Episode 2. Turn of the Golden Witch

"Hey George-sama, please look!  They're so cute, look, look!"
Shannon found a pair of hammerhead sharks playfully swimming in the tank, running around like a grade schooler seeing an aquarium for the first time.

"Yeah, they're really cute.  I almost want to eat them."

"I, I'd feel so sorry for them...  Did you know?  I hear that the only people in the world who come to an aquarium and say that the fish look delicious are the Japanese."
"Is that so?  ...I'm sure even Americans and Italians would want to eat these."

"...Uh, ...um......err..."
"Those clothes look good on you.  Really."

Shannon embraced her chest with both hands in embarrassment.
...She apparently felt like she was being made fun of for wearing these clothes that she wasn't used to.

Even though George's face didn't show it, the truth was that he'd said something so completely unexpected that it surprised even him, and he was as embarrassed as Shannon on the inside.
However, when he saw how embarrassed Shannon was, he started to feel as though he was teasing the girl he liked, and instead of embarrassment, a ticklish amusement welled up in him.

......No, he didn't just feel like he was doing it.
...He really was teasing the girl he liked.
Nevertheless, ......he had thought that such embarrassing expressions wouldn't even show up in manga these days.
On the contrary, if he had seen another couple acting like that, he'd feel like throwing rocks at them.
However, even if rocks were thrown at us now, I'm sure they would be just like confetti celebrating us.
Now, I can't even remember those lonely days...when I felt jealous of couples who were completely oblivious to their surroundings.

To use an old-fashioned phrase, these would be rose-colored days....
I'm so entranced that I don't even notice the big tank of the world's largest aquarium.
Instead, I see Shannon rejoicing and playing with the fish.

"...It's amazing, isn't it......?  It's my first time seeing a tank large enough for a whale to swim in."
"I heard that this tank is the biggest selling point here.  And that it's the biggest in the whole world."

"Is that so?  That's amazing.  ......It's really wonderful.  It doesn't even look like a tank at all, but rather like they sliced off a part of the sea with a knife and brought it here."
"I agree.  This is a splendid little sea."
Despite its size, I hadn't thought of the tank as anything more than a tank.
That's why I thought her expression about cutting of a part of the sea with a knife was so interesting.
No matter how far humans broaden their experiences, they stick to their own view of the world in the end.  Maybe that's why it's so interesting to mingle with people who have a different worldview.
I was honest when I said that.
Then, she responded.

"Certainly, this might not be the real sea.  ...But, if those little guys swimming in there believe that it's the sea, then to them it certainly is the sea."
"Even though they're inside a finite tank?"

"The sea is finite too.  But, even if the sea were infinite, how much could we cover in our whole lives?  I'm sure that it would only be a miniscule fraction of the sea."
"...Certainly.  It's ironic, isn't it?  Even though the world is so vast, most of us live our lives without ever leaving our own country."
"If they believe that this place is a complete world, then it would be a wonderful world, a sea...even if it were in the bottom of a narrow well.  ...A sea in the eyes of the frogs that live there."

Shannon, who spent her days as a servant on a small island 10 kilometers in circumference called Rokkenjima, said that with a smile.
After we finished walking through the whole aquarium, we had a small late-afternoon lunch at a restaurant with a nice view.
This buffet would certainly cause any boy's heart to jump about.

I myself was like that in the past.
But with Shannon beside me, this buffet felt different.
I couldn't shamefully pile on only the things I like.
I was...how should I put it...worried about my appearance and choose a menu suited for a snob, toast, salad and coffee.

If I were by myself, I'd have made a pile of oily stuff like yakisoba, mash potato, gratins, and the like.

"Shannon, is that enough for you?  If it is, then I guess we men are animals with really bad fuel efficiency."
"...Umm, I, I didn't mean to imply that......"

On Shannon's tray, there was only tea and salad.
Maybe the reason I thought she should have at least one more dish was because I was thinking with man's stomach.

"George-sama, will that be enough for you?  I think it's better for men to eat a little bit more.  ...I imagine that you would normally eat more than that during lunch, right?"

"Oops, really?  You must have figured out how much I eat when I had lunch on the island."

"Yes.  So, is your stomach not feeling good today?"
Shannon suspected that I wasn't feeling well.
It seems that I've made her worry with my stupid attempt to show off.

Besides, it didn't seem that my stomach would let me show off any longer.
"...Gah, ahaha....  I'll confess already.  I was just trying to look cool...  I just held back because I was with a girl...."

"I thought so.  Considering how much you eat during lunch at the family conferences, I thought that this wasn't nearly enough.  Please, don't be so reserved, and feel free to go and choose another dish."

"It's not fair for only me to be embarrassed.  What about you, Shannon?  How do you manage your work for the Ushiromiya family while eating so little?"

"......Umm, uh, ............au."

Shannon grew silent and blushed bright red.

Apparently, I wasn't the only one showing off.
When I realized that, my embarrassment disappeared completely.

"My, my, that isn't enough for you, is it?  Yes, normally, you eat more than this for lunch."

"A, a woman's stomach made of magic, so this is enough...au."

"Then it must mean that we were both showing off to each other.  Let's not hold back anymore, shall we?"
I smiled to show that I wouldn't make fun of her anymore and stood up from the seat.

"After finally coming to Okinawa, it would be a waste if we didn't eat some bitter melon.  I think I'll even have some fried bitter melon.  Shannon, come with me.  C'mon, c'mon."
"Aah, yes...!"

To anyone watching us, we might seem like a pretty humorous and embarrassing couple.
But it's only after trying to become a couple that you realize.

This whole arguing back and forth means the world to us.
That's why no matter how much everyone else stared at us with blank eyes, we wouldn't have noticed it.

......Indeed, at this age, I finally understand the feelings of couples who want to endlessly flirt without any regard to their surroundings.
After I returned with a plate piled up with fried food, Shannon arrived with a lovely cake.

While laughing at our fake stoicism, we resumed our lunch.
"Even though it's a restaurant with a view of the sea, it's so cloudy."

Luckily, from our window seats we were shown seaside scenery so grandiose that it didn't fit entirely within our field of vision.
However, because of the cloudy sky, it was a far cry from its normal beauty.
"That's right.  If it were clear, we would undoubtedly see a deep blue sea."
"Yep.  Even though I imagine you're used to the sea at Rokkenjima, normally, the sea here surely should have been an exceptional blue color.  ...It's a real shame."
"Aah, but..., no matter how blue it is, the sea I see during work might as well be gray.  But, today, I'm not working so, ...I mean..."

Apparently, Shannon was doing her best to say an embarrassing line.  But I didn't let her get off easy.
"What a shame.  If only you'd said 'When watching the sea with you, it would look deep blue no matter how gray it was', I'd have given you full marks and a prize."
"Uh, ah, I, I, I'm sorry.......nnnnnn...."
"Wanna hear what my reward was?"
"Umm, ......, uh, if you wouldn't mind.......""No.  I won't tell you.  Ahahahahahaha."
"Th, that's no fair...."
When I was in elementary school, I was always the kid that got bullied.

When everyone teased me, I grew nervous and speechless, to the delight of the bullies.
Back then, I wondered why everyone teased me.
But now, teasing Shannon like this, I understand why.
This is so much fun.
I can play with her emotions however I please, ...and I can have them all to myself.
Right now, I can't think of any higher pleasure.
That's why I have to treat her lightly.
I don't want her to get embarrassed and think bad of me.
That's why I decided to end this topic here and now.
I didn't want to be too obstinate.

"When you've finished your lunch, do you want to take a walk on the beach?  Maybe the clouds will clear up and we'll be able to see a picturesque sea."
"That's right.  I want to go see it."

"Yeah, let's do it.  ...But, that looks like a really delicious cake.  I wonder if I should get one like that too."

"You can't...  If you eat cake after already eating so much, you will get fat.  It looks like Hideyoshi-sama's blood is pretty thick on you, George-sama, so if you don't take care, you will get chubby."
"Shannon, you won't stop liking me if I get fat, will you...?  After all, I wouldn't stop liking you if you did."
"I, I didn't mean it that way...  If you don't take good care of your body, your health will..., au."
"Mother warns me all the time too.  Still, I also wonder if I should start doing some exercises or take up Tai-chi-chuan."

"You should start reconsidering your eating habits and go on a diet, instead of just exercising more.  And furthermore, I heard that if you don't keep on exercising as well, you won't get any results."
"In other words, you're telling me to not eat cake, right?  Then, I guess I'll just have to gaze at you while you stuff your cheeks with that cake, Shannon."

"Uh, umm, ...............Maybe one whole cake is too much but, ......maybe just half of one would be alright.  Here, it's really delicious."

Shannon cut her own cake and tried to move half to my dessert plate.
I had no doubt that she wanted to share the delicious cake's flavor with me.
Even so, I boldly and meanly pushed that plate away.
She blinked her eyes in surprise.
She could't seem to figure out if that was a refusal of the cake or not.

So I winked, opened my mouth, and said 'aah'.
"*giggle*.  This is what you've wanted from the beginning, isn't it?  ......Sheesh, you're such a pampered child, George-sama.  Ok, say 'aah'."
While still wearing an embarrassed, annoyed face, Shannon offered the cake to me with a fork.
*chomp*.

It had the flavor of cheap chocolate you could find anywhere.  Still, it was exceptional.
Because eating cake in such an embarrassing way, as if we were a couple of perfect fools, had been my dream for many years.
It made this cake's flavor heavenly....
If the Earth is destined to end someday, I wouldn't have any regrets if it happened right now.
......It was such a moment of bliss.
After that, we gathered shells, ran from waves and enjoyed each other's company while walking along the beach.
In the end, the clouds never parted.
However, we both believed that our eyes were still reflecting a deep, blue sea.
"......Somehow, I'm so happy, ...I'm getting scared."
"You do say that from time to time.  What is it that you're afraid of?"

"...I'm, .........a servant of the Ushiromiya family.  For someone like me, ...to be hanging out with a member of the Ushiromiya family...  Umm, .........It just seems like too much for me."

"I'm also surprised.  I didn't just meet you yesterday or today, Shannon-chan.  We've known each other for years now.  But, we can only meet during the annual family conference.  ...I never imagined getting into a relationship where I could spend time with you like this.  It's the same for you too, right?"

"Eerh, ......I'm, ......umm..."
"Hm?"
"......I only, ......imagined.  No, umm, err!  Rather than imagination, ......it was more like a delusion......  When I started this relationship with you, George-sama, when you're always so considerate and gentlemanly, ...I mean, it just felt like a delusion......."
"Then, our relationship happened thanks to your believing heart.  Magic dwells in the power of feeling.  So, I'm sure that magic has brought us together."

".........You're right.  ...I really think, ......that this is truly magic."

"But, you know, that's not quite right.  Every time we met, the Shannon within my heart kept becoming more and more beautiful.  If the same thing happened to you, then the fact that we are here today is simply an inevitable consequence, rather than something caused by magic or a miracle."
"...............No.  A miracle did happen, George-sama."
She stopped walking on the beach, gazing beyond the sea.
" ......A miracle?"
"No, magic.  ...It happened."

I was bewildered by that slightly mysterious expression, which I sometimes heard her use.
"......Magic, you say?"
"Yes, magic..........Even if I say it, you probably won't believe me, so I won't say it.  But, that magic definitely had the power to grant the miracle which caused you and I to meet each other."
"You mean, like a good-luck charm?"
"Yes.  Maybe it was something like that.  ...Except that it wasn't a charm, ...it really was magic."
"...Hmm?"
Shannon wasn't the only one who'd want to credit an encounter on a miracle or serendipity, it might be a universal thing all girls share.

For a man like me, 70% of an encounter with a girl is an endeavour to try and please her, while 20% of it is raw courage.  And the remaining 10% is luck.

What she chooses to believe weighs little in my thoughts.
...Maybe that way of thinking is in itself calculating and typical of men.
But, were I to express that in words, any kind of magic would be broken.

I thought that, before we entered into this relationship, we both had many fortuities, concessions and great efforts.
After all that, if she wants to call these times together 'magic', that isn't strange in the slightest.
That's why I answered her the way I did.
"You're right.  ......If the same fate were repeated a hundred times, maybe you and I could get into a relationship like this only one of those times.  In the other instances, even though we would be aware of each other, maybe we would have only maintained a reserved relationship after all this time.  Compared to those otherworldly selves, we are undoubtedly in a miraculous relationship."
"It's not like that.........it really is magic.  ...No matter how often you tell men something like this, they'll never believe it.  Kanon-kun didn't believe me at all, either."

"...I believe you.  ......Because I wouldn't want to break the magic by not believing in it."
"George-sama..."

In a small voice, I told her that I was sorry for making light of the magic.

Those words seemed to be very pleasing to Shannon.

Because if the two of us believed in the magic of love, that love would be eternal.

"Oh, that's right.  I have one more whim., but I'm not sure if you'd be willing to listen."
"...Yes?  What is it?"

"You know how you call me 'George-sama'?  It's not that I dislike it, but would you not call me that anymore?"

"Of course, you have to keep up your appearance with the Ushiromiya family, so I wouldn't force you to do so during your everyday routine at Rokkenjima.  But, when we are alone, I'd rather you didn't call me that.  Yeah, let's create that rule."

"A, a rule?  I, if I violate that rule, what would happen...?"

"Hmm...  Maybe we should have some kind of punishment game if you transgress the rule.  ...Yes, what should it be.........Wanna hear?"
"N-no, I don't want to hear..."

"Ahahahahahaha.  I'll have to think about what it should be."
"Ok.  ......George...san."
"...Yeah.  It sounds cool, doesn't it?  I'm so happy, Shannon."

"I, ......I also, ......have another name.........Sayo."

"I got it.  The rule must be fair.  I'll also keep it, and from now on, I'll have to call you Sayo.  Alright?  Sayo...?"
"Y-yes."
I embraced her shoulder.

Then I forcefully embraced her entire body while she dived into my chest like a doll.
As I held her head in my arms, we looked at the horizon.
"What a deep blue sea.  I'm so happy that we can look at this sea, just the two of us."
"......Me too.  I'm very happy that I can look at this deep blue sea with you."
As we gazed at the gray sea and a light rain began to sprinkle down, we kept listening to each other's heartbeats.

The sound of waves soaked into my ears.

...No, this was the sound of enraged waves.

My body, bathed in painfully cold splashes, did not allow me to forget.
It wouldn't let me forget the memories of the day when my old fate was broken and smashed.
In the past, tomorrows were literally like a mirror to me.
The person I am now, was always projected there.
......It was a tomorrow absolutely no different from today.

That was my old fate.
...But at that moment, for the first time, I saw a different fate beyond the mirror.
The witch whispers.

She tempts me to take a bite out of the fruit of knowledge.
She torments me, saying that as long as I stay in the paradise of god, I'll remain furniture.
So I try to choose to know love, and become a person.

......Those days were like sweetly melting honey, ......but then, I hadn't realized that they were the beginning of the days filled with a new kind of suffering.......
I came to this small island on a motorboat that I had just learned how to use.

No, I couldn't possibly call it a small island.  It'd really be more appropriate to call it a reef.
On the reef, there was a torii and a small shrine for the local deity.

It was probably built to worship the guardian deity of Rokkenjima.
......Even though I didn't know the exact meaning, I understood that it had a holy significance.
Even in a place like this, I took just one more look around to see if there was someone who'd find fault with me being here.

......The only things I could see were the stormy ocean, Niijima looming in the distance, and the waves breaking against Rokkenjima's steep cliffside.
I readied myself, ......timidly approached the small shrine, ...and took the mirror that was offered to that place.
It was an old-looking mirror, dim and dirty.
......If it were an ordinary mirror, that'd probably give you a terribly bad impression of its value.

...However, since the mirror had been offered to this small shrine, it made you feel some kind of divinity.
......And I noticed.
This was not merely a mirror.
...Even if it would have been nothing more than an old-looking mirror to a non-believer like myself, it was actually a mirror that had an important meaning.

......Is it really alright to break it after being captivated by honeyed words?
......No, this is not really a mirror.
...This is my life that I could not escape until today, and my fate.
I'll break it.
I'll break it, ......and seize a life from beyond the mirror.
If I don't break it, my life will forever be a pair of facing mirrors.  Nothing will ever change in the slightest....
The witch whispers.

She tempts me to take a bite of true wisdom.
Maybe I'm already having a taste of that truth.
Because I ended up knowing those maddening sentiments.
Just as Adam and Eve felt compelled to pluck the fig leaf.

By now, ......I must break this mirror.
Until today, I had fought for many days.
Inside my heart, the virtuous part of me and the part that sided with the witch repeatedly fought each other.
And now, here I am.

Did the part of me who is here win or lose?
There's only one thing I know.
To obtain something, you must be ready to lose something.

The cowards who don't risk loss and never try to change anything will never receive the key that opens the path to a new future.
The key is already in my hands.

The key is to break this.  To break it.
Is there any other effort I can make, as furniture imprisoned in Rokkenjima?

No. There's nothing but this.
Come, have courage.
I'll free myself from being mere furniture.
And I'll receive new sufferings, and become human.
These are surely the small and large trials I must impose on myself.

Come on, ......break it.
Break the eternally unchangeable fate that imprisons me, into pieces......!
I raise the mirror high...

......and think back on the preceding days of conflict,

......and, finishing my reflections in the blink of an eye,......I throw it.
The thunder roars, ...crying out against me for my outrageous act.
...Certainly, that was the hatred of the angels who were trying to banish me from eternal paradise.
I look down on the mirror tumbling at my feet, broken in two equal parts..., and after I made sure I've accomplished my task, ......I scream while looking up at the enraged sky.
"...I, ...............I kept, ......the promise..........Now, .........it's your turn to keep your promise with me, right......?"
A thunder roars once more.

...I'm already banished from paradise.
That's why I have to struggle by myself in order to live.
The witch said it.  That's the sole element of the world.

To lose it means to lose the world.
...Like how a canteen with a hole on the bottom can't be filled, no matter how much water you pump into it....
"......I kept the promise.  .........Now, it's your turn to keep your promise.  ......Please, grant my wish!  Beatrice-samaaaaaa!!"

'Furniture'

My mind wandered.
Back to the days when I could barely imagine the happiness I have today.

I was a middle schooler at the time.
A normal girl, who imagined about love, as is normal at that age.
But I really should not have seen that dream.
...Because I am furniture.
Furniture is nothing more than a tool, and is not human.

To a person less than human such as myself, just receiving my education was more than enough to make me happy.
So even thinking about love was more than I deserved...
The Ushiromiya family family conference was a customary event held every October, but relatives sometimes visited at other times.
...Of course, they didn't come just to drink tea.

On this day, Eva's family had visited the head family on Rokkenjima.

The three people from Krauss's family and the three people from Eva's family had gathered in the parlor, and were having a friendly chat as they reported the news.

Genji had supposedly told Kinzo of Eva's family's arrival, but he hadn't come down yet.
...He was probably immersed in his own 'research', and couldn't spare the time.

This often happened, so the others waited patiently for their fickle father to come down.
"Hoh.  Isn't that reliable.  Do your best to study a lot from your father, and quickly become able to help him."

"Thank you very much.  I have been able to gain truly precious study from several of Father's elders who he has introduced me to.  Everything I learned was something that couldn't be learned in school."
"Ya learn math and language in school, right?  Learn the posture 'n attitude to learn things.  When ya form that basis, ya can finally start to study for the rest of yer life."
"Those who mistake tiss point are blockheads who don't spend their lives learnin'.  Even if ya're perfect with math and language, ya'll be useless to yer company!"

"Hmm, that is exactly right.  Hideyoshi-san, your education policy is always truly excellent."

"George 'still only half a man!  Never forget that, 'n embrace yer studies."
"Stop it, dear.  George is a-lways giving it his all.  Right?"
"Truly excellent.  I wish our Jessica would learn from him..."
"...Che-.  Are you still holding a grudge about that test score?  I'm studying for tests as best I can.  At least don't say it here.  Pissing me off."

When praising George for his diligence, the conversation sometimes turned to Jessica, who hated studying.
Jessica made an openly displeased face, as though she'd known it would come to this.
"My, my...  Doesn't it seem as though, in addition to study, Jessica should also learn how to speak a little more lady-like?  That is shameful for a daughter who bears the Ushiromiya family crest."

"My, isn't that fascinating, right?  Times change.  The time when we had to dress modestly to entertain men ended a long time ago."
"That's right, that's right!  I knew you'd understand, Eva oba-sa-n!  Eheheheh!"

"......Haah...  My headache is truly trying today."
"Are you alright?  Natsuhi oba-san, your face looks off-color."

"Thank you, I am alright.  ......But time really has flown.  It feels like just yesterday when you would run around half-naked by the beach and come back soaked."

"Wasn't Jessica-chan the same?  And now she's a lady who fusses over how to put on makeup.  You really are particular about your eyebrows.  You look really cute today."

"Thank you very much.  Nobody noticed, so I was a little worried."

A full smile rose to Jessica's face as the results of her own 'studies' were finally noticed.

Eva smiled back in the same way.  ...Then, she turned that smile towards Natsuhi.

"Come on, Natsuhi nee-san?  You must take notice of small changes in your own child.  Poor Jessica-chan.  Even though she probably wanted to first be noticed by her mother, right?"
"No problem, no problem.  That person never notices anything."

"Jessica.  I cannot admire you calling your mother 'that person'.  Apologize."
"......Later, I will speak to you at length about your language."

"Che...  If kids are a burden, just say so.  I'll get out of the way.  It's getting stuffy in here."
"Jessica...!"

Jessica was still at the age where she was a novice at studying for tests.
Recently, she had clashed often with her mother, who was enthusiastic about her education.
"Excuse me...  Kya?!"

Jessica, who was trying to leave the parlor in a bad mood, and Shannon, who was pushing a serving cart filled with tea, bumped into each other.

"Ah, Shannon.  No need to worry about my tea.  I'm just going to wander around the garden."
"...M, Milady..."

"Shannon, the tea is getting cold.  Serve it quickly."
"M, my apologies..."

Shannon hadn't actually done anything wrong, but Natsuhi, who felt like some shame to herself had been shown, lashed out at her emotionally.

...This was something that often happened in the Ushiromiya family.

But it seemed that Shannon wasn't strong-willed enough to accept it that way.
She shrunk back, and prepared the black tea while cowering.
She had the unfortunate habit of making more mistakes when she cowered.
Her pitiful appearance dispersed the peaceful atmosphere that had been there until just a moment ago.

That wasn't really Shannon's fault, but she thought she might be the source, and felt a pressure on her chest.
Her shaking fingers made the utensils clang, and you couldn't have complemented it as graceful.

The more pitiful everyone thought that was, the greater the silence grew, the more irritated Natsuhi looked, and the more Shannon cowered...
Shannon's thin neck felt like it was being suffocated and chocked by the death god of tension.
At that time, George spoke pleasantly, blowing away the stiff atmosphere.

"That's a nice smell.  What kind of black tea is it?"
"Umm, .........this is......"
"No, don't say it.  I'll guess.  It's a very distinctive smell, so I probably know it.  ......Is it, Earl Grey?"
"I, I think it probably is..."

"Ahahahaha.  It probably is Earl Grey.  When you get back to the kitchen, check the can."
"Hoh.  George-kun, you know a lot about black tea, don't you?"

"A company president who looked after me was very knowledgeable about black tea.  While listening to his lectures, I was able to learn a little."

"Oh ya, the president of Okonogi Foods.  That person's profound knowledge was his specialty!"
"The names of black tea often refer to the place they are made, right?  So is this something cultivated from a place called Earl Grey?"
"I have heard that long ago in England, there was a person called Earl Grey, and it was named after him.  Furthermore, this distinctive smell doesn't come from tea leaves, but from a fruit called a bergamot, which is a relative of the mandarin orange."

"Is that so?  I never knew that.  Knowing that, the black tea will taste even more delicious."
"Alcohol 'n cigarettes are the same.  Luxury items have a taste of romance.  Knowledge like this deepens the taste."

"It's the same as the advertising on medicine.  Natsuhi nee-san, you should try reading the explanation on your favorite headache medicine someday.  *giggle*giggle*giggle*giggle*."
"Hahahaha!  That would be good.  Try it tonight."
"...Yes, I'll try it."

"Shannon-chan, try opening that pot.  You should find some dried bergamot mixed in with the tea leaves."
"Ah, ......yes.  It is in there.  Something like dried orange peel is mixed in."

"Yes.  That's probably bergamot.  The main ingredient in Earl Grey's scent.  The scent is vivid, so it gives the taste an intense impression, but it's a docile taste that's easy to drink.  If you make it with milk, the scent may become more mild and wonderful.  If there's anything left in the pot after you've poured for everyone, you really should try drinking it with milk."

"Ah, ...yes...  Thank you very much..."
George gave her a small wink.

Shannon finally realized that George had been doing her a favor by calming down the atmosphere in the room.  And he had been doing it for her sake as she had cowered.
The Ushiromiya family did not pamper their servants.
So if there was any awkwardness, they would be harshly punished.

So it didn't often happen that they were given a helping hand like this.
Thanks to George's concern, Shannon was somehow able to get a hold of herself and finish serving everything safely.

If she was calm when she worked, she could easily carry out her tasks elegantly and flawlessly.
When the black tea was laid out on the table and the elegant scent drifted around, the room was completely back to how it had been, in a peaceful mood, as everyone praised George's knowledge.
Shannon wanted to thank him for saving her, but it didn't look like she would get the chance.

So she at least thanked him inside her heart, praying to God that George would hear it, and pushed the serving cart away.
"George nii-san has always lent a helping hand in times like that.  By changing the topic or something."
Shannon and Jessica could be seen in the rose garden.

Jessica, who had gotten into a fight with her mother, still hadn't returned to the parlor, and was nonchalantly killing time like this.
"......When I think back on it, I feel that maybe this wasn't the first time he has helped me like that."

Whenever I made a careless mistake, and George was there, he would always naturally smooth things over and make things harmonious, I think.
...Maybe it wasn't something as direct as picking up a fork that had been dropped.

But that was his way of caring.
Even servants have pride.  They want to fix their own mistakes by themselves.
...Because if a guest helped them out with that, they would lose face.

"He's really good at reading between the lines in those kinds of situations.  Well, maybe that's George nii-san aesthetic take on things.  That guy's a show-off in weird ways.  Ahahahahaha."
"Th, that's not true......I think he is a really wonderful person."

"Hmmmm..?!  ......Shannon, you haven't fallen in love with George nii-san, have you?"

Shannon had uncharacteristically refuted Jessica's words forcefully, so Jessica had struck back.

"No, ...that's not it, I think......"

"Come to think of it, I almost never hear anything bad about George nii-san.  Huh?  I think I remember hearing him say that family-oriented girls were his type, didn't I?  Nice, that fits you perfectly, Shannon!"
"I, i, it does...?!  How could, ...I am not, umm, ...qualified, like that..."

"You sure are qualified!  You've known his face since long ago so you're almost a childhood friend.  They say that in a natural relationship where you don't realize you're a boy and girl, once you do realize it, things go on without a hitch, right?  No doubt!"

Jessica loved teen magazines with this kind of story, and she was always getting excited talking about that kind of thing with her friends.
So she was very sensitive to these kinds of love stories.

So this wasn't the first time Shannon had been exposed to this kind of story.
But this was certainly the first time she had noticed George as a member of the opposite sex.
She was furniture, and George was an honored guest connected to the Ushiromiya family.
......She had thought that she wouldn't be allowed to even imagine any deeper relationship.

So she hadn't thought of it.
Jessica poked fun at it, even more happy that it was someone else's problem.
Shannon was doing her best to make sure that her blushing cheeks weren't discovered.

So if George had shown up at a time like that, there'd be no way that she would be able to keep her cool.
They saw George come out from the entrance hall of the mansion.
It looked like he had seen them as well.
He headed over, waving his hand.

Shannon had to frantically try and regain her ordinary composure before George reached them...

"Grandfather finally came down.  Now they're having an adult discussion, so they chased me out."
"Hahaha, escaping then was the right choice.  It'd be better to get kissed by the angel of death than to look at Grandfather's face."

"You shouldn't speak that way.  ...However, I think Grandfather may think of us as the angel of death.  Anyways, when they started talking about borrowing money for business, I came over here."
That's right, this wasn't the customary annual October family conference.

Eva's family had visited to apply for a business loan from the head family.
Kinzo had vast resources, and he lent those out to his children.

Of course, they did not borrow money because they were living in poverty.
...What kind of business would they expand, using the vast amount of money that they borrowed?
How much interest would be attached, and how long would they have to repay it?

This wasn't a loan for those who didn't keep it.  It was a loan for those who were on the offense.
Kinzo strictly judged whether it was worth lending out his fortune, and afterwards, he strictly oversaw its use.

So this spectacle where relatives visited Rokkenjima and explained their business to Kinzo sometimes occurred.
To the parents, it might be a situation where they were forced by nervousness to move a lot of money.

But to Jessica, who lived on this isolated island called Rokkenjima, it was a precious opportunity to meet up with her cousins.

So being able to talk with the occasional guest such as George like this, immediately cured her bad mood from getting into a fight with her mother a short while ago.
"My family's also completely stingy.  Even though there's probably some money left over, and they could lend it out graciously.  My dad and Grandfather will probably pigheadedly act so important."

"It's natural to be prudent when lending money.  Of course, my father will use what he borrows to expand his business, and he came with a plan that could be refused.  Everything else is left up to the presentation.  ......But I really wish I could watch from the corner and learn.  Mother chased me out.  I'm a little let down."
"......It seems that the Master still scolds Krauss-sama and Eva-sama as though they haven't changed since they were kids.  I'm sure she didn't want to show that to her son, George-sama."
As Shannon hung her head, she thought back on a scene familiar to those who worked in the mansion.
Even Krauss, who acted haughtily towards his siblings, was still treated like a child by Kinzo.
...Shannon herself had often seen Kinzo slap Krauss and tell him to sit up straight.

......It was probably very embarrassing to be coerced like that at his age.
In the Ushiromiya family, taking care not to be in the same place when this happened was one of the great tasks of the servants.
...However, that meant that every time Shannon was in the same place, it was a mistake.
"Probably.  ...Realizing that and going away may be a child's duty.  ......We-ll!  Even so, the flowers in this garden are truly splendid this year."
George stretched as he said that.

...And he smoothly changed the subject away from something that was a little gloomy.
This time, Shannon noticed it too.
......This person, George, could sensitively figure out the situation, and always changed the subject to something harmonious, out of concern.

It had been so smooth that Shannon hadn't noticed it until today.
Today, Shannon had to really admire that behavior of George's.

Almost all of the boys Shannon knew of her own age had been classmates during her education.
But they were all young, ......and none of them had had the composure that George did.
Even though he had been just another guest until a while ago, ...today, she couldn't describe him with just that.
But that was idle thinking compared to her work as a servant.
Shannon tried to chase that away with a small shake of her head.

"Hm?  What's up?"
"Ah, no, it's nothing...!  Umm, shall I prepare some tea?  Umm, ......I will prepare some more of that Earl Grey."
"Ahaha, so you've remembered the name of that black tea.  I'm happy."

"Um, .........umm........."
"Hm?"
"...Umm, ......thank you for your concern back then..."

Shannon was finally able to put her thanks into words.

If you wrote it out, it wouldn't be very long, ...but Shannon had needed just a little courage to say that out loud.

But George played dumb.

"What's this?  I don't remember doing anything I should be thanked for?  Fufu."
It seemed he was being a gentleman in his own way, saying that he hadn't helped her because he wanted to be thanked.

It seemed that George's response had been more or less predictable to Jessica.  Without thinking, she burst out laughing.

"See-?  This is it, isn't he a show-off?"
"N, no...  That isn't....."

Jessica made fun of Shannon as she remained silent, red-faced.
George didn't know the details, but he naturally joined in, laughing the same way.
The three of them lazily walked around the garden, talking about what was new.
George, as the oldest cousin, talked about his life experiences.
Jessica talked about recent life on Rokkenjima.
And Shannon talked about her recent work.

They kept going on about these trivial things.
Shannon, even if she found the others' stories deeply interesting, didn't feel particularly connected to their contents.
She was nothing more than a servant, and she had no intention of delving into her master's lives.

She wanted them to enjoy their time speaking with her, and was only pretending to listen intently and nod at the right moments.
But for some reason, she found talking with George deeply interesting today.

Even for things that she would normally ignore, she felt like she could feel a kindness hidden beneath the words.

For some reason, she wanted to know more things about George, no matter how trivial.
So..., she stared fixedly at him.
She thought that as far as looks went, this person Ushiromiya George, ......was probably, about average, and he didn't really stick out.
But he was diligent, serious, ...and had a deep prudence which allowed him to understand people's hearts and show concern.
But she had never been aware of these things until now.
She might not have met him many times, but she had known his face for many years.

Even so, she had not noticed once until now.
...So Shannon was embarrassed that she hadn't been able to notice, and she blushed.
Maybe George thought that Shannon was listening to his stories intently, because he kept on talking about himself.

...But Jessica didn't miss that slight change in Shannon.
So she turned the discussion around to the topic Shannon wanted to hear about most.

"......Oh yeah, come to think of it, George nii-san, did you finally get a girlfriend?"
"Wh, what is this, out of the blue..."

Normally, just George's reaction would have been answer enough.
But for some reason, as she was now, Shannon wouldn't be able to understand it unless he said it clearly.

"Um, ...umm...  George-sama is very nice, .....so I'm sure, ...umm, ......he's very popular......"
"No, err, ...hahahahahahahahahaha."

"Quit it Shanno~n.  Isn't cornering him like that actually pretty me-an?  *cackle*!"
"I, I wasn't trying to be mean........."
"Thank you for your happy wrong impression.  It's a shame, but I still don't have a relationship with any special girl.  As you see, my looks are below average.  And I can't speak tactfully in a way that can entertain a girl."

"I, I don't think that's true.  ......And, I think that a man's charm is decided by something that can't be measured by his appearance.  Th, that's why, umm, ......I think that you might be a, um, ...very charming man, George-sama..."

Shannon was uncharacteristically verbose.
Compared to how she normally was, this was very verbose.

George looked fairly pleased about hearing his own charm described, but he was just a little surprised at this high praise.

Jessica, sure now that her own imagination was right on, acted as though she could barely hold back her laughter.

"Thank you, Shannon-chan.  I hope I can quickly run into a girl gracious enough to feel my charm."

"Yes, I'm sure you'll run into one.  ......I'm sure there's at least one, ......no, a l, lot of girls that will recognize your real charm."
Maybe she wanted to say that there was one really close.

...Shannon avoided saying that much, drawing a final line as a servant.

"R, ......really.  ...I guess I'm kind of, embarrassed..."

Maybe he had never been praised this much by a girl.
George's face turned just as bright red as Shannon's.

As she watched the two of them, Jessica giggled sadistically.

"Well, I'm sure you'll eventually find a wonderful partner, George nii-san.  But I don't think you'll be able to escort your partner as you are now, ri-ght?  It looks like you're diligent, but it seems that you've been completely abandoning your study of 'that'."

"...S, sorry about that.  I'll start studying that bit by bit."
"How would you do that by yourself?  Are you gonna watch movies about love?  Or are you gonna learn from Hideyoshi oji-san?  *cackle*cackle*!"
"Che...  Acting so triumphant.  Men aren't a match for girls when it comes to that."

Normally, when George and Jessica got together, their parents would say 'George is diligent and admirable', and 'Jessica is lazy and rude'.

So it was probably unbearable fun for Jessica when their roles were finally reversed.
George also realized that, so this time, he was content with being the one who was teased.

"Then George nii-san, as long as you're okay with it, why not practice a bit with Shannon?  You'll keep Shannon entertained all day long on a date!  What do you think?!"
"Wh, wh, what are you...!  M, Milady...!"

When she heard Jessica's audacious plan, Shannon's face turned bright red with a 'poof', and a doughnut of smoke started to rise around it.

"Th, that's a very fascinating plan, but, ...I'd feel bad for Shannon-chan.  Wouldn't this just waste your precious day off?  I'd be butting in on the ideal moment when you'll be able to be alone with someone you really have feelings for.  I couldn't do something so boorish."

"I, I, ...I also, umm......, ......don't have a person I have feelings for or anything, so, umm, ...caring for me like that is, yes, i, it's unnecessary...!"

Shannon's blood had all rushed to her head, and it looked like even she didn't know what she was babbling about.

It seemed that Jessica, who knew how Shannon normally was, found that really comical.
She couldn't hide her cackling laugh anymore.

"...I, is that true...?  I can't believe that a cute girl like you would be single, Shannon-chan..."
"I, I, I, ...am a servant so, umm, ......I don't have any relationship with a boy, umm..."
"Which means that, in the future, if Shannon's gonna have any chance of getting herself a wonderful guy, she needs practice with relationships, right?  So you each want the same thing.  Alright, that'll work nice, *cackle*!"

Jessica irresponsibly cheered the two of them on.
Now, George was also hanging his head, red-faced.
"George, I've been calling for you.  Can't you hear me?"
Since Eva appeared in what was already an embarrassing situation, both of them were even more flustered.  Jessica watched and laughed loudly.

"Ah, M, M, Mother...!  Sorry, our conversation got complicated.  I didn't notice...!"
"Oh, Eva-sama..., my deepest apologies..."

"It looks like you young kids are getting really excited.  You're all about that age.  I know it's hard to stop talking about things like that.  *giggle*giggle*giggle*."

"Come o-n, aren't you still really young, Eva oba-san?  Please tell us how you and Hideyoshi oji-san me-t."
"Oh my, there's no way I could say that.  *giggle*giggle*giggle*.  Because you're all so young.  *giggle*giggle*giggle*."

"S, so, what is it, Mother?  You called because you wanted something, right?"
"Your father and the rest have finished talking.  We're going to talk to Grandfather about you, so come on."
"About me?  What could that be?"

"The same topic everyone was just having.  Remember, that topic?"
"O, ...oh, that topic.  That isn't really something we need to talk to Grandfather about, right...?"

"What are you talking about?  Wait, George nii-san, you aren't getting married to someone?!"
"C, ...congratulations...!"

"No, no...!  Didn't I just say I didn't have a special woman?"
"That isn't something to brag about, is it?  ...Seriously."
Eva smiled bitterly, looking a little shocked.

"...Ah, ...I got it!  George nii-san, it's one of those, right?  A marriage meeting!"
"A marriage meeting..., you say?"
"......Nn, ......well, yeah.  ......Hahahaha..."

Surely, as a man, George wanted to find a partner by himself and take her back with him.

So it seemed that he thought it would be a bit shameless to meet his partner for the first time in a marriage meeting arranged by his parents.

"Shouldn't marriage meetings be done at a more mature age...?!  I still don't feel like I've become an adult..."

"Of course, we have no desire to rush into an immediate engagement or marriage, right?  It isn't a problem if you deepen your friendship, and then when you settle down as you age, have her moved to our family register."

From Eva's forceful appearance, and George's somewhat lazy one, the others could catch a glimpse of the scheme behind this marriage meeting.

They didn't know who this other person was, but it was surely someone profitable to Eva's family in a business sense.
This whole thing about having them have an engagement relationship until they changed registers to deepen the connection between the two families felt almost like a political strategy.

"Marriage isn't something you do after you start liking someone.  You fall in love after you do it, right?  If you marry just based on emotions, you'll definitely regret it.  There's definitely nothing wrong with choosing a person with a secure background for your partner in life, and then building up emotions of love."

"Eva oba-san, isn't that rude to Hideyoshi oji-san?  *cackle*!"
"I love that person.  I want to always be with him, and to live my life by his side."
"......Eva-sama, that's wonderful.  Truly splendid..."

"Thank you.  But we built up those feelings while we were husband and wife, you see?  And I believe that in the future, we will be much, much closer than we are now.  I think that's a good way for a husband and wife to be."
"Although I don't think that means you can argue that it's alright to marry someone you don't even like."

"That doesn't mean you can argue that it's alright to marry someone you don't even like.  A wedding is instantaneous.  But your life as a married could after that is very, very long.  So you should search with prudence, and not leave it up to momentary emotions.  Don't you think that your mother and the rest of us would be better at that than a person immature in life experience such as yourself?"

"......Th, that may be true, but..."
"I am proud of you, my only son.  I want to make you grow so that you will never be embarrassed no matter where you go.  ...And you are the only grandson to carry Father's blood.  ......We must prudently choose a fitting partner for you."

As everyone related to the Ushiromiya family knew, Eva adored George so much that he was the apple of her eye.

But that didn't mean she had pampered him.
She had been strict with him, and had grown him into a handsome man who wouldn't betray her expectations.  ...That's how he was the apple of her eye.

"Your partner definitely won't be selected based on your parents' profit and loss.  ......I will let you meet a suitable and truly wonderful woman.  Maybe there is some immature youth inside of you that's alienating you from this.  ......But at least listen to what your mother says on this point.  Have I ever failed to think of your sake?"
"..................No, ......you haven't..."

"That's enough for now.  So, let's go.  We're keeping Father waiting.  Hurry to the mansion."

"Well, sorry, you two.  See you later."
George bowed to the two of them, ...and after bowing once more to Shannon, he dashed off to the mansion.

"Well, Oba-san will go too.  Sorry for interrupting your fun conversation, Jessica-san, Shannon-chan."
"N, no, no.  Please, don't worry about it.  Come on, Shannon.  Let's go."
"Y, yes...!"

"It's alright.  I'm sure you'll meet someone wonderful soon too, Jessica-chan.  A wonderful person suitable for you."
"So if he's at the same level as me, hahaha, you mean a guy with bad grades?  That kinda pisses me off, hahaha!"

"And of course, you too, Shannon-chan.  I'm sure that a wonderful man suitable for you will appear."
"Y, yes!!  Thank you very much..."
As Eva giggled and smiled, she approached Shannon's ear with a hand over her mouth, as though she was trying to tell her a secret.
".........Huh?"
"I'm sure you'll find a perfect match for a lowly servant like yourself.  ......Have you forgotten to be grateful for your education?  Know your place."
".........Th, ...that's not what..., ...I meant..."
"George is the eldest grandson carrying Father's blood.  He's a person who may bear the burden of the Ushiromiya family someday in the future.  To answer that expectation, he has studied tirelessly, entered a wonderful college, and is getting wonderful grades.  Did you really think you could snatch George away, you uneducated, incompetent, unqualified, uncultured servaaaant?"
Those malicious words all poured into Shannon's ear without spilling a drop...
......To Shannon, it was like cold water was being poured in there.
"..................I, I, ......didn't mean..."
This was all whispered in secret.
And with the same smile as before.

...Jessica, who could only see Eva's expression, didn't think it was anything other than Eva telling Shannon some embarrassing story about love.
When their secret conversation ended, Eva patted Shannon's shoulders, as though she was urging her on.
"Don't worry, I'm sure that you'll find a 'perfect' match for a partner.  Right?  *giggle*giggle*giggle*giggle*.  ...Alright, Jessica-chan.  See you later."

"Yes, see you later.  Then, please tell me about your story with Hideyoshi oji-sa~~n!!"
"No waaay.  Ahahahahahahahahaha...!"
Eva laughed dryly and headed back to the entrance hall.

Behind Jessica, who was cheerfully waving her hand, ...Shannon reflected very, very deeply on those words of Eva's, about knowing her place...
...I am seriously reflecting on how I got into a bit of a good mood.
I had forgotten.  I am furniture.
Furniture isn't human.

So I am a being who must feel gratitude for even being treated like a human, and I am not permitted to wish for anything more.
Even if people develop affection for furniture that they're used to using, that is an emotion on the human's side, and the furniture's side has no right to hope for that.

