Chapter 1

Prologue

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Hole 1: Grave Digger

Chapter 1

The ground beneath his feet was wet and all around him he could hear the sound of stirring trees and the cries of birds. Although the boy was wearing a blindfold, he quickly realized that he had been dropped off near a forest.

After being released from the stench of the paddy wagon’s old leather canopy, filling his lungs with fresh air was almost like a sweet feast. Even thinking about before he had been arrested, he couldn’t recall ever having breathed such wonderful air as this.

However, the moment the boy was about to take another deep breath, he was kicked hard in the back.

“Walk, prisoner 5722.” [1]

Called by his name, he followed the officer’s directions. The boy was fairly taller than average, and his body had such a thickness that by only looking at his shadow on the ground, he appeared to be a full-grown adult. But, things like his mouth, his unblemished tanned skin, and his faint body hair made it clear that he was obviously still a young boy.

“Where am I? No, better yet, where am I headed?” The boy muttered in a low, husky voice.

He wondered if this blindfold was concealing the internment camp, and also how many hours he had he been in the paddy wagon. No one had bothered to tell him where he was going. However, he also hadn’t dared to ask. Yet, for argument’s sake, even if he had, he knew that there were only two possible responses. Either he was replied to in a suitable manner or he had his face shoved.

In his head, walking while being unable to see was difficult, but in reality the road was flat. Since he couldn’t depend on his eyesight, his other senses were working much more than usual to collect information about his surroundings. His hands were handcuffed and right in front of him a military police officer was on the other end pulling him forward. Unlike himself, that guy showed no signs of being human.

The boy could feel the glorious rays of the early summer sun, and he breathed in the naturally fragrant air of the forest trees. Though he sometimes stepped on weeds, he never tripped or stumbled over errant roots. This place didn’t seem like a wild, untamed wilderness.

But, it was strange.

What is this place?

His heart was pounding.

Although he couldn’t say for certain, he did feel that the ground he was treading over did not resemble anything he had encountered in his 16 years of life.

Memories and images of the scenery he had traversed and the scenes he had witnessed floated about his mind. His old hometown’s beech wood forest, the brickwork and stoned paved streets in his town. He saw the snow covered nameless roads and the lone soldier continuing to dig out trenches in the wasteland.

No matter where you went, you could see the tracks of their tanks. The scent of oil, coal and sand hung in the air. He noticed the grooves of the supply unit’s carts, and also the sight and smell of horse manure scattered about. The remains of the destroyed military encampment were littered with traces of burst explosive casings. There was also the smoke of gunpowder…and the stench of burning, human flesh.

Sweat oozed out from his pores. One of the beads trickled down to the collar at his neck, a shackle that prevented him from escaping. Though it irritated him, there was no use wanting to remove the irons. Neither the cuffs on his wrists or the collar at his throat allowed him to do as he wished. What’s more, although his legs were unfettered, he noticed that trying to lift his thighs was becoming excruciating painful and he could feel his legs growing heavy.

He didn’t want to go any further.

Yet, unexpectedly within the darkness of his blindfold, a strange impulse mounted in his chest. As he walked in shoes which were de-laced to prevent potential suicides, he was starting to think that the land he was walking across wasn’t sparsely covered with weeds like the hairs in his beard.

It’s like I’m walking on top of something…

The rope binding his wrists pulled taut.

The officer stopped and sharply cluck his tongue. The boy’s body stiffened in response, preparing for a further thrashing. However, the pain never came. Instead, the blindfold was roughly ripped off his face. The boy’s pupils had gotten so used to the darkness that the sudden early summer rays bearing down on him were quite violent. He twisted away as if he had been slapped, covering his face, which only made the officer sneer.

“Eyes up, brat.”

Blinking, the boy did as he was told.

His vision was blurry, white and hazy.

The first thing to come to focus was his guard. As he had expected, the man looked like he was in his 30s with a lean, long and thin face. The next thing to enter his vision were the damp ground and the overgrown greenery…then came the graves.

