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Kuro no Maou 326

by Hishi Kage Dairi


Yoshi (Translator), Tamamo (Editor)

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The Gravekeeper’s Song


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The younger sister of the twins had always had a weak constitution, ever since she was born.

From the very beginning, she never had a father. By the time she was old enough to notice, her mother had died as well. The sick younger sister has only a single family member left.

「Don't worry, Onii-chan will definitely make you better!」

The young boy who was her older brother loved his younger sister from the bottom of his heart, as she was the only family member he had left. Not once did he ever think of abandoning her.

However, the orphans' lifestyle could only be described as "poor". Of course, there was no way they could afford the medicine to cure the sister's illness.

Though he was young, the boy worked earnestly. The amount of money he earned was pitiful, and sometimes he wasn't even paid.

Dirty work, hard work, he did anything as long as it wasn't illegal.

If he were to be caught even once, there would be nobody to look after his younger sister, so he didn't dare risk turning to crime. And above all, he possessed a heart of virtue.

Over time, slowly but surely, he saved his money.

A little more, just a little more, and he would be able to buy the medicine by his sister's thirteenth birthday that was approaching.

「Sorry, Onii-chan, I'm sorry... I've only been a burden to you up until now. I'm sorry.」

The day before her birthday. Leaving those final words, the younger sister died.

With nobody reaching out a hand to save her, after living such a short life, suffering in illness, she died. Her life ended tragically.

I'll die too.

In front of his sister who had turned completely cold, the boy thought this, with no hesitation.

「In the cemetery on the outskirts of town, there's a gravekeeper whose appearance has not changed since a hundred years ago. One mustn't approach her, one mustn't become familiar with her. She is definitely some kind of witch. If one carelessly steps into the depths of the cemetery, he will surely join the corpses -」

The boy had heard this rumor.

It was exactly what he wished for.

With no relatives, his younger sister would definitely be sent there. With the boy's meager fortune, there would be no way he could build her a grave in a proper temple.

A carriage left the town immediately, with the younger sister in a coffin loaded in the back.

The boy snuck onto the carriage to ride with her, whispering that he would soon be going "over there" to be by her side.

「Th-that's the gravekeeper...」

Seeing the gravekeeper at the cemetery in the dark forest, the boy felt an emotion other than the sadness that he had felt since his sister had died.

Her skin was as white as snow, and her hair was even whiter than that. But her eyes were a pure, shining red.

The face visible beneath the bobbed, silver-white hair at her shoulders resembled a doll that his sister had once wanted. She looked somewhat inhuman, but unbelievably beautiful.

Though the boy was not yet an adult, his eyes were drawn to her slender arms and legs and the feminine curves of her body that were visible even through her black clothes.

But the most surprising thing was that although she was a woman, she was carrying an entire coffin with just her left hand.

In her right hand was a weapon with a long handle and a crescent-shaped blade. The weapon left a fearsome impression on him, as if it could slice his finger off even with the lightest touch.

But because she displayed such inhuman beauty and power, just like the rumors, he thought that she would do him the favor of ending his life.

If he died next to his sister, the gravekeeper would surely bury him next to her.

With that expectation, the boy stayed completely still and breathed quietly, hiding himself until the burial was complete.

The coffin disappeared into the earth.

Seeing his younger sister leave this world's surface, grief welled up in him once more.

But at the same time, he knew the moment of his own death was approaching, causing him to feel more than a little fear deep in his chest as he raised his head.

As he wiped away cold sweat and his body stiffened with the fear that the gravekeeper would notice him just by hearing the sound of his racing heartbeat -

「ضوء أبيض الله يعطي الراحة الأبدية لجميع الاموات، وعلى ضوء」

He heard the gravekeeper's song.

No instrumental performance accompanied it; it was an acappella requiem with just the sound of her voice.

Its lyrics were either in the language of a faraway foreign country or perhaps in an ancient language; the boy couldn't make any sense of them at all. However, even so -

「Uh... Ugh...」

The gentle melody pierced into the depths of his heart. It was as if it were a lullaby that his mother had sung to him when he was a child.