......They should just serve with simple honesty every day.
But that feeling I felt when talking with George-sama and Jessica-sama, ...is a forbidden drug for me.

In other words, it may be an emotion I must not know.

"......Shannon.  You have been too careless for a while now.  Do you not feel well?"
"N, no.  My apologies..."

Natsuhi's words 'too careless' were right on the mark.

Even Shannon couldn't believe that she hadn't noticed Natsuhi until she had called.

This was a time when she normally had to concentrate on the cleaning.
But she had just kept sighing and hadn't accomplished anything...

"Even if there aren't any guests, you must always be alert.  Acting like this is shameful as a servant working for the Ushiromiya family."
"...Yes.  I will take care, from now on..."

"The head and my husband will return very soon.  Has the study's cleaning been completed?  Has the staircase's cleaning been completed?"
"M, my apologies...  Not yet..."

"Yes, I know.  So I had Runon do it.  While you were plodding around, cleaning the hallway, she finished cleaning the study and the staircase."
"......That's because, umm, ......I wanted to clean it properly, so it took some time......"

Shannon was simple and honest, so she would always carry out her tasks seriously and properly, without any omissions.
So she was always slow with her work.
In contrast, Runon skillfully avoided important steps wherever she could.
So she could compete her jobs with a result looked similar to an outsider, but in a much shorter time.  In other words, she was good at cutting corners.

Compared to that, maybe we should say Shannon, who talked back at Natsuhi when Natsuhi was in a bad mood, was bad at cutting corners...
Of course, there was nothing that Natsuhi couldn't stand more than a servant talking back.
Her forehead creased, and she spoke sternly.

And yet, her slow, admonishing style of speech was even more terrifying, and finally made Shannon realize she had said the wrong thing...
"In that case, aim to do a thorough cleaning.  Shannon, I order you to clean the reception hall right now.  It is an important hall, where several pictures treasured by the head are displayed, and where honored guests of the Ushiromiya family are invited.  Clean it thoroughly, so that not a speck of dust remains, and so that even you are satisfied.  Of course, you will finish today.  Until you finish that and report it to me, you will not be permitted any food or rest.  Understood?"

"Y, .........yes, Madam."
"That is good.  Servants should endeavor to only use those words.  The next time you talk back, I will give you an even more severe punishment, so with that in mind, engrave these words in your heart."

"Yes..., Madam.  ...Thank you for your guidance."
"You are welcome."
As Natsuhi acted like her headache was troubling her, she headed off down the corridor...
When she couldn't see her anymore, Shannon hung her head and sighed.
......She had been careless, so something like this had happened.
Even though I'm bad at everything I do, I should be able to at least carry out the cleaning as well as an average person can, right?  It's because I can't even perform that well, ...that I'm so shameful and crying.
What could be more shameful than this?
Not only have I been unable to perform a single bit of cleaning well, but just now, when Natsuhi was scolding me.........I was envisioning that person appearing and rescuing me.
If only George-sama were here.

Would he casually step in and save me?
I'm sure he would show up cheerfully, intentionally acting like he doesn't know what's going on, nimbly change the subject, and make me forget I was ever rebuked by Natsuhi...

I kept envisioning him, suddenly appearing from the other side of the door, or the other end of the hallway.
I envisioned the kind of person that would be an appropriate partner for him in a marriage meeting.
And I envisioned how unfitting I am for him.

Eva clearly told me that.  It has repeated endlessly through my dreams...

".........You're still as clumsy as always, Nee-san.  Milady has been in a bad mood since this morning.  That happened because you said too much when you should have hung your head in silence."
"......Kanon-kun..."

Kanon was suddenly there.
......His footsteps were quieter than a cat's, and he left no trace he was there.

She probably wouldn't have noticed him no matter how long he stood there...

The expression on Kanon's face was, ...hatred.
He made that expression for Shannon, who didn't know how to do it herself...

"Madam and Runon can fall into hell.  That person knows where Madam checks, and only cleans those areas.  Her cleaning just now was like that.  I know because I saw.  .........She wasn't really cleaning.  ...She's just the worst kind of parasite, leeching off of your thorough cleaning."

"You mustn't use such dirty words...  Dirty words pollute your clean soul, Kanon-kun.  So at least don't use those words in front of me.  ......Alright?"
"............Hmph."

Kanon faced away, acting sulky.

It was a dishonest reaction, very like Kanon, ...but I was a little happy.

He was getting mad for my sake.

"......Cleaning the reception hall will be tough.  I'll help."
"Thank you.  But I was the one Madam ordered, so don't worry.  ......Don't you also have your own work, Kanon-kun?"
"............It's a filthy job.  My soul was corrupted long ago."
Kanon then hung his head, and bit his lower lip...
"Just saying that you'll help is enough for me.  ...If you don't go back to your own job, even you will receive punishment.  ...And that would make me sad."
Shannon knew Kanon's character well.  ...Sometimes, he didn't reflect on himself.
If I don't refuse forcefully, he will help me even if it means neglecting his own job...

Kanon was a little sad that his favor had been rejected, but he realized that in the end, going too far would also cause her pain, and he gave a single, small sigh.

"...............Understood.  ......Do your best, Nee-san."
"Yes.  .........And I am also partly to blame."

"You aren't at fault at all, Nee-san...!"
"...No.  I am.  ......So go now."
Kanon-kun's face showed that he still hadn't completely accepted it, but without being any more persistent, he disappeared.
......Even though Kanon-kun had given me words of comfort when I was down.
Even so, I was dejected again because it wasn't 'him'.

That in itself, was a sin.

That went far beyond any dream the likes of me could be permitted to see, I don't know my place.
...Shannon, who had neglected breakfast, already felt her thinking grow weaker.

......But if she didn't finish up cleaning the reception hall, she could not receive Natsuhi's permission to eat.
That cruel Natsuhi had surely told the kitchen something to that effect.
...I have to respectfully receive Madam's punishment.

That's right.  My position in the world is furniture, ...and I had been intoxicated by a dream that is beyond me...
I finished cleaning the hallway and I went to the reception hall.
Maybe my hunger made my nose more sensitive.

I could sense a delicious aroma wafting from the kitchen, which should have been far away, and my empty stomach was encouraged even more.

...Until I finished up here, I could not get any soup.  I just had to prepare myself.
Several portraits were hung in the reception hall.

One of those portraits, ...was thought to hold a special meaning amongst the servants.
......It was the portrait of the witch.
That wasn't its true name, but everyone in the mansion called it that.
The name of the woman with elegant blonde hair, drawn as the subject of that portrait, was Beatrice.

...It was whispered that she might be the family head, Kinzo's former mistress.
......And also that she was the great witch who had given Kinzo the gold of the legend.
The witch, Beatrice, master of the night on Rokkenjima.
She was gracious to those who respected her, but she would surely curse those that made light of her.
It was in Shannon's character not to neglect rules and beliefs such as those.

...So she thought of the portrait of her other master as that person herself, and always treated it carefully, treasuring it.
...And telling the witch that only existed inside the portrait the secrets of her heart had become part of her daily routine.
......She was furniture.
Furniture doesn't complain.  Cannot complain.
So she had no right to speak her mind about her difficult days.  She had no right to open her mouth and say those words.

So, ......she at least spoke her mind inside her heart.
She spoke her mind inside her heart, using words she couldn't say aloud, ...and protested to the formless witch.
Of course, the witch didn't answer.
She didn't console, and she didn't laugh it off.
......Shannon could only interpret that silence as she liked, as though the witch was responding agreeably.
...Beatrice-sama.
......Please listen to my worthless story.

As Shannon wiped the dust from the witch's portrait, she spoke that inside her heart.
.........I certainly am incompetent and uncultured, just as Eva-sama said.
......I am not a person.
...So maybe I have no right to love...
......But in that case, why was I given a heart which can know love?
...At that point, Shannon held back her tears for a time.

The sound of the rain, which had started falling, along with the chill air in the reception hall, made her feel as though her shabbiness had increased another level.
"Real furniture, ...doesn't have anything like a heart.  So they don't have to love people, right?  So they don't feel pain.  ......If I'm just another piece of furniture, ......why do I have a heart?  .........If it's going to be this painful and this harsh, ............I wish I hadn't been given something like a heart............!"
......I see.  A heart was given to furniture.  One can sometimes make something pleasant out of that...  *cackle*cackle*...!
"eh.................."

The witch that didn't answer or laugh, ...answered, and laughed.
Was it her imagination?  Was she hearing things?  No, that's wrong.

...After all, the next words became a 'voice', and I could hear them, not with my heart, but with my ears...
"Humans have continually searched for the elements that make up the world since before the modern era.  It is said that in the ancient times, Greeks tried explaining the world with the four elements of wind, fire, water, and earth.  And after that, over several millennia, humans added several elements to those four, trying to explain the world with several interpretations such as the five elements, the six elements, the seven elements, the eight elements, and the twelve elements, but they couldn't explain the one true 'single element'.
.........However, a single man appeared, guided by a star, and finally explained the single element that makes up the world.  Know what it is......?"
"...............eh, .........ah, .........wh, ............wh, who........."
Shannon fearfully turned around...
Right there, ......she 'existed'.
Not as an illusion, in reality.
The contrast made by the lightning made it clear that this was not just a daydream.
"......That is 'love'.  *cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*!"

The witch of the portrait elegantly held a golden pipe to her mouth, and giggled.
...She laughed at the ignorance which causes humankind's thoughts to stray far from the most simple answer.
"That man explained everything in the world with love.  That is the single element.  That man fully explained how the world was constructed with the smallest number.  ......How simple and clear, how splendid, exhilarating, pleasant and thrilling.  ...The year that man was finally born was called the start of the modern era.  ......*cackle*cackle*!"
Shannon lost any words to speak.
She thought that when first meeting an unknown guest, her first words should ask that person's name.

But without saying anything, ...Shannon knew this person's name, so she refrained.
No, ......surely as a person of this island, asking this person for her name would be the greatest disrespect.

Because, ...she was a master of this island in addition to Kinzo.

"B, .........Beatrice-sama............"
"Indeed.  I am Beatrice.  .........The face people first make when they see me hasn't changed after one thousand years.  ...*cackle*."

The witch giggled at how Shannon's reaction didn't betray her expectations.

Shannon realized that she had met with a being that mustn't be met with, and she took a step backwards.

......That's where the wall and the portrait were, so even as she gazed at the witch, she supported the witch's portrait on her back.

"Your worries are due to love.  ......Which is the single element of the world.  In other words, everything of this world.  ......When that is not fulfilled, it means the world is not fulfilled.  It is like continually scooping water into a flask with a hole in it.  ......Even if you scoop and scoop, it is never filled, an eternal desert of the heart.  The original sin that humans are founded upon and everything is made of."

"Understand?  What Adam and Eve learned when they put the fruit of knowledge to their lips was love.  ...Because of that, humans were chased out of the garden and became 'human'.  Which means that what makes one human is knowing love and suffering.  ......You are a girl with a kind heart.  You should be praised.  Now that you have known that, you are no longer furniture.  You are now 'human'.  I recognize that upon my name."

"...............umm, .........u......"

"Hmph.  Is it hard for a common person to understand?  ...Oh, well.  *cackle*cackle*...  Forgive me.  It has been a long time since I have spoken with a human.  I shall apologize for my talkativeness."

Without expecting a reply from Shannon, Beatrice laughed pleasantly for a while.

"Saying my apology is one thing, ......but would it be alright if I granted that desire of yours with my power?"
"...Huh..."

The meaning of those words surprised Shannon even more than the witch's sudden appearance.
"I am offering to bring you and the one you love together.  ......Although normally, I would demand a corresponding compensation for that."
"...*cackle*, I am in a good mood.  And, you have done well in not forgetting to pay me respect.  That is something worth rewarding."
"............I, ............is that true......?"

Normally, Shannon would have been shocked by this guest who didn't seem possible, and wouldn't have been able to speak.

......However, almost as though she had been captured by the witch's trick, ...Shannon responded to the witch.
"If I use magic, it is no trouble at all to arrange for a pair of people with feelings for each other to be joined."

Yes, that's true.  ...Shannon, who almost said that without thinking, gave up on her last bit of common sense.
This witch was, a witch.  A sinister being.
Beatrice the witch is surely sliding in through the cracks in my heart, and taking me prisoner......

The temptation that many fairy tale picture books warned me about when I was young, is truly right in front of me now.
"Awe is also a form of respect.  It is comforting, but we will make no progress this way."
"......I certainly will not separate myself from the detestable image of a witch that you hold.  However, I show good will to those who respect me.  Aren't humans the same?   Although I doubt there is a human who would repay your squaring off at them with good will, right?"

".........M, ......my apologies...  I didn't mean..."
Shannon eventually realized that her posture was rude to the guest.
And, ...she finally digested the words that had been spoken to her a short while ago.

'You are no longer furniture.  Now, you are "human".'

......The more she reflected upon those words, ......the more Shannon felt like she could understand her own agony...

"......What was that, umm, ............just now, ......about a reward?"
"I am saying that I can arrange for you to be tied together with the man who has captured your heart.  You can think of it as thanks for diligently polishing my portrait all the time."

"........................"
"Calm yourself, I ask for no compensation.  I am generous.  .........However, while I ask for no compensation, I have a request."
Look, here it comes...

A separate part of Shannon inside her heart warned her.
She had been warned about this several times in picture books, which she had read and been frightened by when she was young......!
"Do you know of the small torii and shrine that have been constructed on the ocean very near this island, which you can see when you gaze at the cliffs...?"
...Shannon immediately remembered it.
When you reached Rokkenjima by boat, there was a torii and a shrine on a reef which was too small to even be called an islet.

I have the feeling that Kumasawa-san told me its history, but I can't remember well.
...A traveling mountaineering ascetic or someone had built it or wished it or something.

"...Yes, I know about it, but......what does, that.........?"
"I will not explain everything from square one to a person who does not know of demons.  To make a long story short, ......it is restraining me.  ...Actually, there is mirror kept inside that shrine.  I want you to break that."
That was a very suspicious request.

She didn't know the history, but if there was a torii and a shrine, and something kept inside it, it had to be something sacred.

......She wants me to break that?
Is a person who may be a witch relying on a human to do something that she herself cannot...?
There was no need for Shannon to speak her thoughts aloud.
Beatrice started speaking of that quite natural question before Shannon could answer.
"The magic power of that mirror opposes my magic power.  ......I cannot explain it well with human words.  ...For example, let us speak of the differences between utensils.  That mirror is a fork, and my power is soup.  You cannot drink soup with a fork, correct?  If only the push of that mirror were gone, I could prepare a spoon perfect for drinking soup.  ......If only that were to happen, I could drink soup, and even dig my way out of a rocky prison.  ...I could even scoop eyeballs out, ......is that what it was?  *cackle*cackle*!"
"......I, .........I don't know what you are talking about.  ...If that is because I am uncultured, I apologize."
"It comes down to this.  If you take action and break that annoying mirror for me, as a reward, I will grant you your wish."
"......I am in a very good mood today.  If you want to, you may change your wish, and I can give you all of the gold I bestowed upon Kinzo, alright?  *cackle*cackle*!"
"I, ............I refuse........."

"......What did you say?"
When she heard Shannon's words, Beatrice realized for the first time that her expectations had been betrayed.

"If there is a reason, tell me.  If there is a misunderstanding, I shall resolve it."
"......I, ...I don't really understand the reason.  .........But, ...until today, the island had been in peace, and nothing bad has happened.  ...So, even if I don't break the mirror, the peace that has existed until today should continue into the future."
"Hmm...  I see, I see, that is quite right.  It's just as you say.  If you don't break that, the same unbreakable days that have passed until today will continue into tomorrow and the next day.  Why don't I give you an absolute guarantee?"
"I shall stake my name, Beatrice, on it.

The unbreakable days until today will・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・

continue into tomorrow and the next day・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・.  And for eternity, in perpetuity."

Shannon was trapped by a creepy hallucination.

The mirror was probably something to restrain the witch.
...So breaking the mirror should have been something done for the witch's sake.

......But it felt as though Shannon had to do it for her own sake.
It seemed like some premise had been switched...
"What I will do is nothing more than give you a chance to fulfill your feelings as a reward.  ......It's up to you whether you try to break it or not.  If you break it, I will grant your wish."
"If you don't break it, the tomorrows up until today will continue for all eternity.  Your wish will not be granted for all eternity.  ......Do you understand?  What I am saying?  *cackle*cackle*."
The witch spoke.

She was pressing Shannon, saying that if she wanted to be joined with George, break the mirror.
And she was announcing that if Shannon didn't break it, then her feelings would definitely never be fulfilled......
"...Please...stop it......  I don't, ......want to hear something like that.........!"

"I didn't want to cause you pain.  ......Oh well.  Feeling madness from love is the best thing about humans.  You should enjoy that emotion to your heart's content."

"However, if you wish to borrow my power, you can break that mirror at any time.  And you can yell my name and awaken me.  I will definitely keep my promise.  ......This way, you should have no complaints, right?  I won't force you to decide right now.  Are you comfortable?"

In the end, was that something she was comfortable with?
......Definitely not.

To Shannon, who was burning with and worried by love, being tempted forever with a way to escape that path was truly a cruel test...

"I won't set a time limit on that promise, ......but there is a time limit on the magic that can grant that wish.  ...That limit is not something I have decided.  The person of your feelings will decide it himself.  .........Do you know what that means?"
"......I, I don't know."

"The limit is the time that the person of your feelings chooses the person he should pledge his love to.  ......I am a witch, but I am not a demon.  I do not have a power which can tear apart two who love each other, you see...?  *cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*!!"
I hear that the person of your thoughts will soon be attending a marriage meeting, right...?
You may have stronger feelings for that man than anyone else in the world.  However, that doesn't mean that you are the most appropriate for him, does it...?

I know・・・・ who he will be having the marriage meeting with.

That girl is the most suitable・・・・・・・・・・・・ for Ushiromiya George in the entire world.

She came from a good school, achieved good grades, and has composure and prudence.

She is more beautiful than you, wiser than

you, more suitable than you・・・・・・・・・・.
Why would a ignorant, incompetent, uncultured girl like you be suitable?  You know better than anyone.  You are the most unsuitable!  Even imagining that you and Ushiromiya George could be joined is sinful, and foolish, foolish foolish, know your place!!  Have you forgotten to be grateful for your education?  Know your place.
George is the eldest grandson carrying Father's blood.  He's a person who may bear the burden of the Ushiromiya family someday in the future.  To answer that expectation, he has studied tirelessly, entered a wonderful college, and is getting wonderful grades.  Did you really think you could snatch George away, you uneducated, incompetent, unqualified, uncultured servaaaant?  *giggle*giggle*, *cackle*cackle*cackle*ahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!!"
"S, ............stop it, don't bully Shannon!!  Who the hell are you?!!"

At that time, as Shannon held her head, trying to protect her heart from the blade of Beatrice's words, Kanon ran in front of her.

Kanon didn't care who this woman was.
As long as he knew she was an enemy that was tormenting Shannon, who he loved and respected as a sister, nothing else mattered.

".........Kanon-kun..., stay back...!  This person is......!"
"........................"

It seemed that Kanon also realized that the being standing before him was the witch of the portrait.
...And also that she was a terrifying being.
"......I just wanted to make Shannon take her reward, but it seems I said too much, and ended up tormenting her.  I shall apologize."
"......But I will leave that promise as a reward to you.  If you need my power, call me at any time.  I have already told you how."
".........Well then, now, let us disperse.  Hostile gazes may be pleasant, but they are bad for your figure, right?  *cackle*cackle*cackle*..."
"Disappear...!!  I don't know who you are, but you're threatening Shannon!  Don't ever show yourself again!!"

It seemed that Kanon's words made the witch horribly displeased.
"......So, you do not choose your words carefully, lowborn?  ...I am gracious to those who respect me, but brutal to those who do not, right...?"

While she still smiled, the witch's face began to twist itself...
And, there was a oppressive feeling that couldn't be noticed with any of the five senses, which gradually filled the room...
Even though they couldn't understand it, they immediately realized that it was something terrifying...

When you swim in the ocean. and something large goes by in the water beneath you, you want to escape to the land even before you learn what it is.  ...This was the same as that!

"P, ......please stop, Beatrice-sama!!  Kanon-kun is still a child.  I apologize for his language!"

"........................"
"..................ch."

Kanon blocked the way to Shannon, his body outstretched.  ...There was tense sweat on his forehead.

At that time, the witch certainly had Kanon's fate in the palm of her hand.
...She didn't even need to lift a finger.

By just twisting her own smile, she had Kanon's fate in the palm of her hand, so that she would easily crush it...

Kanon also understood that.
So he started sweating.  His knees felt weak...

However, Beatrice abruptly released that feeling of tension, and laughed.
".........Very well.  If you ask, I will permit it this time.  ...Kanon is it?  In deference to her, I shall forgive you tonight and send you off.  You should thank me.  Well then, we will disperse for tonight."
"............In parting, I shall leave a single souvenir.  Hold out the palm of your left hands, you two."
When Beatrice grinned broadly and snapped her fingers, against their will, their left hands stretched out in front of them, and their palms opened.
It was a strange sensation, as though only their left hands had become someone else's.

It felt like only their left hands had become puppets, which were being pulled by strings hanging down from the ceiling.
"Wh, what......, are you trying to do...?!"
Kanon resisted, but he couldn't freely bring his hand back.

"Don't struggle.  It will be over soon."
When Beatrice held her pipe aloft, from inside the smoke, gold-colored sparkling dust hovered in the air.

......That sparkle eventually became several gold butterflies.
The beautiful butterflies danced freely throughout the reception hall, creating a fantastical and beautiful world.

...And two of those butterflies alighted on the palms of Shannon's and Kanon's hands.
"?!"
"Ouch...!"

There was a sharp pain, as though they had been burned.
When the two of them tried to examine their palms, there was no trace left of that inability to move their bodies, which had been there until a second ago.
".........Ah, ......a bruise...?  What is......"
On the palm of her hand, a small burn mark had been made, the size of a speck.
...Furthermore, it was shaped like a butterfly...

"Wh, ...what is this supposed to be..."
Apparently, Kanon had the same bruise on his hand.  He stared at the witch hatefully.
"It is a simple greeting.  I have no hidden motive.  ...It is nothing more than a bruise, so it will heal in just a few days.  There's not even any need to care for it.  That is a mark so that tomorrow, you will not forget that I truly was here, and that I made a promise with you."
"............The impact of a meeting with me is strong.  ...Sometimes, at the next morning, people try to think of their meeting with me as a dream or an illusion.  ............You should think slowly and carefully, Shannon.  ...And you should probably take a good rest, look at my mark tomorrow morning, and try thinking again."
"I do not use coercion for anything.  You should freely decide your future, by your own will.  .........However, to think that the object of desire could be satisfied with compensation such as this...  It would annoy the great artists who write plays about blighted love to no end.  *cackle*cackle*cackle*!"
"Well then, let us meet again when the chance arises.  It truly is fun to have a conversation again after so much time.  Goodbye, furniture.  Ahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!"
Beatrice's body crumbled like smoke and blew away.
...It was golden smoke, ...no, a group of gold butterflies.
They scattered in all directions inside the reception hall, ...leaving a golden splash before disappearing into thin air.
......After that, only the cold silence was left.

The extreme silence was enough to make both of them think that they might have been daydreaming until just a moment ago...
...Which is why the witch had left it.
She had left a mark to make it impossible for them to think that this was a daydream.

As Shannon and Kanon thought back on the butterfly bruises on their hands, and the pain they had felt when those had been left there, they kept standing still, in shock............

And from that day on...

......Shannon was tormented by days of suffering and conflict.........

Wonderful Utopia

"Eeeeeeeeeh?!  What do you mean, separate rooms?!  Then, Shannon, you and George nii-san stayed at different rooms on purpose?!"
"Y-,...... Yes...  I mean, ...... was it that strange......?"

Since Jessica's cheeks had been stuffed with chocolate-coated chinsukou biscuit that Shannon had brought as a present from Okinawa, it all flew out at Shannon when Jessica cried out...

"...Sh, Shannon, why did you even go on a trip up to Okinawa...?  And even alone with George nii-san!"
"That is, I mean..., since there's a very big aquarium in Okinawa, I was invited to go and...  I, ...like fish and stuff..."

"No, that's not it!! This is a young couple going on an overnight trip, right?!  And you're saying there weren't even any hugs and kisses?!  To say nothing of the fact that the guy and girl were staying in different rooms!!"

"As for k, kisses, no comment.  Ah, but we did hug...  George-san's chest was warm..."

"That's not the point!!  Aah, geez!  Why do couples like this exist?!  Aaah, geez!!  It's so irritating!"

A lot of things had happened to Shannon and it seemed to have been a very happy trip, but it looked like Jessica found it pretty irritating.
For a while, Jessica chewed on her present, complaining about romance and pretending to faint in agony on her bed.
Shannon and George had chosen to go to Okinawa because there was a huge aquarium there.
And they had used the aquarium as an excuse to get together.

Since their relationship had started at an aquarium, having their first overnight trip also be to an aquarium must have held some commemorative value.

"What a turning point!  It was your first overnight trip!!  Shouldn't there have been lots of progress?!  And even so, separate rooms for the guy and girl?!  A couple taking two single rooms?!  Aah, geez, really, what's wrong with you!"
"...Err, umm, ......but we're both single...  ...George-san says showing restraint is good manners for a couple......."

"Like I said, this overnight trip was so you could overcome that stage, right?!  You're already at the level of things like kissing and hugging, right?!"

"M, Milady, I don't know what you mean by that....  G, George-sama was a real gentleman with me until the end.  That is, I mean, ...... I also, ...wondered if those things would happen, you know, ...but we, even though we are going out, I mean, it, it's not that we are married or anything..."

"What Milady seems to be expecting, ......I mean, we must do so only after we properly make a vow in front of God, umm, ......w w, we must..., au."

Shannon's face got bright red.
She made a circle with both hands, restlessly intertwining, separating and making heart marks with them.
Apparently, the dramatic progress Jessica had looked forward to hadn't happened, but it seemed that it had been a very important experience for Shannon in her own way.

...So in the end, whether Jessica was jealous of Shannon or cheered for her, it didn't change the fact that Shannon had a huge lead on her.
"Aah, I want a boyfriend toooo!!  I can't believe Shannon got ahead of me!!  Even though we promised that we would find boyfriends at the same time, you beat me, Aarrrrrrgh!"
"U, umm...  Milady is a wonderful person, so I'm sure a wonderful person will appear very soon...."
"Don't try to console me!!  Shannon, you traitor, get o-ut, shut u-p!  *cough*cough*, *cough*cough*cough*!!"

Jessica threw several cushions at her.
But midway, she had an asthma attack and started to choke pretty badly.
Shannon hurriedly ran over to a nearby side table and started searching around on top of it.

A lovely basket was placed there and inside of it was Jessica's bronchodilator.
Shannon picked it up and handed it over to Jessica.
Jessica's asthma attacks always came suddenly.
Because of this, she always carried this medicine around.
She breathed in the medicine and, after a while, managed to overcome her choking as her asthma finally settled down.
Shannon thought this a good chance to leave and tried to exit the room after bowing courteously...

As she did, one more small cushion came flying and hit Shannon on the head.
She noticed that Jessica was on the verge of crying, half of her face buried in her last and favorite cushion.  That face was red and meek...

"...... M, Milady......?"
"Sha, ......Shannon......Be honest with me............Is my, ............hairdo and stuff, ...... strange....?"
"What are you saying...  I think that your hair is very beautiful."

"Then, ...then, then, are my eyes strange, or maybe my nose?  ...Or is it the way I talk after all......?  Is that why I can't get a boyfriend......?"
"Of course not.  Milady, you are wonderful enough as you are.  And I think that your charm will keep on increasing more and more from now on."
" ......But, it's only me who can't find a boyfriend...   Saku and Hina managed to find a boyfriend, but only I can't......  Is it because I don't have any charm after all......?  You know, everyone will bring their boyfriend along to the cultural festival......  I was so sure I'd have a boyfriend before that day and said it so impressivly............I can't find a boyfriend.  Only me, only me......."
Before she realized it, Jessica was shedding huge tears.

Jessica didn't really feel like crying, and of course, she felt like supporting Shannon's progress in love as a friend.

...However, as she had cheered Shannon on, her true feelings had suddenly gotten mixed in, and she couldn't help but shed tears...
...Shannon understood Jessica's innocent and easily injured heart.

Jessica's ordinary rough style of speech, was all just an attempt to protect her own easily injured heart.
......As a daughter and successor to the Ushiromiya family, and as a girl isolated on Rokkenjima, the only person she could expose her true feelings to was Shannon.

Shannon understood that.
So, ...she strongly regretted getting into even a slightly good mood.

"...S, .........sorry...  Crying like this, I'm, weird.  Sorry, ......*sniffle*."
"You are a wonderful person, Milady.  There is no way that a wonderful man won't appear for you, Milady..."

".........Sh, Shannon, it's about time, right?  If you don't go quickly, Genji-san and Mom will get mad.  I'm perfectly fine, so go quickly...!  Heheh, sorry for crying like this.  ......I'm such a moron."
Jessica faced away, acting as though she didn't really want to trouble Shannon, waving her hand as though driving Shannon away.

Shannon took that as a sign that anything more would be obnoxious, bowed her head, and left the room...
When her footsteps disappeared into the distance, Jessica lay down on her bed, still hugging a cushion.
...Her expression was still a little meek, with tears in her eyes, ...but for the first time in a long time, she had a very, very quiet and honest conversation with her heart.
"I also, ............want to fall, in love..."
As Shannon watered the flower beds in the garden in high spirits, she sensed someone's presence.

She turned around, thinking that if this was one of the family coming to see her, she must greet them, ......and what she saw was that witch.

"B, ......Beatrice-sama........."
"It's been quite some time.  How are you?  Has your relationship with your special person progressed since last time?"

As Beatrice sat on the rose arch, she happily blew on her pipe.

Sitting in a place like that would get you pricked by the roses, and it might have been dangerous if you fell off the arch, ...but after all, this was a witch.
That would surely be worrying too much.

"...Y, yes.  Thanks to you, ...it's going smoothly."

"Naturally, my magic is instantaneous.  Maybe you feel that your meeting was a predetermined fate.  But that isn't correct, don't think this has anything to do with fate."
"......I, ......I understand that."
The witch was calling attention to something.  Two things, actually.

Originally, her relationship with George had been completely impossible.
......And the power of magic was so great that it could distort that.
Shannon had just gotten wrapped up in those sweet days, and had started believing the illusion that all fate revolved around her.

...But she remembered the witch's words.

Originally, her relationship with George had been impossible, .........no, it might also be impossible in the future as well...
"...*cackle*cackle*, sorry, sorry.  It's just like a doctor.  Even though you rely on them when you worry about your health, after you're healed, you forget even to thank them.  ......I've never been thanked as a witch, so I couldn't help acting a little rudely.  Forgive me."

".........I have never forgotten my feelings of gratitude.  ...I was able to achieve happiness thanks to your power, Beatrice-sama.  .....And without that power, the fate that brought me and George-sama together wouldn't have happened.  ...I have never forgotten that."

"Sorry, sorry.  It's not like I came here to bully you.  Talking rudely is just my personality.  Do forgive me.  ...More importantly, I heard, I heard!  About your trip alone with him.  I'm sure it was quite fun."
"Y, yes!  It was very, umm, ...fun."

Shannon's face suddenly grew bright.
The witch laughed lightly, as though that transformation was worth money.
"Already the person of your thoughts is no longer an object of one-sided love.  You are a pair of lovers now.  ......To a pair filled with love, that alone is all they need in the world.  Is this a wonderful, ideal world?  Fufufufufufu!  Even witches would be jealous."
Beatrice laughed pleasantly.
That smile made her look as though she blessed the lovers' rendezvous from the bottom of her heart, without a trace of malice.
After that day, Beatrice had shown herself before Shannon every once in a while.

Even now, Shannon still thought of her as a creepy being.
...However, she was also indebted to this person for bestowing the magic that had given her the relationship she had with George.

So Shannon tried with all her might not to be surprised or scared.
"Th..., that's right.  ......Umm, Beatrice-sama.  I bought some sweets as a souvenir from our trip.  ...Would you, umm, ......like some?"

"Hoh???  A souvenir for a witch.........?"

It seemed that even a witch who boasted of living for one thousand years hadn't been able to predict that she would receive a souvenir from a pair of sweet lovers.

When she saw that surprised expression, Shannon thought of the witch as a friend for the first time.
"Hohoh, an Oriental cookie made from wheat flour and lard.  To wrap that in western chocolate is truly a blending of Japanese and western style, the silk road of sweets."

".........What?  What's so funny?"
"N, ...nothing.  My apologies."

This witch, who surely held a terrifying power, was chomping down on sweets one after another, making a sound like a squirrel stuffing walnuts into its mouth.  After a while, Shannon couldn't conceal her laughter.

"Hmmm, a good meal.  ......I should serve you some Dolce Vita from Nero one of these days.  Roses are the symbol of eternal love.  I believe a rose dolce would be appropriate for you now."

The witch was in a great mood, fully enjoying modern candy.

"Umm, .........here.  I truly wish to thank you so much.  I believe you have done more than enough for me already, so I'm returning this."

The thing that Shannon had softly set on the table...was a gold-colored butterfly brooch.

"There is no need to return it.  If you continue holding that, your relationship should remain firm in perpetuity."
"......Maybe I was given a chance to meet him by the power of magic.  But I think the effort that will make that meeting eternal will come from the two of us cooperating together."

"Hmmm.  ......Love and roses are the same.  Too much fertilizer causes the roots to rot.  Some flowers cannot be raised without hard work.  In that case, do as you wish.  You may wear it or keep it in a box.  That is my good will, given to you.  It would not please me if you were to return it to me."

"Ah, ......m, my apologies...!  That's not what I..."
"*cackle*cackle*.  No harm has been done.  That brooch is already yours.  If you treasure that proof of our friendship, that would comfort me a bit."
"You may hold on to it, and gain its benefits.  You may also keep it in a box.  If you wish, it is up to you whether you give it to another who is worrying about love.  ......But you should regard it as important.  Of course, it would pain my heart if you wasted it."
According what Beatrice said, several times in the distant past, she had been called by people and given them an tool imbued with some kind of magic power.

...However, when most people used that power to resolve their worries, they quickly came to think of that power as creepy, and, forgetting their feelings of thanks, they threw the tools they had been given away with disgust.
"So I haven't often received thanks for my good will.  ......Let's see, is this the first time?  *cackle*cackle* *cackle*cackle*."
The witch laughed heartily, but it looked like a sad laugh in Shannon's eyes.
She herself had been like that in the past, ...no, maybe she was still like that now.

Beatrice was definitely a witch, with a strange and terrifying power.
Most likely, no one would go along with her if they could help it.
Surely, even though they had relied on that strange power, people sometimes felt fear rather than gratitude as a result.

......It must have deeply hurt the witch when that repeated over and over.
Since the time she had started thinking that way, ...Shannon had tried to stop being frightened of Beatrice.
That was surely what had tormented her for longer than one thousand years...
Maybe she really liked the sweets.  Beatrice, who normally spoke abusively, praised the black tea that Shannon served her, and looked to be in remarkably high spirits.

After doing that for a while, the witch and the servant grew animated talking about the trip with George.
Shannon didn't know much about Beatrice.

First off, she was a ghost-like being who appeared in unexpected places at unexpected times.
And it seemed that not everyone could perceive that she was there.
It seemed that each person had something called a wavelength, and that the ability to perceive it varied greatly among different people.

Only Shannon and Kanon could interact with her enough to exchange words like this.
...There were a few people who could sense her presence, but most people couldn't even feel that much.
From what Beatrice said, Krauss and his wife in particular had zero magical talent.  And no matter how much she followed them around, they would never notice her.
Previously, when Shannon had messed up and Natsuhi had gotten really mad at her, Beatrice had started playing around, hitting Natsuhi on the head with her pipe.

...I see, Natsuhi really hadn't noticed at all.
But Shannon, watching that, had burst out laughing without thinking, and had gotten scolded even more.
"Then, ......what about the Master?  I hear that he has been doing research in magic, so I'm sure he would be able to notice you, Beatrice-sama."
"............Kinzo is the same.  There is no one with a more pitiful lack of magical talent.  ...It's the blood.  He has so little talent that I feel sorry for him."
"..................?"
As soon as they started talking about Kinzo, it felt like the atmosphere around Beatrice changed.

She had spoken about Krauss and the rests' lack of magic talent as though she looked down on them, but she spoke of Kinzo in a different way.
Anyone connected to the Ushiromiya family would know about Kinzo's Legend of the Gold.
...According to that, Kinzo had summoned the witch Beatrice, and had been given the gold.

...In other words, that meant that she had some kind of relationship with Kinzo.

"That was because, ......even though he didn't have a scrap of talent, he succeeded.  ...He kept studying by himself like mad, and reached the level of magician."
"That's, .........something really incredible, right......?"

"......Hmm."

The witch, who usually looked down on people, was unexpectedly praising someone.
...While she lambasted him, saying that he had no talent, she praised Kinzo's efforts.

"And then, .........the Master summoned Beatrice-sama with the power of magic......"
"Hmm.  ......Well, I only answered the summons on a whim.  In this period where magic has long been denied, those without a scrap of talent give it their all.  It was just my luck that I'd decide to come and laugh at him.  *cackle*cackle*cackle*."
The words 'just her luck', ...showed that this had been a disaster for her.

Shannon hesitated over whether it would be alright to continue this discussion, but Beatrice continued on her own, ignoring Shannon.
"A format and rules had been assembled.  Several customs were mixed in, but, well, in deference to his enthusiasm, we created a lenient contract.  ......Then I gave him a mountain of gold."
"Then the Master..., used that gold and succeeded in business, and grew his wealth into what it is today."
"Hmm.  His talent in magic was nothing, but it seems he had talent in business and gambling.  ...Or was it because of his bravery and madness to bet everything on unreasonable bets.  ......Madness sometimes brings about magic.  I see, if you look at it that way, maybe I can't really say that Kinzo had absolutely no magical talent.  *cackle*cackle*..."
Shannon felt like she was daydreaming.

While everyone in the Ushiomiya family knew of the story regarding how Kinzo had idolized black magic, summoned a witch, and been given gold, in actuality, it was all rambling that no one believed in.
And now that she was hearing that it was true from the witch herself...
Shannon felt a little flustered at this insane secret that only she knew.

"Then Kinzo, who had obtained a vast fortune, could completely obtain every dream one can satisfy with objects they can obtain in the human world.  .........And in the end, he searched for the truth of the world."
"The truth, ...of the world?"

"...The single element that makes up the world.  Kinzo, who had achieved everything one can obtain in the human world, wanted that, the final desire humans seek."

The single element.  .........She felt like she had heard the witch say that word before.
When Beatrice saw Shannon trying to remember what that was, she laughed bitterly, waving her hand and saying there was no need to remember.

"......I underestimated Kinzo a little.  I truly hadn't thought that he would display such power."

"......And thanks to that, I'm in this state.  I've been sewn in place on this island for several decades now, without even a friend to drink tea with.  ...No matter who I try to talk to, my voice doesn't reach them, and no matter where I go, I cannot do anything.  Such boring decades."

As she laughed in self-derision, she tapped her teacup with her finger.  It made the transparent sound of pottery.

...Shannon didn't know whether the word 'self-derision' was really an accurate expression to describe the look on the witch's face.

Shannon didn't understand everything, but she could more or less figure out the situation.
...And it was probably a topic that she could not press the witch on easily, unless the witch started talking about it herself.
To sum up everything she had said up until now...

Beatrice, who had been summoned by Kinzo's magic, could not leave this island for some reason.
And she had lost her power and her form, living her days in boredom.
During that time, her words had reached Shannon, who never forgot to strongly respect the witch.
And she had helped the witch to regain her power, if only a little bit.

...As a result, she had become able to drink tea with Shannon like this...
"......Beatrice-sama, what in the world was that mirror you told me to break?"
"Aaah, that story.  .........Long ago, it seems various things happened on the islands around this area.  Because of that, bad things gathered, drawn towards an evil distortion.  It seems that a traveling eastern magician or something built a shrine for the repose of souls and sealed them in there."
"...That in itself had nothing to do with me, but unfortunately the foundation of that magical power was different.  It created a strong interference with my magical power, and was extremely bothersome."

"Is that how it was...?  And I just assumed that it sealed you, Beatrice-sama..."

"I was not its target.  But it was a divine mirror.  As a result, my power was sealed away.  ......If you were to use food as an example, maybe it would go something like this.  Let's say that the western-style food I ordered is being made in the kitchen.  However, when they try to set the table, the area for the guest seating is in the Japanese style with Japanese style dishes.  So the kitchen is unable to take out a plate which would be out of place, and no matter how long I wait, my western-style food won't arrive..., something like that."

"So you destroyed that Japanese-style guest seating, and returned the area to a blank slate for a time.  Thanks to that, the meal I had ordered was finally delivered, and my power came back, you could say.  However, so far, only the aperitif has arrived.  It will still be quite some time before the main dish.  As I am now, I'm even more faint than a fairy in a shoe store."

".........Pu, ......ahahahahahahaha.""Mu.  What is so funny?"

"Nothing...  I thought the witch's example was so interesting.  I never thought you could use a story about food as an analogy for a story about magic."
"I had planned that to be a skillful expression, if I do say so myself, but I was sure it wouldn't be laughed at.  It's a little unexpected."

A slightly sulky expression rose to the witch's face.
...It wasn't a strange expression at all to be appearing on the face of some friends as they enjoyed their tea.
"......Although I may not look it, I was known for doing extremely brutal things in the past.  ...I've gotten soft.  Now I can even have a foolish discussion while drinking tea with a human."

She was probably talking to herself.
As Beatrice gazed at the sea birds tracing the horizon, she put her tea to her lips again.
"...The clouds have come out.  When the ocean loses its brilliance, it's nothing more than a gray puddle."
"You think so?  ......I think the ocean is a beautiful deep blue, even if it gets cloudy."
"............Hmph."

Maybe the witch noticed the deep meaning behind Shannon's words.
...She laughed lightly and set down her empty teacup.
"......It seems that those things buried in your eyes aren't black pebbles anymore.  How is it?  ......Do you understand the feeling of furniture being reborn as a human?"
"............Yes.  ...I did not know that the world was this kind."
Since her relationship with George had begun, Shannon's face had grown brighter more often.
Her smile had made everything go smoothly, and had even changed her luck.

......Shannon made less mistakes in her work than she had before, and the family members' opinion of her was starting to change slightly.
Just the other day, Krauss, who rarely exchanged words with her, had suddenly started talking to her, surprising her.

"You've been making a good smile more often lately, haven't you?  Has something good happened?"
"N, no...  But, ......every day is fun, yes."

"Hmph.  Isn't that a good thing?  Coffee is obviously more delicious if it's poured with a smile.  ......Could I ask for that smile again?"
"Y, ......yes!"

That had become a chance for Shannon to gain confidence in herself.
Of course, it didn't go beyond her own heart, and it wasn't so big a change that anyone would notice.

...But she had begun to change, bit by bit.
Shannon understood it clearly.
Knowing love was the same as gaining a soul.  ...And therefore she was born again from furniture to a human.

There was absolutely nothing wrong with Beatrice's words.
......By knowing love, Shannon had learned what it was to be human.

"......These have been unusual snacks.  It was time well spent.  It's probably about time for you to return to your work.  Let us end our tea party now.  ......After all, someone doesn't like it when you drink tea with me, right?"
"Huh?"