Graves. Graves. Clusters of graves. Within the forest clearing were lined countless of the monuments of death. The stones came in various different shapes and sizes, and even the intervals between each were strangely irregular. There were stones separated by a distance of about ten steps, all the way down to one stone which thrust up from the ground isolated from the others. Half even seemed to be buried in the forest. Some of the gravestones were made from fresh new granite and some of the graves had been eroded by the rain, their epitaphs and inscriptions no longer legible. There was no sense of uniformity or order in this place.

“Could this be…?” In a young voice oozing with shock, he continued to ask his guard, “By any chance did you have me walk here just to save yourself the trouble of transporting my corpse?”

Laughing, the man replied, “So what if I did?”

“Then I guess this would be yet another tragedy based on a false claim.”

In response the guard kicked him in the pit of his stomach.

Although he doubled over in pain, the color in the boy’s face remained mostly unchanged as he presented a bitter smile. Since he had been told that he would receive a life sentence, he had never  thought he would be executed here.

Heh, I bet this guy wouldn’t even be punished if he killed me.

“Anyway,” the jailer continued, “this is the place where you’re going.”

With a bony index finger, the guard pointed in the direction they were to travel. At one of the corners of the border between the forest and the graveyard, the boy caught a glimpse of a mansion and its white walls. It was barely visible, as if it had been buried within the thick green of the broadleaf trees. As far as he could see, it looked like a place where only one person lived.

As they drew closer to the mansion, the boy being pulled forward by the rope wrapped about his cuffs, he realized that the walls weren’t painted white. The color was actually the white of recently quarried stone. The building also wasn’t that big, but its perimeter was completely surrounded by a palisade [2] of black iron without a trace of rust. The countless tops of the fence posts each appeared like the tip of a spear, all pointing to the sky as they warded off thieves. The gate’s side entrance, an iron door almost blending in with the iron posts, had been firmly shut. Naturally, there was no welcome party to take them in.

The boy started to doubt whether anyone even lived there. The area did not give even a hint that there had been any recent activity. Between the fence and the building was a small garden, which although fully weeded, was flat and featureless with not even one tree or shrub. There were neither fountains, nor sculptures and he couldn’t even find a line for drying clothes.

Yet, instead of those things, there was a mechanized buzzer and receiver to the side of the iron entrance. People of the lower classes did not have access to things like telegraphs, to say nothing of the entranceway it was furnished within. When it comes to telegram machines, even though he had seen them often during his military service, just like tanks, they were tools only utilized by their specialist officers. People like him, people that were just “battleground moles” [3] had no opportunity to touch these kinds of things.

Wow. Shockingly this place is quite luxurious, the boy thought in surprise, keeping his opinion to himself.

The guard, unfamiliar with how to handle the device, awkwardly pushed the buzzer. He then picked up the receiver attached by a long and narrow cord.

“This is the Filbard military police, Warrant Officer Barrida. As arranged, I have escorted prisoner 5722.”

After a little while, a seemingly old man responded in a terribly hoarse sounding voice.

“We were expecting you. Thank you officer, we greatly appreciate your service.” [4]  The receiver’s volume seemed so loud that the boy standing behind the guard had no problem catching what was being said.

“At the current time, Officer, your duties have concluded. Since we will now manage the current situation ourselves, we no longer wish to inconvenience you. Please, we hope that you will encounter no difficulties on the road home. Safe journeys and we hope you remain in good health.”

Hearing this, the long-faced guard’s expression seemed to twist with anger. No matter how politely the words were spoken, to be turned away and denied entry like a simple peddler of goods seemed to wound the warrant officer’s pride. In a griping voice the guard replied.

“But my duty is to personally make sure that the prisoner has indeed been escorted. I would like you to open the door for me. And for starters, isn’t it rude to not even show your face?”

“We appreciate your response. However, while we are grateful you took the trouble of coming here, the prisoner’s work papers have already been signed by two parties, myself and your military. Furthermore, regarding the content of that agreement, I do not recall there being a clause that requires you to hand the boy over directly….”

“But…” though the officer refused to back down, before he could insist further, the voice from the receiver cut him off.

“Pardon me, soldier. Are you Warrant Officer Barrida Clemens attached to the East Filbard area of the Racksand prison camp?”

“Um, that’s right…” The guard responded suspiciously to the unexpected name confirmation.

Whoever was on the other side of that receiver, spoke with as much courtesy as their voice allowed.