「Kuh... Ugh... Thank... you...」

The boy knew that his younger sister's soul had been saved.

This beautiful, wonderful melody would send her to heaven. There was no way that she wouldn't be happy, that she wouldn't be saved.

The boy's sister's bright smile surfaces in his mind.

Yes, his sister was now departing for the distant heavens with that smile on her face.

He believed that from the bottom of his heart.

Her poor lifestyle, the pain of her illness - looking back, it may have been a life without a single good thing.

But at the very end, his sister was able to move on happily.

That made him happier than anything else, and he felt as if the life he had spent helping her had finally been rewarded.

「Ugh... Kuh... UWAAAAH!」

So he wasn't afraid anymore.

「Who... are you?」

Even though the gravekeeper had finally appeared before his eyes to end his life.

 

 

 

「You are not a grave robber, so why do I have to kill you?」

The gravekeeper was bewildered over this unprecedented event.

Both at the fact that this boy who was a citizen of the town had appeared here, and at the fact that an unfounded rumor had been spread, a rumor saying that she would kill anyone who came to this cemetery.

Somehow, with several hours of explanation, she finally succeeded in clearing up that misunderstanding.

「I-I'm sorry...」

The older brother of the young girl who had been buried here today was shrinking in cowardice, as if he could not express his apology in words alone.

He did indeed resemble her.

His face was a little gaunt, but looking closely, it was much lovelier than the girl in the grave.

But with the grief of losing his twin sister, he was now a troubled boy who had thought to follow after her.

「It's late. It's too dangerous to return to the town now, so you should stay here.」

Putting her limited common sense to use, the gravekeeper decided to look after the boy by providing him a meal and a place to stay for the night.

He was the first guest to be invited into the small, old shrine that she lived in.

「Thank you very much for treating me to such a meal.」

「It's not much.」

「Err... So you do eat meals normally, don't you?」

「Do those townspeople think I sustain myself on the mist...?」

It was her first time having this kind of idle conversation with someone.

Would she, who has been a gravekeeper right from the beginning, be able to enjoy a normal chat with another person?

It wasn't like she hadn't considered this question before, and now the boy had the impression that the gravekeeper was thoughtless. But not minding that, she indulged in this conversation. Immersed herself in it, even.

「How is the temperature of the bath?」

「It's just perfect. Umm, I'm really sorry, even using your bath...」

「Don't worry about that. More importantly, you seem to be quite dirty, allow me to wash you.」

「Eh, that's -」

She also tried experiencing what was called "naked accompaniment."

TLN: Maybe this is a phrase in Japanese, it certainly isn't in English to my knowledge...

 

She had been under the conceited expression that this would allow the boy to open himself up to her more, but for some reason, after he got out of the bath, his face was red and he averted his eyes from her.

It was a little shocking for her.

「Good night.」

「Yeah, good night.」

The two of them slept in a single bed.

The bed felt more cramped than usual, but strangely enough, this was not an unpleasant thing.

「Umm, thank you very much.」

Suddenly, the boy thanked her again, even though he had already thanked her too many times to count.

「For holding that memorial for my younger sister. That song felt really beautiful, warm and gentle. I'm sure my sister was able to happily go to heaven, so thank you.」

「I-I see... I mean, as a gravekeeper, I just did the work that's expected of me. You... don't have to be so... formal.」

The gravekeeper's heart began to beat quickly after hearing those words, and she found it difficult to fall asleep.

Why was she feeling like this? Right before she fell into a deep slumber, she came across the answer.

「Since I was born, nobody has ever praised my singing before...」

The next day. The time for the boy to return to the town had come.

「Thank you for letting me stay here for the night.」

「Ah, ah...」

The gravekeeper found herself bewildered once more by yet another new emotion in her heart.

She had lived for a hundred years on her own, so her solitude wasn't even something that she was aware of; it was normal for her.

Therefore, she hadn’t felt the emotion known as「loneliness.」

Until now, when she had to part ways with the boy.

She wanted to say something and stop him. But she couldn't find the words.

She was a gravekeeper; she had always been one and this would be her eternal duty from now on as well.