The witch gripped a teaspoon and flipped it with her fingers, sending it up in the air.

...After that, was launched by the fingers of some invisible person in empty space, and flew straight at a bush close nearby.
The bush moved violently, and Kanon came out.
......It seemed that he had been there for some time, and had been watching their tea party.
The spoon was gripped in his hand.
...If he hadn't caught it in an instant, it might have hit him hard in the forehead and caused him to start oozing blood.
".................."

"Do not worry.  Our tea party is over now, Kanon."
"How long were you there?  If you had called to us, I'd have poured you some tea too..."

"I imagine that you didn't want to interrupt a pair of women talking, right?  *cackle*cackle*!"
"............"

Kanon kept silent, but it seemed that there was a slightly hostile look in his eyes.

...On the outside, he acted respectfully.  But unlike Shannon, Kanon did not trust the witch.  
When Beatrice hit the table with her pipe, the tea set turned into gold butterflies, which flew upwards as one.

They then scattered in every direction, and the cleanup was already done.

"It was fun, Shannon.  ...Let us meet again if the chance arises.  ......My magical power is still quite lacking.  It's tiring even to show myself."
"......If you're that tired, never appear again."

Kanon had said it in a small voice, but it seemed the witch had heard it perfectly.
She giggled, but did not reply.
"Shannon.  Tell me more about George at our next tea party.  There are no snacks sweeter than a person's love life.  *cackle*cackle*cackle*.  See you again."
Beatrice's body also became gold butterflies, which scattered in all directions and disappeared.
...It was a very fantastical and beautiful scene, like a blizzard of gold leaf.
For a while, Shannon quietly watched the witch's exit...
Kanon approached her from behind, and spoke with a very different expression on his face than his sister's.

".........Nee-san, didn't I tell you that you shouldn't hang around with her?"
"Beatrice-sama isn't that bad of a person.  ...Yes, she might be a little strange, but-"

"The fact that only we can see her is suspicious enough...  That person isn't human.  There's no way we could understand what she's planning."
"Kanon-kun, I think that's a little rude."

Shannon spoke seriously, which was unusual for her.
...To Kanon, who knew her well, it must have seemed extremely serious.
Kanon was excessively surprised at Shannon's style of speech, and remained silent.

"It's true that Beatrice-sama is different from humans.  She has a terrifying power, so I think she is to be feared and respected.  ...But just because she's different from a human, doesn't mean that it isn't really rude to loathe her like that."

"............I understand what you're trying to say, Nee-san.  ...You've changed since she gave you that brooch.  It's like you're the witch's prisoner.  She mediated your relationship with George-sama, and now you're indebted to her."
"...Don't say stuff like that."
"That person isn't human.  We don't know what she's thinking.  You mustn't trust her.  .........And we aren't humans either, Nee-san."
Kanon's words became more serious.
...Those words probably gouged at Shannon's heart.  Shannon bit her lower lip and hung her head.
"We are furniture.  ...Even if we receive names and are treated as humans, that won't change how we were born."
You are no longer furniture...

Those words Beatrice had given her, which had made her happiest, floated through Shannon's mind...
"I am not, .........furniture."

"No, you are furniture.  We are less than human.  ......Nee-san, you're acting like you've forgotten that, ...and you're just pretending to be human.  You should understand that yourself."

"I, ......am not furniture.  ...I'm human...!"
"No, you aren't human.  From the beginning, we have been unqualified to love or be loved."

It seemed that Kanon's criticism had shifted in focus ever since Shannon had suddenly started meeting with the witch.
...Shannon also noticed that quickly.
"I heard from Milady.  You honestly, fell in love.  I can't believe that you would go on a trip with George-sama...!  You've forgotten your place as furniture.  You've just been tempted by that witch, and mistakenly believe that you became human!"

"Listen, Kanon-kun.  ............We certainly are furniture.  Lesser beings, inferior to humans.  ...But if we could replace that unfulfilled part......wouldn't that mean that we could become human?"
"......That couldn't happen."

"No, it could.  If we can gain that, we won't be furniture.  We can become human."
".....................Ridiculous.  ...As if you, ......could."

Kanon spat that out, ...but he said it weakly, and turned away.

He was probably giving up.
......After being baptized as furniture in his days of suffering, his heart was firmly sealed...

"...You can too, Kanon-kun.  ......You can become a normal human."
"..................Stop it, that's the witch talking."

"Yes.  Beatrice-sama taught me.  ......By gaining the single element of the world, we can become human.  No, nobody's human if that isn't satisfied.  ......So people spend their entire lives trying to gain that single element."

"I don't understand what you're saying, Nee-san.  I don't want to listen to ranting."

"Then I'll teach it so even you can understand.  .........Look, see what I'm pointing at?"
"......?"
Shannon quietly pointed at the sea, at the horizon.

Kanon didn't understand what she was actually pointing at, and couldn't do anything except look between the horizon and Shannon's expression, which looked like it was posing a riddle.
"The sea.  ......Kanon-kun, what color does the sea look to you?"
It was a really simple question.

Kanon tried to guess the meaning behind that question for a while, but since he couldn't think of anything, he obeyed and answered.
"...It's a vague, dark-gray color.  So what?"

Objectively speaking, the sea, laid out beneath a cloudy sky, could probably be described best by Kanon's words.

......But as Shannon closed her eyes and smiled, she shook her head slightly.
"It looks deep blue to me."

"......Is that what you mean?  Like calling a green traffic light blue?"
"No.  ......The sea is deep blue.  If I understand, and you do not, ...that's what it means..."

Kanon bit his lower lip and was silent for a while.

"...........................I, .........don't understand."
"Kanon-kun.  ......Would you stick out your hand?"

As Kanon was taken aback, unable to understand what she was saying, she took his arm, and opened the palm of his hand.

Shannon softly set something there.
It was that magic brooch, which she had received from Beatrice.
It was a magic charm, shaped like a gold butterfly, which could fulfill love.
"This is, ............hers......?"
"No, this is mine.  ...So think of it as me and treat it with respect, okay?"
"............"
After being spoken to like that, he couldn't just throw it away.
Kanon didn't know what he should do, and he stood there confused for a while, the brooch still on the palm of his hand.

Shannon put the palm of her hand on top of Kanon's, and the brooch was warmed by both of their hands.
"This charm holds true magical power.  ......I'm sure that it will teach you an important emotion, Kanon-kun."
"...Nothing can be taught from that person's magic."
"No, something can.  ......So wear it.  If that's embarrassing, I hear it's okay if you just hide it in your pocket."
"............Ridiculous...  As if I'd be led astray by that person's magic."
Even as he said that, Kanon couldn't be cold-hearted towards something Shannon was pressing on him.

In the end, Kanon took it and agreed reluctantly, as though saying he would prove that he wouldn't surrender to the witch's power.  Shannon smiled and nodded back.

"I'm sure you can learn something important from it.  ......And I'm sure you can become human.  And when you do, I'm sure that this ocean will look like a beautiful blue to you as well, Kanon-kun."
"...Gray is gray no matter how many times I look."

"That's wrong, Kanon-kun.  ......It only looks like that because you have no ****."
"Huh...?"

Because of the howling wind, he hadn't been able to catch the main point of what she'd just said.
So Shannon said it once more.

...The single element of the world.
She spoke once more of the world where that was satisfied, where the sea was deep blue.

"I'm sure you'll be able to see a deep blue ocean.  After all-"

Without love, it cannot be seen.

".........Who is that there?"
"......It is Kanon, Master."

It was rare for Kinzo to leave his study.
......However, that in itself didn't mean his noble research had been suspended.

He may have left the study because of a change in mood, but that didn't mean that the thoughts filling his head were any different from those he had had inside the study.

So Kanon knew that no matter what the time, speaking to Kinzo when he didn't want to be spoken to would always be a disturbance in his research.

"The weather is heavy.  Will it get worse?"
"Yes.  According to the weather report, it could rain at any time.  ......Shall I bring an umbrella?"

"It will not come to that.  ......You should leave me alone for a while.  If my children ask, say that you do not know where I am.  I am busy on a journey through my own thoughts."
"......Certainly.  Then, if you would excuse me."
During the time that Kanon bowed to him, Kinzo had already returned to his own world, and had forgotten that Kanon was there.

And once again, he began rambling to himself.
Amidst those words, ...the name of that witch was repeated many times.
"......Ooohh, Beatrice...  My hand will not reach your smile...  What should I do to revive you, what should I do so that you smile at me once again...?  ......What is lacking?  My research, my materials, my catalyst?  Or is it magical power or luck or an oracle...?!  Ooohhh, Beatrice, what can I do to see your face one more time...?  Ooooooooohhhhhhh......"
As Kanon listened to his master's weeping voice with his back turned, he turned around just once.

When he did, ............right behind his isolated, old master, ......was the shadow of a person that shouldn't have been there.

It was, ......the witch.

At once, Kanon, thinking that the witch must be plotting to do Kinzo some harm, quickly ran back to Kinzo, trying to become a shield himself.

But when he saw the expression on the witch's face, ...that emotion of his vanished.

Because, Beatrice's expression was, ......sorrowful, ......or maybe pitying.

"You fool, Kinzo............Can't you see me, even though I am here?"

Right behind Kinzo, as he repeated the witch's name over and over, desiring to be reunited with her more than anything else, was the witch herself.

And yet, Kinzo didn't notice anything.
......When Beatrice tried to rest her hand on his shoulder, he didn't notice anything.

"...Why, why does my hand not reach Beatrice's smile?!  Is it the age of the moon, the cycle of the comets, the alignment of the planets?!  What is lacking, what is, what is?!!"

".........It's useless, Kinzo.  ...Without love, it cannot be seen."
Kanon took, ...the brooch he had received from Shannon out of his pocket.

......Would he also be able see something that couldn't be seen now, by learning something?

"........................Without love, it cannot be seen."
He looked at Kinzo's back once more.

......The witch could no longer be seen there.

School Culture Festival

The biggest event for the Ushiromiya family in fall was the family conference in October, but to Jessica, there was another one before that: the school cultural festival.

School was a place Jessica liked, where she could let out her stress from the days when she was forced to live formally.
For the cultural festival today, she had formed a group with her friends, and had announced that they would perform light music on a temporary stage.

She had kept on preparing and practicing for that, and had really looked forward to today, .........but there was one thing that had worried her.
She looked at the clock.
...There was still a little time, ...but she was uneasy.

Would that person really come?
After taking a single deep breath, her heart jumped when all her friends suddenly started speaking in shrill voices.
"No wa-y, Hina's boyfriend's so a~wesome!!"  "Isn't he?!  Isn't he?!"  "I heard Rin's boyfriend's re-ally smart!  Is it true that guy's a glasses beast?!"  "No way, no way, my husband'll be a pretty bo-y!"  """Kyakkya♪ Kyakkya♪"""
......None of the girls would say it, ...but to them, the cultural festival at Jessica's school was really a boyfriend exhibition.
Jessica didn't have a boyfriend.
She had many friends of the opposite sex, but no special 'only one'.
...But Jessica was a little famous around the school, and everyone thought it would be natural for her to have a fitting partner.

Furthermore, her pride had caused her to act like that was the case.
So she had slyly been able to trick them somehow until this year.
......But for various reasons, she hadn't been able to escape this year's cultural festival...
"Jessie~.  Is your boyfriend he~re?"
"Wha?!  Ah, uh, no, looks like he's not here yet.  Is he busy at work?  Ahahahahahahahahahaha..."
"What kind of person is your boyfriend, Jessie?  At least give us a hint.  What kind of relationship?  What kind of relationship?!"  "Awesome, he's a working man, right?!  Will he come in a suit?!  Of course he'll be wearing glasses, right?!  Kyaa-!!"  "Heeeeeey, he doesn't really exist, does he?  If you come clean now, we'll let you join us!  Let's cry together during this cultural festivaaaal!"
"No no no, he exists he exists he exists, I told you, he really exists..., ahahahahahahahahahaha...!!"
Jessica's bitter smile was covered with cold sweat.
...It was starting to seem doubtful whether she really had deceived her sharp-witted friends...
"Yes.  Then, how about making a fake boyfriend and taking him with you?"
"F, f, fake?!  Wh, who......?!  I can't think of, anyone...!"
Shannon's ridiculous plan surprised Jessica into hysterics.
Even so, it was probably more realistic than the unrealistic methods running through her head about getting a boyfriend in the big rush before the cultural festival.

"For example, ......what about Kanon-kun?"

"K K, Kanon-kuuuuuun?!  N n, no way, no way!!  Anyways, I'm sure Kanon-kun has work on the day of the festival..., and I don't want to bother him..."

"Of course, I've fully checked the schedule.  Kanon-kun has that day off."

"......Wh, ...why are you always so clever at times like this...  No, wait!  It'd be even worse if he's off...  I can't pull him away from his precious break just for my own vanity!"

"If you don't pull Kanon-kun away, he'll always be shut away by himself, so I think it would be perfect if you could forcibly pull him away."
"Y, y, ......you think so?  ...No, but, ...I'd feel bad for Kanon-kun......"
"Then try everything else...  How about meekly confessing to everyone that you don't have a boyfriend?"
"...That may cause you to feel ashamed, but you would only have to endure for the short and yet loooong time before graduation.  To a pair of lovers, there's no sweeter honey than the face of a single person with an inferiority complex☆"

"Sh, Shannonnnn~!!  You aren't really worrying for my sake, are you, you're teasing me, riiiight?!!"
Jessica wrestled about with Shannon, her eyes teary.
But Shannon was unconcerned, laughing with her usual smile.
"Yes, this is to get you back for making fun of me and George-sama all the time."

Listening to Shannon's comeback, the likes of which didn't happen even once a year, Jessica hugged her cushion and rolled around on her bed, pretending to faint in agony.

She was so frustrated that she couldn't stand Shannon's smile, which looked so triumphant, but right now, she was the only person Jessica could talk with.  She could choke herself to death with her cushion later.
"Isn't it alright, Milady?  It's a cultural festival, but it's also a chance for you to have fun with Kanon-kun."
"No, that may be true, but, no, no, no, no......!!"
Jessica buried her head in her favorite pillow to hide the fact that her face had grown bright red.
And she grumpily chewed the fingernail on her thumb.

...It really was a reaction to be appreciated.
Shannon and Jessica were of about the same age, of the same sex, and they were also friends.

And they were both right in the middle of puberty.
They could never talk enough about things related to love.
That's why they were able to expose these topics to each other.
So Jessica had heard the details of how Shannon's and George's love was progressing, and on the other side, Shannon had heard the details of what type Jessica liked, and what kind of man she might be interested in.
Judging by Jessica's reaction, maybe it had been unrefined to speak of that in detail...
She had said that because the discussion wouldn't progress if Jessica kept rolling around on the bed.

Jessica had been thinking about Kanon ever since he had shown up.
There were almost no young men on Rokkenjima.
So maybe it was natural for Jessica, as a girl in puberty, to become interested in Kanon.

But if anyone said that, it would destroy the romance of a maiden's pure heart and love at first sight.
Shannon had been with Kanon the whole time at the orphanage, so she had known him before they had started working.

So Jessica had asked persistently about what his hobbies were, what his favorite food was, what type of girl he liked.

.........It was clear to Shannon that Jessica was infatuated with Kanon.

"Come on.  ...Isn't this a good chance to take Kanon-kun on a date?"
"B, b, but but but, ...Kanon-kun might also have someone he likes, so...wouldn't he take it badly if I made him go with me just to show off...?"

"For people that aren't honest, like you, Milady, ...what was that word again, I learned it from George-sama.  That's right, weren't they called 'tsundora'?
Tsundora

Romaji reading for "Tundra" which is often used as a pun and reference to the term "Tsundere"(ツンデレ), which has become increasingly popular in recent decades.

This Japanese term is composed by two, vords, "tsuntsun" and "deredere", meaning respectively “aloof or cranky" and "lovestruck".
It mainly used for characters that demonstrate an aggressive and/or cold behavior (tsuntsun) but then become all lovey-dovey (deredere) under some circumstances.
 Sounds like it will become popular after a few decades, doesn't it?"

"Wo-w, George nii-san sure is incredible, being able to understand future trends.  Awesome.  ......No, wait!  Are you saying that my type is in the wrong time period?!  Uwaa-uwaa-uwaa-, I give u-p!!"
......In the end, Jessica agreed to Shannon's plan of having Kanon act as her boyfriend, but she had to waste several days before that......
"......Yes, Milady.  Did you call me?"
Jessica regretted calling out at such a bad time.

...Kanon always had a sour look, but he had some bad days and some good days.
...Unfortunately, this reaction was the former.

"N, n, no, umm, well, ............errr."
"..............."

All that confidence and effort she had piled up by practicing in front of a mirror all night was wiped out in about five seconds...
Jessica turned bright red and hung her head.

When he saw that, Kanon took a deep breath.
...Jessica thought he had been shocked, and her face went pale.

".........I heard from Shannon.  This is about having me go with you to the school cultural festival, right, Milady?"
"Huh?  ......Ah, aaaaaaahhh!!  Nice, Shannon, ...yeah right!  Y, yeah, yeah.  Th, that's right, but, umm, err!  ............D, d, do you have any plans that day...?"

"...I was strictly ordered by Shannon to work specially for you on that day, Milady.  I have never been to high school, so I don't really understand, but I hear it's a place where girls feel very ashamed if they don't have a boy with them.  ...And I was particularly ordered that the daughter of the Ushiromiya family not be in any way inferior to common people."

"Waha, wahahahahahahahahahaha, Shannon, I'll beat you to death late----r!!!"

Jessica kept yelling with a strange voice, and a broken smile, like a tea kettle filled with boiling water.
As Kanon watched this, he sighed again.
Kanon wasn't an idiot either.

He fully understood what Jessica intended by inviting him.
......However, it would be really annoying to go along with the lady's game of love.

But Shannon had talked to him persistently.  He was very indebted to her.  He couldn't refuse.
...And that brooch was in his pocket.

Couldn't this strange turn of events also have been brought about by the magic power residing in this brooch?

............Ridiculous.
But he remembered those words Shannon had told him.
...Had Shannon seen something that could not be seen by him?

I don't understand Shannon's feelings.  I am furniture.  ...As if I could, become something more than that.
It was a truly odd exchange between Jessica, who was still rambling on in a strange voice, and Kanon, who took a deep breath...
"Jessie, someone's here!!  Didn't you hear?!"
"Huh, ah, ah, sorry!!  Wh, who...?"
As my friends all gathered together, ...they were looking this way with hard to describe expressions, whispering to each other! in small voices that weren't small anymore.  Even I feel kind of shameless.  Did I just say 'sorry, who'?!  Like I don't know who's shown up...!  Aaaaaaaaah, it's useless, it's useless, my mind is blank...
"No way, that's Jessie's boyfriend?!  So cuuuuuuuuuuuuuute!!"  "She really had a boyfriend?!  No way, seriously?!"  "Jessica, you traitor!!  Isn't that really awesome?!!"  "He's younger?!  I never heard he was younger?!"  "Where where?!  Where where where's Jessie's boyfriend?!"  "She really does like young boys!!"

"He, h, h, h, hey!  A, aren't you late, wahahahahaha!"
"......I didn't know where the entrance was.  I apologize for being late."

"R, right, umm, ...that outfit suits you, doesn't it?  Wahahahahahahaha...!!"
"...Shannon, ...said normal clothes wouldn't do, ...yesterday, ...we bought this.  It probably doesn't fit me..."

"Wa, wahahahahahahahahahahahaha, that's not true!  Shannon, when I get back I'll promote you two leveeeeeeeels!!"
".........This place is kinda filled with girls.  It's uncomfortable."

"Y, y, yeah, isn't it?!  C, come on, let's not hang around here, let's go to the stage, alright?  'Cause it'll be my turn really soon!  Come on come on come on!!"
Jessica was just as uncomfortable.
It looked like it was hard to be bathed in everyone's interested gazes.

...When he saw Jessica's appearance, Kanon thought that he might have made things difficult for her by coming.

"......I get the feeling that I'm getting in the way.  Am I a burden?"
"I, I, I told you, no way!!"
"...Please tell me at any time if I am in the way..."
((Kya-, no wa--y, he calls himself 'boku'!!!!))
"Ahiiiiiiiii, you, you, you aren't a burden, Kanon-kun!!"
(((Kyaaaaaa, she calls her boyfriend 'kun'!!!)))
"......What should I do, Milady?"
((((No waaaaay, she makes him call her Milady, like a butler omgomg!!))))
Boku/omgomg

'Boku'(僕/ぼく) is the pronoun for "I". This is often used by young boys and can have a slightly cute feel to it. It is less often used by teenagers and adults who would rather use "ore" (俺/オレ) or a neutral pronoun like watashi (私), and implies casual deference.

The Japanese 'word' for omgomg was 'ktkr' an abbreviation for "kita kore" (キタコレ), which literally means "it's coming". This Japanese online slang usually shows excitement or expectation and is often seen in the ASCII art shown below.
キタ━━━━(゚∀゚)━━━━ !!!!!
"Nooooooooo, don't call me Milady todaaaaaaaaay!!"
".........R, ...really?  Understood, Jessica-sama."
(((((Kyaaaaa, she trained him to call her 'sama'!!)))))

"S s s, sorry, Kanon-kun, just for three seconds, could you close your eyes..."
((((((Hiiyaaaaaaa, kiss, it's a kiss, she's going to kiss him!!))))))

"Th, ...then I'll close them."
*bang*, *thunk*!  *bam*bam*, *slam*, *crash*!!
...When Kanon opened his eyes, for some reason, there was a horrible tragedy in the room.
Everyone had been driven into the walls, their arms and legs outstretched.
Jessica put her brass knuckles in her pocket before Kanon opened his eyes.
"A, anyways, let's go over to the stage.  Our turn is coming up soon, so wait in a seat for bit.  'Cause we have to get ready!  If you go straight to the end here, there'll be a temporary stage, so you'll know where to go.  Please wait there!"
She pushed Kanon's back, as looked like it would be hard for him to go by himself, and chased him out.

Even though Kanon was confused by Jessica's attitude and panic, which he had never seen before, he followed her instruction, and headed in the direction she had indicated.
After seeing him off with an awkward smile, Jessica slammed the door shut and yelled loudly.
"There you go, you saw, right?  Did you see, are you satisfied?!  Wahahahahahahahaha, how pathetic!!!"
"......Ugugugugugugu, I lost the bet.""I was sure that Jessie didn't have a boyfriend.""That wasn't a boyfriend, right, she's just harassing one of her servants, right?""Waaaah, Jessie's boyfriend's incredibleeee...!"
"Sh, sh, shut up!!  Come on, let's get ready!!"

When Jessica took the brass knuckles out of her pocket again, everyone energetically returned to their tasks.
"............Haah."
When Kanon went down the corridor as Jessica had told him to, he ran into a temporary stage set up where the vending machines should have been.

It was probably being rented by the hour by some group or circle.
Groups from the school where singing songs, but the place was already getting excited.
Disliking that clatter, he approached a dark wall alone.
......So this is what they call high school.
It sure is noisy.  ...That's what Kanon thought.
Then he remembered Jessica just now, acting in a way that he'd never seen before.
......Honestly, she was in such high spirits that alcohol might have been involved.

To him, the greatest virtue for people was to always be composed and intellectual.
In that sense, it was very hard for Kanon to get used to the atmosphere in a school cultural festival.
...He had the responsibility to report everything he saw and heard to the Master.
...So he also had to report about how Jessica had acted without restraint earlier.

......At the very least, it was not fitting for the daughter of the Ushiromiya family.
The Master, Krauss-sama, ...and especially Natsuhi-sama would probably be angry.

If I am to report it in a way that protects Milady, should I blame it on inappropriate school friends...?
".........What was that......is she an idiot?"
Kanon thought back on how Jessica had acted earlier, and sighed again.

He could understand Natsuhi's headache a little now.
......Come to think of it, Natsuhi-sama, as the president of the PTA, should have gone to an informal gathering after attending the ceremony in the gymnasium.
Hadn't she said that she wouldn't be there to see Milady's event?  ......That was probably for the best.
".........Crowds are unpleasant.  ...What in the world is going on?"
Several female students keep glancing at me.
It seems they're all whispering the same things that Milady's school friends had said, and it's really unpleasant.
Come to think of it, didn't Shannon warn me?

......If you walk alone at something like a school festival, you better watch out because a lot of strange people will come and talk to you.
"H, hello~, are you by yourself?"
Just as expected, a group of girls I've never met have started talking to me.
Their gazes make it feel like my back is itching.

......Hadn't she talked about some magic words that could chase them off in times like this?  ...Ummm.
"......I am sorry.  I am with someone."
"Huh, ah, really...?!  I, I'm sorry!"
It's true.  It worked immediately...

But, while they did retreat, it really hasn't changed the amount of people gazing at me.
"No, it's that kid, Jessie's boyfriend!!""No way?!  That kid is?!""I can't believe it, I was sure he was fake!""Isn't he cu-te, he's younger?!  How nice!!"
"............Haah."
...There's no way I'll ever come to a place like this again.

Kanon sighed for about the zillionth time today.
When he did, the lighting changed, and the standing audience started cheering.

When he looked around, he realized that there were suddenly a large number of people here.  And unlike earlier, they were all guys.
With this huge crowd, he couldn't even see the stage.
Fortunately, there was a fallen beer case nearby, and he tried using that as a footstool.
When he did, he realized that there was now a new group on the stage.
The leader is Milady.
She's changed into stage clothes, and she's even holding a guitar.
......I didn't know she could play.

No, maybe she could play.
I have seen her practicing air guitar before.
Natsuhi-sama wouldn't approve of any hobbies outside of study.
Maybe she was always practicing in secret.

...Come to think of it, recently, she's been returning really late from school, hasn't she?
...Maybe she was endeavoring to practice at school, when Natsuhi-sama wasn't looking.
It really is for the best that Natsuhi-sama didn't come.
...If Natsuhi-sama found fault with Milady practicing the guitar, even though she had taken such great pains to do it, Milady would probably be dejected...
"""Jessie-samaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!"""
"Everyone, thaaaaaaaaaanks for gathering here today!!"

I can hear Jessica-sama's forceful voice through the speakers.
...Jessie-sama?  Maybe that's her nickname at school.
The students in the audience had kept calling out that name.
...I'm a little offended at this inferior name.  It is inappropriate for Milady.
Jessica-sama was in great spirits as they kept calling her Jessie-sama.

...Everyone was probably a fan.
Her mike performance responded to that and grew more excited.
...It was almost like a song program on TV.

............At first, he thought it was superficial, but that feeling had changed into appreciation.  It was pretty incredible.
Kanon had never listened to music of his own free will, but he had often heard the kind of music that the people of the Ushiromiya family liked.
...Since that was almost all classical music, Kanon had naturally started liking classical music too.
...So to Kanon, the song Jessica sang was, how should you say it, ............very highly colored.
An any case, if Natsuhi-sama heard it, she would probably faint.
But everyone looked like they were having a really good time.

The die-hard fans who had even brought pen-lights sang along, dancing crazily with the same movements, almost as though it had been planned ahead.
On the stage, Jessica-sama also sang enthusiastically, dripping with sweat.

.........He couldn't find a single element that was appropriate for a daughter of the Ushiromiya family, ...but it looked like she was having a lot of fun.
"""Jessie-samaaaaaaaa!!  Jessiiiiie, Jessiiiiiiiiiiie!!!"""
"Again, today, behind me, the sound of footsteps!  Oyashiro-sama is stalking!  Curses, disappearances, sacrifices, torture, Onikakushi, do you eat it?!  Don't say Marisaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!"
Tsurupettan

The name of the song Jessica's band plays is Tsurupettan, which was actually composed by Silver Forest and is one of the most popular songs related to the characters from the Touhou Project, a famous doujin danmaku shoot^em up created by ZUN.

The cross reference is doubled with Jessica's costume, which is Marisa's, one of the main characters of the Touhou franchise, along with Reimu.

Finally, the colorful comments and ASCII art you see all over the screen is actually a reference to Nico Nico Douga (ニコニコ動画), a Japanese streaming site, which is often considered the Japanese counterpart of Youtube.

The main original feature of this site was the ability for viewers to type comments that appear on the video itself and playback with the video at the moment they write the comment.
...I must not go along with it, but...
......Anyways, Milady is full of life and looks like she's having a great time.
As I looked at Milady having a great time, I thought.
Isn't this Ushiromiya Jessica's true form?

...Don't I know best that during her life on Rokkenjima, she'd had no choice but to kill her sense of self?
Then the time she spent, ...not as Milady, the successor to the Ushiromiya family, but as a single girl called Jessica, living life to the fullest, must have been very important to her.

...I worked close to Milady, saw her in all seasons, and I thought I knew everything about her.
...But that was only limited to one side of her, Milady of Rokkenjima.
......We are furniture.
We serve on Rokkenjima, and end our lives on Rokkenjima.

...So I had come to think that Rokkenjima itself was our whole world, as though, like in Ptolemaic theory, the ocean spilled off the end of the world into an abyss.

But when I look at Milady like this, I realize that this is a horribly narrow outlook.
...I still can't go along with the excitement of the crowd.
...But I feel like I can see something that 'cannot be seen' on Rokkenjima.

.........I don't know if this is the unseeable thing Shannon was talking about...

But I still can't see the ocean as blue...

"Wasn't today the cultural festival at Jessica's school?  ...Was the principal doing well?"
"...Yes, he seemed to be in good health.  That's right, Member Takamiya also came.  She said to leave it to her."

"Hmm, busy as usual?"
"It appeared so.  That person is also very energetic.  That's right, then, I think President Emoto also came."
Naturally, the topic of Jessica's cultural festival came up at dinner.

School events often became social gatherings for local volunteers.
It was the same for the Ushiromiya family, who were celebrities around here.

By remembering the names of the important people at the informal gathering, Natsuhi told Krauss the news.
...Jessica didn't really have any interest in that discussion, and rudely slurped her pumpkin soup.

"......Milady.  Are those manners appropriate?"
"............Yeah yeah, sorry 'bout that."

"Jessica.  I am always telling you watch your language."
"......Yes."
Jessica answered, discouraged.
When he saw that, Krauss smiled a little and interrupted his conversation with Natsuhi.

"How was the festival for you, Jessica?"
"Huh?  Ah, ......well, okay!"

"I was watching.  You did a good job."
"Huh, ......huh?!  Ah, ......ahahahaha, w, well!"
Jessica's face turned bright red.

...She probably hadn't thought that Natsuhi would actually come to see her on the stage.
She felt a mix of happiness and embarrassment.

Actually, she hadn't wanted her mother to watch because she didn't want to be told that her music was inappropriate for the Ushiromiya family.
......But it wasn't as though it didn't make her happy to hear her parent say that she did a good job after watching her try her best...

"Jessica appeared with both composure and dignity.  Fitting behavior for the students' representative."

"...ah, ............oh, ...yeah."
The smile that had been there until a second ago crumbled like sand.
...Jessica immediately realized that she was talking about something different.
Jessica was also the school's student president.

...She had no interest in something so annoying, but her parents had been pushy so she had grudgingly accepted.
Unfortunately, she was popular in school, so she had won the election easily.

So Natsuhi was praising her for the student council sponsorship ceremony at the beginning of the cultural festival.
Actually, she had just carried that out halfheartedly.
She had immediately met up with her friends, and had held a stage rehearsal for the rest of the time...
"The experience of standing above people and bearing responsibility will surely be useful in the future.  I am sure that Jessica will mature as a member of the Ushiromiya family."
"But you spoke the greeting a little quickly.  You passed on content, but your fast style of speech was lacking.  It would be good if you developed a habit of taking a breath every once in a while."

"........., ...yeah."
After she finished eating, Jessica didn't feel like going straight to her room.
You could say that her room was the place where her parents had ordered her to be.

So maybe you could say that for Jessica, instead of returning to her own room, being in an unknown location in this large mansion was a meager form of resistance...
Jessica felt that even being in the mansion made it hard to breath, so she went outside to the rose garden.
"...............Well, if she had been talking about that, I'm sure she'd have said something about how it wasn't appropriate for the successor to the Ushiromiya family.  ...So isn't it alright this way?  Ahahahahahaha."

Jessica laughed at what she was sulking over.

...She laughed at what kind of words she would have had to receive to be satisfied.
......It was ridiculous.
In the end, I was just acting like a kid.
I'm a little surprised, and it makes me want to laugh.
"......Milady."

"Wa, ...Kanon-kun.  D, don't scare me like that, hahaha...!  *cough*cough*!"

Just as she had tried to force a laugh, Kanon had suddenly started talking to her, and she choked.

"What?  Something to say...?"
"..............., umm.""......Yes?"

Jessica's expression became the one she always had when looking at Kanon.
The listless Jessica from a second ago was gone.

If he had still only known of Jessica as the successor to the Ushiromiya family, as he had until yesterday, ...he would have mistakenly thought that Jessica's mood had sprung back to normal.

......But that was wrong.

He now knew a part of her that he could not have seen until yesterday, so he understood that there was no way that, on the inside, Jessica was just as she appeared.
"Ah..., about today's cultural festival, ...well, thanks for coming with me so I could show off.  You really helped."

"......That song.  ...You were good."
"Wha?!  ......Ah, .........ahahahahahaha?!  R, really, I'm embarrassed..."

Even though she had heard the words she had most wanted to hear, Jessica acted shyly, and couldn't accept them seriously.
"......I cannot sing.  And I don't know how to play any instruments other than the harmonica and the recorder, which I learned in elementary school.  ...So I had just assumed that Milady was the same."
...Kanon hadn't planned on looking down on Jessica that much.

But people playing unique instruments were always on the other side of the Braun tubes in the TV.
...At the very least, he had been under the impression that it would be impossible for Jessica.
"...I am furniture.  ...So I didn't believe there was any need to sing songs or play instruments."

But, ......I'm not sure anymore.
"......Seriously, Kanon-kun, enough with that phrase 'because I am furniture'...  That's some kind of understanding amongst the servants, right...?  That thing about servants being living furniture.  ...Genji-san says it a lot."

"It isn't an understanding.........Because we really are, ...furniture."

"I know that the kids from the Fukuin House, ...receive assistance from Grandfather in various ways, and I realize that you feel gratitude for that.  ......But that doesn't mean, ...you should call yourself furniture.  Aren't you a human like us?"

".................."
"Kanon-kun, when you saw me singing, ...what did you think?"
"......It looked like you were having a lot of fun."
"That's probably wrong."
"......Huh?"
"It didn't look like I was having fun, ...you were jealous, weren't you?"
"............, that isn't......"
Even Kanon himself probably hadn't noticed that emotion.
......Kanon had probably seen something he had never seen before, known about it...and been jealous.

And to trick himself about that emotion, he had called himself furniture over and over...

"I know I'm the successor to the Ushiromiya family or something, ......and, well, I'm sure there'll be a lot of annoying stuff to do from now on.  As far as that goes, I can't do anything but give up, since I was born under an unlucky star."

"...Probably, just like you had to live at the Fukuin House, I don't have a choice either.  I couldn't choose the stars under which I was born."

"............That may be true."

"But there's one place where you and I are completely different.  ...Know what that is?"

I am furniture, and Milady is not.  ......He was about to say that, but stopped.

"...I do not know."

"Kanon-kun, you think that your own fate is everything and you gave up.  I can't accept this kind of fate, so I do the best I can.  ......So in addition to the constrained part of me that must act as the daughter of the Ushiromiya family, I've created another part of me that can do everything I like."
".........Another part, of yourself."
"Yeah.  ......Kanon-kun, you've been instructed to say 'because I am furniture'.  ......I'm sure there's been many things that have been tough just because you've been instructed that way.  ...I think that's, ......really unfortunate.  .........But the thought that your entire life will be decided by that, I think that's just sad."
"........................"
"You know, people are always making another part of themselves inside themselves that they can really like.  This isn't escaping from reality, okay?  ......When I'm that other part of myself, I can really feel like I'm living a great life.  So no matter how constrained and boring everyday life is, I can definitely live without suffocating."
"......To make, ...inside yourself, another self that you can really like..."
To make another me, which isn't furniture...
Through her relationship with George-sama, has Shannon given birth to a part of herself that isn't furniture?
......And did this other Shannon, see something that cannot be seen by furniture?
"Yeah.  .........Well, I don't know anything about your private life, Kanon-kun.  But, ...I can sorta guess.  Your private life is probably, nothing at all.  Bulls-eye...?"

Kanon couldn't reply, but that was answer enough.
He had no concept of a private life.

So Kanon would always be Kanon.
So furniture would always be furniture.
"......Kanon-kun, Kanon isn't your real name, right?"

In the Fukuin House, because new graduates would be given new families and a new life, they were even given a new name.

......In his case, that was 'Kanon'.
".........Certainly, ......that name of mine may be a temporary thing."
He had thought that he wasn't anyone other than Kanon.

......But he remembered.
...There definitely had been a part of himself that wasn't Kanon.
But that was far, far away, on the other side of the distant fog of memory...

"So even for you, it should be alright to have times when you're Kanon-kun, and times when you aren't.  ......Maybe the Kanon-kun you are when you act as a servant calls himself furniture and strictly limits his own will."

"......But when you aren't Kanon-kun, I think it's alright to live much, much more freely."

Those words definitely weren't just lip-service.

Jessica had also been like this in the past.
She had cursed her own birth into an environment different from all of her friends at school.

Only she had been in a heavily constricted environment. forced to learn various things, and it had even interfered with the friends she had played with.
......Even though that was sad, she had given up, thinking that she had just been born under that kind of star.

But one day, Jessica had stopped giving up and surrendering.

Stuff like the Ushiromiya family customs and pressure, those didn't matter.

She had created a real 'Jessica' inside herself, who could do what she really wanted to do.

"You know, I'm called by this nickname Jessie in school.  So when I'm Jessie, I live life honestly and to the fullest.  And because of that, I can do my best when I'm Jessica too."

"...I wonder if it would be alright for you too, to have times when you live as Kanon, and times when you live as, umm, ......your real name.  ......When you aren't Kanon, ...can't you become another part of yourself that you can like?"

"..................A time when, I am not Kanon."

He had thought that his real name didn't matter at all.
So he had thought Kanon was all of himself.

And now Jessica was saying that he should create a new existence, another part of himself that wasn't Kanon.

"......Kanon-kun.  If you don't mind, tell me.  ......What is, your real name?"

"........................"
He was silent for quite some time.

Maybe Kanon's real name had risen to the tip of his tongue.
...After hesitating for a long time over whether he should say it, ...in the end, ...he swallowed it back down.
"......I forgot.  ...My name doesn't matter anymore."
Those words contained a slight rejection.
"No matter what kind of real name I had, ......the only truth now is that here, I am Kanon.  The past has nothing to do with anything.  ......The materials with which furniture is made, whether it was originally the trunk of a tree or not, in the end, it's all the same."

"......I told you to stop that!  You aren't furniture, you're human, right?!"
"I am not human!"
Kanon clearly spoke his refusal.
......It was with a rage that he normally didn't show.

Jessica couldn't say anything back, and was struck silent...
"...You are a human Milady.  So you are free to live any way you like, and any kind of future is possible for you.  It's almost like you have wings and can dance through the sky like a bird.  But I am not like that.  Even if I looked like a bird, I'd be nothing more than a domestic duck.  ......Even though they have wings, they cannot fly."
"But despite that, to speak of that dream in the sky, ......that's just, ...too cruel...!"

"...Furniture and ducks!!  What the hell is all this!!  ............No, ..."

Jessica had unconsciously gone along with Kanon's forceful manner of speaking, but she realized that she shouldn't fire back, and swallowed her words.

"............I don't know anything about you.  I don't even know your upbringing, and I don't know the hardships you've been through.  ...So I can't even imagine why you started calling yourself furniture."

"......But know this.  You aren't furniture or a duck.  You're a real human."

"........................"

"If you want to say that the Kanon-kun working as a servant is furniture, that's alright.  ......But, ...in that case, ......don't you think that you can make a part of yourself for when you aren't furniture, when you're human?"

"......Only a human like Milady can embrace that possibility.  ...I am not like that.  My future and possibilities, aren't even a dream I am supposed to see.  ............So, Milady.  Please don't, ...say any more, ......cruel things......"

"Why...  Why, ......are you saying that..."
"Because it seems that you are making the mistake that I am a human, just like you are, Milady.  We are different beings.  I just wanted to make that clear."
"......I heard from Shannon.  Something about Milady starting to like me."
"Huh, ......wha?!  Ah, .........no, wahaha..."

"...I look almost identical to a human.  Therefore, .........like Shannon, maybe I could delude myself that I am human, and for a time, pretend to love."

"...But that would surely be fooling myself.  No, it would also be fooling you, Milady.  Shannon and George-sama will definitely fall apart.  ...Even though Shannon herself probably realizes that day will come, ...such a stupid thing..."

"Th, ......there's nothing stupid about it!!  And, George nii-san's a wonderful person, and he's bearing both of his parents' expectations.  ...Yeah, when it comes to marriage, I'm sure Eva oba-san will interfere in various ways, and, umm, I think their future prospects look like they'll be full of trouble, alright?!  ...But you know, George nii-san isn't the kind of person who'll surrender to all that!  Shannon isn't Juliet, he'll definitely bring her happiness!!"

"People cannot love furniture.  ...I am trying to say that even if Milady can love furniture, I cannot love Milady."
"..................nn-"

Those words of Kanon's, ......crushed all of Jessica's bittersweet feelings from that day.

There was no way her emotions could have predicted that she would be refused so clearly...

In an instant, she had lost the willpower that had caused her to try and unravel something stubborn in Kanon's heart, ...and before she knew it, she was just standing there in shock...

"......Milady, if your feelings for me are due to my conceit, then please forgive me."
"...N, ......no.  Well, ...I won't deny that."
"......Thank you very much."
"Huh...?"
"For thinking of me as a human, ...thank you very much.  Just those feelings truly make me happy.  ......And, anything more would be too cruel, so..."
"No, th, ...that's enough.  ...Umm, .........sorry."
Jessica recklessly scratched at her head and spoke, trying to force her voice to sound bright.
"......I just kinda, ......ran on ahead by myself, ...and was a burden on you.  ...I'm honestly sorry.  I'm really sorry, ...for using up your whole day off."
"No.  ......I was also...happy that I could see Milady having fun."

"...Then, let's be done for the night.  ......If I don't go back to my room and turn off the lights, Mom will get mad at me again.  ...Hahaha."
"That would probably be most appropriate.  ...I wish you a good night, Milady."
"......Yeah.  ............Good night........."
Kanon saw Jessica trod away, looking disheartened, with her back to him.
But she suddenly started dashing recklessly, and disappeared in the direction of the mansion...

As he watched her back, ...for just an instant, Kanon was tormented by the feeling that he had just made a huge mistake.
...But he hadn't made a mistake at all.

......Thinking of her sake, he'd been forced to refuse her now, while the pain was still at its smallest.
"............Nice going, making a woman cry like that.  *cackle*cackle*.  I didn't expect you to refuse her that strongly.  ......If you had answered normally, another pair of lovers would have been born with my magic."

"How long have you been there...?  .........You're just horrible."

When he turned around, the witch was suddenly there.
...It look like she had been there the whole time, enjoying the performance of those two.

"I shall forgive your reckless words towards me just this once in deference to that pleasant show.  ......Even after one thousand years, no more interesting show exists than complications between boys and girls.  To me, it's a pleasure with a sweetness harder to resist than opium.  ......Nn?"
Kanon pulled that butterfly brooch out of his pocket.
It was the crystallization of the great magic that the witch had bestowed.
Without hesitation, Kanon slammed that against the ground and stomped on it.
"......Hoh?  What is the meaning of this, when you know that was something given by me?"

