Chapter 3

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Hole 1: Grave Digger

Chapter 3

As the earthworm was pulled out of the ground, the unlucky creature was chopped in half at its stomach and died.

Although it probably was nowhere near the same level as an actual mole, even a battleground mole like Muoru was still accustomed to seeing worms every day. Of course as the worms suddenly appeared in the grave, he often accidentally bisected the creatures.

Yet despite the frequency of the event, today Muoru was captivated by what should have been just a common sight. He didn’t know why he was so enthusiastically staring at the worm’s dried up corpse, but in the end he dropped it to the ground.

Since today he was made to dig a new hole, perhaps he had been mistaken when he thought the grave he had partially dug yesterday would belong to him. Thankfully, this time it was just a hole for one normal sized human. However, as he dug deeper, he had to transport the dirt further and further away from the hole, to the point where the amount of time he was transporting dirt became much longer than the amount of time he was digging.

As for the size of this large hole, well… he had already noticed four worms that he had struck. Also, as if he were a fool, the depth he had to dig was demarcated with a long wooden ruler bound with a black piece of cloth. According to that guide, today’s assignment was approximately 1 and ½ meters.

…but Muoru noticed that for that assignment he had dug about the length of his knee to his foot too deep. Incidentally, his lack of attention also led to him missing the ground repeatedly and striking his foot with the shovel.

“Stop daydreaming and focus,” the boy muttered out loud, purposefully hitting himself in the head.

No matter how hard he tried, he hadn’t been able to fully concentrate all day. Or perhaps he should say he felt his thoughts weren’t focused on his task. Even though his body was digging, it felt like his mind was still half asleep.

By the time he finished digging the hole the sun had already set. For Muoru, today’s work took far too long. He wasn’t particularly trying to push himself, especially since there was no one coming to praise him…to say nothing of how his treatment wasn’t improving. On the other hand, he was still unwilling to cut corners, which he figured was probably not the best decision.

“Mr. Prisoner,”[1]  Muoru heard Daribedor say just as he was starting to tidy his equipment. “It seems that you have just finished,” the old man continued, looking down at Muoru’s completed hole.

“Yes, well…”

That’s right, it was a cinch!  He forcibly contained the sarcastic quip in his throat. His feeling that it would be difficult to deal with this nose-less old man hadn’t changed since their first meeting.

“I know you’re probably tired, but now I would like you to help with the burial…..oh don’t worry, just putting dirt on something is simple. As for the place, it’s where you were digging up till yesterday, so you don’t require directions right?”

“No, I got it,” Muoru answered curtly, walking away with his shovel in hand.

“…Ah, right, right.”

However, as he was leaving, Daribedor yelled for him to stop.

“As your predecessor living on this land, I have one word of caution. Even for prisoners, if you don’t want to enter the holes you dig, it would be better to restrain yourself from prying excessively into matters.”

“…?”

Whatever story he was mentioning, Muoru didn’t understand. But before he could inquire about the meaning, the old man quickly went back towards the mansion.

As he walked, Muoru pondered what the man could have meant.

…Perhaps he was aware of how he had been ambling about yesterday, looking for a way to escape.

Then the encounter he had popped into his head.

Meria.

The girl who went by the name of Meria Mass Grave.

If he were to believe what she had said, then she was this land’s grave keeper.

However, he didn’t intuitively know specifically what tasks the position of “Grave Keeper” was responsible for. As for digging holes, he was already doing that, and the caretakers of this cemetery were the humans in the mansion, Daribedor and the others.

If he were to speculate, perhaps the grave keeper was charged with protecting the graveyard from robbers or people trying to steal the contents beneath the gravestones. But even if he could clearly say that was the case, he didn’t see her being a fit for such a violent confrontation. Yet, although her words and speech were like something from another world[2] , in Muoru’s eyes she was quite normal and appeared to be nothing but a powerless girl…well, maybe it was hard to say that her appearance was simply normal.

At any rate, even tonight she should be conducting a search of the graveyard. Well, at least Muoru thought so. Every night, the girl seemed to be patrolling the area or something, which was also something he would have to factor into his calculations when he was escaping. And for that reason, Muoru proceeded to check whether Meria was there or not.

But as he advanced into the graveyard he could see people gathering in the distance. There were many men gathering in large numbers around the hole Muoru had been digging until yesterday.

They’re probably having a burial.

…However, from the edge it didn’t appear like any type of melancholic event.  Although it was a burial, Muoru didn’t feel a fragment of sadness that should have been natural for such an occasion. There wasn’t even any wailing or weeping.