And he was just a child. He would continue to live his life in that large town, become an adult, age and die someday.

This incident was nothing more than an irregular event that happened once in a hundred years. So she would never see the boy again. There was no reason or need for that.

「Umm, is it alright if I come here again?」

That was why she thought those words must be a lie.

「I won't ever think of following my sister to the other side again, but I never want to forget about her.」

There was no way there could be such a convenient reason.

「And I want to hear that song one more time.」

No, if these words were not lies, then this must be a dream or a hallucination.

But there was no mistake that the boy giving her a shy smile under this clear blue sky was, in fact, real.

「Yes, come any time you wish, and I'll welcome you.」

 

 

 

The boy visited the cemetery once every three days.

「Hello.」

「Ah. I've been waiting for you.」

Before the gravekeeper knew it, having the boy around had become a natural thing.

Neither their difference in gender nor the extraordinary difference in their age prevented them from deepening their relationship with each other.

At least, as time went on and the season changed, the gravekeeper became more and more drawn to the boy.

「ضوء أبيض الله يعطي الراحة الأبدية لجميع الاموات، وعلى ضوء (O White God, please grant upon all the souls of the dead eternal rest, and shine upon them your endless light.)」

The requiem they sang in front of his younger sister's grave was a routine ceremony for the two of them.

However, around the time the season changed, the song was sung not by one voice, but two.

「It seems you've remembered the song perfectly now.」

「But I still don't understand what the lyrics mean.」

Seeing the boy's embarrassed laugh, the gravekeeper's heart was filled with an indescribable happiness.

「Your pronunciation is perfect. And your voice is wonderful.」

「Th-thank you.」

She would probably have said this even if the boy was completely tone-deaf.

But perhaps coincidentally, the boy did indeed have a talent for singing. The gravekeeper's compliments were not merely flattery; she spoke them truthfully.

And then even more time passed.

Before they knew it, it had almost been a year since they first met.

「Earlier, I sang this song at the bar that I work at. Umm, I'm sorry for singing it without your permission.」

One day, the boy came and made this apology.

「That's not really my song; you can sing it as you wish.」

The song wasn't originally something that nobody was supposed to hear; it was just an old requiem. Nothing more, nothing less.

The gravekeeper was delighted that the boy had become happy through the song that she had taught him.

He was only a bar assistant, but when she asked him about it, his song had apparently been well received by the customers that he performed it to and they had given him money that slightly exceeded his monthly pay.

Up until now, the gravekeeper had been offering to financially help the boy who had continued to live a poor life, but he had refused.

As the gravekeeper did not have the ability for telepathy, she could not tell whether it was just him holding back from asking for too much, just simple male stubbornness or even an earnest sense of nobility.

Even so, she knew. She knew that to live a happy lifestyle in the town, one would need a certain amount of money as a base requirement.

She didn't know if the boy's wages would meet that minimum amount so she was quite worried, but it seemed that the situation had unexpectedly improved.

「If singing that song can make you happy, then there's nothing wrong with it. And I wish for your happiness more than anyone else.」

「Yes, thank you very much!」

As if the gravekeeper's wish had been heard, the boy's lifestyle changed from the poor one that he had been living until now.

The elegant yet mysterious requiem melody that the boy sang gained fame across the town overnight.

His talent for singing was unmistakably genuine; he was even more of a genius than the gravekeeper had initially thought.

His voice completely mesmerized men and women of all ages.

Before he knew it, the boy had changed occupations from bar assistant to exclusive singer, and his income increased tenfold - no, a hundredfold.

In less than a month, he had become the town's idol.

「Hello.」

Even so, the boy visited the gravekeeper.

His appearance was no longer that of a shabby orphan; his clothes were so tidy that he looked like a nobleman's son.

If one looked closely, it was clear that he even had some light makeup on. The boy's face exuded beauty that would match a girl of the same age.

「Ah, I've been waiting for you -」

No matter how beautiful or rich he became, the boy still made contact with the gravekeeper.

His heart remained just as obedient and pure as the day that they had met.