"Just now, I figured it out.  ......What you are doing isn't as tasteful as being a cupid of love.  You are just a demon who enjoys showing love to those who can never be joined, and deceiving them."

"............Hmph.  ...You are free to think that.  Most humans I have lent my power to have said the same thing."

"Don't play dumb!!  You didn't lend Shannon your power because you felt sorry for her.  ...You found a weak point in Shannon's heart as her chest burned with love, and you made her break the mirror that sealed you.  And that's not all, ...you planned this out until the end, and you're toying with her!  Am I wrong?!"

"Fuffufufufufufu, *cackle*!  Furniture is a thoroughly pitiful existence.  So you have no dreams, no future, and even no love?  Good, good, there is nothing better than knowing your place.  *cackle*cackle*!"
".........Gah..."
"Just as you've noticed, there is a faint love in Jessica's heart.  I had hoped that you would punch a hole in that and harvest it."
"......But did you know?  Trees grow thicker branches if you thin out and prune them.  ......A girl who loves furniture, interesting, truly interesting!  Shannon and George will also eventually reach a stalemate with their love, which cannot be fulfilled, and ripen as the kind of large fruit I like."
"However, regretfully, it wouldn't be interesting if they didn't go too far, right?  If that happens, I think you all would entertain me greatly, *cackle*cackle*!"
The witch laughed.
Even though she had known that the two could not be joined, she had lent magic to join them together.

However, they couldn't escape the fate that made it impossible for them to be joined.
......The witch knew that.

Even if they were joined, the relationships of Shannon and George, Kanon and Jessica would fail, and as they wandered through the eternal desert in the hell of love, they would be tormented by eternal thirst...!
"Did I not lend them that power without asking for compensation?  I'll lend a hand in love.  So that as compensation, I can enjoy watching the cruel fate that the two of them will eventually meet.  Even after one thousand years, no better show exists...!"
"Just look at Kinzo.  See how he ended up, an old, pitiful man who knew the taste of love and was thrown out of paradise!  Look at how he lives, like a dead man that can't fully die.  *cackle*cackle*!!"
"You really are a witch.  Disappear and get out of my sight, you demon...!!"
"......I shall disappear without being asked.  My power still hasn't returned.  It is still tiring to continue showing myself.  ......I overdid it when I gave you lovers my power.  ..As I am now, it will not be easy to maintain that power without that brooch as a catalyst."
Kanon ground his foot even more into the stomped brooch.
He felt it break under his foot.

Then, it evaporated like water, and changed into butterflies that sparkled gold, which fluttered away from beneath Kanon's foot...
"I also find it painful when I tend to preserve this form.  But as you ask, I will erase this form for a brief period.  Just like a low tide without the moon, my magical power will surely rise.  ...And I will surely visit, at a time that is appropriate for my revival."
"......I cannot imagine whether that will be tomorrow, next year, or even one hundred or one thousand years in the future.  But as long as there are those that entertain me, I will surely gain power and revive.  ......I will erase this form for a short while, until that time comes."
"The bruise on the palm of your hand is already gone, so if you wish, tomorrow morning, you can let my existence disappear like an illusion or a dream.  ......I won't be saddened just by you forgetting about me."
"However, I will definitely be revived.  Make sure that you won't regret that day's coming at any time.  I will surely have my second coming and control everything as this island's true master.  ...That is the time when the door to the Golden Land will be opened again.  ...I will surely wake the greedy dead...!"

"...You talk too much!!  Disappear, now, Golden Witch...!!"
The witch left with a scorn-filled laugh, became a group of gold butterflies and scattered away.
...The whole area sparkled like a gold blizzard in a snow globe.

It was a fleeting fantastical scene that disappeared in a heartbeat...
The witch could no longer be seen.
...However, Kanon felt like he could still hear that shrill, unpleasant laugh...
......Aahh, how pleasant, how pleasant.
Why is the human world, which I haven't seen in a long time, so pleasant?!

Go insane with love.  Go insane with gold.

Those that don't go insane from those are not human!
I see, so that's why the word furniture is fitting, *cackle*cackle*!
Furniture is created to serve humans.
And I cruelly treat humans as playthings during my thousand years of boredom.
What a truly pleasant three-way deadlock, that I cannot control furniture!
You fool, Kinzo, do something truly interesting!
You, furniture, try and see if you can hit me...!

Tonight, two seeds of love have been sown.
...Including the one already sown, that makes three!
"Beatrice...  Why, ...did you leave me alone in this painful world...?  ......I hate that.  I will hate you for all eternity for not even trying to answer, even though you are yearned after this much...!"
"Master, drinking any more will be damaging to your health.  ...Haven't you also been warned by Doctor Nanjo?"

"Be silent, Genji!!  You do not understand, you do not understand my grief and sadness!  Even though I believed that as my oldest friend, at least you would understand my pain!!  Why can't you understand?!  Oooooohhh, Beatriiiiiice, why did you leave me alooooone......?!!"

"........................"
"Whaaaaaaaaa!  Hic, hic...!  What the hell do you mean by furniture?!  I don't get it...!  Whaaaaaaaaaaaa!!"
"......Oooh, how heart-rending, Jessica-sama.  ...Even though her crying voice that I can hear from her room tells me of the situation, there is nothing I can do.  ...This is all a tragedy due to people who are too young getting too close, when the positions of their birth are too distant.  ...I can do nothing but understand Milady's feelings, hide my footsteps, and quietly walk away..."
"...Umm, ...wh, ...what.........do you mean by that, George-san...?"

"I mean what I said.  ......I still haven't built up my castle.  Once I can do that, for the first time, I will be able to think of myself as an adult.  ......When that happens, I want to marry you."

"......Th, ......that's, umm, ......err..."

"But, my heart won't let me do that anymore.  ......So I want to give you an engagement ring."
"E, ...engagement, ......you say...  But, umm, ......I, ......am, ...............furniture........."

"Maybe that's true.  And furniture has to listen to what people say.  ...Now, I will have a ring made that's appropriate to give to you.  I think I'll probably bring it to the family conference coming up soon.  I'll give it to you then, so please, I want you to let me hear your answer."

"......If you accept my engagement proposal, I will proclaim right there, to all of the relatives, including Grandfather, my engagement to you."

"G, ......George-san............"

"I'm sure some people won't approve of our relationship.  ...But, there's no need to look at their faces.  ...Because you only have to fill your eyes with me."

"I will definitely make you happy.  That, I promise you, definitely."
I look forward to seeing how it will ripen!

The gold butterflies do not swoop upon the juice of overripe and rotting fruit.

I cannot wait for the day of harvest to come!  Is the time of the banquet here yet?!  *cackle*cackle*hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha...!!

Chessboard Preparations

Sat, Oct 4 1986
They had eaten breakfast at a coffee shop in the station building.

...By chance, the inside of the shop had been decorated with Halloween colors, since it was October.
It seemed that Maria had been awfully pleased with that.

And since then, she had kept on making a fuss inside the train about wanting to have a Halloween festival, without caring that she was attracting the attention of others.
Halloween is popular in Europe and America, but people aren't familiar with it at all in Japan.

The shopping district was colorfully decorated with orange pumpkins, but the costume parades of children demanding sweets and saying 'trick or treat' were nowhere in sight.
"Uu-!  I want a Halloween festival!  I don't want to wear these western clothes, I want to look like a witch!  Uu-uu-!"
"The family conference isn't for playing.  We're going to meet Grandfather, so you have to wear western clothes."
While it wasn't completely full inside the train, it was really packed, with almost all of the seats occupied by passengers.
Among them, Maria was making a fuss, stomping her feet on the seat while Rosa scowled at her.

Since earlier, Rosa had warned her many times to lower her voice, but Maria hadn't obeyed her at all.
...Once Maria gets this way, no matter how much you try to explain the situation or calm her, she doesn't listen.

Before, Rosa used to pamper Maria and give in to her at times like this.
But, that had probably been a bad thing.

When young Maria had complained noisily, her mother had given in, wrongly assuming that Maria had listened to what she had said.
Rosa had realized that error with the help of an educational book, and since then, she had turned the part of her heart that wanted to pamper her beloved daughter into a demon...

But Rosa managed to get less and less of a mutual understanding with Maria, and started to be discouraged by her own powerlessness little by little...

"Halloween, Halloween!!  If you don't give me sweets, I'll play a prank, uu-uu-uu-!!""I don't have sweets to give you!  You just ate breakfast!"

"If you don't give me sweets, I'll play a prank!  If you don't give me sweets, I'll play a prank!  Uu-uu-uu-!!"
A stout old woman, who was sitting nearby as Maria stomped her feet, picked a candy out of her handbag and gave it to Maria.

"Uu-!  Got a sweet, got a sweet!  Look, look, Mama, Mama!  Happy Hallowee~n!"
"Hey Maria, you can't just accept sweets from strangers, right?!  Return it!!"
"It's alright, ho ho ho.  She's a lovely young lady.  How old is she?"
Maybe there was no malice in those words from the old woman.  ...But, it seemed that Rosa had taken that in an extremely humiliating way.

"Maria, I'm always telling you to not accept sweets from strangers!!"
"Uu-!  Uu-!!  Maria got that!!  Uu-uu-!!  No, Maria's!!"

"Let go of it!  Don't I always tell you to listen to what Mama says?!!"
"Mari-a's!!  Mariaaaa's!!  Uu-!!  Uuu--uuu--!!"
"Don't I always tell you not to say uu-uu-!!"
"Uu-uu-uu-uu-uu-uu-uu-uu-!!!"

Rosa reflexively hit Maria violently on her cheek.
...In a flash, Maria started crying loudly.
Rosa immediately took the candy from Maria's hand and pushed it back towards the dumbfounded old woman sitting next to them.
"...Please, do not just give sweets to my daughter!"
"...............I'm, ...I'm very sorry."
Breathing heavily, Rosa once again held the candy out to the old woman.

...After the old woman grew bewildered about what she should say, perhaps she understood that what she had done may have caused trouble to parent and child, and she accepted the candy back, apologizing...
Then, Rosa finally took notice of her surroundings...

Her daughter's clothes were all messed up, she was crying and shouting with her nose dripping, and there were many dumbfounded passengers watching them.
...Except for the sound of the train running, the interior was completely silent.
Fortunately, that pitiful silence didn't last more than a short while.
...However, it was followed by an even more painful atmosphere as everyone whispered.
Maria shouted, cried, kicked and stomped her feet as usual, paying no heed to the people sitting around her.

...Impulsively, Rosa tried to slap her again, but she noticed the cold eyes of the people in the train, and couldn't do that anymore.
When the train stopped, Rosa forcibly pulled Maria's arm and got off, almost dragging her daughter along.
As usual, Maria didn't stop crying.
Rosa took her to the end of the platform and hit her cheek again.
At the moment she was hit, Maria stopped crying for an instant, but before long, she shouted and cried even more then before.

Rosa, whose emotions had exploded, grabbed the nape of Maria's neck and dragged her, tugging at her hair.

"Uu-!!  Uu-uu-uu-!!  Uu-!!  Mama, it hurts, Mama, it hurts!!  Uu-uu-uu-!!"
"That's why I'm telling you to shut up!!  That uu-uu- of yours!  I'm telling you to stop that!!  That's the reason you can't make friends in class, right?!  Get a hold of yourself!!  Why are you always a kindergartner inside your head?!!  Why can't you obey what Mama says?!!  Why!!  Why!!!"
Along with those severe words, Rosa hit Maria's cheek over and over again.
The more Maria cried and shouted, the more Rosa hit her.
And the more Maria was hit, the more intensely she cried and shouted...
"Mama, it hurts...!  Mama, it hurts...!  Mama, save me, Mama, save me...!  Uu-uu-uu-uu-!!"
"Why can't you stop that uu-uu-!!  It's because you're like this that you can't make friends!!  It's because you are like this that Papa's business trip doesn't end!!  It's because you are like this that I...!!"
"ah, ...excuse me, ...madam, did something happen...?"
"Is there something, that you want...?!"

The one who timidly called to her was the station attendant.
Rosa glared at him with a look that said 'don't cut into the problems of a mother and a child, stranger'.
The station attendant surely hadn't wanted to talk to her.
However, Rosa had been yelling on the platform for a much longer time than she had imagined.

...Her emotional scolding had caused the passengers on the platform to advise the station attendant that it would be a good idea to call out to her.
Rosa yelled at the station attendant not to worry anymore, since they would get on the next train.
...And then, finally, or maybe we should say, for the second time, ...she noticed the passengers on the platform staring at her from the distance.
......Rosa sweat slightly and felt the wind torturing her, making her sweat cold.
Maria still kept on crying, shielding her own head.
......No, ...if this beating continues, she will probably keep crying forever.
".................., ......I, ............again......"
As Rosa recovered from the evil heat inside her head, ...she knew she had surrendered her soul to something bad again.
"Mama, Mama!  Mama, come back...!  Uu-!  Uu-uu-uu-uu-!!"
Rosa fell to her knees and hugged Maria, whose face was all soggy with tears and mucus.

"......Maria..., I'm sorry..., I'm sorry..."
"Mama, ......Mama...  Welcome back, welcome back......"

Finally, ...Maria realized that her mother had turned back to being her mother.
Then, she clung to her mother's body and cried, burying her face on her mother's chest.
"...Forgive your bad Mama...  Forgive your bad Mama.........I'm really, ...sorry...!  Please, don't hate your Mama......."
"Uu-...  Maria is perfectly fine...  Won't hate Mama.  ......Mama was only being possessed by an evil witch again.  ...But, Mama came back, so just fine."
"Yeah, ......yeah.........Mama was just, ...being possessed by an evil witch again......I'm sorry, ......I'm really sorry......."
The two of them hugged each other, asking for forgiveness and sending words of forgiveness at each other, for a long time.
After a while, the two of them gradually calmed down and separated their faces from one another.

Maria's face, Rosa's face, ...both were deep red after crying their eyes out.

"...Do you want to have a Halloween festival, Maria?"
"Yeah.  ...I wanted to show the pumpkin marshmallow to George onii-chan and Jessica onee-chan......."
That was a sweet which had been alongside the cash register at the shop where they had eaten breakfast.

......It was a fancy sweet that had a big orange marshmallow in the shape of a jack o'lantern attached to the tip of a stick.

Maria had wanted that and had insistently pestered for it.
...Rosa had said that there was no way she would buy such a sweet right after they'd had breakfast, and had rejected it.
"......Then, Maria.  ......I don't know if they sell it in this town or not, but let's get off and try searching for it, okay?"
"u, ......yeah!  Like you so much Mama, love you...  Thank you..."
"I love you too, Maria......."
The truth was that they had no time to waste loitering around at a stopover station.
If they missed the airplane, they would fall half a day behind schedule.

She should have left home with more time to spare, but she had ended up leaving late after choosing Maria's clothes.
...Because of that, Rosa had been a bit impatient since the morning.
She looked at the clock.  ...They had to get on the next train immediately.
But, her daughter firmly joined hands with her to go buy the sweet with her mother, and that hand was warm.

...To Rosa as she was now, it was more important to regrow her bonds with Maria.
...To her, Maria was not only a beloved daughter,  ...she was everything Rosa had.
Fortunately, they could see that there was a big supermarket right in front of the station.
...Maybe they wouldn't be able to find a sweet exactly like that one, but Maria would probably accept a similar one.

Besides, Rosa also couldn't show up with a face swelled from crying.  She must fix her make-up.
"Maybe we won't find a marshmallow exactly like that one, ...but it's alright if there's a similar sweet, right?  ......With that, let's surprise all your cousins together."
"Yeah.  ...If it's a sweet I bought together with Mama, anything is fine."
The two left the turnstiles of the station in this unknown town.
Maria walked across the pedestrian crossing together with her mother, chuckling to herself, as though she was walking in an amusement park.

Both faces were still deep red, ......but the two of them, mother and child, smiled at each other without any restraint, looking warm...
".........Dear.  What are you doing in a place like this?"

"Oh, it's you.  .........It's nothing.  It's just that this was a pleasant place to think."
"...I'm finishing all of today's preparations.  For now, shall we relax and wait while drinking tea?"

".........Sorry.  I'm always pushing all my problems on you."
"...Please.  Can't you rely on me more?  ...I am your wife."

"...Naturally, I'm grateful for you always coming to my aid.  ......For that very reason, I am able to devote myself to my work."

"I understand.  ......About your work.  And the topic of Father's inheritance, right?"

"............That has nothing to do with you.  It's nothing more than fishing for rotten meat amongst greedy siblings."
"......It's alright, dear.  ...Everything will work out.  Your work never goes badly."
"............."

Natsuhi softly cuddled close to Krauss's shoulder.

She spoke words to reward Krauss for the difficulties of his work, ...but Natsuhi was herself the one who knew best that it wasn't going well.
...Krauss's project was something like a seesaw where a large amount of money swings.

A big investment is linked to large collateral, but with a large-sized seesaw, the swaying is greatly slowed, and it's not something which shows immediate results.
At times, you make more investments so that the seesaw inclines faster towards the good side.
......Naturally, you do that because you have confidence that, in a not so distant future, you'd be able to recover all the investments made.

...However, the seesaws Krauss chose never turned out as he would have liked them to.
...His foresight wasn't wrong, ......but times were slow.  They would never catch up with him.
For example, think of a literal seesaw, placed in a park.

Due to its great popularity, there's always someone playing on it, and even if you wanted to play, you had to wait a long time for your turn.

...And then, if you found that seesaw vacant on a certain day and were the first one to arrive, you would straddle it and have it all to yourself.
However, ...if nobody got on the opposite side of the seesaw, you couldn't play on it.
And no matter how much time passed, nobody would come to the opposite side of the seesaw.

The seesaw is a popular piece of playground equipment so, if you waited, a companion would surely show up.
......Krauss was aware of that.

The weather looked like it was getting worse.
So, nobody would come outside to play.
But the seesaw is a popular piece of playground equipment so, surely someone will come.
...If he vacated his place because the weather seemed to be getting worse, certainly someone would snatch his place away, and he would end up only longingly gazing at someone having fun playing on the seasaw from a distance again...

On one side of the seesaw, he continued to wait patiently, all alone...
That was Krauss's project, and his current situation.

"............If only I had a bit more courage, ...and the self-confidence to believe in my own foresight...  I'd never, ......have failed."
"...Yes, that's true.  Your foresight is never wrong.  ......You are the only one who inherited Father's quick wits.  You inherited an innate disposition that none of the other siblings did."

"......Even so, I cannot believe that!  I always closed my own projects like a coward.  ......Why can't I believe in myself?!  Who would believe in a man who can't believe in himself?  Nobody believes!!"
"......I'm always sitting on the seat where the losers must sit, ......my father, my mother, ...and my siblings, all of them sneer at me...  How long is it going to take for me to be set free of this complex......  How long........."
...Only Natsuhi knew.

She knew of Krauss's anguish.  As the eldest son of the Ushiromiya family, who had been forced to shoulder a big responsibility from now on, he couldn't open his pained heart to anyone, and was always compared to his father's great enterprises....
".........I'll finish all the preparations, so you can devote yourself to the family conference.  ...I'll handle all of them."
"............Sorry.  ......Will there be any problems, ......with Father?"
"No.  ......Genji and Doctor Nanjo are on our side.  ...I'll never allow those greedy siblings to meet Father."
"Hello, Gohda here.  ......Yes, please leave it to me!  I'm anxious to put my skills to work for the big annual job."
In the kitchen, multicolored ingredients were gathered and the preliminary arrangements were promptly being started.

Even though it was still morning, the ingredients for dinner were already in saucepans and steaming.
Normally, he had to deal with several assorted matters other than cooking, but on the day of the family conference, he could devote himself entirely to cooking.

To Gohda, who was originally a chef, this was surely the greatest gala occasion of the whole year.
"Yes, dinner will be an excellent calf steak...!  A wonderful cut of meat is already anxiously waiting for tonight in the refrigerator.  Please, be sure to look forward to the meal tonight."

It was rare for Gohda to be in this good of a mood towards his fellow servants.

To Gohda, who bragged about being a chef attached to the Ushiromiya family, being qualified to announce the cooking at the family conference was his greatest honor.
"......Understood.  I will leave everything to you.  ...Also, is Kumasawa there?"
"Kumasawa-san?  I happened to see her earlier, but she is not here.  I wonder if she went to make preparations at the guesthouse."
"......So she is loafing around again.  ......No, it is fine.  Then, I am counting on you from now on."
"Yes, leave everything to me, Gohda...!"
Genji placed the telephone back on the receiver, sighing lightly.

Genji sighed once again, thinking of Kumasawa, who was probably hiding again even though things were this busy, and the ostentatious Gohda, who only felt like doing anything on a day when he could show off.

"Excuse me.  The preparations for all the rooms in the guesthouse are complete."
"......We received instructions from Milady to make preparations for four people so that the children can stay there, but what shall we do?"

"...I hear this year, Battler-sama is coming for the first time in six years.  I guess Milady wants the four cousins to stay up until late in the night.  .....Make the preparations.  You do not need to tell Madam."
"I see.  Certainly."

"......So tonight, we'll have the late night shift, followed immediately by the morning shift.  It looks like these two days will be tiresome."
"Speaking of that, the weather forecast is saying a typhoon will strike right over here...  Is that alright?"
"...As long as the typhoon doesn't go too far astray from its course, and depending on the situation, I believe it will affect the boat trip back for everyone in the family.  Maybe the family conference's schedule will be prolonged until around Monday or Tuesday.  ......It will probably be a long journey, but I earnestly ask of you all to not make any blunders."
"............Shannon, do not be in a hurry, calm yourself.  Kanon, be sure to greet them with courtesy."

"......Y, yes.  I'll be careful."
"...I'll be careful."

"Today is a day that an important guest will be coming.  ...See that you do not make any blunders."
"......We understand.  ...Any guest who visits here is important."


"Kanon.  In the truest sense, we will

receive an important guest・・・・・・ today.  Make sure that you are prepared."
"......Yes."

".........Shannon, what's wrong?  ...It seems you have been uneasy about something.  Do you have some prior engagement at this time?"
"Huh?  N, no, it's nothing.  My apologies..."

"Nee-san.  An important guest will be arriving today.  ...Detach yourself from your private life."
"I don't, ...I don't know what you mean by private life..."

As Shannon blushed just a bit, she turned her gaze away from the clock.

......Was it about time for the airplane carrying the family to arrive at Niijima?

...She had planned on to hiding the fact that her reunion with George after such a long time was making her heart palpitate, but Kanon, who stood at her side, understood her perfectly.
".........Shannon, be quiet and accept this...!"
...Inside a bathroom stall, George was practicing something over and over, taking out a small velvet box hidden in his pocket like a quick-draw desert gunman.
"That's not it...  Shannon likes a man with traction.  I, it must have a more powerful feel to it...!"
"Shannon, put this on your ring finger.  ...Th, that's an order, okay...?"
"Aah, if I don't say properly that it's on the left hand, maybe she'll put on the right hand!  N-, no, Shannon isn't that ignorant, aaah but, if there's no free will, that'd be a little, I mean, uuuuuu, nnnnuuuuuuu, muuuuuuuaaaaaaaaahhhh...!!"
As he crossed his arms, nodding, someone knocked on the door.
George was suddenly brought back to reality.
"Hey, George-kun.  You alright?  Got a stomachache or something?"
"Ah, ahahahaha, Rudolf oji-san...!  It's alright, I'm fine!  No need to worry, ahahahahahaha...!"
"Really...?  That's good then.  But you know, you're straining yourself way too much.  Your ass'll burst."

Rudolf washed his hands, laughing cheerfully, and left.
...George knew that the most embarrassing part hasn't been overheard, and he patted his chest, feeling relieved...

"Kyrie, isn't Rosa here yet?"
"Not yet.  She's late."
"Since it seems the weather is changing, it'll be fine.  If the schedule had gone on normally, she would've missed the plane.  What would she have done then?"

"...Rosa-san is an adult now.  She'd manage it somehow.  No matter how old they get, older brothers always treat their younger sisters like children."
"Dad's the same, no matter how old he gets, he's just a child."

"What'd you say?  If I'm a child, you're a baby, aren't you?  Come on, Battler-chan, up up~!"
"Stop it, that tickles, wahahaha, stooop!"
"You look more like two bratty friends than a father and son.  ...Look, she's here."

"Ohoooooooooh!!  S'Rosa-san!  Maria, long time no see!!"
"Long time no see-!  Uu-!"

"Maria!  Shouldn't that be 'It's good to see you again'?  Say it, would you?"
"Uu-.  It's...good to see you again..."
"Thass right!  Ya said it durn good!  I'll give a sweet as a reward!  ......huh?  Where'd I put 'em..."

"Rosa-san, it's good to see you again.  It's good to see you too, Maria-chan."
"We have been out of touch, haven't we Kyrie nee-san, Hideyoshi nii-san.  ...And, ......my, Battler-kun?!  You're so big now...!"
"No wa~y, hah-hah-haah...  It's embarrassing having to hear that every time I meet someone today...!"

"Hey, Rosa.  You're late.  If the airplane was on schedule, you'd barely have made it in time, right...?"
"I'm sorry.  The train connection didn't go well.  What, is the weather changing again?"
"Don't complain, don't complain.  If our only other option is to be shaken for six hours going by boat, it's much better to spend a mere 20 minutes going by airplane.  Even if we were made to wait for one hour more, it'd be much faster."

"Is that Maria...?  You sure have gotten big...  She's at that growing age..."
"You last met her six years ago, right?  A lot has changed.  Women are animals that are born again in only one day when they have a change of heart."

"......Uu-?"
Maria noticed a big man who she didn't remember mixed among the relatives, and hid behind Rosa's back, glaring at Battler.

"Hey, Battler, greet her.  The last time you met her was when she was three years old, so this is just like a first meeting."
"She wouldn't remember if she was 3!  Hey Maria, long time no see.  You sure have gotten big!"

"Maria.  This is Battler onii-chan.  Rudolf oji-san's son.  ...Understand?"
"............The brother's son is...  The brother is a son.  ............??  ......Uuuu---!!"

She was obviously being cautious.
After all, it would be no surprise if she found it frightening for a large guy like Battler to suddenly start speaking frankly to her.

Battler noticed that as well, and thought of various ways he might approach her.
Then, he noticed the sweet she had in her hand.
It was the jack o'lantern sweet that Rosa had bought for her.

"I see, it's October, so that must be for Halloween.  Ihihihi, if you don't give me sweets, I'll play a prank, ri~ght?!"

If you try to snatch a sweet away from a small child, normally, you'd expect them to cry and start a fuss.

The adults thought that method wasn't good, but surprisingly, Maria looked pleased, her face splitting into a wide grin.

"Halloween, Halloween!!  Look, Mama, Battler also knows about Halloween, look, look!!"
"Hey, call him Battler onii-chan!  Sorry, Battler-kun."

"No, no, don't sweat it.  Please call me Battler.  Because I'll also call you Maria.  Look, Maria, it's Halloween!  If you don't give me sweets, I'll play a prank~!!"
"If you don't give me sweets, I'll play a prank~!!  Kyahahaha, Kyakkya!!"

From inside her purse, Maria picked out a jack o'lantern sweet similar to the one she had in her hand and presented it to Battler.
It seemed that Battler accepting it was enough to confirm their friendship.

The adults were amazed at how the children had established communication with each other.

To Maria, who had been complaining that she wanted to have a Halloween festival, it must have felt like Battler was a friend, since he knew about trick or treat.

Her defensive posture from before was completely gone.
Now, she was all merry, as though they been friends for decades.

"That's right, in Japan, Halloween is a minor event.  You oftenly see people marching in costume parades on the news from overseas, but I've never seen it in Japan."
"Maria wanted to wear a costume too.  Wanted to say 'If you don't give me sweets, I'll play a prank' with all the cousins wearing costumes..."

"I see, I see.  Next time, let's do it together!  What costume Maria would like to march with?"
"A witch!!  Beatrice!"

"Oh, Milady, what are doing in such a place?  Madam was looking for you."
"I don't want to be found, that's why I'm in this place.  ...At any rate, I'm sure she only wants to scold me, like 'is your appearance alright?' and 'watch your language'."
"Hoh-hoh-ho...  Without a doubt."

"......You know.  When the day of the family conference comes, for some reason, I feel uneasy about this witch."
"Hoh...  Why do you say that again...?"
"The family conference is the day when everyone related to Grandfather gathers.  ......I hear that this time, Battler will also come after being away for six years. ...Something like that.  I always wonder about whether some 'relative' who hasn't shown themselves for several decades might unexpectedly appear."
"............Hohoh.  Could a relative like that exist...?"
"It's Beatrice-sama.  ......Nobody knows her background.  Could she be Grandfather's mistress from long ago?  ......Maybe her descendants will unexpectedly appear and tell us to return the gold we were granted or something, right?"
"Hoh-hoh-hoh-ho...  Krauss-sama and the others will probably have a discussion about the Master's inheritance problem this year too.  ...So, if they get excited with that talk of the witch's gold, it would be just natural if the witch who gave out the gold came soon herself, right?"
"Kumasawa-san, you know, ...you're very busy with retiring and your work and all, but you've been here as long as Genji-san, right?  ......You know more, about Beatrice, don't you?"

"......Well, I wonder.  Hoh-hoh-ho...  Even if I try to remember, this old woman here can't even recall what she had for breakfast this morning..."
"Kumasawa-san, you're always escaping with those excuses, but you know something, right?  Sometimes you feel kinda devious, like you know something and you're laughing behind our backs, right?"

"Hoh-hoh-ho..., that's harsh.  ...I don't have any secrets.  ......The only thing I can say is that Beatrice-sama is the Golden Witch, and that she is the other master who controls the night of this island."

"That's second-hand talk from Grandfather.  It must be a pain to go along Grandfather's tales, even though you get paid."
"......But, I can say this much."
"...What?"
".....In ancient times, Rokkenjima was feared, and called 'Azukishima' (Azuki Bean Island).  The 'Azuki' is said to be a mispronounced form of 'Akujiki' and in fact it was called 'Akujikishima' (Evil Appetite Island).  That is what is told among the fishermen."
"I've also heard that.  It's that story about, since there are lots of sunken rocks and shipwrecks around here, the fishermen got afraid and unreasonably didn't approach here, right?"
"......Evil spirits settled down in Akujikishima and continued to eat the souls of people since ancient times.  ...There were lots of people related to this island who were dispossessed of their lives."
"And then, a traveling mountaineering ascetic or someone built that shrine, reposed the souls and settled them there, wasn't it?  ...What a shady story."
"That shrine for the repose of souls was destroyed by an eerie violet thunderbolt this summer, which tore up the darkness of the night..."
"Kumasawa-san, you really like those stories.  I'll admit that it'd be pretty eerie for a shrine for the repose of souls to disappear with a thunderbolt.  But, well, it was all worn out from the start.  I wonder if it wasn't just carried away by some large wave.  Hahahahaha."

"The evil spirits of Akujikishima woke up from their sleep, and summoned Beatrice-sama.  .........If Beatrice-sama happened to come for the family conference..."
"If she happened to come...?"

Kumasawa kept silent for a moment there.
...To Jessica, who wanted to press her to keep going, it was an eerie silence.

When Kumasawa realized she was scaring Jessica with her silence, she grinned broadly.
"Well now, I wonder what would happen.  Hoh-hoh-hoh-hoh-ho..."
"Whoa, isn't that wonderful."
"Isn't it?  Isn't it useful for your work to enrich your heart and have an elegant time every once in a while...?"
"I think so.  The heart and the wallet must be rich.  Got it, I'll keep that day open.  Please, make the reservations."
"Understood.  Absolutely."
"Yeah, I'm counting on you.  I love you, Kyrie."
After kissing the receiver, Rudolf hung up.

...Before his seat, there are many executives with their sleeves rolled up, eagerly awaiting the end of that phone call.
"I'm sorry for making you wait.  Did the contact from America come?"
"Yes.  It's from the lawyer Dale Watanabe on the external line.  I'll transfer it."
"......Overall, how do you feel about the situation?"
"That is, well, ......it seems one thing is not favorable.  It seems the other party doesn't plan to withdraw from the trial at all."
"......Looks like we can't fool 'em after all.  Ahaha...  Please, transfer it here."
"Understood.  Immediately."
The executive ordered that the external line be transferred to the secretarial office.
"Hello.  'Hello, hello'!  Sorry for the wait, Ushiromiya speaking.  Thanks, thanks.  How is it going over there?"
"'Hello', President Ushiromiya.  Let's skip the greetings and go right into the main question.  I have good news and bad news, which one shall we start with?"
"...The bad news can go first.  I can't fight if there's no dessert."
"Understood.  The bad news is that the other party has started preparations to prosecute our party.  Just a few days ago, a similar trial resulted in a judicial decision where the plaintiff won.  The defendants were also arguing with roughly the same arguments we'll allege, but they were rejected in everything.  I'm afraid to say it, but if we face the courtroom as we are now, the probability that our allegations will be rejected is extremely high."
"...So that other trial was a disaster.  ......Even though I was thinking that their conditions were more favorable than ours.  That's tough, huh.  Then, what about the good news?"
"I managed to get in contact with the executives of the other party.  I explained to the other party the situation we are in, explained that we have no intentions of violating the other party's brand image, and I managed to get their understanding.  The other party will offer us conditions in a few days, and if these are carried out, they promised to withdraw from the prosecution.  This is their proposal according to the number 2 man on their board of directors."
"Your impression?"

"Honestly, I expect the conditions will be extremely severe.  We assume that changing the company name and the brand name will be inevitable.  Where we do have margin in the negotiations is the amount of settlement money, the appearance of a public apology on a major newspaper, and the amount of time needed to carry out those things."
"These guys are simply and indirectly telling us to go bankrupt."
"The other party, in the recent years, just changed to their second president and the groundwork is not finished yet over there.  If we resist until the bitter end, they fear that the forces who want to go against the current president wouldn't hesitate to do some work in favor of the enemy.  Hence, it seems the big shots of the other party want to settle this matter as fast as possible too.  Hence, for the sake of a quick settlement, maybe we still have enough leeway to pull for some mitigation of the conditions."
"At any rate, will an absurd amount of money be necessary?"
"You need to be prepared for that.  And even so, it would be much cheaper than disciplinary compensation."
"Thank you very much.  If there's any more progress, please contact me.  You have a high salary, so no idle gossiping around.  Hahahaha.  'Thank you, thank you, goodbye'."
Rudolf hung up the phone.
It seemed that the executives sitting at the reception seats could guess about the contents of that discussion.
"......So you heard it, you rascals.  Well, you get the point.  As long as we get the money, they will forgive us.  After that, we should make only the amount of money the point at issue."
"But, President.  The supposed sum for the settlement that Mr. Watanabe indicated is too much.  We don't have that much of a margin...!"
"When we knew it would become like this, we started the diversifying, didn't we...!"
"The calculations were that we could escape the capital crisis if we were able to endure for three years.  ...It can't be, to be stabbed here..., really, we're in no position for that...!"
"I guess we fell at the 'step' of the 'hop, step, jump'.  I could cry."
"We have no choice but to draw the money from the main bank."
"Banks are no good.  They only bet their money on winning horses.  ...The situation is getting better, but we can't show weakness to the banks."
"......President.  Do we have any funds which are unaccounted for?  Funds that are out of our grip?"
"Stop that.  Do I look like that kind of man?  The contents of my wallet are all exposed to you guys, alright?  The account books over there show all that our company has."
"In that case, ......we need to raise money.  We need a sponsor who can draw in several million for us as soon as possible."
"......President!  Couldn't something be worked out with one of your associates...?!"
"President!  President...!"
"...Aaaah, calm down, you bastards.  ......I'll find a way to raise the money.  You guys maintain the business without making too much noise.  The other side is saying that they will forgive us as long as we gather the money.  We already have thick pipelines in Asia.  Things'll probably be shaky, but we'll be able to maintain transactions.  In short, the point is that if we gather the money, we'll be able to settle everything."
"Look, I'll settle everything.  I won't let you out in the cold.  Start feeling like you've gotten on a big boat!  When I settle things safely, I'll be rewarding all of you guys with a champagne tower.  I promise.  So, shut up and come with me.  Alright?!!"
The airplane suddenly shook.  Probably because of turbulence.

Rudolf woke up because of that shaking.
Since he had woken up early that morning, he had ended up drifting off to sleep while resting in his seat.

"...Are you alright?  You're still very drowsy, aren't you?  Lately, it seems you've been very busy at your work."
"Being busy at work is great, isn't it?  If I start wasting time, we'll all be out in the cold starting tomorrow."
"You're right.  Since Battler-kun's come back, it would be a problem if the two of us had to go around begging."
"......That's right.  After six years, the whole family is present.  ...So, the family head has to give his best to be able to spend time together without outsiders..."
When he looked outside the window, he saw that the airplane was already starting to drop in altitude considerably.
The fishing boats, which had only looked like black grains until a short while ago had started to become clearly visible.
".........If I could borrow ten million at once by prostrating myself before Father, I'd do it a dozen times, but...  If I can't, I better hurry and start to hide myself.  .........I've always depended severily on his financial support, and now I'm going for the inheritance.  ............I'm going to hell.  ...I guess Father won't want to meet me like this......"
"......Could it be that, this year too, you do not plan on going out at the family conference?"

Nanjo looked at Kinzo's face, sighing.
...Kinzo's eyes were rooted to those strange magic books.

"I don't want to join in on the argument of those vultures.  They can discuss how they will suck my bones as they wish.  ......They really are foolish."
".....................My, my.  How troublesome..."

Nanjo shook his head slightly.

...To him, children and grandchildren were lovely things.
And he believed that their growth was the only enjoyment for old men.

To him, Kinzo's words were a very sad thing.

"If the time I must leave this room comes, I will show myself.  ......Just as that one does not show itself."
When Kinzo raised his face, in the direction of his gaze was the portrait of the witch, which was respectfully displayed on the wall...
"............"
Inside Kinzo's head, there was nothing like 'today is the day of the family conference and all my dear family will gather together'.
......There was only the face of the witch in the oil painting, who didn't smile except inside the portrait...

Everybody knew that when Kinzo talked about Beatrice, unnecessarily cutting in would instigate his wrath...

"Today, I'll, ...hold a certain ceremony."
"Hoh.  ...And what would that be?"

"......It would be more accurate to call it a gamble.  ...Because miracles do not dwell in magic that doesn't bear risks."
Nanjo already heard that story many times over.
You could call it Kinzo's favorite phrase.

......It seemed that Kinzo believed that magic and miracles could happen by betting your own fate with certain kind of risk and triumphing...
"So, Kinzo-san, you who were once called the Golden Gambler, that old man who could go to the other world at any time, I wonder what kind of gamble you will seek...  I guess this will be worth seeing..."
"Hmph.........I see.  If the secret ritual I devoted my research to hits you who is not proficient at magic as well, would you call it a gamble?  Whatever."
"...............I believe in miracles and if I win, you will be able to understand clearly that all my research, which probably only appears as vagary in your eyes, did bear fruits in this day.  If you win, ......it will all end as nothing more than the vagary of the old man who can go to the other world at any time, in accordance to what you saw."

"Hoh...  I wonder what on earth is this gamble you will start...  As your friend, in that bet, ...no, was it a ceremony?  ...I only pray from the bottom of my heart that you can win in that ceremony."
"Hmm, ...I thank you."

"......Speaking of that, Kinzo-san.  You heard that a longed-for guest will be present at the family meeting this year?"
"What......?"
Kinzo reacted in a unusual way to Nanjo's words and turned around.

"Right, Battler-kun from Rudolf-san's family.  I hear he will be coming after six years.  I'm sure he has became a splendid boy."

"............Oh, Battler?  ...I wouldn't call him 'longed for', a guest who doesn't show up for six years."

After hearing Battler's name and showing an ill-humored expression, as though saying that was a let-down, Kinzo turned his back again.
"I guess these six years went by in a blink of an eye to you since you began immersing yourself in your research in this room..."
"Hmph.  ......Possibly, a truly longed-for guest, .........will pay us a visit.  .........Everything depends on the results of the roulette.  ...The roulette is already starting to revolve.  Rouge, or Noir?"
"............Tonight, let us enjoy ourselves as we see what kind of miracle the roulette will show us.  ...The payoffs are large.  And I don't feel like losing...  ......Beatrice, ...you can accept my bet........."
At that time, the telephone on the table rang.

It seemed that the piercing sound didn't please Kinzo, and he picked up the receiver in order to preserve the silence as much as he could.
"......What is it?  I'm busy."
"Genji speaking.  Everyone has arrived."
"And what's wrong with that?  You can serve them some tea or something."
"...Certainly.  I'll do that."
Kinzo hung up the phone rudely.

Looking at that, Nanjo sighed yet again and shifted his attention outside the window.
As he is now, Kinzo is probably not interested in any kind of guest.
...Did a guest exist who would make Kinzo come out when the time came, as he had said?

He had someone in mind, but that guest couldn't appear...
Nanjo stared at the witch of the portrait, who held a candid facial expression, unable to decide whether she was smiling or sad, and he gazed up at the lead-colored sky......
Very well, are all the pieces lined up now......?
Shall we line up all of these pieces again and start a new game?

"Do you have a problem...?"
"......Nope."
The witch looked at him in challenge while elegantly smoking her pipe.

And Battler?
He just slovenly shrugged his shoulders as though he didn't really feel like being her opponent.

He just couldn't make his eyes meet hers.  But that didn't mean he wasn't a match for her.
...It signified his plain determination to never be taken in by the artifices of this bastard.

It was an expression of his powerful determination to fight.

"Don't you tell me you don't have a plan...?"
"Since I don't know your moves, I don't have any plan.  ...Feel free to take the initiative."

"Hmph...  Naturally, you'll allow me that.  In what way shall I destroy your defense?  With how many moves will I checkmate you?  ......It's an opportunity to display my skills."

"............Whatever moves you come at me with, I won't believe you!  ...As long as I stand my ground on that point, I won't lose.  And that's that.  This game was made so that I can't defeat you, right...?"
"Maybe you're right.  However, you know what?  I'll decide how many times we'll repeat this game.  It will be repeated over and over again, until I win and you recognize your defeat, okay...?"
"In other words, this is torture.  It's eternal torture that will continue until you surrender to me...!  It will continue eternally, until you recognize me and the existence of the witch!"
"......In that case, I'll go along with you endlessly, any number of times, until you run out of patience.  I've never lost in these 'endurance competitions'."

"Did a witch from somewhere suggest that to you...?  *cackle*cackle*, that's just fine...!"
"I'm tired of listening to your rambling.  ...C'mon, get this started!"

"Come, let us begin!  I already know your moves far too well.  A defense doesn't amount to much if the plan behind it is known!  Don't think you'll be able to defy me with the same moves!!"

"......Beatrice.  I have only one thing to tell you before we start."

"What is it...?"
"You're free to say anything.  However, whether I'll believe you or not, is something・I'll decide・for myself...!  No matter how much of this magic you have!  My soul won't yield to you.  You think this is torture for me?  You're wrong!!"
"Then, what are you talking about...!"
"This is torture for you!!  Someday you will yield to me and give up!  Until then, you'll be tortured over and over again!"
"How interesting, that's a nice comparison!!  Torture where we torment each other sounds truly interesting!  Come, shall we begin that torture!!  Ushiromiya Battleeeeer!!!"

Guest of Honor

Sat, Oct 4 1986 10:45AM
Every year, the relatives who visit Rokkenjima let out a sigh of admiration at the rose garden which first greets them...
They stand still, talking with each other about the roses' beauty and the state of their blooming.