As he tried to approach closer, he could see that the people were wearing mourning clothes like black suits and coats, and…their faces were covered by white painted masks. The white masks were completely expressionless, except for the area of their eyes which could be seen through the masks’ threadlike slits. They were very much like masks of death. And although the people’s physical bodies were different, the masks were all the same.

What kind of event is that? They’re probably not having a masquerade ball in a graveyard, thought Muoru.  Of course, the mole boy had never attended such a party.

2

…Maybe it’s bad manners to show your face or something like that.[3]

Although he was suspicious of their purpose, the boy bowed slightly towards the people who seemed to have noticed him and continued his approach…that was when he saw something strange.

In the middle of the giant grave that the girl had partway buried him within yesterday, now…the hole had been filled with the head of a giant beast.

When he first laid eyes on it, he didn’t immediately exactly understand what he was looking at. That was understandable of course. Whatever it was, it was something outside of his everyday knowledge. In a rush he rubbed his eyelids, praying that what he saw had been a hallucination. He then opened his eyes one more time.

He could see his face reflected in the creature’s large, gigantic eyes, like those from a human-sized head.

Now there was no doubt, the thing being buried in the grave was definitely the head of a gigantic monsters not from this world. No, to be more precise, it was a gigantic, enormous monster whose body was entirely composed of its massive head. What was even harder to believe was that under the monster’s densely furred jaw, where on a human there should have been a neck, there was something like a lizard’s body growing out. Compared to the enormity of its head, its lizard body was laughably small, but even so it appeared to have strong muscles and vicious looking claws.

The creature’s body had been pierced all over with stake-like spears, and its jaws and sides were hedged and bound with barbed wire. The monster was completely unable to move. Yet still the sight of it filled Muoru with extraordinary fear. He didn’t think THAT thing was really dead. Even now he got the feeling that if its restraints were broken then it would come bounding towards him.

“….”

A strange voice leaked out from his throat, but in the end Muoru regained his composure. Cold sweat was gushing out of his body, and the center of his face was hot, as if it were burning. His knees shook as he trembled. He didn’t know what he was looking at, but he did understand that such an unbelievably dangerous creature like this was not something that humans normally encountered.

Seeking help, he looked over to the people at the perimeter…but the masked men standing to the side in a straight line seemed to be shrouded by a dark pane of glass, preventing Muoru from meeting any of them eye to eye. From that line one person stepped forward and approached the boy.

“Well, get the dirt,” ordered a muffled voice from behind the mask.

Not understanding what the man had meant, Muoru stared vacantly back. Then he recalled that he was gripping his shovel tightly in his left hand.

“Quickly!” the small-framed, masked man said in an irritated voice. “Hurry and bury it!”

Standing at the edge of the hole, the boy prisoner hesitated. He felt like he was standing at the entrance to hell.

“Quickly,” the masked man urged multiple times. “Quickly, quickly.”

Muoru thrust his shovel into the piles of dirt he had previously made and wildly scooped the dirt into the hole. He didn’t see his hands or his body… the only thing in his sights was that damaged monster.

What… is this? What in the world… is this?

He hadn’t heard of this kind of existence outside of fables. It had a distorted, twisted form that ignored the laws and standards of this world. For example, its jaw could probably eat a head like Muoru’s in one bite. Just a tenth of its outward appearance was terribly fiendish, and certainly it would enjoy savoring the taste of humans.

Although he was just repeating the movement he should have been used to over and over, before he knew it he was out of breath. While the boy repeatedly took shallow, ragged breaths, something seemed to possess his hand to continue moving. There was no distinction between white and black in the monster’s eyes, only the dull color of bile. But more noticeably was that around the large eyes, there were many small eyes close to it.

And now the boy felt those eyes were looking at him… all the way down to the last one.

Half in a daze, he continued his work. When he finished dumping the final scoop, the state of the ground looked almost no different from the surrounding area. No one would ever think that a monster like that was buried there.

Suddenly the graveyard he was in seemed to expand, stretching outwards.

No way… are creatures like that the only things buried here? Beneath these gravestones, are all the corpses from these monsters?

Although his fearful questions raced about his head, there didn’t seem to be anyone who could answer them. From the group of masked men one moved towards the place where Muoru had buried the giant thing with a head twice as big as his. The man set down a cross-shaped gravestone that he was carrying on his shoulder, and at that moment Muoru felt a groan emit from the ground.

It didn’t seem like the masked companions felt it was necessary to offer things like scriptures or offerings to the monster, and so they watched silently until the gravestone was finished. Then once it was done, they left.