「- really, I've grown tired of waiting for you.」

That was exactly why the gravekeeper was worried.

Even after becoming an idol, the boy continued to come here. However, the frequency of his visits went from once every three days to once every five, then once a week - steadily decreasing.

Their desire to meet grew stronger, but the opportunities to do so grew fewer.

The sleepless nights continued. Her feelings of longing for the boy scorched her heart.

She began to feel bitter towards the "town" that interfered with her meetings with him.

The gravekeeper persuaded herself - no, that wasn't it.

「I'll be fine as long as he is happy.」

She didn't want him to end up like his younger sister.

「I can't make him happy.」

She was a gravekeeper. She would not be allowed to abandon her duty and leave this place.

「He can't live in this graveyard.」

He was a human. He was enjoying a free life, not bound by anything.

「It's fine, there's no helping it. Because I'm a -」

The Homunculus gravekeeper that had been born through ancient magic could never be married to a human.

Until the several hundred years of her expected period of operation were finished, she would never be able to leave this ancient temple. Such a setting had been made.

There was no way that a human would think to spend one's entire life in this melancholic graveyard. This would be especially true for an idol with a bright, promising future ahead of him -

「... What did you say?」

Just as she made this decision, the time came for them to part ways.

「He said that he's... my father.」

Visiting the gravekeeper for the first time in a month, the boy said that his father, who he had never met before in his entire life, had appeared.

「His name is, err, too long for me to remember, but he's really important. He's apparently a nobleman.」

It was unsurprising news.

Fourteen years ago, this nobleman visited this town and had a one-night relation with a certain girl.

The girl became pregnant and gave birth to twins.

But that was all.

「A nobleman, you say...」

He had not come back just on a whim. He had returned to take up the new post of feudal lord, to govern this town.

「Yes, he said that he was unable to come to this town until now due to some circumstances, but he really wanted to come and see Mother and us.」

Just how much of this was truth?

The other-worldly gravekeeper did not have a good understanding of the situation in the town. She had no idea how aristocratic society worked.

But she was aware that nobles were of different social status from the commoners.

Everyone admired them.

Large mansions, delicious food, beautiful clothes, servants that waited on them - the privileged class, the peak of luxury. If one were to ask who the happiest people in this world were, the answer would probably be them.

「If I'm accepted as his child, I won't be able to visit this place -」

「You should go.」

「Eh?」

「He's your real father, is he not? Being with your family should make you the happiest.」

There was no way that she would stop him. There was no way that she would hold him back.

He was about to step onto the shining road of nobility.

Given that, how could she try to imprison him in this dark graveyard for his whole life with a mere doll like herself?

For the gravekeeper who wished for the boy's happiness, there was no other answer.

「I-I will definitely return here one day.」

「Yeah.」

「I will give a much better song to my sister.」

「Yeah.」

「So when that time comes, please sing with me again.」

「Yeah, I promise. I will always await your return.」

And so the two of them said their farewells.

The gravekeeper returned to her solitude once more.

But the happiness of the one she loved was granted, and the promise of their reunion had been made. So she was able to spend her days with a more human-like expression on her face than she had ever worn in the hundred years leading up to now.

 

 

 

It was fast approaching three months since the gravekeeper and boy had parted ways.

「Grave-keeper-sama, please take care of this person.」

Today, another corpse had been left with her.

In the moment she reached her hand towards the coffin to check its contents -

「Please wait. That person is a hero who saved the town. However, the damage to the body is severe, and it is now in a terrible state. Please do not do him the dishonor of exposing his body once more.」

Did he die fighting monsters, perhaps? Seeing as he was being called a hero of the town, this was a reasonable guess.

However, the gravekeeper was still completely unrelated to the events of the town, so this made no difference to her.

She merely accepted the corpses and offered them the proper treatment and burial.

Severely damaged corpses - in other words, the corpses of those who were exposed to violent attacks - had the pain at the moment of their death linger strongly around them, and this made them easily turn into Undead.

With just a requiem, there might still be a small chance that it would turn into an Undead, so she came to the clear decision of applying purification magic directly onto the corpse.

