Hole 3: Grave Robber
The night air was bitterly cold, making Muoru run his hands up his upper arms.
A humid breeze was blowing and above his head the leaves howled. Thin clouds hung in the dark sky far above, and even father above than that was the perfectly circular moon shrouded in a haze.
The thick mass of leaves blocked the moonlight, preventing it from reaching the giant tree’s roots. Standing within that flickering shade made him feel like he was taking a step outside the human world and entering into the domain of darkness.
He kicked off his tattered shoes, stuck his fingers into a depression in the tree trunk, and relying on just his physical strength, started to climb. His limbs weren’t used to the motion, and he clung to the tree like a frog, sluggishly making his way towards the top. He would have felt at ease if his palms could grip the opposite side of the trunk, but the tree with ‘the strongest monster’ underneath was gigantic. It was so big that if he spread his arms out wide and tried to hold it, there wouldn’t be any bend in his elbows.
Muoru realized he wasn’t good at climbing trees, but out of the things he had to do, this could definitely be called the easiest.
He finally reached one of the branches jutting out from the tree. Though just a branch, it was thicker than the usual tree trunk. It was so huge that when the large-statured Muoru rested his entire body weight onto it, his body didn’t stiffen in terror. He then stuck his head upwards into the overgrown dark leaves.
Surrounded by thick leaves that seemed to absorb the moonlight, he could barely see anything. In fact, he felt like trying to find something within the leaves was about as difficult as fishing out a ring that was dropped into a murky swamp.
No matter how much he strained his eyes, it was useless.
Left without a choice, Muoru started to search with just his palms and his instincts. He couldn’t rush. From tip to tip, the total mass of the giant tree’s branches could fill the entire mansion in the corner of the graveyard. Plus, he had to search from his position without changing his grip that much.
Determined, Muoru blindly pushed his way through the thick leaves and branches. It was like he had dove into a dark ocean and was roaming randomly about the water. The sharp, pointed branches scratched his cheeks and earlobes. And the detestable leaves even made it hard to breathe, to say nothing of the fact that he couldn’t see anything.
Suddenly the sweaty bottoms of his bare feet slipped.
He grabbed a young branch at once and his body jerked, shifting the majority of his weight onto his left hand. A chill ran through his body. The ground was more than two meters down and if he were to break his foot or something at a crucial time like this, then he’d be the biggest fool in the world.
He carefully set both of his feet back on the branch and restored his balance.
Muoru then reached his right hand into the darkness above…and plucked a fruit.
He couldn’t see it, but even in the dark he knew that it was the fruit he was searching for. The moment he grabbed it the fruit squirmed in his palm, like he had caught a living fish.
Slowly, Muoru shifted his position and dangled down from the branch with one arm. Then he jumped down. When he hit the ground, a rush of pain shot through his legs which numbed them slightly.
But he pretty much didn’t feel any sense of accomplishment from his first task.
The next one though…
Muoru timidly held his hands out into the moonlight. In his grasp was the thing that would change his life.
The part of the monsters.
The dark fruit.
…The grave robber’s harvest.
It was halfway between an apple and a peach in terms of general shape and size. But looking closely, it also resembled a heart with large arteries or something. As for the color, it looked like it had been painted jet black with squid ink. And even though it was a part of the monsters, no claw or anything like that suddenly sprouted out and attacked him while it was in his hand.
Could this tiny thing really grant humans immortality, but as a consequence make them unable to stand under the sun?
However, Muoru had touched something very similar to the fruit in his hands. It felt exactly like the monster’s sack of flesh he’d pushed before; it wasn’t hot, it wasn’t cold, it wasn’t soft, it wasn’t hard, it felt exactly like an organ from a corpse.
Since he wasn’t able to see at all, the fact that he had grabbed the fruit blindly in the dark had instinctually made him uncomfortable. And exposing the fruit to the light only intensified that feeling. The unpleasantness welling up inside him was similar to having to vomit something up from deep within one’s body.
He felt like chucking the fruit away into a random direction. Instead however, he howled towards the moon and opened his mouth wide like an aggressive, carnivorous animal.
Then he bit into the fruit.
He imagined it would taste bitter like bad coffee, but it actually had no taste at all. It didn’t have any juice nor smell like a normal fruit and he could barely even feel its texture in his mouth. From the moment it entered his mouth, whether it was on his tongue or going down his throat, all he felt was something like sticky mud expanding. It was like his mouth was full of flavorless glue.
Then a jolt of terror gave him goosebumps.
The contents in his mouth were wriggling like a worm.
A strong wave of dizziness assaulted Muoru and his instincts immediately took up their defenses. In an effort to get their body’s idiot owner to throw up the extremely foreign substance, Muoru’s immune system forced his throat to convulse.