“Although it is for your convenience, at our discretion please allow us to make arrangements for you to visit the restaurant at the foot of the mountain called ‘The Cat’s Earpick’. There you will be able to enjoy your time with the woman of your fancy. Of course, drinks and other services will be fully paid for and provided. And since your return to the detention camp will probably be delayed until the next day, we shall inform your superiors of the situation. So, what do you think about this offer?”

Suddenly presented with such a blatantly obvious bribe, the horse faced officer, lost in a wide blank stare, blinked. Changing the subject as if the dispute had been resolved like an enemy who had just received their final blow, the hoarse voice continued.

“As for the boy, is he wearing a collar?”

“Uh huh…” the officer decidedly did not hesitate for long. “That’s right.”

Dejectedly, the guard hung up the receiver and helplessly muttered into the air, “I don’t want to be in this gloomy place anymore. He turned around and the moment the boy entered the guard’s line of sight, the guard’s face shifted into one of embarrassment.

Then, seeming to recall the fact that he was looking at a worthless prisoner, the guard spat at the boy’s  feet.

“Hey, Superior officer killer, don’t even think about running!”

As if he were throwing away a cigarette butt, the guard released the end of the rope wrapped around the boy’s handcuffs.

“Once a month, there will be a fixed inspection. If there is any problem, you will immediately go right back to the detention camp. Also, as long as your employer is even a little dissatisfied with you, he will be okay with the idea of keeping the collar on. Besides, no matter where you are, there is nowhere to run.

Laughing, the boy replied, “If I were to hide under the ground, it feels like I wouldn’t be found no matter who was looking.”

Hearing this, the officer roared with laughter. His mood appeared to have improved 100 times compared to the last several minutes. Judging from the horse-faced guard’s face, the boy could tell there was probably going to be many brief and unexpected visits.

The man withdrew the handcuff key from one of his uniform pockets and flung it into the courtyard. Then, with a gait that almost looked like he was walking down steps, he made his way back to the paddy wagon.

And so with his handcuffs still on, the boy was left in front of the iron door.

He wondered what to do now; after all he had heard nothing from his captor.

Well, whatever happens now, I’m sure in the end it won’t be very good.

As he approached the iron gate entrance, trampling leaves beneath his feet, a high pitch “Caww” screeched in a deep voice above his head. Looking into that direction he saw a giant crow spread its wings, its recent flight shaking the branches of the trees. It was hard to believe that this bird with its ominous cry could possibly be related to birds like the hummingbird or the tree sparrow.

He recalled the words the guard had said just a few minutes ago. “I don’t want to be in this gloomy place anymore.”

–The boy absolutely agreed.

Even now, the strange feeling that had welled up inside him when he was still blindfolded had not dissipated. He again took a look around his surroundings. The weather wasn’t too hot. And probably a typical person would find standing within the early summer sunlight and breathing in the fresh air filtering in through the trees to be quite agreeable. Nevertheless, the boy and the officer both shared the same opinion. It wasn’t simply the fact that there was a graveyard; there seemed to be something in this place that made humans uneasy.

Once again, this time using his eyes, he confirmed the ground that he was walking on.

This place is unpleasant. Well, it’s no wonder since I feel like I’m walking on the backs of corpses.

When the officer’s figure had completely faded into the distance beyond the graveyard, the iron door slid open by itself. With a clank, the sound of heavy metal crashing together reverberated through the air.

Then about 30 steps from his position, from the building’s entrance covered with detailed engravings, a black dog suddenly poked out its snout from behind the doorknob. The dog was larger than any dog the boy had ever seen. If he had to say, the dignified appearance gave him the impression of a wolf, but its thick coat of fur had been thoroughly combed. In addition, within its eyes there was a calm radiance that was only present in well-trained dogs. However, above all, watching it approach without its paws making a sound was elegant.

As the black dog held the key that the guard had thrown away in its mouth, the boy stood completely still, his gaze fixed on the creature. From his distance he couldn’t tell at all whether or not this creature was hostile or friendly.

“Please come in, Prisoner 5722. That dog will serve as your guide.” The voice came from under a hood used to shield the hanging receiver from the rain. The hoarse man spoke as if he were looking right at the boy.