And so just before the burial, as she opened the coffin -

「Wha...」

This was her reunion with the boy.

「W-what, what is this, why are you -! No, this can't be, this is impossible, this ridiculous thing, it can't be true!」

As the person who had brought the corpse had said, he was in a terrible state.

Only his lovely, beautiful face remained as it had been.

There was no way that she could forget this face. This was the only face that she could not mistake for another.

「Ah, this can't be, this can't be, this can't be, this can't happen, after all, I wished only for... for your happiness. So why -」

So why did he have to die?

What were these wounds on his body?

And why was he completely naked, not dressed in funeral clothes, as if he had simply been thrown into the coffin and discarded?

Even executed criminals were treated better when they were buried. What kind of serious crime would one have to commit to be exposed to such a disgraceful death?

The gravekeeper had been working for a hundred years and seen thousands, tens of thousands of corpses, but this was the first time she had seen one in such an atrocious state.

Why did the one person that she loved have to be the one to suffer the cruelest of fates?

She had wished only for his happiness and accepted that they would be separated for a long time.

She had even desperately resisted her desire to make him hers.

But it seemed that he had become the property of a cruel master.

As if to claim the boy's great charm and even that exceptional voice as their own, someone had branded a family crest into his throat.

「Ah, I see, that's how it is...」

His real father, nobles, the hero of the town - All of this was, once again, unsurprising news.

A certain violent noble had set his eyes on the idol, the boy that everyone in the town was talking about.

It didn't matter whether he was his actual father or not; even if it was a lie, a false pretense, it made an excuse.

All he needed was power. The influence to destroy the town - the position of feudal lord - was all he needed.

A sacrifice, a price to be paid, whatever one wished to call it. In short, the boy had been consumed to satisfy the desires of the nobles.

Judging from his appearance, he had not known anything, not been told anything, and nobody had tried to tell him.

And so he had become a priceless sacrifice.

「... you... all.」

He had lived the past three months as an amusing plaything for the nobles.

And for the past three months, the gravekeeper had simply awaited his return like a fool.

She didn't do anything, she couldn't do anything.

Even though he had suffered this much. Even though he had been suffering like this, so close by to her.

「... I'll kill you all.」

She couldn't forgive herself.

「I'll kill you all, I'll kill you all!」

There was no way that she could forgive herself.

While saying that she wished for his happiness, she made the foolish choice of giving up on granting him that happiness herself from the very beginning.

「I'll kill you all, I'll kill you all, I'll kill you all, I'll kill you all, I'll kill you all, I'll kill you all!」

And the ones that she couldn't forgive, most of all -

「I'll kill you all, you bastards, every single one of you -」

Were the people who had caused his death.

「I'll slaughter you all, AAAAAAAAAGGGHHHH!」

Her loud scream of resentment echoed out loudly.

The malice in that scream was so powerful and deep that it became a wave of negative influence that swept over the cemetery.

This phenomenon was only possible because it was she who had been the one to live on for these hundred years, burying the dead and bestowing eternal peace to their souls.

「Ah... Aaah...」

As if responding to the gravekeeper's voice, the dead began to rise.

With his bloodless, pale face, the boy opened his empty eyes.

At the same time, the gravekeeper suppressed her resentful expression and turned to face him calmly.

The gravekeeper's white, smiling face with her pupils that were fading in color entered the boy's unfocused field of vision.

「I've grown tired of waiting for our reunion. To think that you'd come back to me in only three months, fufufu, it seems that you were even lonelier than I was. No, I'm not blaming you, I'm just happy.」

The dead who rise as Undead are completely different to the people they were in life; they are simply monsters.

The boy was now a Zombie, an Undead monster of the lowest rank.

There was no way that she wouldn't know this.

After all, her most important duty as a gravekeeper was to ensure that the dead would not revive as Undead.

「Ah, that's right, we promised to sing together, didn't we? Come, let's sing.」

However, the gravekeeper embraced the boy as she had once done in happier times.

Though she pressed him against her chest, his cheeks would never again redden in embarrassment.

And of course, the beautiful voice that had captivated the people would never again come from his mouth.