In the midst of all this, there was a single unhealthy rose, and Maria became overwhelmed with dejection at its state.

But George used his quick wits, and, saying everything would be fine if they looked over this poor thing, marked it with a candy wrapper, and immediately restored Maria's good mood.

And once Battler, with whom she had been getting along well since that morning, raised the subject that Maria loved so much, Halloween, she began playing around energetically again.
Maria probably treasured that marshmallow jack-o-lantern candy that her mother had bought for her more than anything.

...It seemed that several of them had been bought for her, and she demanded trick-or-treat from every person she met, giving them candy instead of the other way around.

"I wonder why Maria likes Halloween so much.  I thought that event was pretty difficult for Japanese people to get used to."
"Isn't that because it's a kid's festival where they get to parade around in costumes?  It's fun to play around in an outfit that's different than usual."

"No, ...I think there's probably a slightly deeper reason.  After all, she is the 'witch' Maria-chan."
"Come to think of it, when we were at the airport, didn't Maria say that if she was going to wear a costume, it would be a witch?  Did Maria like witches?"

"......Yes, she loves them.  So much that it becomes a problem."
"Well, admiring fantastical stuff like that is to be expected at that age."
"At least it would be cute if she admired a heroine on some TV anime......haah."

Judging by Rosa's appearance, it seemed that, as a mother, she did not find her daughter's love for witches pleasant.

It seemed that the cousins other than Battler were able to realize this, and they shrugged their shoulders, smiling bitterly.
"Hmmmm?  So you're arguing that because she likes witches, she also likes Halloween?  If we don't know, why don't we just ask the person in question?  Hey, Maria.  What kind of relationship do Halloween and witches have with each other?"
As Battler asked that, George and Jessica raised a small voice.
...It seemed they were too late.

It almost looked as though Maria had been waiting for that question.
After looking happy for an instant, her expression turned a little mean, as though to say 'Didn't you know that?'

It was the expression of an enthusiast who has been enraged by the misspeak of an outsider with a wrong impression.

"Uu-.  ...The Celts thought of the changing strength of the sun over the course of a year as, its birth, its growing up period, its aging and death, and then its revival."
"I get it.  In spring, the weak warm sun starts to grow up and become hot, and then it gradually gets weaker and worn out, so I agree that you could think of the sun as an entire life."

"Yes.  So they thought that at the end of October, the sun died, rested its body in the land of the dead, and then revived again at the winter solstice.  Then, they called the day that the sun ended its one year lifespan and died New Year's Eve, or Samhain."
"It's very interesting to think that on the day of the winter solstice, when the daylight hours start to grow longer again, the sun is revived.  It's an episode that makes you understand how much ancient people regarded the sun as sacred."

"...I see.  And?  What do witches have to do with this?"
It seemed that my casual urging forward had slightly infuriated Maria.
She glared at me with eyes that told me to let her explain without interrupting.

......Maria looked like she was having fun telling me, so I decided not to interrupt...
"In the interval between October and November, life and death become the closest they ever will.  ...The Celts believed that during this time, the world of the living and the world where the dead and those not of this world reside grew closer, and many of those living in the other world would come to visit.  ......It was like the Bon festival in Japan.  Kihihihihi."
At the time, the people believed that the souls returning to the physical world would go into people's houses or possess people, and do bad things.

So in order to avoid harm from them, the people created enchantments.

One of those was to imitate creepy monsters and scare the souls instead, which was apparently a way to avoid being possessed.

"That part became a festival, which turned into a costume parade.  ...Maria's really knowledgeable!"
"......Ain't it the truth.  Even I never knew Halloween had such a history."

"But where did the whole thing about give us candy or we'll prank you come from?"

Her knowledge was so extensive that the adults had suddenly started listening in too.  Maria, who was normally treated like the youngest the whole time, puffed out her chest in pride.

Rosa tried to say this was just a kid's story, and that she wanted to quickly break up the circle and set the luggage down in the guesthouse, but nobody else agreed, and she let out a heavy sigh.
"Uu-.  Trick-or-treat is just for fun.  It has nothing to do with what was originally a Celtic ceremony.  That was created later when Christian customs were mixed in.  ...However, Maria thinks that Halloween should be that way."
According to Maria, the souls of the dead weren't the only ones who visited from the nonhuman world.  There were also spirits that had an intimate connection to how people lived.

Because humans could receive the favors of those spirits, they were able to earn a wonderful blessing, and a year's worth of good crops.

"So in other words, Halloween was also a bit of a harvest festival?"
"I see.  ...Now you mention it, I get the feeling that October is a turning point in various ways, including seasonally.  Really the opposite of April in Japan.  ......I see, that might be a good place to mark it."
"Uu-!  And you know, the witches, they hold a witch assembly during that time, on the Sabbath.  The witches thank the spirits that give out blessings of prosperity, and reward them."

"Halloween costumes imitated the guests coming from the other side.  ......In other words, you might as well say that giving candy is because of feelings of thanks for the yearly harvest."
"Uu-!  Just like George onii-chan says!"

"So Halloween is a time when this world and that world intermingle?  So, in other words, it's the most important chance for witches to intermingle with guests from that world.  Is that what you want to say?"
"Uu-!!  Just like Battler says!"
"And you know what?  You know what?!  October is the time when the power of witches and demons is at its most vigorous and prosperous!  Kihihihihihihihi, I'm sure Beatrice will come!"
"And then, we'll eat marshmallow candies together, and she'll bring Maria to the Golden Land with her!  We'll sing magical songs together, learn magic spells together, learn how to draw magic circles together!  And then, we'll learn the secrets of runes, and Maria will become a great witch really, really quickly!"

"My, my, isn't that wonderful.  It's best for kids to have dreams.  By the way, Rosa, how old will Maria be this year again...?"

"M, ...Maria...  That's enough of that story!"
"Don't worry about it, Rosa-san.  It's a dream that any girl has at one time or another."

"Th, thank you very much.  ...But Maria has already graduated from that age.  ...Hey, I'm telling you to stop!"

Rosa scolded Maria, trying to shut her up before her cheery discussion about black magic earned her the sniggers of the relatives.

"Hey...  Isn't that a pretty large-scale story?  ......By the way, who was Beatrice again?  ......What was it, umm, umm, I've heard that before..."

Battler had been gone for six years, and had completely forgotten about the Legend of the Rokkenjima Witch.

However, when he said that he didn't know Beatrice's name, Maria's mood, which had been so bright until just now, became sour in an instant.
When he saw that, Battler immediately remembered that it was the name of the witch of this island, but the damage had been done.

...Until Maria's mood improved, she went on and on about many mysterious and fabulous episodes regarding the Golden Witch...
"That is enough, Maria.  Thank you, Battler-kun, for going along with her story.  ...Kanon-kun, don't you have work to do?  Please leave now.  Gohda-san, it looks like everyone wants to set down their bags for the time being.  Sorry, but could you guide everyone to the guesthouse?"

"Certainly.  ...Well then, everyone, I will guide you to the guesthouse."
"......Then if you will excuse me."
Gohda lead the relatives and they began to head to the guesthouse.

Since they wanted to set down their luggage and take a quick rest, they didn't realize that Rosa and Maria had stopped in that place.

After watching them leave towards the guesthouse, Rosa's features changed suddenly.

She let go with the hand that had been gripping Maria's arm the whole time.

...There was a bright red mark there, making it clear how much excessive force she had been gripping Maria's slender arm with.

That hand then slapped against Maria's head, pinched her left ear, and lifted...
"Even though I'm always telling you not to talk about witches.........Haven't I always said that was our promise together......?"
"Mama, ouch, Mama, ouch..., ouch ouch ouch......"
"You're so noisy with that 'Halloween, Halloween'...  A witch festival...?  What are the Celts, what is black magic, ridiculous, isn't it......?  You are nine years old, nine...  In the train, you made that ruckus, so I had to all the trouble of getting off the train and buying you that disgusting monster marshmallow that looked like it had fluorescent paint on it...  We were even late because I bought it for you.  How much more will you have to embarrass me before you're satisfied......?!"
As Rosa cursed, she twisted Maria's ear up, making it seem like it was going to snap off...
As an expression of anguish spread across Maria's face, she stood on her tiptoes as though her life depended on it, trying to soften the pain on the ear that was being pulled...
Rosa suddenly stole the candy that Maria had been holding in her hand.
She then threw it on the ground and stepped on it over and over.

To Maria, it was supposed to proof of her memory of that brief span of time when her mother had bought something fun for her...

But the fact of the matter was that she saw her mother trampling on it.
...It was as though a brand had been pushed against Maria's eyes, leaving a mark that couldn't be erased...
"What's with this disgusting candy, disgusting, disgusting...!!  That's what you are, that's what you are!!  Disgusting disgusting disgusting!!!"
As she said that, she struck Maria's head over and over again with her palm.  ...She didn't hit Maria's face.  Because the red swelling would stand out.

Maria closed her eyes tightly, patiently bearing her mother's violence......No, that wasn't quite it.

".......Come back, Mama, come back, Mama...  Save me, Mama, save me, Mama...  Beat the bad witch......"
She kept bearing it, muttering that over and over...
"Didn't I, tell you, to stop, saying, witch!!  Why you, you, you!!!"
Rosa's shoulders shook as she breathed, tired from hitting.

...Maria grasped her hands together, withstanding it, hoping her 'mother' would come back quickly...

"......Mama, Mama...  Come back quickly...  Save Maria, Mama......  Finish off the bad witch......"
"Wh, ...why don't you just stay there doing that forever!!  And then you can just stand there, mumbling about witches and Halloween forever!!"
After throwing those words at Maria, Rosa went off towards the guesthouse, leaving Maria behind.
...Maria, unable even to remember that it was alright to cry, kept staring down at the trampled, unrecognizable jack-o-lantern candy...

"Oh, Rosa.  Where did you go?"
"I'm sorry.  The roses were so wonderful, I just..."
"Rosa, quickly set your luggage down and come.  We're going to Aniki to greet him."

"Hmm?  What happened to Maria-chan?  Is she still by the flower beds?"
"...Yes.  It looks like there was a rose she liked, and she said she wanted to look after it and didn't listen.  I decided to let her do what she wants for a while."

".........We sometimes forget that girls have their own little world.  Sometimes, we have to respect that, right?"
"......That's right.  ...Thank you for caring, Kyrie nee-san."

"...Gohda-san.  Where is our room?"

"I will guide you, this way.  Allow me to hold your luggage."
"I'm fine, I can carry it myself, thank you."
Rosa went into her room, guided by Gohda.
She then closed the door somewhat violently and threw her luggage on top of the bed.
"................................."
In front of the bed, ...she got down on her knees, ......burying her face in the bed.
For a while, Rosa made as if to shred the sheets with her fingernails, sobbing continually...
".........Maria-sama.  ...Are you alright?"

Kanon, who had been hiding behind a thicket, appeared after watching Rosa leave.

"...Kihi, ......kihihihihihihihihihi... ...I'm fine.  ...Kihihihihi."

Maria laughed unpleasantly, but to Kanon, who had seen the whole thing, it looked like she was enduring as best she could...

"She's a horrible person.  I can't believe that was a mother......"
"......It can't be helped.  Maria can handle that much.  Maria is just fine.  Kihihihihihihihihihi......"
Kanon got down on his knees and picked up the trampled candy.
......It was tragic just looking at it.

He thought about dusting it off and returning it to her, but really couldn't do so with it in that condition.
He was at a loss at what to do, and he met eyes with Maria.
......No, they didn't meet.
Maria was looking at the candy that Kanon had picked up.
...Right now, Maria's heart was surely the same as the trampled candy which had been crushed into a pulp...

Kanon realized this, but he didn't know what he should do...
"That's right.........I'll exchange it for something I received earlier."
Kanon remembered that a similar candy which he had received from Maria was in his pocket.

Maria stuck out her hand.

......Kanon thought she was trying to take it, so he held out the candy, but Maria didn't try to grasp it.

......Then Kanon realized.

...She was saying 'Give it back'.

......No matter how tragic and trampled it was, the candy was Maria's.
...Her mother had bought it for her.

No matter how tragic, it had to be this candy...
If it could be made clean by dusting it off...

...Kanon hung his head.

".........I can't do anything except dust it off.  .........Sorry."
Kanon held out the miserable candy she wanted.  Maria took it, and spoke.
"...Thank you.  A human can't do anything except dust it off, but a witch can repair it to how it was.  It would be easy for Beatrice.  Kihihihihihi."
".........Maria-sama, ...you know about Beatrice..., ...sama?"
There couldn't be anyone related to the Ushiromiya family who didn't know Beatrice's name, with Battler as an exception.

...But just now, Maria had told Battler about it proudly.
She had spoken almost as though she was meeting with Beatrice regularly.
The inside of the fist Kanon made with his left hand hurt sharply.
......In the past, a witch called Beatrice had appeared, and had tempted him and Shannon.

He had always tried to make himself think it was a bad dream.  ......However, Shannon insisted that it had definitely been a real witch.
And then, this summer.

......The shrine to the local Shinto god had been hit by lightning and had disappeared without a trace over the span of a single night.
...He had known that Shannon had broken the mirror.

......And he remembered that, upon the witch's departure, she had left with parting words staying that she would eventually be revived.
And then, .........this girl who wouldn't stop having faith in Beatrice, spoke as though she had met Beatrice.

...Kanon couldn't suppress a sense of some kind of misfortune welling up in his heart.
For a while, Maria remained silent, as though she could see into Kanon's heart.
...Almost as though she was waiting for a memory of Beatrice to be revived.

And then, she spoke, as though it was a fact.
"Kihihihihi...  You know, Maria is friends with Beatrice.  Why don't we meet her today and play?  Kihihihihihihihihi..."
"P, ...play?"

"...Yeah.  Let's play, okay?  Let's study magic together.  Kihihihihihihihi..."
......The face of the witch, who Kanon had tried to pretend was a bad dream, ......began to slowly creep into the back of his mind......
"Father said he was extremely busy with his research.  Unfortunately, he said that he will be unable to come here."

"......Come on.  We've put this conference in our schedules and come all the way out to Rokkenjima during the very busy fall season.  I wish father would act a little more sociable."
"Really.  ......Doctor Nanjo.  Is it really a problem with his research and his mood?  He isn't already bedridden, and unable to get up, right?"
"......Well, ......I wonder.  There is not much I can say..."

Nanjo glanced at Natsuhi.
As though he wasn't qualified to disregard Natsuhi when he spoke.

"Father is steadily regaining his health.  Calling him bedridden is extremely rude...!"

"But he only has three months left to live, right?  Normally, wouldn't that mean that he'd have wasted away, unable to get out of his bed?  Right, Doctor Nanjo?"

".........For a normal patient, that would probably be the case.  But Kinzo-san has extraordinary willpower.  ...I may not even be able to approach, in fear of that willpower..."

"If he's that energetic, then we can be at least a little reassured, right?"
"...Although if he's that energetic, I wish he'd at least come to greet us.  ...Isn't the point of the family conference to come and see Father's face?  Now I don't know why we came."

"Don't say that.  If he were here, you would complain the whole time about how you couldn't relax.  Shouldn't we celebrate that all of the siblings have gathered this year, by ourselves, and without even one of us missing?"
"We couldn't meet him at last year's family conference, right?  I wonder why you can't understand that his children, related by blood, want to see him after two years."

"......If you have words of greeting, I will tell him for you.  And Eva-san.  ......Is there something you have to discuss with Father other than greeting him...?"

"............nn.  ...Come on, what are you talking about, sheesh."
"Give it a rest, Eva.  Natsuhi-san, forgive us.  Eva is just worried about the condition of Father's sickness, as his daughter.  Please understand her feelings a bit."
"That's right.  Haven't you quickly become respectful of Father now that his remaining life has been announced, Eva?  ...I see, it isn't as though I can't understand how much you want to see him.  ......Hmph."

".........What are you trying to say?"
"Quit it, Aneki.  Why don't we pray that his mood will improve by dinner?  ...And we've just arrived.  First, we'll just visit and have a light greeting.  We can even hold the family conference without Father.  ...No, there should be a few things that the siblings couldn't talk to him about before forming a unified opinion, right?  Right, Hideyoshi nii-san?"

"Yep!  Just as Rudolf-kun says.  ......We can only gather our faces here once a year.  We must take this precious time seriously and talk together modestly."

Even though the tea hadn't even come, ...they were very strong-minded.

"But before that, I wonder if we have enough leeway to enjoy some black tea at our leisure, surrounded by the wonderful furnishings of the parlor..."
Kyrie's words seemed to hold some slight warning towards all of the people gathered in that place.

They all understood, and as they cleared their throats and straightened their neckties, the atmosphere in the room returned to normal for a moment.

"......Excuse me.  I have brought some tea."
"Hey, Shannon-chan.  Ya jus' keep gettin' purtier and purtier!"

Shannon entered the parlor, pushing the serving cart.
Everyone decided to slowly enjoy some black tea for the time being...

A wonderful aroma began to spread throughout the parlor.

As far as anyone could see, the strained atmosphere which had been there until right before Shannon had entered seemed like a lie.
...Of course, Shannon, who was setting out the tea, probably didn't even notice.

......Kyrie acted as though she was laughing at everyone's adult appearance.
Rudolf didn't like it when Kyrie took the initiative and spoke at the family conference.
...It was his worthless male pride.

He probably didn't want to look like a weak man who took advice from his wife.

She understood that, and did her best to refrain from saying anything unnecessary.
So she separated herself from the circle of siblings, which only looked like it had no outsiders in it on the outside, and slowly enjoyed her tea near the window.

"Oh, Rosa-san.  Wasn't it supposed to be just the siblings...?"
"......You are joking."
"Sorry, don't take it the wrong way.  I'm just shocked at my husband."
It seemed that Rosa hadn't been able to get along just on the surface.

...They had come here to fight bloodily and dirtily, each trying to steal the inheritance.
Maybe by now she didn't want to play a part in a conspiracy.

......Or maybe she was still much too inexperienced for that.

"...It looks like the wind has started blowing hard out there.  ...The plants are all shaking so much."
"The typhoon has probably already come fairly close.  ......I wonder if it will rain a lot tonight."

"............Maria-chan really has grown a lot this past year."
".........Does it look that way...?  She still can't even fold her own western clothing yet."

"Yes.  It's because she has such an affectionate mother.  Kids with a rich heart grow."

Rosa was silent.
.........Maybe she was unsure as to how Kyrie meant that...

"...I, .........am not qualified to be a mother.  ............Children can't choose their parents.  That poor girl..."

"Doesn't that go both ways?  ......A parent can't choose what kind of child is born, too."
"....................."

Rosa bit her lower lip...

"It isn't a matter of who is at fault.  Isn't everything alright as long as you slowly watch over her as she grows up, with living together on your mind?"

"Rosa-san, you spend every day with Maria-chan, so you probably don't notice any small changes.  But the rest of us, who have been reunited with her after a year, really understand that she's grown up a lot..."

"......If you are serious, thank you very much."
"Then, if you will excuse me.  If there is anything you desire, please call for it at any time."
Shannon bowed politely and left the room.

As Hideyoshi and Rudolf, who had a soft spot for women, watched her go, ...the atmosphere in the room began to revert back to what it had been right before Shannon had visited.

".........If Father is unable to be here, well then, there are still things we can talk about.  Right, Rudolf?"
"Yes, that's right.  ...We didn't come all the way out here just to drink some dusty tea, right?"
"......Very well.  Why don't we hear this topic that you're scrambling to get to?"

".........My, my.  Those people sure are strong-minded.  They really started fast."
"I must join in as well.  ......If I don't assert myself, those people will quickly forget that there are four siblings."

"...It's pretty tough for you too.  ......Maybe I didn't choose my words well.  My apologies."
"No, I don't mind.  ...I'm the one who should be apologizing.  As a pair of mothers with daughters, we must interact more often.  E-very time we meet, we talk about something strange..."
"......That's the fault of the atmosphere in this mansion.  Once we breathe in this air, everyone gets so strained.  ......Just once, I want to drink a nice, long cup of tea with you, Rosa-san, when you aren't attending a family conference.  There's a wonderful coffee shop in Ginza which is a favorite of mine.  Please let me invite you sometime soon."
"Thank you, Kyrie-san.  That sounds good..."
"Oh, no.  The sky is getting dark quickly.  It's almost as though the people in this room have made the weather worse.  ......There's already thunder.  Oh?  Was that one there...?"

"...Huh?"

There really were small splashes of rain on the glass of the parlor window.
...It seemed that the weather had gotten worse faster than they had expected.

......Just then, a silent thunderbolt struck inside Rosa's head, and she remembered that her beloved child was in the rose garden.
A normal girl would think about going into the house if the weather got bad.  ......But Maria was different.  She would sometimes become stubborn, and wouldn't move if rain or even spears fell from the sky.

......That's right, I.........told that kid,

just stay there doing that forever・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・, didn't I...?
"Oh, ......oh no...!  Maria...!!"
Everyone looked back at Rosa when she let out a small scream.

"...What, what happened?"
"I, I'm sorry, I'm going outside for a second.  I'll be right back!"

"......What the, what's going on with her, really..."
"It's fine, right?  She'll be right back.  ......More importantly, should we begin?  Our main topic."
"That's right.  We can keep talking about that without Rosa.  Let's return to our discussion."
"............"
Rosa dashed from the entrance hall into the rose garden.
When she opened the door, the wind that hit her was too strong to be called a light breeze, and told her that the typhoon was approaching faster than she had thought.
Just as Kyrie had said, the wind was mixed in with small droplets of rain.  There was also a low rumble of thunder.
......It could start raining anytime.
Rosa headed for the rose garden.
She headed for the place where she had scolded Maria a short while ago.
...It was almost lunchtime.

The children had been told that they should come to the mansion around lunchtime, so they were probably in the guesthouse, waiting to be called.

...Even if Maria didn't come, they would surely think that I had taken her to the mansion with me, and wouldn't worry much.
......After all she was with her mother, so there shouldn't have been anything to worry about.

I was here, and threw my daughter into the worsening weather outside, all alone...!
"Mariaa-!!  Are you the-re!!  If you're there, answe-r!!"
".........Uu-."
It really was as I'd thought.

She was still standing stock still, ...exactly the same way she had been, in the place where I had scolded her.
Held in her hand, ......was the candy that I had bought, given her, and then stepped on and crushed.
With that gripped in her hand, she stood there as the strong wind whipped her hair about, tormenting her...
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry!!  Sorry, Maria...!!  Forgive Mama...!"
"...Uu-.  Mama, welcome back.........Maria waited a long time for Mama to come back.  ...Mama was pinched by the scary witch, but Maria held out, waited for Mama to come back without crying..."

"......Maria.........Forgive Mama..., forgive Mama......"
"Mama isn't bad...  She was just possessed by a bad witch again......  So I'm fine.  I really like Mama.  I love you......"
"Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!  I'm sorry, I'm sorry.........Mama......lost to the bad witch, .........forgive me........."
Rosa buried her face in Maria's small chest, crying and begging forgiveness.
...And again those tears dripped down after who knows how many times.
If only the brilliant sun had been shining on the two of them, all of their cares would have evaporated, and they would have felt like they could begin anew.

...However, what surrounded the two of them was the worsening weather.
The strong winds mixed in with the sound of thunder were saddening.
The sound of Maria sniffling made Rosa notice.
...If she stood exposed to the wind for too long, she would probably catch a cold.

"......So, Maria.  It will be lunch very soon.  Why don't you come back to the mansion with Mama."
"Uu-.  Don't go."
"Wh, ...why...?"

Rosa thought that she had already received Maria's forgiveness, so she hadn't imagined Maria would refuse.

But that expression on Maria's face didn't look like that of a child resisting her mother.  ...So Rosa wasn't able to understand why Maria wanted to stand still, pointlessly, as the weather grew even worse.

Maria answered that question...

"It's Beatrice.  She'll come really soon.  So I'm waiting."
".........Maria..."

Rosa was a little lost for words and remained silent.

...After they had just gone to great lengths to make up with each other.
She chose her words carefully, trying to get Maria to come with her to the mansion without denying the witch outright.

"......Beatrice is, ...coming?"
"Uu-!"
"Really...  Then instead of waiting here, why don't we wait in the mansion?  If you stay in this wind too long, you'll catch a cold..."

"Come!  Beatrice will co-me!!  And when she does, I'll give a candy to Beatrice.  I'll do trick-or-treat!  I'll give her a jack-o-lantern marshmallow candy and say Happy Halloween!!  Uu-!!"

Maria pulled yet another sweet out of her handbag, moaning uu-uu-.
Rosa was bewildered and didn't know what to do as Maria started being difficult again...
At that time, there was a sudden and massive roar of thunder.

It was probably a sign.
......A sign that this island was closed off by the storm, detached from common sense and reality.

Therefore, after this moment, all common sense would probably be useless.
The wind blew even stronger, and in the middle of the blizzard of scattered rose petals, ......a figure appeared, leaving Rosa unable to imagine that this was a scene from reality.

...No, it was probably, definitely, ...fantastical.

Because that shadow of a person was............

"Beatrice!!"
Maria dashed over to the shadow.

......Normally, Rosa would scold her daughter if she dashed over to someone who she hadn't seen and didn't know.
...But Rosa forgot about that, unable to do anything but stand there, shocked.

"......It's been a while.  Have you been healthy?"
"Uu-!  Maria is healthy!  Witches don't catch colds!  Uu-!!"

"*cackle*cackle*!  Witches make people catch colds with curses, but how foolish would it be if they caught one themselves.  From now on, you should concentrate on doing your best to not catch something like a cold."
She patted Maria's head as she said this, smiling roguishly...

Rosa couldn't have known the name of the woman who was spoiling Maria, looking happy.  ...However, Maria had called to her in the beginning when she had appeared.

Therefore, even though Rosa had never met her, even though she hadn't named herself, Rosa was able to know her name.

......However, that name held a special meaning on Rokkenjima and in the Ushiromiya family.

......There's no way something that stupid......!

"Beatrice!  Happy Halloween!  Look, bought it!  Give it to Beatrice too.  Uu-!"

"Hmm, Happy Halloween.  Hoh, for me?  How truly lovely that this unique light, of a man lost in the darkness of purgatory, unable to go to heaven or hell, would be made into a candy like this."

"......Right now, on this island that has been cut off both from the world of humans and the world of nonhumans, there may be no more suitable sweet.  *cackle*cackle*...!"

".........Hm?  Maria, what's wrong with that?"
The witch noticed the sweet that Maria was grasping.  ...It was Maria's candy, which had been stomped on by Rosa until it reached this pitiful state.
"......Uu-.  Stepped on and smashed.  ......Can Beato return it to normal...?"
Maria didn't go so far as to say that it was her mother who had stepped on it.
However, when the witch saw the candy, for some reason, she looked at Rosa and grinned.

...A chill went down Rosa's spine, as though she felt that this gaze was staring right through her.

"It will be easy.  Give it to me."
"Uu-!"
Maria held out the candy gleefully.

......Rosa could do nothing but watch over this, stunned.
...How would this person gloss over the fact that the candy was pitifully trampled and trick Maria...?

Maria looked as though she believed that it could be fixed as good as new.

...There was no way that could be done without real "magic"...!

"My, my, it is quite crushed, isn't it.  ......Come, Maria.  Close your eyes and try to remember."
"Because it really was that wonderful a candy.  The candy of your memories is always full and fluffy.  So you too, close your eyes and try to remember.  What kind of candy was it really♪"
...Along with those strange words, spoken as though singing an improvised folk song, the witch threw the sweet into the air.

Maria was closing her eyes and remembering, just as the witch had told her.
...What shape had that crushed candy really had?
Therefore, only Rosa saw that scene.
The sweet which had been thrown into the air, ......burst into a gold color..., no, that wasn't it.  Those were golden butterflies.
It scattered into several golden butterflies, ...and they began to gather at the witches hand, which was held up to the sky.
And as she did, .........unbelievably, .........it returned to its beautiful original form, just like the time it had been bought...
Only Rosa and the witch had watched that scene.

Unable to understand the event that was occurring right in front of her eyes, Rosa stood with her mouth open, forgetting to shut it...

"You may now open your eyes.  You may take it.  With this, your sweet has returned to normal."
"Uu-!!  Beatrice is always awesome awesome, kyakkya!!"
".................."
There was a very bold contrast between Rosa's shocked appearance and Maria's innocently joyful one.
......Was that what the witch was laughing at?
A smile floated to Beatrice's face, different from the one that she had shown Maria.

"......Does my face look familiar?  If you stare so fixedly, you might burn a hole through it."
"Huh, ......ah, I, I'm sorry...!"
Rosa was very aware of the meaning of those words.

......Rosa had known her face.
......She had known it from the portrait of the witch.

But, no wait, .....was this mystery woman really......?!

"......Maria.  I will give this to you in exchange for that sweet."
"Uu-...?  Letter?"
The witch pulled a western envelope from her pocket and gave it to Maria.  However, when Maria made to open it, the witch stopped her.

"You must not.  The time will soon come that you may open it, but until then, you definitely must not.  Take good care of it.  It will become an invitation calling you to the Golden Land."
"Golden Land!!  Finally take Maria there!!  Kyakkya!  Kyakkya!!"

"Take it and treat it with care.  You must not show it to anyone."
"Uu-! Promise!  I'll definitely keep a promise with a witch!"

"......And this is for you."
"eh.........?  M, ......me......?!"

She probably hadn't imagined that the witch would speak to her, too.
Rosa was bewildered at this second western envelope, which was thrust before her.
She remembered seeing that western envelope.
......There could be no mistake.
It was Kinzo's special envelope, used when he wrote with his own hand, and bearing the Ushiromiya family crest.

Furthermore, it was sealed with red sealing wax, ...and furthermore, it had the mark which was thought to be made by the ring of the head.
In other words, without even asking what was written inside, ...this woman, who Maria called Beatrice, was trusted enough that she was in charge of a personal letter of the current Ushiromiya head...!
"It could have been any of the four siblings.  However, the fact that I have met you here probably means that you were chosen by Kinzo's roulette.  ...In that case, take it.  Then read its contents aloud while seated at the dinner table, when all of the siblings are gathered."

".........What did you say......"
Rosa looked back and forth several times between the witch's face and the envelope that was handed her.

Today was the family conference, and the biggest object of discussion was the inheritance problem.  ......So, she had joined together with Eva and Rudolf, and they had planned to force a certain condition on Krauss to try and extort several hundred million yen in cash out of him.

It was as if the witch could see through all of that.
......And what is she trying to announce to us when all of the siblings are gathered?

With a personal envelope that no one but the Ushiromiya head can use...!

"......Maria, the weather is getting worse.  Return to the guesthouse and wait for lunchtime.  .........And Rosa, let us meet later.  Allow me to name myself in that place.  ...*cackle*cackle*cackle*."

The witch turned her back to her, laughing.
...And then began to head towards the mansion with an air of composure.
As Maria energetically answered her and watched her go, she began to dash towards the guesthouse, leaving Rosa where she was.
......As though she wanted to inform the other cousins of her good fortune at meeting the witch as soon as she could.
At last, Rosa was left alone in the rose garden as the winds grew stronger, ......unable to do anything except pray that what had happened was just a daydream...
When the witch entered the entrance hall, ......Genji was visible there.
Genji welcomed the 'guest' who approached from the entrance hall with a respectful bow...

"I have been waiting.  .........Beatrice-sama."
"...It's been a while, Genji.  .........Hmph.  You've gotten old."

"......No matter how old he is, furniture will only carry out his work like furniture, until the end."

".........I remember how that person's wife used to be jealous of you.  ...Is Kinzo well?"
"He is very well."
"......Hmph.  *cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*!"

The witch probably laughed because she knew that Kinzo's head physician had announced that his remaining life was slim.

...However, if anyone actually looked at Kinzo, his will power, which made it extremely difficult to imagine that his remaining life really was slim, might make it seem natural to call him healthy.
...Maybe the witch laughed at that.

"Then let us greet him.  It will be good to hurl curses at each other after thirty years."
As the witch grinned, she started walking, leaving Genji behind.
......Her gait was like that of a family member who knew the inside of the mansion well.
Genji followed her, as though he served her.
At that time, Kyrie came out of the parlor.
...She probably went out to fix her makeup, or something.

And when she saw Genji following a witch, she was surprised, although her expression did not change.

There was a guest for Kinzo, whose remaining life was not long, on the day of the family conference when the fate of the inheritance was to be decided, ...and furthermore, this person was well enough acquainted that Genji was following behind her.

......Kyrie immediately realized that this person who she had never met before was deeply important.

Kyrie and the witch's eyes met.
......Realizing that it would be rude to pretend not to notice, she greeted the witch.
".........Pleased to meet you."

"You were Rudolf's second wife, yes?"
"That is correct.  This is Kyrie-sama, Rudolf-sama's current wife."

From this exchange, Kyrie realized that she was a guest of fairly high rank, even amidst the Ushiromiya family.

.........And, the fact this was a guest of that level, ......coupled with the face of the portrait in the entrance hall that she bore, ......made Kyrie's eyes open wide in an instant...
"......Pleased to meet you.  I am Kyrie.  I wonder it this is our first meeting.  If we did greet each other before, I apologize for forgetting your name."

"...Even though you have a vague idea, you dare to ask my name?"
"....................."

Kyrie had planned on giving her a sociable and humble greeting.
Her expression grew slightly cloudy at that openly oppressive response.

......Anyhow, it didn't seem like this was a person she could grow to like.
...But if Kyrie's imagination was correct, ......this "witch" probably held a huge key to what her own husband was most interested in, and something that couldn't help but influence tonight's family conference...

So without shooting back a retort, Kyrie did nothing except silently watch her go up the stairs to the second floor, with Genji following behind.
So when someone tapped her shoulder from behind, she was so surprised, she almost choked.

It was, Natsuhi...

".........Kyrie-san.  So, you were standing still in a place like this.  How are you feeling...?"
"I, I'm sorry.  ......I was just slightly fascinated by the portrait of the witch."

"......The Golden Witch, Beatrice, was it?  Without the gold she gave, the revival of the Ushiromiya family to what it is today would not have succeeded, or something.  ......Just like Father, a fantastical story."

Natsuhi spoke in a perfectly ordinary way.
...She spoke from the position that the idea of a witch was just foolish, and that after all, it was nothing more than Kinzo's ramblings.
...However. something didn't make sense to Kyrie now, for some reason.

Just now, she herself had seen the Golden Witch come in from the entrance hall and climb up the stairs.

So Natsuhi's method of speech seemed almost like it was inducing her to not accept that the witch existed, or that it was forcing her to think that it might not exist...

"...I'm sorry.  I think I'm feeling a bit of a headache.  ...I think I'll rest for a little while."
"Oh, is that so...?  Then I have some good headache medicine.  Allow me to prepare it..."
The hallway in front of Kinzo's study was filled with the scent of sweet poison particular to that green liquor...
Genji, who was completely used to it, did not grimace.
...And the Golden Witch didn't grimace either.

"......How long has he been inside here without leaving?"
"I believe it has already been several years."

"............Did he want to make me a bird in a cage that much?  How pitiful.  ......Now you, the person who wished that, are the bird in a cage.  ...Aren't you the ghost of the study?  ......What a pitiful man to not recognize that."

"......He would probably continue his research until the day he could meet you again, even until he literally became a ghost."
"Is it love or madness or a delusion?  ...If those are well enough developed, will they become magic?  ......You sad magician."
The witch grasped the doorknob to the study.
......When she did, there was a sound like that of flesh burning and splitting open.
...It was the sound of the doorknob literally burning the witch's hand.

"......Beatrice-sama..."
"What is this.  .........A magic repellent!  ...Is that person unable to get by without relying on something like this...?"

"...I have heard that this door is painful for you, Beatrice-sama.  Shall I open it...?"

"No, ...it is fine.  If he wins, I will be a bird in a cage for all eternity.  ...If he loses, only the life of a laughingstock will be left, the life of a pitiful magician who went mad with love and lost everything."

"......Already, Kinzo and even I are nothing more than pieces laid out on the game board.  ...All that is left is for the result of the roulette to decide who wins and who loses.  .........Until the roulette shows its result, there is no need for me to be reunited with Kinzo."

The witch looked at her hand, which, although it was horribly burned, was beginning to heal bit by bit.
"......The magic repellent could be here for that reason.  .........Hmph.  ...I see, that is also honorable.  ......Now, everything is on top of Kinzo's game board."
"I like it, Kinzo.  Allow me to enjoy my game with you.  ......Allow me to enjoy how the final gamble of the old magician who fell in love with me and threw away all of his life falls...!!"

The Witch's Move

Sat, Oct 4 1986 1:00PM
".........Who is it?"
"Excuse me...  I have brought lunch."
"Enter."
"......Excuse me."
After receiving approval, Kanon entered the honored guest room, pushing the lunch serving cart.

...The servants called this room the honored guest room of the witch.
That was because Kinzo strictly ordered that it always be cleaned so that it could be used at any time.
...Even so, guests would not be allowed into this room no matter who they were.
...That's why, at some point, the servants had started calling it the honored guest room, which was supposed to be set aside only to greet the special person Kinzo waited for..., the witch from that portrait.
And today, Kanon knew that this was exactly right...
When he entered the room, .........the blonde-haired witch was gazing out the window.
Outside, the rain was no longer falling weakly.
...As she looked out at the beautiful rose garden, which had been finished after several days of work for today's sake, and saw the winds and rain ravage it, was she lost in some sentimental feelings?

Kanon was not able to tell anything more from her back, which was facing him.
"...I will prepare the meal.  ...Beatrice-sama."

Kanon went out of his way to call out the witch's name, ......because he wanted to make her turn around.

He wanted to know.
......He wanted to know whether the witch who had tempted him and Shannon in the past really had appeared again.
...When he did, ......the witch whose name had been called, ......laughed, her back still facing him.
Holding back her voice, she laughed.

Kanon was startled...
It was almost as though she had read his mind and knew that he had called out to her, hoping to make her turn around...

".........It smells good.  It appears that Krauss has somehow employed a good cook."
".....................Yes.  ...He is a cook called Gohda, and was employed in recent years."

"...There's nothing better than being skilled at cooking.  ...Gourmets form the three pillars of pleasure for living in the human world.  Not missing out on this is the secret to not getting bored after a thousand years.  ...*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*."

Kanon and the witch's eyes met.

...And, she grinned...

Without a doubt.  Certainly...
This was without a doubt, the witch from that day, Beatrice...

The witch that no one but he and Shannon could see in the past finally held a form, and had arrived openly as a guest from the entrance hall...

".........Beatrice............sama."
"It has been a long time.  .........Kanon, the furniture.  ...*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*!"
"............It has, ......been a long time..."

Kanon tried not to forget to be polite to the guest for the time being.
...But dark clouds began to enshroud his heart because of the visit of this suspicious witch, and on the day of the family conference...

"It seems you are uneasy about what I plan to do now that I have appeared.  ......Is that so...?"
"....................."

Kanon didn't force an answer.
...This witch probably reads minds.
...So it was pointless to go to all the trouble of saying it out loud.

.........Of course, even his resisting heart would be read.
So the witch giggled at Kanon's childish resistance.

"......I came to resolve my final promise with Kinzo."
"Your final promise with, ......Master...?"
"......I lent Kinzo a mountain of gold.  ...When Kinzo gives that up, it will be returned to me with interest.  .........I came to accept that tonight."
".............I don't know what you are talking about."
However, uncertainty began to gather in his heart.
......The story of this witch couldn't be anything good.
"......*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*!  There's no mistake!  The story of a witch isn't anything good.  You are correct.  Be that as it may, witches are used like scissors.  ...Sometimes, there are people like King Solomon who succeed in great exploits."
".........However, in most cases, one does not meet with a good fate such as those described in fairy tales, right?  *cackle*cackle*...!  .........But Kinzo is crafty.  He has taken in even the interest I am collecting for his own ceremony.  Is he an absurd magician to surpass even me?  ......Or else a fool possessed by madness?  ...Interesting.  Truly interesting...!"
Kanon couldn't guess what the witch was muttering and laughing about.
...All he knew was, ......anything that would make this witch laugh, must have the exact opposite meaning to the rest of them.
......And in the back of his mind, the horrifying words the witch had spat at him in the past began to be revived.
Did I not lend them that power without asking for compensation?  I'll lend a hand in love.  So that as compensation, I can enjoy watching the cruel fate that the two of them will eventually meet.

Even after one thousand years, no better show exists...!

"........................Could it be, ......you......"
"*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*!  Kufufufuhahahahahahahahaha...!!"

".........My beloved hometown, the sweetfish river running through it.  You who seek the Golden Land, follow its path downstream and seek the key."

The witch suddenly began to recite a bizarre poem...
It was something he remembered hearing.

"Could that be......, ......the witch's epitaph..."
There was no mistake.
...It was the epitaph that accompanied the portrait of the witch that Kinzo had hung.
The relatives imagined that it probably pointed to the location of the hidden gold, but no one knew what it meant.
The witch suddenly began reciting that epitaph.
"...Kanon.  Why don't you, as furniture, ask Kinzo about it?  .........The day when everything will be returned to the Golden Land, has come.  Be happy.  ...The day when the shame of your time as furniture will end has finally come."
"................"

"I believe you have wanted that for a long time.  ...To furniture, whose existence has no value, just existing day to day must be nothing but agony."

"......Those with souls should persist in the real world, but those without them find the real world to be nothing but suffering.  *cackle*cackle*...!"
Complicated expressions flitted across Kanon's face.

......It was the day of release that Kanon had been looking forward to.
...However, the coming of this day had been mercilessly sudden.
And for some reason, it was difficult to accept, since he had been informed that the day of resting had come from a witch speaking in this hateful way.
...Kanon wasn't even able to decide what emotion he should hold on to...

"......Why are you not happy?  Could you actually have some regrets left in the real world?  ......As furniture?"
"............I have no, ......regrets.  Because I am, ............furniture."

"*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*.  ...You truly are a model furniture.  ......How nice, how nice.  ......However, it wouldn't be interesting if you had no regrets."
"......Are you saying that regrets are your pleasure?"
"That is correct!  Most witches who live for one thousand years get tired of living!  In order to escape boredom, I adorn people's fates with fruit and brandy and cook them like cakes.  I find humans dancing through oppressive fates inside an oven to be so very entertaining...!"
"*cackle*cackle*!  It's well known that I take this position, right?  ......So much that rare guests come from far away to see my skill at cooking.  ...Fufufufufu, even if I say that, it may be something that mere furniture can't understand."
Kanon wasn't able to understand what the witch was saying.
However, he realized well enough that this was a terrifying being who treated the fate of humans as a show, enjoying it whenever some harm befell them.
......However, furniture had no soul or life, much less a fate.  Pitiful "furniture" did nothing but serve until the day they were released from the real world.

...To furniture like that, the witch, who had appeared to release them from everything, was a being for which they overflowed with affection...
Even though the day that Kanon should have been waiting impatiently for had come, he was confused at himself and his inability to easily accept that.
...Why was it...?
.........The face of Shannon, the person he loved as a sister, rose to his mind.
......And for some reason, Jessica's face did too.
"...............Ku."

Kanon bit his lower lip painfully.
......What Jessica was thinking of was not permitted for furniture.  Even though he had tried to realize that, and had found fault with Shannon's relationship, ......how could he still remember Jessica at a time like this.

......He felt a little shameful at his own naivety.  And to forget about Jessica, he turned his thoughts to Shannon.
Shannon is also furniture.
......On the day everything returns to nothing, there was no reason she shouldn't be happy.

......But Shannon, .........through her relationship with George, had known an emotion that shouldn't be known by furniture.