Desperately, Muoru covered his mouth with his hand to stop the regurgitation. It was slow, but as he endured the discomfort, gradually….gradually the contents of his mouth started to disappear. Yet they weren’t so much going down his throat as they were slowly wriggling itself into the walls of his mouth and permeating into his body’s cells.
…before long the first change occurred, but it wasn’t in his stomach. It was his feet.
They felt different.
And before he knew it, his legs became terribly heavy.
If he just stood normally, his legs weren’t impeded in any way. But when he tried to walk, his ankles felt like they were shackled with an iron chain, or like someone had grabbed onto his legs and was pulling him down.
Thinking back on it, Meria had always been the same way. He couldn’t recall ever seeing her run.
Could this be what having the dark inside you feels like?
He looked down at his feet.
The shadow that extended from them seemed like it was strangely getting bigger…and thicker. And from what should have been his shadow on the ground – rather, through the shadow as a conduit, he seemed to feel a giant presence coming from a deeper place.
It was just like the dread he’d felt when he first arrived at the graveyard blindfolded. The terror that he was walking over corpses, and walking over something much larger beneath them.
And now, a part of his body had transformed into a fragment of that. Neither walking nor lifting his legs could sever the connection he felt. And to make it worse, he even saw a hallucination where his core and his heart were being pulled downwards towards that darkness…Just like when Meria’s limbs were torn off and automatically crawled back to her body and reattached themselves, Muoru felt like his body wanted to return to the body of the monster beneath the ground.
He was hesitating. Far more than ever, he regretted the fact that he couldn’t undo what he’d done.
…But for Muoru there wasn’t much to be confused about.
No matter how many signs, indications, and so on, if they got in his way he would consider how to deal with them. And if they weren’t an obstacle, then this wasn’t the time to be afraid.
He gave up and looked at his body.
There didn’t seem to have been any other changes so far, but…he had to check.
From his pocket he drew out a piece of glass. He’d picked it up from the garbage, some small cylindrical piece of some kind of liquid bottle. It had been broken from the opposite end of the bottle mouth and was sharp and pointed.
Decisively, he swung it across the back of his left hand.
The pain was more or less what he’d imagined.
As if he’d nicked a vein, a depressingly thick dark blood spilled out and ran down his fingers. It was like he’d grown a second heart and a dull pain pulsated with each of his heartbeats.
Muoru looked at the wound with a complex look on his face. He was starting to get the feeling that he’d done something extremely stupid to himself-
Then within several heartbeats the wound sealed up and vanished.
The gash on the back of his hand sealed itself back to normal from the inside, like a pair of closing lips. It wasn’t fast or shocking, his skin just automatically closed. And other than the sticky blood on the back of his hand, and the stinging pain, there was absolutely no trace of the wound.
Naturally he felt uncomfortable, but despite the remnants of the pain, his discomfort was more directed towards the wound that should have been there.
His lips curled into a twisted smile.
But of course it was absurd to think a scratch on the back of his hand was sufficient proof of his immortality.
And he absolutely couldn’t fail at what he planned to do next.
So another more in-depth test was necessary.
Still undecided, he extended a finger, but then he wavered
It was only natural for there to be a far greater resistance to what he was about to do than when he had put the part of the monster into his mouth. Though he said it was just for confirmation, the action was the same as suicide. His fingers trembled. His whole hand trembled. He simply couldn’t stop shaking.
Feeling his resolve begin to weaken, Muoru bit his lip and recalled the feeling of Meria’s neck in his arms.
Then he thrust his fingers into the inner side of his leather collar, and with all his strength ripped it off.
The right artery attached to “the witch’s thread” ruptured and a flood of blood rushed out from his torn neck.
Unexpectedly there was almost no pain.
However no matter how many times he tried to look down at his neck, the endless pure red liquid spilled out from a place he couldn’t see. It was undoubtedly a sight that would make people faint.
The right half of his body was colored red before he knew it, and without thinking Muoru pressed his hand to the wound. Suddenly his vision started to dim… he was low on blood.
Naturally, instead of using paint, his body was using the oxygenated blood that should have flowing around his brain to stain the right side of his body.
…This was bad, he thought from the deepest area of his consciousness.
This was different from all the wounds he’d suffered up till now. He felt like he was going down. He couldn’t fight it, nor could he resist it. In fact, the very places he should have been drawing energy from were disappearing. It left him feeling hopelessly powerless.
-Whether or not it was true, he felt like he was desperately drowning. And in the end even his consciousness started to fade. He lost his balance and fell to one knee.
It’s no use, he thought in a daze.
Slowly his shoulders relaxed and with a lurch, he crumbled to his side with his tongue sticking out from his lips.
…then he realized… his vision had cleared without him even noticing it.
His anemia had faded.
The fountain of blood had stopped.
And his wound had closed.
He stood up straight, feeling just as strong as he normally did. He simply frowned at his blood-soaked clothes sticking to his skin.
But as Muoru stood there, with a body drenched in blood, slowly, a genuine smile leaked out from his lips.