In the distance Muoru could faintly hear the sound of exhaust being expelled from a large-sized vehicle somewhere in the direction of the graveyard entrance. But the sound quickly faded away, leaving Muoru all alone and staring at the ground in the same dazed state as when he was digging the hole.

Although he felt like he was in a nightmare, he couldn’t seem to wake up no matter how much time passed.

Is this…real? That kind of thing?

Muoru needed someone to pat him on the shoulder and tell him that it was all just a joke. But even if he waited for the setting sun to drop beneath the canopy of trees, they would not appear.

His head was boiling, and flat-out couldn’t think about anything. It was all too bizarre.

…If he tried to think calmly, that kind of monster probably didn’t exist. Yeah, that’s right.  Perhaps I should try and dig. If he dug out the hole, certainly nothing would come out. It was all just a hallucination.

The boy picked up his shovel and thrust it into the ground. However, when he lifted up the first load of dirt….his hand stopped and his mood cooled. If he tried to put it into words, he would have said it was absurd to feel this way.

It doesn’t matter what was buried here, once it gets too dark I won’t be able to see what’s down there anyway.

With the power draining from his hand, his grip loosened on the handle and the dirt spilled out to the ground.

….should I go back?

….to where?

He could hear the sound of his teeth grinding. Go back? He was a prisoner. This was where he was being imprisoned, a slave forced to labor. He was not able to leave from this place. And even if he did there was nowhere he could return to. He supposed the run-down, dilapidated stable with his bed was the graveyard’s only bonus but other than that, where could he really go?

Why am I hesitating?

Well, move…

His right leg felt very heavy, but he made it move one step forward. But, his toes weren’t facing the stable, they were pointing towards the entrance of the graveyard. And after forcing himself to take that first step, the next step was much easier.

He threw away his unpleasant shovel and with all his energy broke into a dash, as if he were running away from a destroyed military camp.

Although he didn’t have any destination or plan in mind, and even though he could get injured, he forced all of those thoughts out of his head and with reckless abandon, ran, ran, and ran. The only thing he knew was that with each step he distanced himself bit by bit from that monster.

Running with all of his energy was not enjoyable. Yet, despite the deep darkness and the unreliable moonlight, he did feel as if the world were getting brighter, as if the sun were rising in front of him.

But soon he came to realize that his hope for escape was nothing but an illusion.

He hadn’t advanced very far, in fact he hadn’t even left the graveyard, when he felt some sort of wind approaching from behind. The only thing the boy imagined it could be was that gigantic headed monster, having succeeded in crawling out of its hole and now chasing after him.

The fear brought him to his senses and in response he pushed his body past its limits and bolted forward. He was completely like an herbivore fleeing from a carnivore, except he was already pathetically running out of breath. Whereas digging holes was the specialty of moles, his running stamina was woefully insufficient.

Then, feeling that the pursuit was about to end in one way or another, Muoru mustered up his courage and twisted around.

And without a doubt, a black creature was behind him. However, it wasn’t even a tenth of the creature he had buried earlier.

Instead, it had rapidly moving limbs and a tail like a feather duster….then Muoru’s right leg twisted so much that he felt it had caught on fire.

In a rush the creature blew past him and gravity yanked Muoru downward. He crumbled into a twist and tumbled forward.

“Ugh…damn dog!!”

Muoru extended his arm in an attempt to break the dog’s neck, which currently had the boy’s thigh in its mouth and was responsible for dragging him to the ground. However, the instant he touched the black fur his world was once again turned upside-down. When he was learning martial arts in the military, he had to learn how to properly receive a throw from an instructor without injuring himself. But, as the dog twisted him about, Muoru was unable to slap out[4]  and ended up violently kissing the earth. There was a strange, white pain when his nose hit the ground. Trying to endure the pain, he clenched his fists and thought, I’m going to break this dog’s skull with my leg.

“Dephen, stop!”

The voice came from far away.

It was a firm and serious young woman’s voice.

The dog’s movement stopped. The power drained from its jaw and there was a wet, suction sound as its fangs separated from the boy’s thigh. A red liquid pooled to the surface and after a few seconds, blood freely flowed out of the now severed vessel.

Once he was confident the dog wouldn’t come and attack him again, Muoru inspected his rather disgusting wound. His hemp pants had been ripped like paper and beneath he could see holes bored into his leg. Looking to the dog he saw fresh meat hanging from its jaw. And since his body was still surging with adrenaline, he didn’t feel anything but a hot numbness; however he knew that such a dirty wound like this would definitely hurt later on.