「ض وء أب يض ا لله ي  عط ي الر احة الأ بدي ة لجمي  ع ا لاموات، وعل ى ضوء」

The song that echoed across the cemetery was a requiem - or it should have been, but the melody was corrupted, became disarrayed and finally came undone, and the purification effect began to change.

Instead of calming the souls, the song stimulated them wildly, provoked them and made them savage, preventing their eternal rest and weaving a melody of resurrection.

The next to open her eyes was the boy's younger sister.

The requiem - no, dead-reviving song that had now become a curse that caused her young corpse to begin moving once more, climbing out of her coffin and rising from the earth.

「Haha, ahaha, I should have just done this from the beginning, right? See, now you can live with your sister again.」

Looking at the younger sister's corpse again as she moved, she really did have a lovely face that resembled her brother's.

But her body had already spent over a year beneath the earth's surface and had decomposed in various places; she was still nothing more than a filthy Undead.

「Fufu, is your throat not feeling well today? You aren't singing, are you? Ah, could it be that you can only be satisfied with a larger audience, now that you're an idol? That's fine, I'll call an audience for you soon, look -」

As the gravekeeper let out another cry, skeletal hands rose from the earth one by one to answer her call.

The graveyard from which not even a single grave had been robbed in a hundred years was now being completely dug up by the gravekeeper that watched over it.

Corpses from a hundred years ago, from ten years ago, from yesterday, all of them were disturbed from their peaceful slumber to suffer in this world once more.

「Hmm, perhaps this still isn't enough. It's fine, we'll add more and more "people" to the audience, starting with all of the people in the town -」

With her left hand gently embracing the boy who wasn't even letting out a single groan and holding her beloved naginata in her right, the gravekeeper stepped forward.

「The gravekeeper's job? Ah, I'm done with that. This town won't need a cemetery anymore. So I, the gravekeeper, am being relieved of my post.」

She discarded her old duty. The commands given to her in the distant past could not hold back her hatred.

「Well then, shall we go? This time for sure, I'll make you happy.」

And so the gravekeeper set foot into the outside world.

She cut down every person on sight, adding them to the ranks of the dead following her.

「آلهة من كوروكي، أرواح الأموات جميع (O black goddess, please grant upon all the souls of the dead...)」

She sang and sang her song that revived the dead.

She wouldn't let the dead sleep.

The resurrected dead, in their pain, resented and hated those who still breathed and stretched out their arms to add them to their filthy ranks.

「إعطاء التعذيب الأبدية (Eternal torture.)」

More and more dead were revived.

Life disappeared from the town, replaced by the false life of undeath.

「يرجى غارقة في الظلام لا نهاية لها (And submerge them in the endless darkness.)」

The march of death continued on and on.

Their destination was the center of the town, the most populated area. They searched for the souls of the highest nobles.

The dead knew no fear. They never faltered in their footsteps, even when facing high walls, deep moats and rows of sturdy soldiers.

「نهاية العالم (O world, come to an end.)」

That town, while part of this world, also became a part of the other world.

A country of the dead, a paradise for the deceased.

And the song that was heard at the summit of this hell was -

「Ah, you finally sang with me.」

The duet of the gravekeeper and the boy.

 

 

 

Thus, Merry rises.

The cursed melody that undoes death itself reawakens her will, and she stands once more due to the black mana she receives from her master Kurono.

Her open eyes are an ominous, shining crimson. Her bloodstained mane stands up like a blazing flame. Her damaged body is stained with a deep darkness that fills in every wound.

Merry is no longer a mere horse. But that does not mean that she has become a low-level Zombie horse.

She has a magnificent figure with a sinister red-black aura radiating from her entire body. Even the hairs of her body stand up on end and give off her malicious intent.

She has not been simply resurrected. She has been reborn as a more powerful creature.

As for her title, it is the same as the one that has been given to her master - She has now evolved into a high-level Undead monster, the『Nightmare.』

TLN: This is a wordplay with "nightmare" and "mare", the word for female horse. The kanji below "nightmare" read "Undead horse."
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