Even though she wasn't qualified to be bonded with him, she was still trapped in a dream that she wasn't permitted to see.
Could Shannon, ......accept something like that with pleasure?
......She must not.
...Shannon still had remaining regrets.
......That would probably become a great source of pain and torture for Shannon.
And the fact of the matter was that this regret, .........had been planted by this witch.

Why?  Just because that would be 'more interesting'......!
"......This day, ......that Shannon should have been waiting impatiently for, will probably force upon her very harsh thoughts, ......and give her emotions that she must not know.  .........I thank you for bringing me, ...us furniture the day of our release as a present."
"......And, I hate you for making this day difficult for Shannon to accept...!"
"I wanted to make you feel pain from your regrets as well, just like Shannon.  ......However, you continued to be like furniture with foolish honesty, and didn't get ensnared by me."
".........However, it looks like you loved Shannon too dearly, right?  *cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*!  Shannon's regrets became your regrets.  ......Will that become hatred for me...?"
"........................"
"If you want to kill me, try to do it.  ......*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*!  As Kinzo's furniture, you should have at least that much power, right?  However, if you kill me, the day of rest for the furniture will not come for all eternity.  ......Could you withstand that......?  Can you really reject your release by me......?  *cackle*cackle*cackle*!!  .........Kneel!"

"Wh, ......what...!"

"Kneel and kiss my shoes.  .........Otherwise, I will leave this place.  ...I'll go back and never show myself again for all eternity.  ............So, Kanon?  Could you withstand that...?"

"...............Ku......"

"If the door to the Golden Land is opened, your life as furniture that has been full of hardship will end.  ......If you desire, I will even give you life as a human.  After that, you will be on the same level as Jessica!  Surely you want to know of it, the taste of love...!"
".........I know even if you try to hide it, you see...?  After seeing Shannon indulging in the sea of sweet love, you grew jealous.  ...You are sorely tempted to know the taste of love...  *cackle*cackle*!!"
"......Stop it......, stop it...!  Are you trying to ensnare me again......?!  I won't be reduced to a toy to please you...!"
"Hoh.  Then I will be satisfied with Shannon.  You weren't the only one I sowed those seeds into.  There are sometimes fruits that don't bear fruit."
".........He who lays hand upon the key shall travel under the rules below.  At the first twilight, you shall lift up as sacrifice the six chosen by the key.  At the second twilight, those who remain shall tear apart the two who are close..."
The witch recited the epitaph again.
It was so sudden, and diverged so strongly from the current topic.
However, that challenging smile made it seem almost as though she were using that epitaph as a threat to Kanon.
".........Do you not understand?  ...For the ceremony of the epitaph to succeed, at the 'second twilight', the two who are close must be offered as sacrifices.  ............It could be any two who are close.  A husband and wife, or even a pair of lovers.  ......According to the rules of the ceremony, who will be selected is up to me to decide on a whim.  ......Don't you think that there is no one more fitting to be a sacrifice for the second twilight than Shannon as she is now...?  *cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle!!"
".........Wh, ......what a dirty........."
Kanon knew.
...Until today, he had planned on giving everything up and living as furniture, like furniture.
...But in reality, that wasn't true.

He loved Shannon too dearly.
...Therefore, when Shannon was in pain, Kanon shared in that.
If only Shannon had continued to live as furniture, indifferently like Kanon, without any regrets in this world, he wouldn't have had to be in so much pain...!

The witch planned to toy with Shannon, who had known the taste of love..., no, who she had taught the taste of love, as she killed her.
Being released along with her love meant that she wouldn't be invited to the Golden Land, but would become a human sacrifice for an evil ceremony, after receiving the limits of torture and pain...!

And this witch would probably make Shannon actually meet this horrible fate for no reason other than that it was interesting to her.
......Furthermore, she was threatening to do that so that she could make Kanon, who hadn't submitted to the witch even once until now, finally surrender......

It was that simple.  ...In the end, though he had tried resisting the witch to avoid pleasing her, he had only made things interesting for her.
......After all, he was furniture.  No, a toy.  ......They were nothing but toys meant only to distract her from her boredom...!
"............Da......mn..............."
"What will you do, Kanon...?  If you kneel, I'll surely hold back from choosing Shannon as a sacrifice, okay?  *cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*!  I've wanted to make a toy like you surrender just once.  *cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*, kuhihihihihihihihi!!"
Without even a fragment of elegance, the witch sneered at Kanon with an indecent laugh.
...That's right, she had seen through Kanon even faster than he had been able to make up his own mind...
"................................Ku..."
......Kanon, ...............chose to get down on both knees in front of the witch...
It didn't matter what happened to himself.

...However, ......just the fact that Shannon, who during his days as furniture had given him his only reason to live, was being toyed with, ......that alone was something that he couldn't overlook...
Therefore, ......something like kissing the shoes of the witch, ...was an easy oath for Kanon to make.
......At the time that his quivering lips actually touched the witch's shoe...

...Beatrice, after letting a look of ecstasy rise to her face, ...laughed with a voice filled to bursting.
At that moment, the witch, who had been bored of living after one thousand years, was completely filled with that evil emotion which was what she lived for......
When lunch ended, the relatives moved to the parlor.

Rosa had bought a high-class brand of black tea from a famous store in Ginza.  That had been prepared, and the inside of the parlor was filled with a very nice aroma...
Since the children were together with the adults, the adults tried to interact like relatives on the surface, talking peacefully about recent events and how their children were growing up.
It had started raining outside, so the children couldn't do anything but sit here like this, watching TV, unable to go outside.
Maria continued watching a boring daytime program without getting bored, going kyakkya all by herself, like a TV kid.

At first, Battler joined in, apparently deepening his relationship with Maria, but he had gotten up early that morning, and was therefore attacked by a wave of drowsiness...

"......Fuaaaaaah..."
"Oh, that's a big yawn.  Did you get up really early this morning?"
"...Well, something like that.  With all the tension resolved, I started to get sleepy, listening to the sound of the rain."

"Tension?  Hehe, you call overreacting that much tension?"
"At least it's like that for me.  ......Fuaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah......"
Battler gave a great yawn once again, and slowly lay down in the sofa.
He really did look tired.
George and the others had tried talking to him, thinking it was a sign of boredom, but when they realized he really was sleepy, they decided to let him be.

"My, my.  They say that if you lie down right after eating, you'll become a mackerel.  Hoh-hoh-ho...!"
"......Stop kidding around.  Gohda-san said that tonight would be calf steak.  That would make it mackerel steak."

"Kumasawa-san.  This guy looks pretty tired.  Would you mind bringing him a blanket?"
"Hoh-hoh-ho.  Here you go."

Kumasawa brought a blanket over from the shelf.
...The wide parlor wasn't cold, but the air had gotten a little chilly.
So when Battler took the blanket, he immediately wrapped himself up in it, like a little turtle.
"...You really were sleepy.  When will you wake up?  I'll take care of it."
"......Nah, I'm not really hoping for anything.  ......You can wake me up if you have some business with me, ...and if there's nothing, you can let me sleep forever.  ......Good night..."

"Uu-?  Battler sleep?  A nap?  A nap?  Uu-uu-, Maria will do it too!"
"H, hey, Maria.  Battler's sleepy, so you gotta leave him alone.  Kumasawa-san, could you give us another blanket?"

It was doubtful that Maria really wanted to take a nap.
She probably saw Battler wrapped up in a blanket and wanted to do the same.

When she received the blanket from Kumasawa, she joyfully wrapped herself up in it and set up camp again in front of the TV.
"Sheesh.  ...Even though we've finally gathered all the cousins together after six years.  This guy doesn't have a clue that he's the main guest of this family conference, does he?"
"......I can hear you-.  ...I've casually eaten lunch, and there's even a typhoon and rain.  ......Since we aren't doing anything, that means it isn't my turn yet."
"I wonder about that.  If you have a passive attitude like that, and don't do anything unless something happens, your life will be pretty boring, right?"
"......Wrong, that's not what I mean.  ...How should I say it?  ...In times like this, I've decided to think this way.  ......It isn't my turn.  If this were a play, it wouldn't be my turn to go on stage.  ......So the best thing to do is stay on the wings of the stage."
"You're always the main character of your own life, right?  Why are you acting like a supporting actor?  ...You have to move forward by yourself and get up on the stage."
".........That's not what I mean.  What I'm mean by saying that it's not my turn now...  Kuaaaaaaaaaaah......  Sorry, my mind's a mess.  Give me a break......  Munyamunya......"

"Seriously.  You're so sleepy that you aren't making any sense.  ...We'll leave you alone now."
"I think that's inexcusable.  ...You are always the main character in your own life.  But I kinda want to seriously argue with Battler about that!"

"He's just half-asleep.  Don't take him too seriously."
".........You know what?  I think he's got that kind of personality where he doesn't want to get up on the stage because he can't be the main character.  ......Something about that pisses me off..."
With distant eyes, Jessica gazed out the window at the grey rose garden obscured by rain...

When she put her forehead up against the glass, it felt as though the pleasantly cool sensation chased away the memories that she didn't want to remember...
"............What do you mean it's still not your turn?  ...Then, ......when will you get up on the stage......?"

In that case, who are you saying is the main character on stage...?
".........Can't you just do what you want already?  ...What is this?  ......It's all screwed up...!!"
"*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*...!  It's because your argument regarding 18 or 19 people, which you are using as a basis to deny me, is truly humorous.  So much so that I tried changing my move."
"...The greatest basis upon which you deny me is simply because I was not laid out as a piece on the game board.  So doing this is nothing more than showing you the queen first, isn't it?  ...Isn't opening the road for the queen in the first move one of the short-cuts in chess?"

".........Q, ...quit playing around...  There's no way, ...I can accept something like this, right?!  A witch came in, walking right through the entrance hall, you say?!  Don't mess with me!!"
"What's this...?  In the last game, I let you make your moves terribly freely, right...?  This time, I am doing nothing more than matching your moves and moving the pieces.  .........Will you give in already after the first move...?"
"......Y, .........you bastard...  Don't mess with me!  Who's gonna give in!  Great move, why don't you just move however you like?"
"I see, so your turn is far from over.  ...Move however you like!  Form a huge battle formation while you can."
"I will definitely defy you.  I'll definitely corner you!!  Come at me as best you can, I don't want you to have any excuses."
"......This much isn't even close to enough to make me accept something like a witch.  ...That's right, just now, it looked like Maria's candy was fixed with magic, but you might have actually had another one of the same candy hidden in your pocket, and switched them with that little show, making it only look like you had fixed it with magic!  Yeah, that's right, that has to be it, it's useless, it's all useless...!"

"......Hohoh?  Rosa saw the moment when the candy split into butterflies, right?"
"I don't know about that!!  That was a hallucination or a trick, ...otherwise, she just saw it wrong!!  That isn't a big problem!!"
"*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*!  So you throw out the part you can't explain as trivial?  ......I see, is that your move in response to mine...?"
"*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*..., you've really put your foot in it.  ...Ushiromiya Battler...  Fuhahahahahahahahahahaha...!!  It still isn't your turn yet.  Allow me to make my move for a little longer.  It has barely begun, the Turn of the Witch!!"
When they started hearing Battler's snores, the relatives went their separate ways, leaving the parlor and letting Battler sleep in silence.
Even though it had been so lively in the parlor with so many people gathered there, ......when all of them scattered at once and were sucked into the vast mansion, it created an eerie silence, with no sound except that of the rain...

"Nope.  I haven't met a person like that even once.  Aneki?"
"...I haven't met them.  ......Kyrie-san, is that true?"

"......Even I only greeted her quickly when she came into the entrance hall.  She looked like she was in her twenties.  I told her my name, but she didn't tell me hers.  ...She was being guided by Genji-san and I saw her go up to the second floor."
"So it would probably be faster to find Genji-san and hear the story from him directly.  ......Still, what a strange turn of affairs..."
The mystery woman had spoken to Kyrie.
Without naming herself, she had sneered that Kyrie should have had a vague idea.

......And the person that brought to mind...
...was her look-alike, the witch of the portrait...

"Was this person trying to say that she was, ......the witch of the portrait?"
"I realized that was what she was laughing at.  ......Even though it was our first meeting, she spoke as though she knew I'm your second wife."

"......Aneki.  You really don't know someone like that?"
"You talk too much.  I have never seen a blonde woman like that go in or out of this mansion!"

"That kind of thing doesn't matter.  ...The problem is what happens if that woman starts calling herself Beatrice, if she starts calling herself the manager of Father's assets."
"Or, ...maybe she plans to call herself his mistress's daughter, and demand that the inheritance be distributed to her.  ...Either way, an outrageous joker has been slipped into the deck.  .........Did Nii-san call her?  ...Or did Father...?"

"This is bad.  ...We've been thinking that if we did a good enough job cornering Aniki in our discussion, we might be able to work things out.  ......But this takes us back to square one."
"............I don't know what kind of schemes you've been making when I'm not around, dear, ......but it looks like we've been given a little time to form a counter-strategy."

"...Yeah.  The little time that we've been given to discuss a counter-strategy is better than what would have happened if that blonde-haired nee-chan had suddenly appeared at the dinner table and scared the shit out of us."
"...Our effective counter-stategies will be limited as long as we don't know what she came to do.  ......What could they be after...?"
"Isn't it obvious!  It's to claim that they are the rightful heir to Father's inheritance!  Father is still captivated by Beatrice.  If that girl were here, you would think he'd want to give up all of his assets!  She might even thrust some strange will before us!"
"...For that, if we take it to court, we could probably claim half of a quarter of it..., ......but that probably wouldn't be resolved until the distribution of the inheritance is settled.  ...That's a problem.  To me, to Rudolf too!  And of course Rosa too, right?"
"......For all of our various situations, we need to gather money urgently.  ...It's our biggest weak point.  Then, ......what are they after?  Kyrie, ...can you tell?"

"...........................It's the first I've heard of it, but one of the premises here is that we have an urgent need to collect money, right?"
".....................nn, ......"

"......Kyrie-san.  When you're on the offensive in a man's business, that's the time ya need funding.  Please understand that."
".........Wha-t's this, Rudolf?  You didn't tell Kyrie-san about it?"
"...Sorry.  I wasn't really hiding it.  ......Actually, it was kinda..."

"It's alright. If this is something that you decided wasn't necessary to tell me about, I won't press you about it right here.  ......What's more important is finding out what the Golden Witch is after, right?"
"Yes............By organizing what we know, will we be able to see the enemy's move coming?"
Rudolf had a certain measure of trust in Kyrie's unique thinking technique, 'chessboard thinking'.

Of course, it didn't give him any more peace of mind than fortune telling, but every time Rudolf was polishing up some important strategy, he would give a great deal of thought to Kyrie's advice...

For a while, Kyrie pressed her finger against her forehead, considering...
".........Judging by the fact that her coming here was kept hidden until today, one of her goals is some kind of surprise that she wants to give us.  .........We can't know whether that has something to do with assets or being recognized as a relative."
"However, because it was kept hidden that she could come until today, maybe you could say that she didn't want us to be notified in advance and therefore interact with her.  Which means that, it seems her goal is one that would be disadvantageous to her if we did interact.  ...Understand?"
"I get it...  For example, if it was something like a will which Father had written previously, or something that could prove that she was acknowledged as a blood relative, if we assume it was something like that, ......it would be completely unshakable.  If she thought it was rock-solid proof, then you'd think she'd actually have announced it beforehand."

"...That's right.  Since we are in a position to doubt her, she should have brought a lawyer or an expert, and thrust some completely undeniable proof before us.  If she could."
"Hmmmm.  ...So that would mean that, from the time she first aimed for a surprise attack, we know the enemy couldn't win in an honest, frontal attack.  No wonder.  's best to play a trump card that can surely win openly.  If ya play it in a roundabout way, it might actually obscure the impact of that trump card."
"......To skip to the conclusion, ...you would probably expect that that some huge surprise would be thrust in front of you, something related either directly or indirectly to the inheritance problem that everyone is so infatuated with.  ...The other party probably plans to have the impact of this alone be enough to overpower us.  ......However, even if this carries with it a significant impact, it is not absolute."

"In other words, ......we have enough leeway to take advantage of this."
"Ya've really got brains!  Even understandin' juss this much is raally reassurin'!  In other wurds, ya're tellin' us not to get sucked into our opponents pace."

"...In the end, it's an extremely simple conclusion.  No matter what our opponent brings up, we interact calmly, without rushing things.  ......This is just the very first step in the art of negotiation.  You really can't say that you've predicted your opponent's thoughts with just this."
"Come on.  ...Just like usual, that was pretty good.  .........Now that we know that we have a little leeway to attack, it gives us a little more room to spare."

"What we don't know is how she is connected to Krauss nii-san.  ......Is it a surprise for Krauss nii-san too, or was the person who called her here none other than Krauss nii-san himself?  ......If it's the latter, it might make things very troublesome."

"............That's right.  ...Secretly calling a mystery woman on the day of the family conference.  ...Repulsive, but it somehow feels like Nii-san."
"Aneki, let's do this.  ...As long as she can't clearly prove her identity, we won't accept her position in any way."

"That would be best.  ......She really didn't even name herself to Kyrie-san.  ...We won't stand for an announcement from a woman whose true form is unknown to disturb our conference."
"......She might even show us proof that she's a blood relative.  If she can show that Father's blood runs through her veins, like with a maternity record document, there's nothing we can do."

"We can suspect that any proof is only something disguised.  Even if it is the real thing, in order to prove that the person mentioned is the person in question, we would need to check their condition at a hospital.  ...At the very least, it will be impossible to prove that now, on Rokkenjima."

"......You're right.  So, in other words, it's something like this.  No matter what is shown to us now on Rokkenjima, it can't be accepted as truth.  So we can't believe anything until the typhoon passes and they prove it to us at the proper place.  ...*giggle*."

"Recklessly finding fault in that kind of thing is Aneki's specialty.  We'll be counting on you."
"Are you an idiot?  You'll be helping too.  ......We need money.  And quickly, and a large sum!  We're all in this together.  .........As if we could just stand by and let a mystery woman, who appeared unexpectedly in a place like this, destroy our goal, the inheritance...!"

Rudolf and Eva always grew united as siblings in times like these, sickened by the idea that their own inheritance might be snatched away by an outsider.

Kyrie noticed how indomitable they looked, swung her head slightly to the side, and gave a small sigh as she looked out the window.
Outside, there was still a strong rain falling, and everything was gray, having lost all vibrance.
It felt like the lush garden that the sun had shone on earlier had been no more than a lie.

For some reason, the words Eva had said just a short while ago kept repeating in Kyrie's head.
So, in other words, it's something like this.
No matter what is shown to us now on Rokkenjima, it can't be accepted as truth.
There was an odd nuance to those words.
Right now, this island was closed off by the typhoon and isolated.
They had no official connections and no hospital.

So on this island, no matter what manner of proof with any relation to the outside world was shown, one could claim that it was fiction.
It was impossible to prove that something was the truth.
They were cut off from the outside world, and any truth that must be proven in the outside world would be called 'fiction'...

So did that mean, ......that now, on this Rokkenjima, there was nothing that was truthful?
......That everything would be controlled by 'fiction'?
It almost gave the illusion, ......that separate from the human world made from truth, ...was another world called fiction, in which they had been shut away.
......Kyrie remembered what that woman had looked like one more time.
And she remembered the woman's figure, and the witch of the portrait.

On this island, which had been isolated from the world of humans, and shut away in the world of nonhumans, ......a nonhuman being had visited.

No matter what she did, Kyrie couldn't help think of that smile that had appeared on that woman's face as anything other than a thing of misfortune......
It feels like my chessboard thinking mistook a vital premise, ...now that I try to understand that smile of misfortune.
...That's right, that smile seemed like that of something not human looking down on me.
I have reasoned based on the assumption that my opponent was a 'human' like us.

......However, just like this island now, she may be a being that is not human, and human values may not matter for her.
In that case.........all reasoning is useless.
For what reason has the witch been invited here today?

.........Only one thing is certain.  ...Now, in this instant, she is staying somewhere in this vast mansion...

"......Maria.  ......Around lunchtime today, we, .........met her outside, right?  A woman.  Who was......, she?"
"...Uu-.  Said it many times.  ...Beatrice."

"Maria, did you ever meet Beatrice before that...?"
"Uu-.  Met her every year."
"Every year...?  In this mansion on Rokkenjima?"
"Uu-."

"...I don't know what uu- means!  Is that true?!"
"......Yes."
"How long have you been meeting her?  How many years ago did it start?!"

"...Uu-.  ......Don't know."
"You don't know?!  Why?!  Last year?  Two years ago?!"
"......Since before that.  ......Uu-."
Rosa was astonished.
...Only the Ushiromiya family mansion existed on this island.
So there was no way that there were any humans other than themselves on this island.

And yet, Maria said that she had been meeting with that suspicious woman every year during the family conference......
If what Maria said was the truth, ......then that strange woman called Beatrice had been at the family conference every year.
......That's insane.

Is she saying that some eerie woman was at the family conference every year, and none of us ever noticed it...?!
Even though Rosa had just met her herself a couple of hours ago in the rose garden, she was overcome with a strange emotion which told her not to accept that existence...

'What' in the world did I meet with earlier today in the rose garden, as the typhoon grew close and the winds blew strong......

"......Maria.  So, you said that you met her every year.  ...After you met, what did you do?"
"Uu-.  Sang songs, learned magic.  Learned how to write magic circles."

"R, ...really?  That's incredible.  ......Maria, you often draw scribbles..., ...no, magic circles, in your notebook, right?  Did she teach you that?"

"Uu-!  You know what, Beatrice drew a model!  C'mon, c'mon, look!  Look!"
Maria joyfully fished around in her handbag.

......Then, she drew out a single notebook and began opening to that page.
Most of the pages were covered with drawings that were literally scribbles.

All of them were occult-like things, and, while it might sound rude to Maria, who was joyfully flipping through the pages, they were all creepy.
"Look!  Here!  Beatrice wrote it!!  Uu-!!"
On each page Maria opened to, there was another eerie magic circle that had been drawn.
......Furthermore, at a glance, Rosa realized that Maria hadn't drawn them.
The strength of the strokes, the thickness of the lines, how clean the shape was.
......This by itself wasn't enough to guess the background of the person who had written it, but it was enough for Rosa to understand that it was definitely someone older than Maria.
Rosa had to accept it now.

...There really was a person on this Rokkenjima that she herself hadn't known existed until now, and this person had come to the family conference every year to play with Maria.
".........Maria.  Umm, does this witch Beatrice live here...?  Or does she live outside the island like us...?"
"Uu-.  ......Beatrice is the witch of Rokkenjima, so she lives on this island."

".........So, you're saying that she's on the island even when it isn't the family conference, ...right......?"
"Uu-."
"I don't know what uu- means!!  What do you mean?!"
"...!  ............Yes.  ...Uu-."
Wh, ......what in the, what in the.........
I can't believe it, I can't believe it...!

How long has this unknown witch been living on this island?!
I used to live on this island.
I lived on this island, passing the time in the mansion, in the rose garden.

And even so, I never encountered a witch like that, ......never,
......supposedly................

"Mama......?  Mama......?  What's wrong......?  Mama...?!"
"......My head, .........hurts..."

...I was probably getting a little mixed up with my memories from when I was a young girl.
When I was a young girl, unlike Maria, I was very frightened of the witch.
So for me, the name Beatrice was a synonym for something frightening.

......So surely, my feeling of fear from my days as a young girl has been revived because a woman calling herself that has appeared...
......She couldn't be a witch.
......She's obviously a 'human' calling herself Beatrice, right?
That's right...
......That witch entrusted me with an envelope...
What in the world could that be?

Rosa pulled that western-style envelope out of her pocket.
...It was the western-style envelope which bore the Ushiromiya family crest, which Kinzo used on his personal letters.
......And it had even been sealed with the red sealing wax by the ring of the head, which Kinzo held.
.........Which meant, ...this envelope belonged to the Ushiromiya head.
...In other words, it was from Father.

Why was a woman calling herself Beatrice holding it, and why did she give it to me?
That's right, I'm sure she said to read this aloud at dinner.
.........What in the world could be written inside...?

An uncertainty gripped Rosa, as if opening this envelope would release a ridiculous object of misfortune...
......However, at the same time, a little curiosity sprouted up, causing her to want to find out what was written inside before the other siblings.

Using common sense, .........one could guess that a huge resolution somehow related to Father's inheritance was probably written inside.
Actually, ...since she had been made to hold it by a woman who called herself Beatrice, there was no way that wasn't related.
......Did it mean that this person wants, not just the four, but a total of five people to be included in the inheritance?
...............I needed a large sum of money, ...and I couldn't wait long.
I felt like a sinful daughter for discussing the distribution of Father's inheritance while he was still alive.
......However, this was no time to keep everything pretty.
...And I was even consulting with Rudolf nii-san and Eva nee-san in order to get some money out of Krauss nii-san.
With myself in this situation, I can't help but foresee misfortune...

.........What could be written in here?  ......I'm sure there must be something frightening written.

.........Shall I first read it secretly myself?
The witch had requested it be done at the dinner table, when everyone was gathered.
......However, didn't that just mean that she could have read it aloud herself at the dinner table?

Why did she go to all the trouble of entrusting it to me?
.........In other words, was that because it didn't matter whether I secretly read it beforehand...?
......It would be better to secretly read the contents first.
...I understand that it would be breaking my promise.

......But this is no longer the time to keep things pretty...
It would probably be good to discuss it with Eva nee-san and Rudolf nii-san, ...depending on the contents.
...Nee-san and the rest are always really good thinkers when it comes to this kind of thing......
When I gulped, ......and put my hand to the red sealing wax...
...Something suddenly pulled on my sleeve, and I let out a small scream.

".........Wh, what?!  M, .........Maria.  Don't scare me like that.  What?"
"...Uu-.....................Can't."
"Huh......?"
The same sign of misfortune as the witch appeared in Maria's expression, sending a tingle up Rosa's spine...

"......Beatrice told Mama to read that letter during dinner.  ......You can't break a promise with a witch.  .........Kihihihihihihihihihihihi..."
"Th, ...that's not it.  I just wanted to look at the envelope for a second.  ......I'll keep my promise.  ......After all, Mama always tells Maria to keep her promises.  ...Of course Mama will keep her promise..."

"Yes.  Mama's a good girl.  ...Kihihihihihihihihihi..."
"Th, ......that laugh. ......It isn't cute, so stop it."
".........Uu-."

"Come to think of it, you received a letter too, Maria.  .........What was written inside?"
"It isn't open.  ...Beatrice said mustn't open it until the time to open it comes.  So taking good care of it.  ...Uu-."

"I, ......I see.  ...You listen well to what Beatrice says, don't you, Maria."
"Uu-.  Maria is Beatrice's disciple, so she listens well to what her teacher says."
"......I, .........I see."

Rosa realized something.
......Mixed in with Maria's gaze, ...was the light of a person other than Maria.

...If she broke the rules, and opened the envelope here, Beatrice would probably know about it.

......Because Maria was the witch's disciple.
.........Maria communicated with that witch......

"...Mama will keep her promise.  So tell Beatrice not to worry, okay?"
"Uu-!  Tell her."

"...Hey, Maria.  ...I want to speak with Beatrice, but what could I do to meet her, I wonder...?"

"I don't know.  ......Beatrice is very fickle, so she always shows herself suddenly.  Maria doesn't know a way to get her to meet Maria.  ......But you know, she's always watching Maria.  So when Maria gets in trouble, she'll definitely save her afterwards.  ...She has definitely, erased her form, and is hiding close to Maria.  ......Kihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihi."

"D, ......don't I always tell you to stop that laughing!!"
Rosa reflexively hit Maria on the head.
......That put a stop to Maria's laughing voice, ...but it wasn't able to erase the color of misfortune that had risen to those eyes.
Rosa swore.
...She swore that, at least until they left this island, she must not leave Maria alone.
.........She couldn't allow an unknown being to make direct contact with her daughter any more......

'Furniture' and 'People'

Sat, Oct 4 1986 6:00PM
"...Maria hasn't come back.  ......I wonder if she's been scolded by Rosa oba-san again."
Since they had met Maria in the airport, she had been romping around about Halloween the whole time.

...But maybe she had cut loose a little too much, and acted a little too boisterous on the plane, on the boat, and during lunch, because Rosa had warned her several times.
In times like that, Rosa oba-san would rarely scold her in front of people.
...More commonly, she would call Maria into the shadows, and scold her when they were alone.

So since Maria had been called off somewhere, they thought she must be getting scolded.
When they looked at the clock, they realized that it was almost 6:00.
They couldn't really imagine that Maria had been scolded this whole time.
Maybe it was time for some anime she watched every week to start.
She had probably stayed in the mansion's parlor the whole time.

"Possibly, Battler-sama has woken up and they are playing together."
"That's because Maria-chan thinks of Battler-kun as a new friend.  ...I'm sure it was tons of fun when she played Halloween with Battler-kun at the airport."
"Battler was messing around a lot himself.  Even though that guy's gotten big, he hasn't changed a bit since long ago."

"That's true.  ...I get the feeling that Battler-sama was gracious enough to remain as he was six years ago."
"Shannon, do you remember about Battler-kun six years ago?"

"Yes.  Because he was, well, very energetic.  *giggle*."
"I also remember how the four of us used to play six years ago.  Shannon acted a lot like a big sister."
"That's right.  I get the feeling that she was even more level-headed then than she is now.  Ahahahaha!"

"B, ...back then I, umm, ......didn't act fitting for my place so...umm, I did some rude things..."
"......It's alright to act like that.  Forget when you're working, when you're taking your break, like now, I want you to stay with us and be friendly."

"That's right.  ...Treat the servant Shannon and off-duty Sayo differently.  ......You aren't a slave, you're just working as a servant, right?  .........I think of you, Shannon, ...no, Sayo, as my oldest friend."
"............Thank you very much, Milady."

It seemed that Shannon understood the hidden meaning behind Jessica's words.
......Because she had heard a little bit about Jessica's and Kanon's history from both of them.
"..............."
Apparently, George had also been informed about that history, more or less.
As George approached the window, he looked up at the darkening rainy sky...

"...Even though Kanon-kun is still young, I think that he's starting to grow a bit in his way of thinking."

"Uhh, hahahaha...  C'mon, quit it already.  Well, umm, I think there's been some times when I've been sucked in by the atmosphere...  Well, umm, ...maybe after looking at you two, umm, I got a little jealous, and sometimes started feeling a little rushed."

"......Wh, what happens to me isn't important.  More importantly, how's it going between you two?  Looks like it's goin' pretty well, eh?  Ehehe!"

"Err, ......I, ...I wonder..."
"Yes.  It's going very well."

Shannon was lost for words, her face red, while George answered brightly and immediately.
That carefree attitude made it obvious that their relationship was proceeding so perfectly, it would make anyone envious.

"Heh, I'm jealous.  ......That mean Shannon's gonna resign and have a party soon?"
"I, I wonder...  I am, umm......"
"I wonder, right?  How could I know?"

George laughed like he was being mean and drew closer to Shannon.  ...It was probably the way they usually flirted when they were alone.
Jessica could only smile bitterly and say yes, yes, thank you, that's enough.
"I have a dream.  It isn't only an ambition to become the leader of my own domain in business.  I also have a dream to build a family together with a partner I can spend my life with."
"...I want two kids at the very least.  And I'd like to do some sports that the whole family could do together.  And many more things besides that.  I often talk with Shannon about that kind of thing.  .........Although every time I talk about that sort of thing, Shannon always laughs and says I'm getting ahead of myself."
"...For some reason, even at the age I am now, I've started having some calmer thoughts like I'm in my old age.  ......Healthy grown kids, and grandchildren running around.  If only I could spend the rest of my life at a slow pace, surrounded by that, and together with Shannon forever."

"You're definitely getting ahead of yourself.  ......But, how should I say it, it sounds like you, George nii-san."
"Being surrounded by that family would probably be so wonderful.  ......The ideal family that I've painted in my mind is something like that."

...To Shannon, who had been raised in an orphanage, that harmonious image of a family was probably something she yearned after.

......And George, who promised that he would definitely grant that wish for her, was surely a fitting person for her to spend her life with...

Shannon was an important friend to Jessica.
......George was surely the one most fit to entrust that friend's future to.

"Well, I don't want to throw cold water on you guys, ......but forget about Hideyoshi oji-san, what would happen with Eva oba-san?  Wouldn't it be tough to convince her?"
"..............."
"Ah-hah-hah-ha.  There's no reason for anyone to worry about something like that.  ......No one can worry about who I chose to be my partner.  Shannon makes me happy.  Whose permission do I need?"
"......Whoa--.  George nii-san, that was cool...  I can't believe you can say something so embarrassing out loud.  I thought George didn't used to be that kind of character."

"If you don't see a boy for three days, you should watch them closely.  ......Even I grow up.  ...I plan to study more and more to make Shannon happy and grow to be a suitable man."

Did George even realize how embarrassing the words coming out of his mouth were?
His face turned very slightly red, and he scratched his head.

"............George-san."
"It's alright.  I'm sure Mother will be difficult, but you can leave that to me.  I'll show you that I can make all of the relatives accept you as my partner."

"Awesome...  I'm jealous of you Shannon, seriously!"
"......I, if you will go so far then, .........I, I'm sorry to trouble you..."

"Wait a sec, I'm starting to feel like I'm getting in the way.  Would it be better if I le-ft?"
When Jessica stood up from the bed she had been sitting on, smiling bitterly, at that very moment, the phone rang.

Before Jessica picked up the receiver, wondering what business they could have, Shannon looked at the clock, taken aback.
......Somehow or another, it seemed that she had taken too long on her break.
"I, I am sorry...!  I forgot it was time for work...!  Th, then, if you will excuse me...!"
At the same time that Jessica picked up the phone, Shannon began dashing out of the room.

"Ah, Shannon!  .........Again, same time, same place."
"Y, .........yes.  ...E, excuse me!"
"Hello, it's Jessica.  .........Ah, Genji-san.  Yes, Shannon is going back to you guys now.  We held her up.  Please don't scold her.  Yeah, yes."
"I see.  So it will be time to prepare dinner very soon."
Many plates were lined up on the counter in the kitchen.  Preparations for dinner were proceeding steadily.
......The number of plates that were lined up there...

......was 19.
That number was one more than were lined up during the family conference every year.

"I can't accept it...!  Why can't I deliver it directly?!"

Gohda-san flared up at Genji, paying no heed to the pot that was boiling over.

The Master enjoyed having his food alone in his study, so the food needed to be set out in the study.
However, this always happened.

Gohda-san really wanted to set the table for the Master with his own hands, as he had put his heart and soul into his cooking.

......But the Master had imposed a strict rule that none but the servants bearing the Golden Eagle crest could enter his study.

.........So while Gohda-san could greet the Master from outside the study, not once had he been granted the honor of carrying his cooking into the study.
Gohda-san was always unsatisfied with this.
...Of course he was a newcomer in terms of years of service.

However, he had piled up plenty of experience from his previous jobs, and he was strongly confident that he would always be able to perform in front of Kinzo in a way that would not insult him.

And yet, just because he was not permitted the Golden Eagle, he still hadn't been blessed with this honor.
......You can probably imagine what damage that did to his pride.
You might think that tonight was another repeat of that, but it wasn't.

Because tonight, there was a person other than the Master who wanted their food carried to their room.
Apparently, this person was a very rare and honored guest, and there had been a strict order to treat this person in the same manner as the Master, who was the family head.

Gohda-san must have wanted to earn some points by serving this honored guest with his own hands.
Because he was a person of strong vanity.
If he wasn't qualified to serve the Master, then at least a guest of the same rank...
He couldn't have made time during lunch no matter what, so Kanon-san had gone for him.
...Therefore, he truly desired to serve tonight's food, the best dinner of the year.
But Genji-san had had a problem with that.
......Something about how Gohda-san didn't have the Golden Eagle.

.........After being scolded that he wasn't qualified again, Gohda-san had lost his patience.
Aah, so heartrending, Gohda-san...
I cannot do anything more than watch like this from the shadows...

"Kumasawa-san, if you have enough free time to dawdle around, please prepare the dining hall.  Is the tablecloth ready?!"
"Hoh-hoh-hoh-ho..., oh my, my apologies..."

When it became her turn to bear the brunt, Kumasawa softly disappeared into the hall.
"Beatrice-sama is of exactly the same rank as the Master.  ......We must respect this rule in the same way we do with the Master."
"......Gohda-san, if you would, please devote your attention entirely towards the task you are confident in, for all of the relatives..."

"I don't mind if it's you, Genji-san, but is it really alright to let a child like this go to such a guest?!  If she made some blunder, it would be quite rude."

"I know that they have served here for a long time, but that doesn't mean that they have been trained in the proper areas.  If you will allow me to speak freely, they have no foundation which makes them able to interact with this guest!"
".................."

Even though Shannon was waiting there in the kitchen, Gohda spoke so bluntly.
Shannon was the one who Genji had ordered to carry the food to Beatrice's room.
......By the ranking system among the servants permitted the Golden Eagle, Shannon was surely the second highest ranked.

...If the highest ranked, Genji, went to set the table in Kinzo's room, then it fell to Shannon to set the table in Beatrice's room.
Gohda pride was always horribly injured when he was shown this ranking system.
...In times like that, he would speak out bluntly and rudely about Shannon and Kanon.

Gohda kept raising examples of each one of Shannon's failures until now, making a ruckus about how this was wrong and that was wrong.
Shannon, who listened to this and hung her head in shame, heard Kanon's voice from behind her.

...Kanon had heard everything, having approached from a blind spot in the hall along the wall near the entrance to the kitchen.
...He probably knew that if he entered the kitchen, sparks would start to fly his way.

"............Let me say it.  He's a horrible man."
"......B, but, it would help to build up a foundation of experience on how to entertain someone.  ......Gohda-san has learned a lot, so he could be a good reference...?"
"Heh.  ......Nee-san, you sure are nice."

"......More importantly, ............is the guest in the honored guest room, ...really Beatrice-sama, as they say?"
"...Yes.  .........I met her when I was made to set the table for her during lunch.  ...There's no mistake, it's her."
"R, really?  Was she doing well?"

".................."

Kanon remembered that he and Shannon had different impressions about Beatrice.
To Shannon, Beatrice was a cupid of love, who had granted her magic to create her relationship with George.

Judging by the expression that rose to her face, ...it looked like she couldn't wait to inform Beatrice of how her relationship with George had progressed.
......However, Kanon already knew.
That witch had come here with a terrifying goal in mind.

......That vague witch that only they had been able to see in the past, had now walked in openly through the front door, and had revived enough that they could now carry food to her.
...In the past, when she had disappeared from in front of Kanon...
The witch had said something about how her own power was still weak.

.........Did that mean that the witch, who could now appear openly like this, had finally returned to her former power?
And she had said that.
.........She had definitely said that she had known of his failure and had sown the seeds of love.
She had said something else.
.........She had definitely said that the day on which the door to the Golden Land would be opened had finally come.

".........Shannon.  ...She will hold some bizarre ceremony with the Master, ...and will surely do something unimaginably horrible.  ......And no one can resist that."
"What are you talking about......?"

"She came here.  ...As the Master requested, so that the door to the Golden Land would open, and so that everything would be returned to the Golden Land.  She definitely said that to me!"
"........................"

In the past, ......the two of them, as furniture working for Kinzo, had been told what opening of the door to the Golden Land meant.

Therefore, even without asking a single question in response, Shannon understood everything.

.........So, ...she grew deeply hopeless.

...Something tore at Kanon's heart as he looked at that expression twisted with grief...
"............How could, .........why, ...why now........."
"......Didn't I tell you?  We are furniture!  ......Because we acted like humans, because of love, .........we can't obediently accept the day when our service is over...!"

"..................At one time, in the past, I wished that this day would come.  ......But it never came after so much time.........I didn't know how long we would be able stand being tormented as furniture............So I thought.  ...I thought that day of rest wouldn't come for all eternity."

".........That's what I thought!  But I believed that it would definitely come someday!  So I never forgot that I am furniture!  But Nee-san, you forgot that!"
"..................It's, ......my fault, isn't it...............I'm......"

"Yeah, it's your fault, Nee-san.  ......If only you hadn't known love.........we would both be happy that this day has finally come!  You built up shameless regrets!  Even though it was a world that you must not leave!!"
"...............Will the ceremony, ...begin tonight...?"
"...Yes.  ...............Then, she said this to me.  ...Tonight, George-sama will probably give you an engagement ring, Nee-san."
"........................"
That was a fact.
......George should have snuck in an engagement ring in his pocket today.
......And surely, he would hand it over tonight.

"......She joined you together, planning to use you and George-sama as the sacrifices of the second twilight.  ...Understand?  By tempting you, Nee-san, she took advantage of you!"
"............That's right.  ......I never thought of that."
"But she told me.  ...She promised that if you don't accept the engagement ring tonight, you won't be chosen as a sacrifice, Nee-san.  ............I think that our chances of being able to go to the Golden Land together are very slim.
There will be 13 people as sacrifices.  Only five people will be left alive.  ...The chances of us being a part of that group are really slim.  ......However, if only you, Nee-san, can take advantage of that promise, those chances rise higher!  I want to take that bet!
Our salvation is in the Golden Land.  If we can make it that far, we can become human.  And I want to walk through life as a human, together with you, Nee-san...!  If we do that, we might be able to achieve, ......true love!"
"...........................In the past, we used to dream about being able to go to the Golden Land.  .........If we go there, any wish will be granted.  .........We will be saved from this pain.  ............We believed that."
However, in this ceremony, only a few people, decided by fate and chance, would be invited to the Golden Land.
......Everyone else would lose their life as a sacrifice midway through the ceremony.
However, in the past, Shannon and Kanon had thought that whether they reached the Golden Land, or were made sacrifices, they would still be released from their duties as furniture.

......So in other words, this ceremony would definitely give release to furniture like them.
"I don't like it.  ......I want to take back everything painful that we lost until now, together with you, Nee-san.  I won't become a sacrifice.  Nee-san and I will remain alive.  And we'll reach the Golden Land together."
".........So I won't let you become the sacrifice of the second twilight!  Please, Nee-san!  Don't accept that man's ring!  If you don't accept that, she promised not to select you as a sacrifice, Nee-san!!"

"..................I, ......cannot do that.  ......Tonight's ring is very special.  ......My heart won't permit me to not accept it."

"Nee-san...!  The sacrifices of the ceremony are decided on the witch's whim!  That witch has promised to overlook just you, Nee-san!!  Only you will definitely be able to go to the Golden Land!"
"......Only me?  What about you, Kanon-kun?"

"The witch's game, ......is enough for me.  ...I'll slip through her evil hand.  .........I am not powerless.  I'll forcibly grasp that small chance..."
"........................"

"After all, our lives are temporary, aren't they?  ...In order to begin our real lives, ......let's drag ourselves to the Golden Land.  Then, ...we will gain humanity."
"............And when we've done that, ...maybe I want to, ......be able to know love, like you, Nee-san.  Can I still, .........let a person cry just because I'm furniture......?"
".........Kanon-kun............"
"I, ......don't like being furniture anymore......!  ......I'll definitely, ...become human.........From this pain, ......definitely.........!""........................"
There were tears in Kanon's eyes...
By now, Kanon had noticed.
......Shannon hadn't been the only one to know and suffer the taste of love.

He had too.
The tears Jessica had shown him that day, ......and Jessica's pitiful face as she tried to smooth things over and brighten her mood until today, had slowly wrought some kind of change on Kanon's heart without him knowing it...
".........Shannon!  I have been calling to you for some time."