“Damn it,” the boy muttered.

“Muoru?”

The dark hooded girl walked to the side of the dog in order to confirm his identity. And although it wasn’t his intention, once again they were in a position where she was looking down at him, just like last night.

“….does it hurt?”

The girl stared at the boy’s blood-soaked right leg without a flinch.

Muoru silently looked back to his wound, wondering what she thought of him not answering. For a while the girl stood still at the boy’s side and then finally, as if speaking to herself, she sighed.

“I don’t like pain,” she muttered.

With a jolt, Muoru jumped to his feet.

The girl’s face had a slightly perplexed expression. More than his wound, she seemed to finally notice that Muoru’s state was different from yesterday.

Muoru stared fiercely at the scowling girl. And in return the girl seemed restless, looking at him with hostility in her eyes as if he were a wounded beast …was it really hostility or was it fear?

“You said that you were this place’s grave keeper,” Muoru said in a menacing tone. “If so, then don’t you know what is buried under this ground?” As he shouted the words, he pointed to the ground.

The emotions had been boiling within him and the fear he felt towards that mysterious monster had arrested his thoughts. He could also feel the hot throb in his right leg, all of which were snatching away both his calm composure and cool sense of reason at the roots.

He understood that the rage towards her was just him venting and it was mostly unreasonable, but as usual the girl just looked at him with her eyes as clear as a lake. He had no idea whether or not she could show another expression.

However, that beauty and that transparency irritated him.

“Whatever that is, tell me! …or are you friends with that thing?”

As if going to strike her, Muoru reached forward and grabbed her by the lapel….no, he tried to grab her lapel. But once the boy’s big hands touched her, she immediately tumbled to the ground with a weak, “Ah”.

There wasn’t any resistance, just like thrusting a hand into water.

She had fallen down way too quickly, and since Muoru had mostly been standing on one leg to shield his injury, when she unexpectedly collapsed Muoru also lost his balance. His knees struck the ground, and then his posture pitched forward and placed him right on top of the girl’s face-up body.

…It was as if he had been trying to knock down the girl.

Practically squashed, Muoru was finally sure that the girl had a body, weight, a human smell…and warm skin. The girl blinked like she didn’t know what happened. And while Muoru lay on top of her, their bodies touching from about their elbows to their fingers, she stared into his eyes.

As for Muoru, he froze just like a child shocked from dropping a plate to the floor. He didn’t plan to do this. It was an accident….but still he probably did hurt her. Thinking that, the boy finally returned to his senses.

“You smell like the sun…” the girl, completely covered by the boy’s shoulder, whispered at his cheek.

Hurriedly, Muoru moved off her body.

“I’m…I’m…sorry. Did you hit your head or something?” Forgetting the inquisitive attitude he had showed her earlier, the words suddenly poured out of his mouth. His worked up emotions had disappeared and he seemed to have returned to his usual self.

Muoru thought about trying to help the girl up, but when he attempted to lift his own body he found that he couldn’t. The wound he had forgotten about on his right leg had grown heavy and a severe pain shot through his body to the center of his head.

He managed to get his body into a squat, but he was unable to contain his groan of pain. For a time, he wasn’t able to think straight and the pain seemed to black out his other senses. Until the pain died down, there was nothing he could do but wait still. He clasped his eyes shut, clenched his teeth and without moving, silently endured the pain.

After a while, he lifted up his now sweaty face, but Meria had already disappeared.

“Well, that’s not surprising.”

After what he did, it made sense that she would be cautious of him. He probably would have apologized had he not still been angry with that damn dog…but…despite obviously paying for his mistakes, for some reason he felt bitterness in his mouth. He regretted his actions and felt guilty about his indiscretion with Meria.

Trying to hold back the flow of his ruptured blood vessels, Muoru once again checked the condition of his thigh.

His right pant leg had been shredded into pieces and the fabric was soaking with blood. He could even see the horrifying teeth marks in his flesh. Yet fortunately, even though the bite marks went deep, it didn’t seem like any of his primary arteries, bones, or nerves had been touched….However, he did feel uneasy. Seeing the dog’s tough jaw, he knew that if it had really mustered its strength it probably would have easily been able to feast on his thigh.

Just as he was thinking that, he turned his head and saw the black beast calmly sitting on its haunches, the scent of blood not arousing him in the slightest. It was entirely as if a few minutes ago they hadn’t been fighting. The edge of the boy’s mouth stretched into a thin smile.

Ha ha…so you took it easy on me.

