possessed with a wild impatience as if he had gone insane, but his body did not follow suit.
As best as he could, Muoru hurried and hurried and eventually managed to reach his destination. At first glance it didn’t look like there was anything there. The only movement were the leaves rustling atop the giant tree to the side of Maria’s final resting place.
But below his feet were definite traces that the earth had been disturbed…
Muoru carefully slid the tip of the shovel into the ground.
And scooped, and scooped.
….Yet on the fifth scoop, as if he could no longer tolerate the wait, he threw aside the shovel and dropped to his knees. Then like a genuine mole, he used both of his hands to claw at the ground.
He remembered the first time they’d met.
Don’t forget. Don’t forget the first time you met Meria.
He’d fainted in the middle of the night at the graveyard and awoke to Meria burying him in the hole he’d just dug out.
-It seemed like their positions then and now were reversed.
Muoru’s fingers curled around a strand of light brown hair, filthy from all the dirt. Hair was a girl’s life, so he couldn’t help but feel guilty as he clutched the filthy strands…but, compared to everything else he’d done, dirtying her hair was probably low on the list of reasons why she’d hate him.
Still, she would probably consider all the things he’d done up till now preferable to what he was going to do next.
In the dim light of early dawn, Muoru dug out the girl he’d buried with his own hands.
It was all selfish.
All of it just to suit his own selfish desires.
He needed the power of the grave keeper and since more than one person couldn’t have the power at the same time, he had to steal it from the current grave keeper, Meria. She was human, but at the same time a part of her was The Dark. Burying her body sealed her power and weakened her, or in other words, put her in a death-like state. But of course, he couldn’t leave her like that.
Once he had dug out her entire body, he rested her back across his lap.
“Now this is essential. The final step-” he could practically hear Crow’s laughing voice.
There were many traces of tears on his beloved’s cheeks. Without thinking, he wiped them, but no matter how many times he repeated the movement his mud-covered fingers only made her dirtier. It was like a metaphor for his current situation, painfully repeating the same thing over and over again but to no avail.
He cupped his left hand under her chin and pulled her unconscious body towards him.
Then like a grave robber, Muoru stole a kiss.
Though his eyes were closed as he did it, the instant his lips touched hers, he felt a bright white light radiate inside his eyelids. He tasted dirt and the rusty iron taste of blood. But there was also another flavor, sweet and tart, like an apple.
Partly due to his anxiety over the situation, and partly due to his own desire for her, he unconsciously stayed in that position, in that kiss for a while. Then, using his right hand to prop up her lower jaw, Muoru gently opened her mouth.
And the darkness poured deeply and indulgently into her body.
Slowly, there was a sign that her closed eyelids blinked.
Burying Meria in the ground that the monsters were sealed within was the first measure needed to revive her from her death-like state. And then he only had to give half of the substance that had dissolved within him back into the body it was already familiar with. He understood those steps, and now he could confirm that Crow hadn’t been lying. But the way he had to return The Dark was….
“Good morning, Meria.”
Meria instantly became aware of her surroundings and removed herself from Muoru’s grasp. The clumps of dirt still attached to the hem of her robe dropped to the ground. Judging from her expression it seemed like she understood he had done something to her.
“Muoru…” She was staring at Muoru with a strained look on her face, like it was taking everything she had just to say his name.
Then she opened her mouth again, but seemed to hesitate, as if she didn’t know what to say. Soon after she turned red, but whether it was due to the blood rushing to her face out of anger or out of embarrassment, Muoru wasn’t sure.
However, despite being covered in blood and dirt, he broke out into a smile. He’d seen her crying, smiling, troubled, and embarrassed, but maybe this was the first time he’d seen her angry.
Why in the world do I think she’s also cute when she’s angry?
“My neck hurts.” Meria said with a stiff voice.
The moment he apologized, Meria lowered her head to the ground and took his right hand.
It really feels as if we’ve switched places.
The first night when he’d seen Meria’s secret, when he’d asked her if they could be friends, he had also taken her hand in the same way, except she was the one covered in blood.
“All because you were worried about me…”
As Meria looked at his hand, which was stained a deep crimson despite not having a single wound, she seemed to understand everything. The anger disappeared from her face and a look of sadness replaced it.
I don’t really want to see that.
Even so, an extraordinary relief was spreading in his chest.
“I never wanted you to have to experience that kind of pain, Muoru.”
“It wasn’t for you,” Muoru said with a smile. “It was for the money.”
The benefactor would pay him the reward for dealing with the monster. In the past that damn old man had embezzled all of the reward that should have gone to “Meria of the Mass Grave”. But no matter how many people Daribedor employed, prisoner 5722 refused to be put in the same position. And if the reward amount was really what Crow said it was, then he could buy his freedom…or maybe have a castle built.
Ignoring Muoru’s wide grin, Meria looked at him sharply and pinched the back of his hand, as if to say, “Don’t lie to me!”
That wasn’t really a lie, but it was only 10% of the whole truth.
Right, it wasn’t that much of a lie. But the fact that his actions had made it so that the warm hand now gripping his own wasn’t covered in blood was more than enough of a reason for his actions. Of course with her blue eyes staring at him he couldn’t possibly say that.
“You’re really not an honest mole.”
Meria and Muoru both looked up at the same time and saw Crow sitting atop a nearby gravestone, looking down at them.
“Wow, should I say that it’s been a long time, or that this is our first time meeting one another?”
The moment Meria recognized Crow’s figure, her eyes widened in shock.
“…Y…You…what…?” Meria seemed strangely flustered, and the color completely drained from her face as if she’d seen a ghost or something.
“No, this isn’t the first…your way of speaking and the color of your eyes is different…but why…why do you look just like Maria?”