Shannon was taken aback by Genji's sudden voice.
Apparently, she had been called for repeatedly.
She hurriedly answered.
......When she turned back, Kanon had disappeared.
......It seemed he didn't feel like showing his tears to anybody...
"Y, yes.  I'm sorry for being careless..."

"I entrusted Kanon with lunch, but it should have been you, as the next in rank after me, that carried it.  .........Beatrice-sama is the most honored guest of this house.  There is no more honored guest than her.  ......Please think of her as another Master, and be polite."

"...Is that alright?  I sincerely ask that you make no blunders.  It is quite painful for me to entrust this to someone inexperienced as yourself, but there's nothing we can do about the house's rules.  ......I am sincerely counting on you."

Gohda had officially agreed, but he threatened Shannon with an expression that told her that he definitely wouldn't forgive any mistakes.

Shannon thought that Gohda should just go if he wanted to that much, ......but she thought of her responsibilities as one who had been granted the Golden Eagle, and had to give up.
......And.
...I wanted to meet Beatrice.
What will we talk about?  What will I hear?  ...I don't know.

Thanks?  Or maybe grief?
Or maybe, ...what?  ...I don't know.

Shannon piled the witch's food onto the serving cart, and left the kitchen with a slow gait...
The person who knocked was Krauss.
"Father.  Today is our annual family conference.  Haven't the siblings gathered here to get a glance of you, Father?"
"Aaah, be silent!!  I'm saying I won't leave!  I imagine that you are there, Genji!!  Why haven't you had my food brought here as I ordered you to?!!"

Kinzo screamed across the door.
...Genji was waiting behind Krauss.

"......Your meal has been prepared so that it may be carried to the study.  ...However, Krauss-sama said that he wanted you to go downstairs tonight..."

"Father.  I don't mean every day.  Even if it's just for tonight, won't you gather together with your family?"
"Who are you calling family!!  When did you start calling those vultures who wait for me to collapse and die family?!  Have you started calling rotting, gushing maggots family?!!"
"........................My, my."
Krauss shrugged at this answer, which he had half expected.
"Genji, carry the meal here as you were told!!  Why don't you listen to what I say?!!  Why?!  WHY?!!"
"......Genji-san.  I will leave the rest to you.  ...My voice will no longer reach that person."

Krauss gave his head a small shake, and quickly turned his back on the door to the study.

......He had only called out for the siblings' sake, even though he knew it was useless.
After Genji watched Krauss go down the stairs, he called again across the door.
"...Master.  We have finished preparations for the meal to be carried here.  .........What about a serving for Doctor Nanjo?"
Nanjo's figure was in the study.
Because Kinzo had strongly pestered him about resolving their long lasting chess game, Nanjo had been Kinzo's opponent since before evening.

Nanjo had announced as a doctor that Kinzo's days were numbered.
...In that situation, if Kinzo pestered him about finishing a chess game while he was still alive, Nanjo couldn't refuse.
Kinzo was thinking deeply about his move, concentrating more than usual.
......It had been Kinzo's turn for quite some time, and Nanjo, who was tired of waiting, had randomly pulled out a book on magic that he couldn't understand and was skimming it.

".........Kinzo-san.  You won't think of a good move just by folding your arms and sitting in front of the board.  I wonder if it wouldn't be good to take a break and refresh our minds...?"

"Be silent.  ......Hmmm.  ......That should be good enough for defense.  Will the bishop and the knight be able to penetrate that hole...?  ............nnnnnnnn..."
Today, Kinzo was insistent on a strong defense.
......Normally, Kinzo's motto was that offense was the best defense.  However, today was completely the opposite.
"............I am also hungry.  Shall we suspend the game here?  And I've used my head so much without a break that I'm already feeling dizzy.  ......Any more of this might limit my ability to make my best moves."
"...That is a problem.  ............In chess, both players must always make their best moves.  ...Other moves are painful to understand, and ruin a game that is about reading thoughts.  ...That considerably reduces our enjoyment."
Kinzo sighed deeply, and finally shifted his gaze away from the board.
Chess needed an opponent.
...If that opponent was tired and was trying to suspend the game, too bad...
"It is true that the goal of chess is for both players to aim for victory and make the best moves possible in order to achieve that.  ...It is an intellectual game of being able to read each other."
"......But Kinzo-san, are you forgetting that there is another goal separate from victory?"

"............What?  What goal could there be other than victory?"
"Hahahaha......  Imagine that Kinzo-san would forget something like that.  ...Through chess, you get to spend some fun time with your friend, you see."

"Ah, ......I give up.  I believe those are words I said to you a long time ago.  ............I give up."

Kinzo, who normally wore a frown, surprisingly relaxed his face and laughed.
...Nanjo felt like he had been reunited with a close friend he hadn't seen in a long time.

"That's how it is.  Now that I've taken a shot back at you, what do you think?  Will you go down to eat with me?  What do you say about discussing Kasparov's middle game along with some coffee?"
"...........................A good plan, but I will refrain.  ......I can no longer leave this room.  ...Because the ceremony has begun."
"............Is that so?  Well, my stomach is growling.  ...I will go downstairs.  Any time you feel like it-"
"Nanjo.  ............Thank you."
"......Oh, what could you be thanking me for?"
"...We didn't resolve our chess match.  ......However, it seems that I have somehow succeeded in that goal of chess which I forgot.  It seems that was just as important as checkmate."
"This isn't like you.  Why so sentimental?"
".........You said it, didn't you?  My days are numbered.  ......Now, go.  And don't come to this room again.  ......Maybe we will continue in the Golden Land."
"......................That is fine, but I have a score to settle.  Losing that rook was a serious blow.  ......Well then, I will see you later."

"Yes, later.  ............Maybe in the Golden Land, or in Purgatory.  Or maybe the next world."
"....................."
Nanjo didn't say anything beyond that.
And, with a practiced hand, he pushed the button on the table that would release the auto-lock.
Then after looking at Kinzo's back one last time, he left the study.
As he did, Genji's voice came from the hall.
"......Well then, Master.  I will now carry in your dinner."
"It may be my final dinner.  I must savor it.  ......Please, prepare it."
"Certainly.  ............Is everything to Master's satisfaction?"
"...Hmm.  Until today, this room has been wrapped in a multitude of rigorous barriers.  .........Even if that roulette chooses me, I will definitely repel it.  ...I will remain alive, and I will definitely become one of those who reach the Golden Land...!  ......I will reject the visit of the gods of death that try to drag me off to Hades..."
".........Excuse me.  ...I have come to prepare the meal."
Shannon entered the honored guest room, bowing her head and pushing the serving cart.
The young woman by the window, gazing out into the darkness, where nothing should have been visible, was definitely that witch.

"So it is Shannon this time.  How nostalgic.  .........Hoh.  The color of your face looks quite well, doesn't it?  Different from Kanon.  Almost beyond recognition."
".........Thank you very much."
Shannon solemnly prepared dinner.

...There were actually several things that she wanted to ask and talk about with the witch.
...But those things were all jumbled up, and she didn't know where to start.
Her heart was also jumbled up with various things, and she didn't even understand her own emotions.
...Therefore, still remaining vague, she could only do her job indifferently.

However, the witch guessed what was in her heart.
You couldn't hide things from a witch...

"...............I won't apologize.  Because I am a witch."
".....For what?"

"Come.  ...Kanon must have told you about it.  Saving your love life was simply my mischievous spirit.  ......It was nothing more than a seed I sowed to appreciate how things would get complicated, become twisted, and fail."

".........There are some who think it is more fun to hear about love than to have it."
"You, .........couldn't possibly be trying to thank me, right?"

"...Yes.  ......No matter what kind of ulterior motive you had when you gave me the magic of love, ......it doesn't change the fact that I received it from you.  .........So even if you sowed that seed knowing that the two of us wouldn't be able to stay together for life, ...I won't hold a grudge against you."

"............Hmmmm.  ......It appears that furniture isn't interesting after all.  ...*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*.  This is where I show my skill by cooking it into something interesting."

"......I don't understand what you are thinking, Beatrice-sama.  ......You are a Great Witch, and people like us don't even reach your feet, ...nor can we even imagine your grand thoughts.  But there is at least one thing I can say."
"......What is it?"

"Thank you for teaching me to be human.  .........You said it.  ...I am no longer furniture."
"...............Be silent, furniture.  ...If you were a true human, hearing the announcement of your death on the day that you were to receive an engagement ring should have you dancing around, mad with grief."
"But what are you doing?  Doesn't your face look so enlightened, as though you have accepted everything?  ......Truly an anticlimax.  Furniture...!"

"No.  I am not furniture."

"Be silent, furniture."
"I won't be silent.  Because I am not furniture."
"Are you saying you won't listen to my orders?"
"Furniture obeys orders.  ...But a human decides for herself whether to obey orders or not.

So I won't obey your orders・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・."
"Hmph.  ...*cackle*cackle*cackle* hahahahahahahahahahahaha...!  ......I'll take back what I said.  You really are interesting."
"......If I hadn't sowed those seeds, you probably would have allowed the ceremony to control your fate without clinging on to any emotions.  ......But now you have been brought up to be truly interesting, which pleases me to the bottom of my heart.  That will be fine.  Because I don't love boredom.  ......*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*!"

".........I have finished preparations for dinner.  ...Here you go."
"Hmm.  ...Doesn't this look delicious?  .........If Gohda makes it to the Golden Land, it would be desirable to commission him as my chief cook."

"......I heard from Kanon-kun.  .........Something about, if I rejected George-san's proposal, you promised not to make me a sacrifice."
"Hmm.  I did.  ......But that was only as a candidate for the sacrifice of the second twilight.  ...Kanon cried and screamed that I should forgive you for that, so I graciously listened to his words.  With the condition that you give up your engagement.  ......*cackle*cackle*, see how gracious I am?"

"............What a foolish condition.  And what a foolish threat.  ......Is that how you bullied Kanon-kun so much?"
"Hoh.  So you understand.  ......*cackle*cackle*cackle*!"

Apparently, Shannon had seen through it.
......Apparently, she could imagine how much Kanon had been bullied and humiliated by the witch, with that horrible promise as bait.
"I made him crawl on the carpet and kiss my shoes.  *cackle*cackle*cackle*!  And that's not all.  ......Do you want to hear the other ways in which I humiliated him...?"

Shannon silently shook her head.
"I have finally come to understand you.  You like to bully, confuse, and trouble people, and you do it to entertain yourself.  .........So I'm now sure that this is the way to resist you."

"What is?"
"I don't know you.  ...I will carry out the fate that has been given to me.  So I won't entertain you."

"......I don't, know you・・・・・・・・・・・u...?"
The witch's features twisted in hatred for just an instant.
...It disappeared immediately, but that expression that rose to her face for only a brief time was unusual for the witch, whose malicious smile hadn't disappeared even once.
"*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*!!  ...Can you resist like that?  Interesting.  I like it.  I'll kill you.  Together with your lover...!"
"...If that is the fate that you have decided, that is up to you.  ......I won't be afraid of that or go against that.  Because I don't believe that the severe fate that will start occurring from here on is something controlled by your will.  We humans don't know anything about fates that could occur in the future.  Therefore, until the last instant, I'll live to the fullest, relying on my own fate and conviction.  Fate is just a roll of the dice.  You can't feel malice from it.  I don't believe that you inspire it."
"......Hoh.  Even though you have stopped being furniture, you have no fear of death.  ......It seems you think that will bore me, but that's a huge misunderstanding.  ...My interest will be increasingly satisfied as I see whether you really can stick to that until your last moments.  *cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*...!"
"It's so frustrating.  ......Why did you take the form of a human, appear in front of us, speak with human words, and ridicule us?  ...If you hadn't appeared in front of us, if you hadn't predicted the future, ......we would have been able to live life to the fullest until the last moment."

"That's what witches do.  I live off your fates, reigning as a high-order being does over low-order beings.  After all, fate for all of you is just a kakera.  If you make soup with both hands, you can scoop out as much as you want."

"......Just like how no matter what the beef cows I raise babble, it won't change whether I invite them to my dinner table.  *cackle*cackle*...!"

"......We are powerless, so we can't go against your ceremony or fate.  ...But I can make you unhappy right now."
"Hoh.  What would that be?"
".........I will walk away from this place right now.  Answering your words only entertains you.  Not answering your questions is the only way I can resist you."
"I see, I see.  You may be able to take a shot at me.  ...But you cannot defeat me, right?  ......I have the power to kill anyone for eternity."
".........I can't wait to see whether you can keep up that resistance in an endlessly repeating cycle of death and rebirth.

......Don't forget it, alright?・・・・・・・・・・・  You spoke those words yourself.  *cackle*cackle*cackle*"
"Well then, if you will excuse me.  If you have any business, please call me."
Shannon gave a reserved bow, and faced away.
...With that gesture, maybe she really had taken a shot back at the witch, just as Beatrice had mentioned.

...Because when the witch called out again, she sounded a little more quick-tempered than she had before.
"Kanon thanked me.  ...Can't you?  Can't you thank me for giving you your day of rest?"
"Furniture will be happy about their day of rest.  But I am a human.  So I have nothing to thank you for.  ......Do you have any other business?"

".........You plan to receive the ring from George?  Don't forget that if you do, I will abandon the promise I made with Kanon, the promise that you would not be selected as a sacrifice."

"If you have any more business, I'll have someone else come for you.  If you will excuse me."
A flat-out interruption.
Shannon still hadn't answered her.
And the sound of the door closing came instead of an answer.
It seemed that Shannon's resistance probably struck far more deeply into the witch than Shannon herself thought.
...Because an expression of hatred once again rose to Beatrice's face.

She had made Kanon submit, even though he hadn't been ensnared until the end.  ...And after that, Shannon, who had until now been easily ensnared, refused to submit this time.
"............What is this?  ...Isn't this interesting after all?  ......*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*.  ...Am I still far too young?  This is why I'm still not tired of living after one thousand years..."
The most fabulous time in the family conference...
That was the dinner.

In the past, Kinzo, who had been serious about the family conference, took everyone's yearly gathering for dinner very seriously.
Because anything embarrassing that occurred during the dinner would cause the deepest shame for him as the host, he had strongly ordered Natsuhi to sincerely attempt to avoid anything embarrassing.

Because of that, she and Krauss had employed Gohda, who had confidence in his cooking abilities.
......As a result, even though they could announce a wonderful dinner they had confidence in, by that time, Kinzo had closed himself up in his study and did not appear for dinner.  Maybe you could call that ironic...
When the main dish for tonight, calf steak, was set out, Gohda began to brag about it, further exciting everyone's appetite.
"The sauce here is Bordelaise.  Of course, the red wine base I used was excellent even among those made in Bordeaux, but in addition, I prepared an original blend of this house, a blend of choice alcohol from around the world to further deepen the taste.  This sauce is limited to this year.  It would greatly please me if you were to enjoy yourselves."
"...Isn't that wonderful?  However, isn't Bordelaise sauce common to French cooking?  It almost seems like using alcohol from outside France with that is heresy."

"Master.  Today is the annual family conference.  As a dinner for those who normally live far away, and have traveled far from across the world to gather together, I realized that a sauce made from a blend of fine alcohols from across the world that have never met each other before would be most fitting, so I had it specially prepared."
"Wonderful!  A truly wonderful cook, that's what ya are!  If ya add in good advertisin', food 'n medicine are twice as effective!  The original tastiness is doubled, 'n then doubled again by yer advertisin'.  's a game of multiplyin' taste!  Wahahahahaha!"

"*giggle*.  Come on, Nii-san.  Didn't he see that question coming?"
"There's no mistake.  Having Gohda-san handle the truly delicious part."
"Is that so?  I thought there might be some people here who didn't notice that today's food was in the French style."
"......Just now, Eva said that not using butter was a virtue, but that's the Spanish style.  ...Well, I guess they do share a border, right?"

"...That's not what I meant.  Will you please not take a part of the conversation out of context and manufacture something?"

"...It's a very delicious sauce.  Gohda-san, you certainly are wonderful."
"It is a great honor to receive your praise.  And this is all thanks to Madam's habitual guidance."

"......No, it was all Gohda's idea.  I only listened to the recipe and approved of it."
It looked like the siblings quickly got into a loud argument about the sauce, ...but for the most part, dinner proceeded peacefully.
......However, something that they really wanted to ask about smoldered inside all of their hearts.

......And that was the visitor, the 19th person.
............The Golden Witch.
In actuality, Eva and Rudolf and the rest were cautious during dinner.
If the mystery guest was to be introduced, this dinner table was the most appropriate place to do it.
...However, no place was prepared at the dinner table for the witch.
The family conference would begin in earnest after the meal, and previous experiences told them that it could last until deep into the night.

......But they couldn't understand what it would mean if this person, who should be introduced, still hadn't been by late that night.

So Eva and Rudolf and the rest began to feel some doubts.

......About whether this guest was actually unknown to Krauss as well.

If this wasn't an assassin called by Krauss to give him an advantage in the inheritance problem, ...maybe they should speak frankly to Krauss beforehand, and create a common front to resist anything disadvantageous to the four siblings.
......If she was Kinzo's assassin, whose purpose was to keep the inheritance from being handed over to the four siblings, the enmity between Krauss and the other siblings could only become a weak point that benefitted the enemy...
"Well then, please enjoy at your leisure..."

When he finished explaining the table setting and the cooking, Gohda tried to leave the room, but Kyrie called him to a stop with a small voice.

"......Yes, Kyrie-sama.  What is it?"
"Umm, I'm sorry.  ......I thought that there was a guest here today, ...but I haven't yet seen them at dinner..."

She had planned on saying it nonchalantly, but unfortunately, it reached the ears of Natsuhi, who was sitting in the next seat.
It seemed that Natsuhi had heard it as, 'Even though the guests have come, won't the host come to dinner?'  ......In other words, that Kyrie had asked whether Kinzo was going to come to dinner.

"The head's condition is not good, so he said that he will take his dinner in his study.  ......My husband explained that in the beginning, but is something...?"
"...............I'm sorry.  That's not what I meant."

...In an instant, Kyrie realized from Natsuhi's reaction that this unknown visitor was also unknown to Krauss and his wife.

.........And what that meant...
......On the chessboard placed inside Kyrie's mind, it felt like there was a loud sound as the arrangement of the pieces changed...
"A gue-st?"
It seemed that Battler, who had been sitting next to Natsuhi, had heard Kyrie's words without misunderstanding them, and thinking it was a question about whether yet another person had been invited to today's family conference, he let out a wild voice.

Thanks to that voice, the uncomfortable feeling in the siblings' chests suddenly exploded...
Everyone looked at Gohda at the same time.

......Judging by their appearances, it was at least obvious that no one here had invited that mystery woman.
For an instant, Gohda was startled to find everyone's gazes gathered on him, but because of his naturally vain personality, this actually gave him a feeling of superiority.
Therefore, he answered in an extremely calm and graceful manner.
"......Yes.  Because that person wanted to eat alone in the honored guest room, their food was carried over there."

Therefore, Gohda's extremely graceful and reasonable response made it obvious to everyone that a 19th person, a visitor, existed...
"Honored guest room?  Guest?  ......What, who are you talking about?"

Natsuhi's words echoed the question that everyone who didn't know about the visitor, the Golden Witch, was thinking.
Gohda was slightly disoriented, as though he hadn't thought Natsuhi would actually question him.
......It had been an honored guest spoken of so severely.
He hadn't imagined that Krauss and his wife might not have know.

"Umm, ......it is Beatrice-sama."
"Beatrice!!  See, see!  Beatrice came, uu-uu-uu-!!"

Maria had been telling the other cousins over and over again that she had met Beatrice that day.

......The cousins had answered, saying 'Isn't that nice', but they hadn't believed,
So, ...their eyes grew wide.

"S, sorry.  I was sure you were just joking, Maria...  S, so, she really was there..."
".........By Beatrice, ......you mean that Beatrice of the gold...?!"

"Uu-!!  Maria has been saying she 'exists' the whole time!  No one believes!!"
"Sorry, Maria-chan...  That's not what we meant..."

After learning that everyone had doubted Beatrice's existence, Maria, who had been in a good mood all day, completely lost her temper.

...George, who sat in the next seat over, tried frantically to calm Maria.

"...Gohda.  Is that another bit of dinner entertainment?  *cackle*, quite a good performance."
".........Aniki.  Stop playing dumb.  ...You called her, right?"
"Called?  Called who?  ...From where?!"

"Nii-san.  Let's make this clear.  ......Who is that?  Surely you aren't going to tell us that it really is the Beatrice from that portrait, right?"
"I don't have a clue what you people are talking about!  Gohda, isn't this really a joke?!"

"I, I, umm......  I was just ordered by Genji-san, umm...!"
"Call Genji.  Immediately!!"

When Natsuhi yelled, Gohda shot out into the hallway.

At that time, with the sound of the door being thrown open as a spark, the dinner table was suddenly engulfed in an uproar.

"So you say you don't know either, Aniki?  Who called her?  Was it Father?!"
"......I don't know anything about this.  It seems that you people believe that I have been pulling the strings behind the scenes, but that is a huge misunderstanding."
"Calm down, Krauss nii-san.  We are no longer at the stage where we can sound each other out.  If you also say that you don't know this mystery person, the situation becomes ridiculous...!"

"Hideyoshi-san, won't you be a little more discreet with you words?  My husband would not invite unnecessary humans to the family conference."

"Seriously.  What are you people talking about?  Are you saying that the witch of the portrait has broken out of her frame and appeared?!  ......There's no way anyone has actually met this witch."
"I, met her...!"
Eva and Rudolf nodded at Rosa's proclamation.

"Uu-!  Maria also met her!!  Krauss oji-san, belie-ve it!  Believe Mama!  Uu-uu-!"
The brief tension was broken, and Maria also started to make a ruckus.

...The room was already chaotic.

"I don't have a clue what's going on...  So what does it mean?  Does it mean that the witch who gave Grandfather the gold is appearing as a special guest in this year's family conference...!"
"But..., really...?  Rosa oba-san didn't see it wrong, did she...?"

"Maria met her too--!!  Uu-uu-uu-uu-uu-uu-uu-!!!"

"Rosa oba-san, ......are you, sure?"
"............Yes.  .........Maria and I met her, ......we even talked to her."

"......I met her!!  That was definitely a witch...!  Believe it!!  I definitely didn't see it wrong or hallucinate or anything!  What, .........was that?!"
...In the instant before the typhoon visited...
......Rosa had definitely met with the witch.
But that scene had been so hard to accept as truth......, the more she spoke of it like this, the less she understood what it was she had met.

Ironically, because she had lost her composure and said that she had definitely met the witch, the more desperate she became, the more vague the witch's existence seemed.

Because, with that one composed sentence, she had definitely affirmed that existence.

".........I also met with her. I greeted, ...well I really couldn't call it that.  I exchanged a few words with her.  .........It's definitely not something that Rosa-san saw wrong."
"Kyrie-san, are you serious...?"

"Yes.  .........But she didn't tell me her name.  So I can't conclude that she was Beatrice."
"......However, sorry if this is subjective, ......but since I met her in the entrance hall, I was able to compare her face with the portrait.  ...My first impression was that, she was the subject of the portrait.  .........This is all just subjective."

"That isn't possible!  In the first place, where did that woman come from?  That boat will only make the trip to the island to escort everyone there and back.  Was she riding on that boat?!"
"............There's not much we can say if you ask us that.  Of course, I have no memory of that woman getting off the boat with us."

"Ooh, really?  How can you prove that there wasn't a boat other than the one we rode on?  You can't!

You can't prove one 'didn't come・・・・・'!"

"That's right.  ......You could prove that it 'came'.  All you have to do is say that someone saw it.  But you can't prove that it 'didn't come'.  Even if everyone says that it didn't come - that they didn't see it - you can't deny that it could have 'come secretly'.  It's that thing they call the 'Devil's Proof'."
Devil's Proof

This 'Devil's Proof (悪魔の証明)is actually the legal requirement used in court, known as Probatio Diabolica.
It's easy to prove that a devil 'exists'.  All you have to do is meet a devil.
But it is impossible to prove that devils 'don't exist'.

Just by saying that no one has ever met a devil, you can't deny the possibility that they're hiding away somewhere that humans cannot go.
......You can't deny the existence of aliens for exactly the same reasons.

Until humanity searches the whole of space and can show perfectly that aliens don't exist, you can't be sure that they don't exist.
And it's definitely impossible for us to ever check the entirety of space for the existence of aliens.

...Therefore, while there may be a number of ways to prove that aliens do exist, it is impossible to show proof that denies their existence.
"......In that case, even if we discuss whether a boat separate from the one we rode on came to the island, we would just be wasting our time.  ......She wasn't on the boat with us.  That much is a fact, and she visited this island through some other means."

"That's right.  There may be no need to discuss how she came here.  The essential point is the fact that she actually is in this mansion now, and doesn't feel like having dinner with us."
"Let's review.  ...Right now, there is another guest on this island other than the 18 of the Ushiromiya family.  And that is a guest that even Aniki and Natsuhi-san don't know about, right?"

"I don't know...!  I don't know what you're talking about...!"
"Be silent for a while.  Your headache will get worse.  ......It is as my wife says.  I have no idea what you people have been talking about up until now."

"Then there can be only one answer.  ......Father called her.  For today's family conference!"
"For the family conference?!  Then for what reason?!"
"I don't know that!  I thought you knew, Nii-san, that's why I thought I'd question you!"

"Eva, could you give it a rest?!  Krauss nii-san said that he doesn't know!  ......So this is how it happened.  Father stealthily invited the witch of the portrait as a secret guest.  And she met with Rosa-san and Maria-chan and then Kyrie-san."

".........That's all for now!  If she has something to say to us, she could just quickly show herself!  The question becomes why she's shut herself up without greeting us."
"Does this mean that Father, who never had any interest in the family conference from the beginning, secretly called a new mistress here?  And had her wear the clothes of his ideal witch?  ............This day is too important for us to come to that conclusion."

"There can be only one reason.  To join in on the family conference.  ...She wants to claim some right to Father's inheritance!"

"Ridiculous!!  The head wouldn't have something as filthy as a mistress!"
"I told you to be silent!  I've been in this mansion with Father the whole time, and I haven't heard about this once.  .........At best, all we can guess is that Father's hidden mistress of several decades ago had a hidden child, ......and Father searched her out and called her today.  ...Is that what you want to say?"

"Dear!  Father couldn't have something like that!  To waste the noble blood of the Ushiromiya family on a mistress...!  This is nothing more than a few people saying that they saw something!  It's obviously an illusion, a delusion, a daydream!  Or is everyone taking part in some kind of act to trick my husband?!"

"What act?!!  If anyone is acting, it's you!!"
"Quit it Aneki.  ......This is a slightly reckless way to say it, but Natsuhi-san is correct.  Kyrie saw her, I did not.  Neither did you, Aneki.  But Rosa did."
"......However, that means that she 'exists'.  Because there is someone who can prove that she 'exists', we directly conclude that she exists.  It is the opposite pattern of the Devil's Proof."
".........And I want to meet her too.  And I want to ask her directly what kind of business she has with the Ushiromiya family."

"I agree with you on that.  I truly wish to enquire as to what business she has on Rokkenjima."
"Don't say such obvious lies!  She is after one thing.  It's Father's inheritance!  We should polish up any further strategy relating to the inheritance problem with a knowledgeable lawyer.  If the mistress claims equal rights as Mother, then our shares will be cut right in half!"
".........W, wait a second, everybody!  Genji-san will come very soon.  He knows everything.  I'm sure he will answer our questions!  Until then, let's stop talking about this!!"
"Hey, kids?!  Sorry, but the adults have to start talking about something complicated!  Return to the guesthouse!!"
Rosa yelled at the children, slightly emotionally.

The children didn't understand why they were suddenly being yelled at this time, but Eva and the rest realized it too late.
They were talking so grandly about the filthy topic of the inheritance in front of the children.
...There was no way that they'd want their children to remain here.

So they all immediately agreed with Rosa's plan.
"Th, thass' right, just as Rosa-san says!  George!  Return to the guesthouse with all cousins!  Play friendly with all of them!"

"George, do as you're told.  Take all of the cousins, and leave right now!"

"W, ...wait a second Mother...!  We still haven't finished eating...!"
"Uu-!  And dessert hasn't come ye-t!!  Uuu--!!"
"We will have Gohda-san carry dessert to the guesthouse!  So leave!!"
"Jessica.  From here on, the adults will be talking together.  Go."

".........U, ...understood.  .........Even though I'm still eating..."
"...Guess that means I'm not the only exception."

"Thank you for understanding, Battler-kun.  ...But you sure are lucky."
"Huh?  Why?"
"I'd want to leave if I could."
"...Ihihihi!  That's right.  Why don't you adults have fun like adults, with your happy family get-together surrounding the inheritance."
"............I will also leave my seat.  Anyhow, it appears that my turn will not come tonight."
Nanjo softly rose from his seat.

...He had been calmly watching the whole discussion without pointlessly interrupting from his seat in the farthest corner.
......His reaction was very adult, like a calm old gentleman.
When Nanjo rose from his seat, it urged the other people who were supposed to leave.

The children noisily rose from their seats and as they hurried into the hallway, the servants returned.

"I apologize for taking so long...  I have called Genji..."
"......I was checking to see that all of the doors and windows were shut, so it took me some time.  My apologies."
"Come on!  Children, to the guesthouse!  Gohda-san, my apologies, but could you carry the children's portion of the dessert to the guesthouse?"

"Ha......Is that what you wish...?"
It seemed that Gohda didn't find it interesting to see that the dinner he had worked so hard on had been interrupted like this.

...He sent Natsuhi a look as though asking her whether that was really alright.

"Do as Rosa-san says.  After that, it will not be necessary to set out dessert for us.  Try not to approach the dining hall until we call you.  Tell that to the rest of the servants too.  Alright?"
"Y, ...yes.  Certainly..."
"Come, everyone.  Shall we go?  Even Maria-san must not trouble her Mother any further."

"Uu-uu-uu-!!  Maria also talk about Beato-!!  No no no, uu-uu-uu-!!!"
"Maria-chan, will you tell us about Beatrice in the guesthouse?  ...I really want to hear about the witch.  Okay?"
"Uu-?  Uu-!"

"......You're really good, George nii-san.  I'm moved."
"Are you sure you don't have kids?  You're too used to this, ihihi!"
Maria's mood was completely back to normal at George's words, and she took the initiative, saying that she wanted to go to the guesthouse.

It looked like Gohda didn't like being kicked out himself, but he didn't disobey Natsuhi, and left the room with Battler and the rest, closing the door...
"......Do you all have some business?"

"Yes, we do.  A bunch of it.  And we all do.  So much that we almost want to have a lottery to see who asks the first question."
"But no matter who wins the first lottery, the first question will be the same, won't it?"

"That's right.  .........Genji-san.  Answer me honestly.  ...Who is this one called Beatrice who's in the honored guest room right now?"

Wedding Ring

Sat, Oct 4 1986 10:00PM
...Hideyoshi's claim that advertising doubled the taste was apparently right.
The kids and Nanjo, who had been chased out to the guesthouse, had gathered in the cousins' room, and were eating the cake that Kumasawa had brought there for dessert.

It was both wonderful and high-class, with lavish amounts of cream and decorated deliciously with fruits, but even though it was delicious, for some reason it didn't taste quite as good...

"Haha, without Gohda-san's advertising, it doesn't taste nearly as good."
"Even if we wanted advertising, Kumasawa-san'd just say that it's made out of mackerel."
"Uu-?!  Really?!  You can make cake from mackerel?!"

"Hoh-hoh-hoh-ho.  Yes, yes, this cake too, if you cook with the squeezed juice of mackerel mixed in with flour and eggs, it comes out all fluffy.  Hoh-hoh-hoh-ho."
"That would be incredible if true.  Maybe mackerel cake will show up on the new menu at Father's store."
"Wah-hah-hah-ha!  Because mackerel is full of nutrients and has a healthy image.  It'll be really popular with women and old people!  But I'm not gonna get anywhere near it!"

"Girls won't eat something that weird."
"Even old people would wish to decline."
"Hoh-hoh-hoh-ho!  But it's delicious?"
Kumasawa was really raising the mood with the mackerel jokes that were her specialty.
...But no matter what happened, the sound of the downpouring rain focused their concern on the mystery guest.

In the end, they ended up showering Maria with questions again, since she was the only person here to have met Beatrice.

".........I can't believe, ...that story was true."
"From the way you say that you didn't believe, it sounds like this isn't the first time you've heard of this witch Maria says she met."
"...Yeah.  I thought it was a pretty common fairy tale for people of that imaginative age."

"Exi-sts!!  Beatrice 'exi-sts'!  Every year, when we come to the family conference, she meets with Maria, and we play together!"
"That's right.  Although Beatrice-sama doesn't usually show herself, I hear that she sometimes unexpectedly does so before honest people with clean hearts.  Hoh-hoh-ho."
Beatrice was a name which referred to the being in that fairy tale about the Rokkenjima witch.

Because the family and the servants publicly accepted the image of the witch of Kinzo's delusions to keep him in a good mood, the Rokkenjima fairy tale, or maybe ghost story, was formed...
To the family members who knew those details, the fairy tale of the Golden Witch was only a vague thing.
...However, in front of Kinzo, they hadn't been able to say that.
So those who didn't know the details...like young Maria, for example, it definitely wasn't vague, ...but a real legend of the witch.
So Maria believed in the legend of the witch.
She swallowed the story.

...That was natural for an imaginative girl who believed in witches.
So no one said anything to betray her dream.
...On the contrary, they had arranged things beforehand to get her excited about her dreams.
"...So even though Maria-chan was showing off to us that candy which she said the witch gave her, ...I thought that somebody had probably slipped a candy into Maria-can's handbag."
".........I have also acted in such a way two or three times, long ago, secretly placing sweets somewhere.  ...Probably, Kumasawa-san too, no, all of the servants and all of the Ushiromiya family have done it once or twice."

"......So, if it will make a small, innocent kid happy, you sometimes plan it beforehand and place some sweets somewhere.  ......Come to think of it, I'll bet you do that kind of thing all the time, right, George-aniki?"
"............Who knows."

Admitting that would probably be unrefined.

George admitted it while being extremely wary that Maria didn't find out.

"In other words, ......it's kinda like Santa Claus.  To protect a kid's dreams, the parents plot together and lie, setting presents at the bedside of a child fast asleep."
"......I want to protect a kid's dreams.  ...Although I knew that Santa obviously didn't exist a long time ago.  ......If it's a dream you don't need to be disillusioned of, I wanted to believe it my whole life."

"...Because they know that the world is tough, ...adults want to at least protect a child's clean dreams.

"Uu-!!  Beatrice exists!  'Exiiiists'!!!"
"Yes, she does.  Beatrice-sama does exist, right?  Some time ago, when I was drying mackerel to make some black tea, unexpectedly..."

"......Well, it's something like this.  ...Supposedly, at least."
"In short, ......except for Maria, it's a witch that supposedly no one believed in."
"Those words don't quite explain it.  ......It's not that we didn't believe.  Everyone was trying to make her believe."
So this was about not betraying a child's innocence.

But Santa doesn't exist in reality.
If you don't want them to be all disappointed when they learn that, you should just not show them that dream in the first place.
...Did I think like that because I was still a long way from becoming a full adult?

Battler was finally getting an idea about the true form of the Rokkenjima witch.

.........But in the current situation, that understanding had been revised, and that premise had been turned upside down...
"......That's what we thought we knew, but the witch Beatrice-sama actually appeared.  Is that what this is?"
"Furthermore, judging from our parents' uproar, it looks like she wasn't an invited guest.  ......That sounds kinda interesting."

"There actually is no basis to say that a woman called Beatrice doesn't exist.  ......It's what Rudolf oji-san called a Devil's Proof.  ......None of us knew that a woman calling herself Beatrice existed."

"...But that doesn't necessarily mean we can deny the possibility that Beatrice exists."

"......Doctor Nanjo, you've been friends with Grandfather for a long time, right?"
"..................At one point, I heard a lot about it at the family conference from Krauss-san and the others.  ......A story that, long before that time, perhaps Kinzo-san had a mistress, and a hidden child with her."

"I see.  Our parents' heads are full with the distribution of the inheritance.  So it's obvious that if the daughter of a mistress showed up, it'd be troublesome for them."

"Krauss-san and the rest probably asked Genji-san about it first.  However, Genji-san has sworn loyalty to Kinzo-san as his right-hand man, ...and is probably a more trusted friend to Kinzo-san than myself.  ......Genji-san probably didn't say anything.  ......So next, they went to ask me as his old friend..."

"And?  ......So, ......did Grandfather have a mistress called Beatice, Doctor Nanjo?"

"............He did.  ...No, I have never met her.  ...However, I have heard from Kinzo-san that he had a relationship with a woman like that.  .........He said that she passed away a very long time ago."
"......She's dead.  ......And did she have a child with him?"
"That, I do not know.  ......But Kinzo-san always says that he is researching how to revive Beatrice.  ...Usually, if one loses a mistress and has a child left from them. they pour all of that love on that child.  ......Therefore, we naturally thought that there wasn't a child between Kinzo-san and Beatrice..."

"............Yeah?  ....In other words, that also makes for a Devil's Proof."
"......It does.  ......It's impossible to prove that a child between him and a mistress 'didn't exist'.  ......So now that she's actually appeared, we have to assume that she does 'exist'."
"That's a bit of a rushed argument.  ......It's more realistic that someone caught wind of the trouble with the Ushiromiya family inheritance problem, knew about Grandfather's relationship with a mistress long ago, and impersonated her, trying to get something out of the inheritance problem."

"......It is realistic.  ...However, we can't deny the possibility that she really is a hidden child, who lived in isolation, forgotten by Grandfather, and who's returned for revenge, right...?"
"Revenge?!  What do you mean?!"

"Aaah, sorry, sorry...  Guys just like to embellish things to make them sound interesting.  I've seen too many weird dramas.  Ihihihi!"

Normally, that should have been a light joke.
......But it had come when a mystery guest calling herself Beatrice, who no one had invited, had marched in on the day of the family conference, when the bloody argument which the inheritance distribution had become was being discussed.

.........There was no way that Battler's joke would be welcomed with laughter.

So it was a really big help when Nanjo laughed energetically to calm everyone down.
"Hah-hah-hah-ha...  I see, I see, that does sound quite interesting.  I should love to read a novel with a plot like that."

"Well, I don't think that could actually work.  ......After all, right now, on this island, there's one, two, three..., 18 people, right?  If they did something weird, they'd immediately be caught.  And thanks to the typhoon, they can't even leave the island.  In other words, it really doesn't look like some crazy crime is gonna happen."

"......I agree.  In a dead-end, without any way to escape, and in a situation where everyone is suspicous, I really don't think they could pull off a terrifying revenge drama like that."
"Probably.  ...In that case, it would be more realistic if she had come in secret, without showing herself.  You do not often hear about people appearing openly for revenge except in historical plays."
"I don't get it.  Revenge is based on emotion, not logic.  Even if that's misplaced, maybe she isn't really afraid of the police or the number of people or that there's no way out."

"It's alright, Jessica-chan.  Nothing as horrible as we imagine will happen."
"Ihihi!  Like the battle royal between our parents over the inheritance isn't horrible."

"......That's right.  ...Dad and Rudolf-oji-san are pretty tough, and Eva oba-san's even trained in the martial arts.  ......It's alright.  Yeah..."

Jessica didn't say it, but she had vaguely noticed that her own father opposed all of the other siblings regarding the inheritance.

They acted like everything was good in front of the children, but when that pretense was lifted away, like it had been at dinner, it would become a tumultuous uproar.

It was only natural that Jessica, realizing that, would be frightened that her father and mother had gotten into some kind of trouble, ...and were about to be sacrificed for something terrifying...

"Seriously.  George-aniki's right.  ...Nothing's gonna happen.  Even if she pretends that she's a witch, what can a

single human woman ・・・・・・who can't even use magic do?"
"Kihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihi..."
The sudden, creepy laugh made all of us jump.
......And when we realized that this strange laugh was coming from Maria, we were shocked again.

".........That's right.  ...Battler, that's what you think, isn't it?"
"Wh, .........what is?  Don't laugh all creepy like that."

"You accept Beatrice's existence for now.  At least you accept her as the 19th person and a guest.  ............But that's all, right?  ...You don't accept that the 19th person, Beatrice, is a witch, right...?"

"If I think about what I'm suddenly saying, .....that's probably right.

Witches couldn't exist・・・・・・・・・・.  It's impossible for it to be anything other than a human woman pretending to be one."

"......Kihihihihihihihihihihihihihihi.  Hmmm...?  Isn't that odd, Battler?  ......That's a Devil's Proof, right?  ......Witches couldn't exist?  But just because Battler's never met a witch, doesn't mean you can deny that witches exist, right...?"

".....................That's right.  ...That really is right.  I can't prove that witches don't exist.  ......However, even if I can't prove it, I can claim it.  I claim that witches don't exist."
"Why...?  Why can you claim that witches don't exist even though you can't prove it...?"

"Because things like that don't exist."

"Kihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihi!  So, that's QED?  You're finished proving it without any evidence or basis?  Setting aside your own superficiality is typical of the ignorant.  A reckless suspension of thought.  Kihihihihihihihi...!"

"In that case, I have one answer, Maria.  ......The witch's side has to show some proof themselves.  This is another Devil's Proof.  ......If you bring one, it'll be over quickly."

"...In that case, this woman calling herself Beatrice would only have to display some wonderful, magnificent magic like the twinkling stars.

She would only have to show us something・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・

that's impossible for humans・・・・・・・・・・・・, right?"

"......Come now, you two.  Please settle down..."
Kumasawa noticed that the atmosphere between them was getting worse, and tried to calm them.

...It seemed as though Battler quickly realized that he wasn't acting like an adult.
But Maria's expression didn't loosen.
......As she laughed creepily, she kept staring at Battler...
"You quit it too, Maria.  ...Let's get back in a good mood, alright?"

"Kihihihihihihihihihihi, kihihihihihihihihihihihihi."
"..............."

"......If that's what you want, Beatrice will definitely show you.

Something impossible for humans・・・・・・・・・・・・.  When she does, you will believe too, right?  About Beatrice."

"............Sure.  ......If she lets me have a look, I'll believe."
"It's a chess argument between the witch and you, Battler.  .........If you get checkmate, you will believe in the witch."

"Oh, that's a stylish analogy.  ......The witch shows her magic.  My king is put into check.  I quibble, saying that it would be possible to reproduce that by measures even a human could take, and my king escapes.  ...And since if I couldn't do that, it'd be checkmate, that's a pretty good analogy."
"Battler.  ......In chess, you and your opponent have pieces which move in the same way.  So you can predict your opponent's moves.  ............But you know what?  You haven't supposed that your opponent's pieces might be able to move in much more strange ways than yours.  You've simply assumed that, since witches shouldn't exist, the movements of Beatrice's pieces will obviously be the same as your own."
"....................."
"......But you know what?  .........Sorry Battler, but your chess partner isn't human.  She's a witch.  ......She can move her pieces in ways that humans can't.  .........Right now, your knowledge is wrong.  ...Battler, you like Kyrie oba-san's chessboard thinking, right?"
".........Yeah.  I like that style of thinking where you stand in your opponent's position."

"And that's useless.  Even though your opponent is a witch, you won't accept that.  .........So you can't understand the moves a witch can make, and your chessboard thinking won't work.  Your knowledge of your opponent is wrong.  The very first premise of chessboard thinking is broken down."
"..................Ooh, ...is that what you say?"


"You cannot win in chess against a witch・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・...!  Kihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihi!"
"...I do not know what happened after that.  We servants were ordered not to approach the dining room..."