Even if it had just been a joke when Daribedor claimed the dog was a “superior hound”, Muoru had to admit the title was quite apt. The dog was really a nuisance, and it was about a hundred times more formidable than a human guard that would often doze off. And whether or not Muoru’s actions had been a good rehearsal for his escape, the price for the practice made him grimace.

…However, if he left his wound alone like this he was sure it would fester. Even though he didn’t wish for a clean bandage or a disinfectant, at the very least if he had some kind of alcohol, then he would be able to wash both his wound and the inside of his mouth. But it didn’t seem likely that the stingy, old woman would hand over those kinds of things for a prisoner who had failed to escape.

And so his future looked miserable. Especially since he felt that even if he returned to the stable in his current state, much more than one night would pass if he fell asleep. [5]

As he stood there for a while, considering giving up, suddenly across the graveyard he saw an orange light slowly swaying back and forth and drawing closer.

…If he were the person he was a few hours ago, then he might have made a big fuss over it being a disembodied soul or something.

But, he didn’t get scared like he had yesterday. This was definitely a situation where being scared was beneficial, but where did his fear go?

…Well he was afraid of something much more than ghosts and whatnot…and they were buried beneath his feet.

He tried waiting a little longer and saw that the light was leaking out of a square hand lantern. That’s right. There was no way that warm colored light could be a disembodied spirit.

As the lantern approached, it turned out it was being held in the left hand of a dark robed human. Surprisingly, it was Meria Mass Grave. The girl surely wasn’t moving quickly, but the sight of her stride was enough to make him stop breathing. Still he was most likely worrying over nothing; his shortness of breath was probably just due to him being out of shape.

In Meria’s opposite hand, she was holding a small wooden box.

After a short silence, the girl squatted right next to the boy, placed the lamp on the ground and held out the box. Even before he took it, Muoru could faintly smell the scent of disinfectant solution

Once in his hands Muoru realized that he felt anxious about applying the antiseptic solution to his wound.

Ever since she had arrived she had been silent and Muoru was unable to read what kind of emotion there was in her large eyes…Eyes that were staring directly at him. After handing over the medical supplies she didn’t try to run or anything, nor was there any sign of fear on her face. And because she was squatting down, the bottom of her cloak curled a bit upwards, revealing her lower leg, with skin as smooth as porcelain.

“Is it okay if I use this?”

Although it would have been very interesting if the girl said no, Muoru still thought it was best to ask. The girl affirmed his question with a nod.

“Thanks for the help.”

Within the box were a full array of products such as gauze, absorbent cotton, disinfectant, compresses, and things to warm the wound, all methodically supplied. And they were all new with no traces of used products in the box.

Muoru once again wiped the blood with the cloth of his right pant leg, and then he placed the cotton soaked with disinfectant on the wound. The alcohol stimulated his nerves with a stinging pain.

Meria was quiet, staring at him transfixed as if she were looking at a rare theatre performance or something.

For some reason he was unable to calm down and as a result the hand that was applying his bandage clumsily fumbled around. Plus, he didn’t like the fact that she could hear his wild breathing.

After he managed to finish his treatment, he returned the wooden box to Meria and the girl rose to her feet.

Then quietly she said, “I am not The Dark.”

“…the…da…?”

The boy tried to parrot back the unfamiliar phrase she had used, but then he recalled the words that had come from him the moment he had pushed the girl to the ground… “Are you friend’s with that thing?”

The next moment, as if the fuel had been cut, there was a “whoosh” and the flame disappeared. Since his eyes had gotten used to the light, once he was again engulfed by the darkness, he suddenly lost sight of the girl.

Then, quicker than Muoru was able to say anything, from somewhere he heard her say, “Good bye.”

That monotonous voice sounded terribly lonely. But was that impression just a trick of the mind…or was that just what he wanted to hear…?

Whichever happened to be true, the boy had been left all alone, and there was no one he could ask.

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[1] 殿 dono is an honorific phrase used in formal correspondence or to people hierarchically beneath you. I believe in this case Daribedor is being extremely polite, which fits with his character so far.

[2] 浮世場慣れている部分 I think this should be translated as an Ivory Tower= a place secluded from the normal world, sometimes where scholars study and look down upon the world. So, I translated it simply as “another world”.

[3] 素顔を見られちゃまずい連中だっていうことか?

[4] Slap-out, a technique where the receiver of a throw literally slaps the ground to lessen the force of the fall and have the hands absorb most of the impact.

[5] Interesting phrase, but I believe Muoru believes he may die.

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