Meria suddenly tried to stand, but because she’d been buried for so long her legs seemed paralyzed and soon she fell back to the ground. Crow then got off the gravestone with a smile on their face as they reached down towards Meria and offered their hand.
With a face mixed with confusion, Meria tried to grab Crow’s small hand. But then Crow suddenly jumped back onto the gravestone without even taking a running start…making Meria’s hand grasp nothing but air. Their movement had been graceful and smooth, like they were completely weightless. Yet this time neither Meria nor Muoru who was standing behind could even pretend they were surprised.
“Sorry, but though I may be Maria, I’m also not Maria—I’m Crow. All the tens of grave keepers who have killed themselves by burning up in the sun…I am a spirit born from the pieces their souls left behind. So again I am Maria, but I’m also not her.
“However, not only does it seem like her physical appearance has mixed with my own, but I’ve also inherited her heart….Which of course means I also deeply hold you dear, Meria, just like she did.”
For a moment Meria’s expression saddened when she realized the person in front of her eyes wasn’t her older sister.
Soon, however, Meria slowly nodded in Crow’s direction and said, “…right. You also tried to help me.” Then a smile slowly appeared on Meria’s face, as if the feelings in her heart were seeping out of her chest and flowing into her expression.
“That’s it. That’s the kind of face I wanted to see,” A satisfied Crow said with a cheerful grin.
Calming down at last, Muoru said grumpily, “Come on, don’t try and tell me that ‘the victim’s association’ was a decent explanation. And by the way, don’t ‘so-called ghosts’ usually come out at night?”
He realized that his complaints were a bit clumsy and a bit irrelevant, but he was still confused and he couldn’t think of anything else to complain about.
“Yeah, I thought so too,” Crow said, pointing to their chest. “I exist from the fragments of souls that were intertwined with the devils. And those souls all died under the sun. Perhaps that’s why…our souls froze beneath the sun and now we cannot come out except during the day. And as a consequence, even though Maria appeared again as a ghost, she wasn’t able to see her dear younger sister.”
“I’m sure, it was because the Maria inside you was cursed,” Meria said and Crow then smiled, as if they realized they had brought the punishment onto themselves.
Crow then turned to Muoru. “Well, crows are blind at night.”
“Good grief, you’re so full of it…” He was about to curse, but suddenly a severe pain rushed through his back and caused his body to shift slightly. The pain was different than when the monster was flinging about his limbs. This time he could feel the pain at the core of his heart.
Muoru then twisted his neck and saw the morning sunlight hitting his back.
Even though it was definitely the same light he saw every morning he’d woken up for the past sixteen years, now he felt the light was reflecting off a guillotine blade.
“Won’t looking at the sun destroy a mole’s eyes too?”
Of course he hadn’t forgotten that. The consequence of taking the power of The Dark meant a grave keeper would die if they stood in the sunlight. But…
Meria groaned slightly.
She was also in the sunlight. She was staring strangely at her own right arm extended out of the hem of her robe. Muoru, on the other hand, found it difficult to stand and slowly sat on the ground.
A bizarre and terrible pain raged through his body.
In fact, he felt just as helpless as the time when he’d removed his collar and a fountain of blood spilled out of his neck.
But, this time…
Meria blinked over and over again as she looked down at her body.
“Is it getting weaker?”
“Well then, the Maria within me has achieved her goal. So I’ll let the two of you be alone for a while. Soon I’m going to need to settle the score with that damn old man.” Crow looked at the two of them suffering on the ground and stood. “I’m sorry, Mole-kun. It seems like I used you.”
Crow waved their hand and their small body disappeared into the air for real. Their departure was just as sudden as their arrival.
You didn’t really need to apologize…we both used each other.
Crow: a strange person who could only come out in the morning; a ghost born from the souls of dead grave keepers. Crow’s seemingly practical joke of an existence was a huge miscalculation for Daribedor. Even so, Muoru thought he should have still been able to accomplish everything without Crow’s help… however, whether or not he could have done it as well was another story.
This body is a bit unwieldy…Muoru slowly balled his right hand into a fist, and then opened it.
The shadow on the ground changed with his movement. And naturally he felt connected to the monster’s true form, resting deep within that darkness. It hated the light and was trying from within to stop Muoru’s body from moving. Plus, the monster was causing an abnormal change in his body that also made it difficult to stand.
Within the presence beneath him, the monster that seemed to be inviting fear, there was also something else, something different.
I got it…it’s Meria.
The reason the two of them were still alive was because they had shared the fruit of The Dark. As a result of the split in power, their human parts were trying to compensate and resist The Dark which was also fighting back…or at least that’s what it felt like.
“Meria…” Muoru started to speak, but suddenly held his tongue.
Meria was looking out into the empty distance and for a while just moved one of her hands from side to side. Then like a pendulum that had lost its inertia, her hand slowly stopped with her palm held out towards the sun.
She smiled as if she were being tickled by the strangeness of the sunlight which she hadn’t seen in years. It wasn’t the best smile, in fact it was a bit clumsy as if she weren’t used to the feeling. Still, seeing her so happy warmed his heart.
“It hurts but…I don’t mind it.”
Before Muoru’s watchful gaze the dawn light illuminated her beautifully. She was far, far more stunning than when he’d seen her under the comparatively dark moonlight. To him, it looked like her entire body from her dirt-stained hair, to her cheeks and her palms was glimmering with a pale gold.
I want to always see her smile, Muoru wished.
…But at that exact moment, Meria plunged herself into his chest and hugged him tightly, essentially dispelling his wish.
I wonder if there is anyone who can see her face now…
As he felt the sweet pain of the sun, he gently brushed his hand through her hair and placed his hand on her back.