The dog then faded back into the darkness of the entranceway. Even though the dog was massive, within the space of one of its body lengths, the boy could see absolutely nothing within the mansion’s dark interior.

He told me to follow, but…

There was no one guarding him, nor was there anyone pulling him forward by a rope. Yet, even though his jailer had been turned away from the door, was he really that unguarded?

No, rather. Should he have just been grateful that the dog wasn’t holding the rope in its mouth?

Even for a prisoner, wearing a collar and being dragged forward by a dog as if they were holding his reins was far too pathetic. Of course, he didn’t think the dog understood that feeling.

Soon after entering the terribly dark and windowless mansion, he couldn’t feel anything other than the chilly air. But, once his eyes readjusted back to the darkness he noticed he was at the entrance of a somewhat narrow hallway lined with something like oil lamps leaking out weak light.

After waiting for the boy to start walking, the dog proceeded to lead him down the hallway and he followed after the creature as if being pulled forward. There was a high quality looking carpet with geometric patterns spread out across the floor. In fact, seeing his dirty shoes leave footprints on its surface made him feel that he was committing some kind of crime.

“Welcome to the Mass Grave.”

The voice echoed the moment he treaded into a large parlor. It was the same hoarse voice that had silenced his guard a little while ago.

The lamp fixtures that decorated and illuminated the room were made from a cut glass so beautiful that his sense of value couldn’t comprehend how extravagant they were. There was also a statuette of a human with wings extending out of his back, an oil painting of a girl and her pet standing at the lakeshore, and fine golden candlesticks decorating the parlor. And resting in the center of the room was a large leather easy chair. On its cushion sat a stoop, extremely small statured old man. Although the boy wanted to hide his feeling of unease, he his mouth opened and he spoke.

“You’re the owner of this place?” The boy asked the question, but he didn’t think the man looked the part.

Then without even realizing it, the boy’s eyes gravitated to the man’s nose. No, more accurately, the place where his nose should have been. In this old man’s case, the stump of a nose looked like it had been scraped off, and now all that remained in the center of his face were two deep holes. Yet even more unsettling were his difficult to read, smallish eyes. He completely looked like a goblin straight out of the fables of old. Still, he did seem to wear his tail coat stylishly.

“Forgive me for not introducing myself sooner. My name is Daribedor. You may think of me as this place’s caretaker. As you might have already guessed, it has been decided that from today onward you shall work in this place.”

The boy’s had planned to purposely speak in a cynical way in order to trick the old man into revealing the truth, however Daribedor’s polite attitude never crumbled. By intuition alone the boy knew this man was not the likeable type.

He then asked, “But, what exactly am I supposed to do now?”

Hearing that, the old man with a made a strange, wry smile and said, “Don’t you think there is only one thing prisoners have to do in this place?” Then from the holes where his nose should have been, the old man snorted derisively.

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[1] For the term slave, in the original Japanese it was written [オリッド/oriddo]. Later when the boy first meets Karasu, it is explained that this term is an old slang used for slave oarsmen on Galleys. Possibly a combination of the word Oar 「オール/ouru」and slave 「どれい/dorei」

[2] Tall iron fence

[3] Probably cannon fodder

[4] This character’s dialogue is written with extremely polite Japanese. I tried my best to translate this into English, but the prevalence of formal honorific language has diminished greatly in English. Overall, the speech should sound slightly archaic.

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9 thoughts on “Chapter 1

  1. >> One of the beads trickled down to the collar at his neck, preventing him from escaping.
    Does this line, “…preventing him from escaping.” refer to the collar?

  2. I don’t understand (1). What relation has the term “oriddo” translated as “slave” with the referenced sentence of “Walk, prisoner 5722”?

    • And while we are at it, since “ninjin” is “carrot” (a reference to “the carrot and the stick”), wouldn’t “bribe” be better than “consolation”?

    • Wow, I did this translation a long time ago. I had to fish out the book from a box to check. But yeah The Kanji is for “prisoner”. But above it the Furigana reads “Oriddo”. So technically he is calling him “Oriddo” not “Prisoner” but I couldn’t find a proper way to transfer the term “Oriddo” into English. Slave is not really appropriate, because later on Crow would call him “slave-kun”. So I subbed the phrase for “prisoner”. Does this explanation help?

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