".........I see.  So, Shannon, have you ever met this person called Beatrice before?"
"........................I don't know."

That was a slightly odd way to say it.
I thought it didn't sound like she meant her memory was vague.

"......For us servants, Beatrice-sama is another master of this mansion.  ......Some say something like we were influenced by the Master and spread that rumor.........but since the time I started working here, the story of Beatrice-sama was already whispered about."

"I heard about it before.  ...There was a servant who didn't respect her, was cursed, and actually had an accident."

"Yeah.........but it's true that some people believed more or less than others.  ...I, umm, ...believe that respect for that sort of thing shouldn't be forgotten, so I have never doubted that she exists.  ......I dimly believed that a, ...umm, ......uncertain being called the Golden Witch surely existed."

"...And then that witch whose existence was uncertain actually showed herself and appeared openly from the entrance hall..., is that what happened?"
".........I don't know.  ............I don't know, ...anything."
"...............When you brought her dinner, did you talk about anything?"
"..............................No, nothing."
"I see.  ...Still, a witch that eats food somehow doesn't sound so realistic.  Maybe it's just someone who knows about the witch legend on this island taking on Beatrice's name after all."
".........I think that you've probably come to respect Beatrice and think of her as something like a guardian god of the mansion.  So when a person appeared actually calling themselves that, maybe you were a little disturbed."

"..................That's right.  I'm sure that might be the case."

George was slightly at a loss at what to do about Shannon's downcast appearance.

......Possibly, not just Genji, but the young servants had also been strictly questioned about whether they had a clue as to who this person called Beatrice was...
Thinking that, he tried to somehow cheer her up.
Like Maria and Jessica, Shannon also had surely been unable to completely hide her agitation over the sudden visit of a person calling herself the Golden Witch.

He thought that must be the case.
...But George probably had no technique of looking into Shannon's heart.
Shannon was bitter and sad.

......The door to the Golden Land, had been opened.
......The witch had definitely told her that.
That meant, the demise of everything.

.........Even if she accepted the ring from George, ............now, they could never be married.
No, in the first place...
...Did furniture like her, ......have the right to be married?

Even if the witch hadn't come to tell of their demise, ......wasn't it fated to fail sometime or another?
Had she turned her gaze towards the fun days with George, ...and purposefully closed her eyes to the sad reality?

"............What's wrong?  ...You really haven't looked well for a while now."
"George-san.  ......What does it mean, ...to be engaged?"

"Huh?!  Ah, ......err!  It means making a promise to marry.  ...But I think that means it's the same thing as marriage.  ......Honestly, I want to take you as my wife right now, and take you back home.  ......But right now, I am in the middle of training, and I'm still a long way from gaining the ability needed to create my own castle.  That's why I want to stick out my chest for the first time since becoming an adult and take you home with me."

"I'm not talking about the distant future.  I just want you to wait a short three years.  ......But that doesn't mean I want to lie about our feelings for another three years."

"So, ......I decided to give you an engagement ring.  ......That might be a shameful reason as a man.  An engagement because I want you to wait, because I can't balance a wife and a job, might be shameful.  ......But I will definitely-"

".........Thank you very much.  ...I understand that to you, George-san, this engagement ring isn't just another present you would give to a lover."
"Th, that was sudden.  An engagement ring isn't a simple accessory.  It's an oath between lovers, an honored promise left in the form of a ring."

".........*giggle*.  ...In that case, if we get married quickly, it would become unnecessary, right?"
"Th, then it won't be an engagement ring.  I'll give it to you as a wedding ring.  ......Either way, it won't change the fact that I'll give you a ring."

"So it's a sales contract, like saying 'This woman is mine, nobody touch her'."
"Nn, ......, no, umm, ......that's not what I..................*cough*."
George knew about his shameful character.
When he had been captivated by Shannon, and sworn to become an excellent man, he had sworn to throw away the shameful part of himself.

......So, even if it was on purpose, he chose to answer a little roughly.
...He believed that that would be reassuring to Shannon.
".........No, ...that may be true.  .........Sayo.  I'll make you my wife.  ...I won't give you to anyone else.  I'll make you all mine.  ...So no one will lay a hand on you.  ......That's what this ring is.  ...Without a doubt."
"Thank you very much, George-san.  ............I'm truly, happy."

Then, George-san.

......If it was decided by fate that this engagement ring, ......that this promise would not be fulfilled, ......would you still give it to me...?

...Shannon tried to ask that, ...but she swallowed her words.
Because George had already spoken the answer.
......George had said it.
He had said that to him, an engagement ring was infinitely similar to a wedding ring.
Therefore, accepting George's ring had a far more sacred significance than a promise to marry.

"Therefore.  ......I will stop calling this an engagement ring.  From now on, this isn't an engagement.  It's a wedding ring."
"I, ...is that alright...?  Is it alright to, umm, just proclaim that we're married without God's blessing......?"

"Yeah.  It's enough to tell God, Father, and Mother about it afterwards.  We'll claim that we are married.  ..........No one can cover that up."
".........George-san......"

"I'm not saying this because of a momentary emotion.  I'm not just looking at how you are now.  .........I'm looking at the you of tomorrow, of the next day.  ...I'm even gazing at you as you'll be in old age, in the future, as I say this."
"......You are always talking George-san.  ...About how you want to spend your old age slowly, surrounded by healthy children and grandchildren."

"Yeah.  At that time, an older you will be beside me.  That is what I say, no, what I foresee.  ...Yes.  Because that day will surely come."
".....................Will it, ...surely come?  .................."

"Yes.  Surely.  Definitely.  ......And this ring proves it without words."
"............Please, ......show me."
"Huh?  Ah, ah, ah, .........h, h, here it is...!"

George, thinking he was being told to show her the ring, hurriedly took out the ring box.
...Even though he had practiced so much, he hadn't been able to look cool.

But Shannon wasn't looking at that.

......In her straight and direct gaze were vague tears and a smile.
.........She concentrated her eyes on George's eyes, ...no, on something she could see beyond his eyes...
"......Please, ...........show me, ............that future.""Y, ............, yeah.  ......I'll show you.  Surely.  ......I promise.  .........And not just until old age.  ...After we die too.  ...Even if we become spirits, we'll always, always be together."
Shannon wiped away her tears and took the ring box.
Inside was a diamond ring worthy of blessing the two of them.

George said the line that he had practiced over and over again inside his head.

"I, ......I want you to put that ring on, whatever finger you like, and have that be your answer.  Umm, so, by tomorrow morning......"
"......*giggle*."
Shannon smiled, took the ring, ......and with a completely natural movement, put it on the ring finger of her left hand.

It really had looked, ......like a very, very natural movement, and for a while, George was stunned...

"This, is my answer.  George-san."
"Shannon......, no, .........Sayo............"
"......Even if we become spirits, .........we'll always, ............always......, be together.  .........George-san."
There was no blessing from God, no pastor to witness, nothing.
But the two who were married, proclaimed it.
...Two souls were joined here today.........

"...............Nee-san, ............you're an idiot."
"......Is that so?"
"Even though you're furniture...... ......Even though...you're furniture......!"

"I'm not furniture.  Not anymore."
"......Liar!!  Why are you fooling yourself?!  Even though you know that you can never become human!  Even though you know that you can never become human unless you go to the Golden Land!!  ......Even so, why did you throw away your promise to go to the Golden Land...?!!"
"Oh yeah.  By accepting the ring, ......that promise with Beatrice-sama comes to nothing, doesn't it?  ......*giggle*, sorry."

"............From now on, I, you, George-sama, the Master, everyone, everyone has the same conditions.  13 people will be made sacrifices.  Only five people will be invited to the Golden Land.  ......And you, ......rejected one of those places yourself......"

"That's odd.  ......It looks like you're the one with regrets, Kanon-kun."
"You're the one with regrets, aren't you, Nee-san!  You got engaged, right?!  Even though you knew it was a fate that would never be fulfilled!!"

"Yes.  I promised that we would always, always be together, for eternity.  ......So you know what?  ......In that instant, our eternity was completed.  Even if we become sacrifices, it's already completed.  So, it's alright."

".........Kanon, you're the one who actually has regrets.  ...We're furniture, right?  No matter what the result, we will be freed.  ...In that case, it doesn't matter whether we go to Golden Land or not.  ......And yet you are set on going to the Golden Land.  .........You want to become human no matter what, right?  ...Why?"

"Because I want to become human!!  I've had enough of being furniture!!"
"Why?"
"I also, wanted to fall in love...!!!"
Tears were coming from both of Kanon's eyes.
...And he howled.
"......I, liked Milady...!!  And after seeing Milady on that day, I started liking her even more...!  And when I heard that Milady also liked me, I was really happy...!!  But I'm furniture, ......and I can't accept Milady's feelings!!"
"...You're wrong.  .........We may be furniture.  We may be less than human.  ...But that doesn't mean that we aren't qualified to love."

"I believed that if those thoughts would never be fulfilled, it was better without them!!  I just decided that someday, a day would come when I would disappear, and that would definitely hurt her, .........no, that's wrong!!  I was just frightened!!  I, ......was just afraid, that if the love could not be eternal, it was better without it!!"
"......Cicadas, even though their lives last only a few weeks, fall in love and disappear.  .........There are no cicadas that don't fall in love because it will be over in a few weeks."
"Uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu!!  Uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu!!"

It seemed that Kanon was still speaking of his regrets, but by now it was all jumbled up in his crying voice...
"......That witch is detestable...!!  ...Why did she plant these feelings in me...?!  If only, if only she hadn't done that weird prank, I wouldn't have payed Milady any notice...!!!"
"............Beatrice-sama is detestable.  ...To make you cry bitter tears, she played games with your fate.  .........But, the witch's expectations are probably off.  ...After all-"

Knowing love isn't a regret that ties you to life.
It is the place we should reach on our journey through life...
Well now, Kanon.
That promise you worked so hard for has now come to nothing.
*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*!
Well now.
With this, the conditions for all of the pieces is the same.
There are 18 pieces!  13 will be offered as sacrifices!
Who will the five that remain alive be?
............And.
Will someone destroy this ceremony?
Who?!!  How?!

Fuhahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!
This isn't a chess problem.
It's a game on equal footing.
I won't be closing in one-sidedly.
You can frantically run from my advances, and make it a tie, an invalid match.

Well, the best you can do is have this repeat on and on.
And it probably won't be that difficult for you.
However, this invalid match will continue forever, will eventually wear down your mind, and eventually kill it.

At that time, you will accept your defeat and surrender to me!!
The reason I said it was a fair game.

......That is because the rules for my loss have also been established.
There's nothing as boring as a game you can't lose, right?
A way to defeat me.
That is, the epitaph offered to my portrait.
That is both the way to open the door to the Golden Land and the key to destroying my ceremony.

I follow the epitaph and complete the ceremony.
You solve the riddle of the epitaph, destroy the ceremony and overthrow me...!

Solve the riddle hidden in the epitaph, and expose the location of the vast gold I gave to Kinzo!!
What result will this game show us?!
I'm expecting a good fight, alright?

Entertain me, Ushiromiya Battleeeeeeeeeeeeeer!!

"........................"
"............I have no objections.  ...Natsuhi and I accept it."

".........Ku.........I can't believe it, ...so I don't want to believe it, but.........that is, ......the truth, isn't it..."
"...Natsuhi.  Choose your words more carefully.  .........She is the family's most honored guest."

".........I, I also accept it.  ...No doubt."
"Yes.  ...I accept it.  .........Without even a scrap of a complaint.  I can't believe it's real...............I honestly have feelings of respect."

"Me too...............Incredible.  I genuinely respect that.  ......So I have to accept it."
"I also accept that............I still can't believe it.  ...But, .........what can I do?

You've proven devils・・・・・・・・・・!  It's your victory...!"

"*cackle*cackle*cackle*...!  The Devil's Proof was a convenient excuse that you liked using to show that something was impossible to prove, ......but it's become your mortal enemy, has it not?"
"......Don't torture me, witch.  .........I already accept you.  I resign."
"........................"

".........Kyrie.  Do you still have any objections...?  I don't like it unless everyone's together.  If you alone do not accept that I exist..."

As the witch laughed boldly, the siblings started getting frantic.
...They were afraid of displeasing the witch.

Kyrie lightly closed her eyes, ...and after keeping silent for a while, opened her mouth.

"...I'm sorry.  ......I resign."

Only Kyrie had faced the witch until the end with stern eyes.

......However, she had only held off a very short time, before accepting the truth.
The truth, the being, that was before her eyes, couldn't be denied.

Devils had already been proven・・・・・・・・・・・・・・...!

".........I also, accept it.  ......You are Beatrice.  Alchemy councilor of the Ushiromiya family.  ...And a user of great magic.  ...............I have to accept that you are a witch...!"

Halloween

Sun, Oct 5 1986 6:00AM
......What was the sound that always filled the ears?
The sound of the rain, the sound of a waterfall, or was it radio static?

In that case, I want it to be the sound of blood flowing through the body.
......I want it to be the sound of the blood circulating throughout my body, telling me that I am still alive...
".....................Hmm.........Is it, morning...?"
The light entering through a crack in the curtain was faint, but it at least told him that dawn had broken.

Kinzo, still acting like one who has just woken up, ...still sitting in a chair and looking up at the ceiling..., felt the blood slowly travel throughout his body...
...Judging by the clock, it was early morning, 6:00 on the dot.
......No matter how tired he was, no matter how deeply he slept, he woke up at exactly this time, as though he had measured it with an hourglass.

He didn't think that something like this would lead him to boast, but he instructed himself that while he could still do something like this, he was still in robust health.
".........Morning has come, which means...............hmmm.  ......In any event, it seems that I've escaped being one of the first sacrifices.  ......Was the result of the roulette fortunate, ...or is this the fruit of my efforts?  It is irritating that I cannot tell the difference, but I will not say that."
Kinzo was very slightly driven by a temptation to see the outside of the study door.

Because he thought that maybe, he might find the traces of a vain struggle to break the door, made by something trying to select him as one of the first six sacrifices.
"...Hmph.  .........Humans are cheap creatures.  ......While they concern themselves with other's affairs and possess sacred life, they want to love themselves, and when they are given good fortune, they say that it was due to their own ability rather than simple good fortune."
So he wanted to check whether there was a wretched mark on the door.  ...That's what humans would do.

Therefore, Kinzo did not check.
He repressed things that he wanted to do because he was human.
By that, Kinzo could be immersed in a feeling of sufficiency, as though he himself had become a being that surpassed humans...
He became aware of human desire, and forbade it.
Things that a human wanted to do, he resisted.

......This eccentricity and rebellious sense had surely given him a rare genius, which must have allowed him to succeed in his exploits as he revived the Ushiromiya family in one generation...
"Well then, Beatrice.  What were the six pieces you took?  ......And, what will your next move be?  ...Entertain me.  .........My defense is perfect.  I will not shame myself like last time.  ......Fu, ......fufufufu."
The servants woke early.
They had to open the curtains, prepare breakfast, and complete various other tasks to welcome the guests to a new day.
Gohda was the most enthusiastic.

During the family conference, he had been told to especially concentrate his efforts on cooking, and he had been specially exempted from several tasks that servants normally must do.
...It seemed that Gohda, who was a show off, had a particular feeling of supremacy about that.
He left the preparations of the inside of the mansion to Genji and the rest, and worked on preparing breakfast in the kitchen.
Genji split the work with Shannon and Kanon, and they carried out various tasks.
Shannon headed to the dining hall and knocked.
...Last year, the family conference had continued into the early hours of the morning.
It wouldn't have been odd for this year's conference to continue until the early morning.

Considering the possibility that they were still having a discussion inside, she knocked.
But there was no response, so she opened the door and said good morning.
"...Good morning.  ............Is anyone there?"
The room was cold, and it seemed that the conference had ended a long time before.
On top of the table, there was a tea set, from which they had probably been drinking, arranged in a way that would make it easy to clean them up.
Cleaning up the tea was a servant's job.
So if the family was too caring and cleaned it up themselves, the servants would lose face.

Therefore, just doing this much for the servants truly was a pleasing act of kindness.
As she approached the table to clean it, she noticed something like a memo that had been left with the utensils.

It had been placed together with the tea set, so naturally thinking it was a memo for the servant cleaning up, Shannon took it.
Written on it was not a request, nor was it thanks for preparing the tea.  There was just a single word.

Shannon looked at it blankly, and read it out loud...
"............Chapel.  ............?"
A small sound kept repeating over and over.
It was a sound that was normally worthless and boring.

If only I could stop hearing it soon, then I could quickly return to my doze, someone thought vaguely.
...But no matter how much time passed, the sound did not end.
It repeated over and over.

Aaah, shut up.
Who is it?  Banging on the door the whole time.
As soon as she noticed that, she woke up.
......Someone was knocking.

Then she noticed that there wasn't just a knock, but a voice.
".........Rosa-sama, ...Rosa-sama.  ......Good morning."
"W, ......wait.  I'm coming now."
It had been Genji's voice.
Looking at the clock, it was still before 7:00.
......It was clearly too early to wake the guests.  ...Did something happen that was bad enough to cause this?

She felt her sleepiness increasingly fade thanks to this premonition of misfortune.
Because Genji had been a familiar servant to Rosa since her childhood days, even though she was slightly defenseless in her pajamas, she opened the door a crack and answered.
"Good morning.  I apologize for waking you this early."
"......Did something happen?"
"Yes............Actually, at the chapel............, ........."
Genji spoke into Rosa's ear, and told her something in a small voice.

For a second, it seemed that Rosa couldn't understand what she had been told, and after having it repeated several times, she realized that apparently, something strange had happened.
Rosa closed her door for a second, and after changing her clothes, she immediately accompanied Genji and they headed to the mansion...
The chapel requires some explanation.
It wasn't in the mansion, but in a grove behind the mansion, which could be reached after a short walk.

It had been built at the same time that the mansion had been constructed on Rokkenjima, so while its outside walls had been repaired many times, making it look new from the outside, it was a very old building.
Rosa dashed through the rain along with Genji.
Just like the previous night, the rain was falling in earnest.
Eventually, they began to see the chapel beyond a thin grove...
Because they could only see it from the outside, it felt like a place of dazzling beauty, where a pair of young lovers might want to hold a ceremony.
However, it seemed that in Kinzo's eyes, this was a very sacred place, so Rosa and her siblings had been harshly told not to approach it unnecessarily.

So even though they had grown up, they would feel some guilt if they approached the chapel, no matter what the reason, and felt some fear, as though their Father would get angry and hit them in the face...

The servants' silhouettes could be seen in front of the entrance to the chapel.  Gohda, Shannon and Kanon.
......Which meant that all of the servants on the morning shift had gathered.

A short while ago, Genji had spoken to Rosa, telling her what the situation was.
However, ...without laying eyes on it directly, she really hadn't been able to understand it...

Probably, all of the servants gathered there were the same.

...Without seeing it with their own eyes・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・, they couldn't understand what had happened.
On the door at the entrance to the chapel, was something very large, ...drawn with a creepy, stringy paint that made one think of blood, ...something like a creepy magic circle.
"Wh, .........what is, ......this...........  When was it written?!"
The servants looked at each other.
Gohda was the first one to open his mouth.

"...M, ...my apologies.  We do not usually enter here, so we do not know when it was written."
"Then, who was the first person to find it?!"

"Y, ...yes, it was me.  ......When I went to the dining hall to clean up the tea set, ......there was a memo with 'chapel' written on it..."
Shannon held out the memo with a shaking hand.

"......Whose handwriting?  It isn't Nii-san's or Nee-san's handwriting.  ...And then, you came here, and found this, right?"
"Yes......"
"...Rosa-sama, .........look at this."
"What?  ............Happy Halloween, for, ......wha?!"
Kanon pointed at a single line of English written below the creepy magic circle.

Until it had been pointed out to her, she had thought it was just another part of the magic circle, and hadn't noticed it.
There, words were written in English,

"Happy HALLOWEEN for MARIA."


――Happy Halloween.  For Maria.

This creepy magic circle.  For Maria.

Happy Halloween.
Yesterday, the only person who had said Happy Halloween to Maria......
This symbol matched.

......The Golden Witch, Beatrice...!

"Wh, what about Maria?!  That kid should be sleeping with her cousins, right?  Did you check?!"
"......My apologies.  We just now realized that Maria-sama's name was written here.  ...We still have not checked.  Quickly-"

"What are you doing?!!  I'll go check on Maria and come back!  Then, I'll tell Krauss nii-san and the rest.  After that, we'll follow their instructions!"
...After saying that much, Rosa finally noticed a feeling of discomfort.
Her own rank of this family conference was the lowest of the four siblings.

......Why was she the only one called in an abnormal situation like this, when the other siblings hadn't been called?
...Even if Maria's name had popped up.
"Could it be, ......huh?  ......Huh?!"
"......Y, yes.  We tried to contact Krauss-sama, ...but could not find him..."

"And Madam was not in her room.  ...Judging by the condition of the sheets, maybe she didn't return to her bed at all last night."

Rosa felt something creepy crawling slowly up her back...
".........D, ...did you try to check inside the chapel?"
"No, not yet.  We tried to check inside, but..."
"......Actually, the lock to the chapel is special, so the master key does not work.  There is a single key which can open it, ......but that key is missing from the key box."
She didn't want to get closer to the door with the creepy magic circle if she could.

Rosa readied herself and approached, and tried pushing and pulling the knob.
...All she felt was the resistance of the sturdy lock.

"We search to see whether there was a window through which we could enter, but...I think that, in order to check inside, we would have to break one of the windows...  What do you think?"
"...There's no way I can give you approval to do that.  It's Father's precious chapel, I can't do something like that.  .................."
At that time, the events of the previous day swirled around in the back of Rosa's mind...

......That's right, ......when I met that witch in the rose garden, ...didn't she hand Maria an envelope?
That's right, there's no mistake, she had handed it over.

When Maria tried to open it, that witch told her not to open it yet, then she surely said

"The time to open that will come soon・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・"...
Rosa was sure.
......There could be no mistake.
......That letter which had been handed to Maria............
After dashing back to the guesthouse, Rosa approached the cousins' room while hiding her footsteps, softly opened the door, and peered inside...
From the inside, she could hear the healthy snores of young people.
There were four children.  And Maria was there.  ...Sleeping soundly.
After feeling relieved, she entered the room with quiet footsteps.
......She was after Maria's handbag, which was resting on the sofa.
Maria always liked walking around with her treasures.
...She was probably imitating how her mother always carried her makeup with her.

Of course, she was just copying her, so on the inside, it was full of junk.
In Maria's case, it was full of small, creepy, occult-like items, and a notebook with things like that written on it.

......Rosa hadn't been happy once to see her daughter walking around with those kinds of things, which were not girlish.

However, after she tried to force Maria to stop, they had gotten into a big fight, and she had decided to let it be.
"....................., ...here.  .........This is it........."
A western envelope with the crest of the gold eagle...

When she tried to take it out, she realized that there was a heavy, cylindrical object inside.

...She could tell by its feel and its weight.
......There was no doubt.
This was, ......a key.
After turning around and checking that Maria was still sound asleep, Rosa tore open the envelope, and the contents spilled out into her palm.
......It was a key with an old and intricate design...

Rosa grasped that key, and dashed out.
...It seemed that Battler noticed that sound, but after grumbling and turning over in his sleep, he started snoring again...

"......Genji-san.  ......Could this key, ......be the key to the chapel?"
"Where did you.........Yes, this is the key to the chapel."
Rosa approached the creepy magic circle once again, ......and put the key in the keyhole.

......There was a strong resistance.
After it resisted for a short while, ...it stopped resisting with a clunk.
Then, squeaking with a noise that hurt one's ears, it slowly, slowly began to open.........
"............Is anyone, ......there............!"

Her voice reverberated throughout the massive room.
...Of course, there was no answer.
The chapel had a high ceiling, and the air was cold.

...And even on this rainy, unsettling day, for some reason, it felt sacred...

The servants timidly followed after Rosa.
"......Rosa-sama, look at that."
Kanon noticed it immediately, and pointed.
......Over there, was the altar.

In the place where normally a pastor would preach of God's love, there was a table that shouldn't have been there.
At first, it looked like a dining table.
...There actually were gorgeous plates and utensils set on the table, enough to make you think it was a child's birthday party or something.
Upon closer inspection, the surrounding area had been decorated with pumpkins and black and orange ribbons.
They were probably, ......Halloween decorations.
And there were people seated at the table.
Three people on each side facing each other, seated in chairs.

They could be recognized at a glance.
Krauss and his wife, Eva and her husband, and Rudolf and his wife.

But if someone told you that, you'd still have to go even closer and check.
......Because they seemed almost like dolls.

Rosa and the rest had opened the door, entered all at once with the sound of many footsteps, and called out, asking if anyone was there.

...And yet, there had been no reaction.
...Even if Rosa and the rest assumed that they were being ignored, normally you'd expect there to be some kind of reaction.
......And there hadn't even been that.

So at first, it felt like someone had set down some dolls that looked a lot like them...
......By now, it wasn't just Rosa.
......Shannon and Kanon, and even Gohda.
...They were all fighting frantically with the creepy emotion that grasped their hearts.
"......Nii-san...?  .........Nee-san.........?"
As she climbed up to the altar, she called out again, but still, the others gave no reaction.
......Yes, ...by now, Rosa had accepted it.

......They were not dolls,

she accepted that they were・・・・・・・・・・・・・

those very people・・・・・・・......!
"............This is........."
"..............."
They neared the distance at which they would be able to clearly see what was on the table.

Just like their first impression, it looked like a lovely banquet, reminiscent of a child's birthday party.
Plates piled up with sweets, glasses with lovely drinks.
Several ornaments in the shape of pumpkins...

...They were all decorated in a Halloween style, ...and while it might have been pointless to imagine at a time like this..., she thought that this would surely have made Maria happy if she could see it.
In front of that table, they were seated, and looked like they were sleeping......

It was an eerie scene, ...as though a small, fun-looking Halloween party had been stopped in time...
"......They're all............sleeping...?  ............?"
When she approached even closer to them, ......she realized that candies were scattered all over the floor.

They were all candies, cookies, sodas and chocolates, with very fantasy-styled wrappings...
And they were all distributed across the carpet, which was covered with blackberry and cranberry jam...
"......Wa, uwaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa?!"
Rosa and the rest, .........finally realized what the situation was......

It was, a Halloween party.
A banquet for those not of this world...!
Krauss, Natsuhi, Eva, Hideyoshi, Rudolf, and Kyrie, six people in all, were seated in the chairs, ......dead as though they were sleeping.

How could you tell that they were dead and not simply sleeping?

That was because, .........they were, ......v, .........vertically, ......sliced open, .........from their chests to their stomachs.........!

"K, ......Krauss-sama............!!  Hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii......!"
"..................How, ......cruel..."
The six of them were seated at a Halloween party, all of them with their stomachs sliced open, ...all of them had been killed.

Was the jam that covered the floor, something that they couldn't finish eating..., which had overflowed out of their stomachs...?
......No!!
The contents of their stomachs had been thrown out across the floor!!  And that wasn't all.
From their stomachs, ......almost as though, ...almost as though!  As though they had poured out!!  S, ...sweets!
Candies and cookies, soda and chocolates, ......had poured out, stained with blood, and had scattered across the floor!!
What could have happened to cause this?!

It was almost as though the insides of their stomachs had been stuffed full with sweets, ......and when their stomachs had been cut, it had all flowed out?!!
Rosa remembered a shocking meal, a turkey that had been served at her own birthday.

When it had been cut with a knife, ......from the inside, things she loved, but which she had not heard about at all, ...bright-red, bright-red, ...ketchup omelet-rice had poured out like blood-stained maggots, buwaa, dripping, slimy, pulpy, sticky!!
"Uweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!  Eeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!"
The trauma of her youth was revived.
Rosa felt a monster raging inside her stomach, as the acid started to rise up.
...Unable to hold back, she threw up on the floor.
Her empty stomach couldn't throw up anything but stomach acid.

This scene in front of her was no longer a fun Halloween party...!

The three couples had been placed there, with their stomachs vertically wrenched open, wrenched open with a gyuiiiiiiigubaaa.
Many sweets had been stuffed in there, pulpy, squishy.
Blood and guts and sweets were overflowing onto the floor, ......bloodstained, sticky, sticky, sloppy, pulpy, sweet candy stuck to each finger, gummy, gummy, aaah, but it's stained with their entrails, sloppy, pulpy!  What was that I stepped on just now, that didn't feel like a candy or a cookie or soda or a chocolate!
Aaaaaaaaaaaaaah, I'm scared what did I step on I can't even look at the bottom of my foot!!
Aaaaaawaaaakiiiyaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!

...What a, what a gruesome Halloween Party...!!!
From far away, it looked really beautiful, fantastical, and fun.
And when you see it up close, it's really terrible, disgusting, and yet somehow beautiful...!!
"Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhh!!"
Rosa's wild thoughts tried as best they could to escape her throat with a loud voice that was neither a scream nor a roar...

"............Krauss-sama............"
"......This is, ...horrible......, horrible........."
"......A, ambulance..., ......police.........!"
"Th, ......that's right, police...  Police, police police police police!!"
If a word tied to reality, like police, hadn't come out of Gohda's mouth, Rosa and the rest would probably still be unable to escape this nightmarish party.

...But that wasn't because they thought that the police might be able to do something.
If they didn't say police, police out loud, ......it seemed that another seat would be set up at this demon's party and given to them...!!
It felt like their own stomachs were getting uncomfortably filled from the inside!!  Rumbling, churning..., it was surely because candy was starting to overflow from their stomachs!!

Rosa was again tortured by a desire to vomit, and threw up her stomach acid on the floor.  And then she searched.  To see whether there was any candy mixed in!!
"......Haah, .........haah, ......haah......!!  Eeeeh, ......haah........a, ......anyways!!  *cough*, *cough*!!"
Rosa coughed violently again, and violently spat up the stomach acid that burned her throat.

She realized that by now, her whole body had been covered in filthy sweat...
"G, ...Genji-san, Shannon-chan, please ask Father for instructions.  Gohda-san, go together with Kanon-kun and call the police.  ...Then, have Doctor Nanjo come here..."
Why even bring Doctor Nanjo here?
It's way too late for medical care......!
The servants accepted their orders and dashed outside.
After watching them leave, ............Rosa once again fixedly cast her eyes upon those fantastical deaths of her siblings and their partners with a mixture of pleasure and pain.  Even though there could be nothing more tragic, ...for some reason, she wanted to describe it as beautiful.........

"...They aren't here.  Where'd they go?"
"The servants' room and the kitchen are both empty.  ...What in the world happened?"
"Uu-uu-uu-!!  Mama-!!  Whe-re's Mama-!!  Maria's letter!  The letter Maria got from Beato!  Give it back!  Give it baaaack!!  Waaauau-!!"

"Perplexing.  ...Battler-kun, are you sure it was Rosa oba-san?"
"......Well, I was half-asleep so I'm not too confident, but I get the feeling that, at dawn, Rosa oba-san came in and fished around in Maria's handbag."
"...I was half-asleep, sure that there was a tube of toothpaste or something in Maria's handbag."

"Why would there be a tube of toothpaste in Maria's handbag?  Looks like you were a little more than half-asleep."
Battler vaguely remembered Rosa entering the cousins' room.
And Maria, who had woken up first, had started rampaging around, saying that someone had opened an envelope that she had been keeping safe.

...And then they had decided that Rosa had come and opened the envelope.

"......A letter from the Golden Witch...  I wonder what was inside."
"I don't know.  ...But that envelope was for Grandfather's personal use, and it had the Ushiromiya family crest on it.  ............It's hard to believe that what was in there doesn't have anything to do with the family conference."

She hadn't let anyone touch it, but yesterday, Maria had bragged a lot about the envelope to Battler and the rest.
...So they remembered it well.

"Uu-uu-uu-!!  Mama, give it back!  Mama, give it back!!  Uu-uu-uu-!  Waauuuuuuuuuuuuu!!"
"......If you're right, George-aniki, it looks pretty important.  ...However, if it was so important, why did the witch give it to Maria?  ...I don't have a clue."
Every once in a while, the refreshing morning atmosphere was completely wiped out by the sound of thunder.

...It was only natural.  Since the time they had woken up, they hadn't met anyone other than themselves.
It felt like only they were left and the mansion had become an empty husk.
"......Heeeeey!  Anyone the-re?!  Answer me-!"

After Jessica called out into the hallway, eventually, an answer came back.  It was from the entrance hall.
"I can hear you-.  ...Has anything happe-ned?"
"It's Doctor Nanjo.  ...Great.  It looks like everyone but us hasn't disappeared from this island."

"Docter Nanjo, good morning.  ...Umm, sorry, but do you know where our parents went...?"
"Dear me.  ...I have just woken up.  I could not know, let me see."

It was only natural.  Nanjo was a guest like the rest of them.  He had just now come to pass the time in the parlor until breakfast.

"Uu-uu-uu-!!  Doctor Nanjo, Mama took it, Mama took Maria's letter!!  Give it back, give it back, uu-uu-uu-!!!"
Maria buried her face in Nanjo's well-built stomach, sobbing and crying.

...Nanjo could do nothing but be bewildered at what was going on so early in the morning.
".........Nn.  Someone's running.  Jessica!  Someone's coming!"

From down the hall, they could sense people running hurriedly.
When they looked, they saw that it was Gohda and Kanon.

......Running inside the mansion should have been immodest for a servant.
And yet, Battler and the rest didn't even think to question that now.

Maria's sobbing had become so unmanageable, they wanted to ask someone, anyone, where Rosa was.

But the two servants ignored Jessica as she waved her hand.

Gohda flew into the servants' room, and after Kanon noticed that Nanjo was there, he bowed and approached Nanjo at a quick pace, whispering something into his ear.

"............What did you say?  Rosa-san did?"
"Yes.  I will guide you, so please accompany me."
"Understood..."
"This way."

Without saying anything more than that, Kanon finally noticed Jessica and bowed to her.

...But he wasn't calm.
He dashed back down the corridor by which he had come, followed by Nanjo.
By looking at how hurried they were, Battler and the rest realized that yes, something bad really had happened.
They saw Gohda through the door to the servants' room, which had been flung open.
...He was holding the receiver and violently pressing the hook.

From that, they realized that he was trying to call a hospital or the police.  In any event, he was trying to call someone because a serious emergency had occurred.

"Let's have a look...!"
"Yeah...!"
"Mama-, give it ba-ck!!  Give back Maria's le-tter!!

It's an invitation to the Golden Land・・・・・・・・・・・・・・!!"
They didn't know what, but something was happening.
Battler and the rest chased after Kanon and Nanjo...
Aaah......, then we realized.
Kanon-kun had called Doctor Nanjo, but he hadn't called us.
...So we shouldn't have gone with them.

I wonder if Alice didn't regret her excess curiosity when she chased after the rabbit holding a clock......
"No, you mustn't go in!!  You mustn't look!!  Jessica-chan!  No!!"
"Hi, .........i, ...noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!"
"Mother, Father!!  What, ......what happened!!  Uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu!!"
"......What the hell is this.........there's a limit to how bad a hobby can be...  Isn't taking someone's life enough.........What the hell is this!!  Going to all the trouble after they died of sitting them on chairs, slicing their stomachs and pulling their entrails out!!  You went to all the trouble of stuffing their stomachs full of sweets?!!  Why, ......why the hell would you do something so gross?!!  Damn it, damn it!  Nice job, bastard, just great, just great!!  Uwoooooooooooooohhh!!"
".........It would be better if everyone went outside...!  There is no way they would want everyone to see them this way..."

Nanjo told the children to go outside, but no one listened.

"Rosa-san, please tell everyone.  If they keep looking at something like this...it will do nothing but harm...!"
"..............."

Rosa regretted her own rashness.
......She should have realized that the children would eventually come here.
...She should have quickly locked it instead of standing around.
So the children had come.
They had seen it...!

Surely, in this very moment, they were having a sight burned into their eyes, which was far more grotesque than the shocking meal Rosa had seen in her youth...
While she hugged Maria as though she had forgotten her shock at the horrible scene, Rosa cried for them and their parents.

The four groaning and crying voices, their sadness, ...continued to echo in a place which should have known God's love......
"You piece of crap!!  Again, another one of these murders!!  And this time you made it all elaborate, killing them like it's a perfect joke!!"

"*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*.  I was hoping I'd hear words of thanks rather than grief from you."

"Thanks!!  Did you say thanks, you old bitch?!  Damn it, if there's something wrong with your ears, I'll cut them both off so you can hear better!!  Why should I have to say oh, thank you very much Beatrice-sama, about that insane way of killing, I'll beat you to death!!!"

"In the last game, you were grieving that you couldn't see your parents faces when they died, right?  So I left them.  Didn't touch them!!

Worship me, without a doubt, ・・・・・・・・・・・・・

your father and the rest have been killed・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・!!"

"R......eally, that's a great service, I'm so happy!!  I swore that if I choked the life out of you, I'd plow your face, but I'll take that back, I'll drag out your guts!!!"

"Don't give in to emotion and stop thinking.  My game has already begun, right?  *cackle*cackle*cackle*.  I decided to leave the corpses clean this time."

"Do you know why?  When you denied my existence in the last game, you thought in a certain way.


'Their faces were crushed, so the identity・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・

of the corpses couldn't be checked・・・・・・・・・・・・・・'

'Therefore, the possibility that fake・・・・・・・・・・・・・・

corpses had been prepared to create an alibi・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・

cannot be eliminated・・・・・・・・'

'As long as that possibility can't be denied・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・

a human culprit theory could apply・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・!!"

"What did you saaaaaay......!!"
"*cackle*cackle*cackle*kikikikikikikikikikikikikikikikikikikiki!!  So, Battler, is it alright to leave the autopsy to Nanjo?  Isn't it traditional in mystery novels for the doctor who performs the autopsy to be an accomplice?"
"Then don't leave the autopsy to Nanjo, you should do it yourself.  Make completely sure that without a doubt, the six corpses are those six people, that they aren't pretending to be dead, that they really, really are dead!!"
"To make sure that your Father and Mother really have been killed by having their stomachs cut open and their entrails pulled out, you should stick your hand inside their stomachs and feel around inside!!  Kuhahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha, ki-hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!"
"I won't cry!!!  Damn it, damn it, ...I won't cry...!!"
Battler suddenly yelled.
His tears were still dripping down, but as though scolding himself for being girly, he slapped his face hard several times with both hands.

Even so, the tears still wouldn't stop.
......However, he felt a hot blaze on both his eyes.
"That bastard who did this, I'll make him pay back his debt completely!!  So this isn't the time to cry, think about what you're gonna do!!  Aaaah, it's useless, it's all useless!!  If you have enough spare time to cry, then think!  This is no time to let yourself cry!!"
Rather than genuine hatred, maybe it was more of an evasive hatred to blot out his sadness.

......However, it gave a little courage to George and Jessica, who had been crushed by sadness.

"......That's right.  ...Even if we cry, ......it won't change the reality, ...that this had occurred."
"Damn it..., damn it damn it damn it, ......damn it damn it damn it!!  Well, then what should we do?!  What should I do, ...for Mom and Dad's sakes?!!"

"......Rosa-sama...  I have returned..."
"Gohda-san, what happened with the police?  What did they say to do?  Did they say when they think they'll be able to get here?"

"...That is, ......it seems the phones have broken down...  I also tried the emergency wireless, but...umm, maybe it's the weather, that isn't working either..."

"What did you say...!  So, we can't contact the police?!"
"It's that person!  They did something to the phone line, and made it so we can't contact the police!!"

When she heard that the phones had broken down, Jessica immediately decided that it was the work of that mysterious guest.
Her eyes were bright-red after so much crying, and they began to grow even more red with rage.

"...Aaahh, there's no need to talk about it, right?!  I understand everything, that's right, I get it!  Who killed Dad and Mom?!"
"It's obvious, it's her!!  It has to be that witch or whatever who came yesterday!!!  I'll grab her by the collar!!  Damn it damn it damn iiiiiiiiiiiit!!"

"Jessica-chan...!  Wait!  Gohda-san, Kanon-kun, go!"
"Y, yes...!"
"Milady, wait...!"
Covering her sadness that had nowhere to go with anger, Jessica ran outside, torn apart by emotion.

...Thinking about it hastily, maybe the mystery guest, Beatrice, who had arrived yesterday, was suspicious.
However, at the current time, there was absolutely no proof that she was the culprit.
...At this moment, she was nothing more than a simple guest.

So Rosa made an adult decision, and had to stop Jessica in her hasty rampage.
Gohda and Kanon realized that immediately, and chased after her.
"......Could the guest that no one invited, Beatrice, be the culprit...?"

"I understand how Jessica feels.  ...I also want to make myself think that.  It doesn't matter who, I want to have them be the culprit and bash them right in the face!!  ......But before that, we have to understand things clearly.  ...Who is this Beatrice?  I haven't even seen her face!!"

"......Kihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihi.  If you're looking for her face, it decorates the big portrait in the mansion.  You still don't remember after looking at it for so long?  Kihihihihihi."
"...Come on, Maria.  ...What's so funny in a situation like this?!"

"Beatrice is a witch.  And the ceremony to open the door to the Golden Land has finally begun.  Those six people are sacrifices.  ......Kihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihi!  Come, let us begin the witch's banquet.  Tonight is Halloween, now the witches will gather to celebrate.  Ki-hihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihi!!"
"Maria, don't I always tell you not to laugh with that creepy voice!"
The crisp sound of Rosa slapping Maria's cheek echoed through the high-ceilinged chapel...
It kinda felt like, since it had started raining yesterday...
No, ...since the island had been wrapped up in the typhoon, something had gone crazy.

I had arrived in Rokkenjima while it was clear, and taken a nap because I had gotten up early.
......When I woke up, it had already started raining.

And since that time...

Suddenly, a mysterious visitor had arrived, calling herself the Golden Witch Beatrice, and it felt like I was sinking bit by bit into an insane world.

Had something happened while I was asleep?  During that time, had this island been cut off, trapped in a different world where common sense didn't apply...?!
Who is this person called Beatrice?
Was some unknown person trying to involve themselves with the inheritance problem, like our parents were freaking out about at dinner last night?

......Or was this witch from the Legend of the Gold the culprit, like Maria said?!
Even if Jessica hadn't let her short temper get the better of her, in this situation, the visitor was probably the most suspicious.
However, we couldn't decide just like that.  Aaah, it's useless, it's useless, it's all useless...!!
I smacked my face with both hands again, cooling off my brains before they got too hot.
Even though it might have been a wasted effort.
"......This is, .........Grandfather's envelope."

On a tray piled up with sweets that decorated the table, George-aniki found a western envelope which had the Ushiromiya family crest on it in gold leaf.

And it was unopened.

"So, ......doesn't this mean it was sent to us?  If it was something Dad and the rest read, it should be open."
"......It seems your reasoning is correct.  ......It's written here.  Someone wrote, 'To those that remain'."

"Is that, a letter the culprit left...?!  Wh, what's inside...?"
"Aniki, let's open it...!"
After nodding silently, George-aniki opened it.
......A folded letter came out.
".........I'll read it.  .........I welcome you to Rokkenjima, members of the Ushiromiya family.  I am serving Kinzo-sama as the Alchemy counsellor for this house, and my name is Beatrice..."
That letter really was a joke.

This Beatrice, who called herself an Alchemy counsellor, had proclaimed that she was collecting the gold she had lent Grandfather with interest.

And that interest was everything that Grandfather had given birth to.
Since this tragedy was right before our eyes as this paragraph was read aloud, it wasn't only referring to all of the wealth that Grandfather had created.

......It was literal.
Everything that Grandfather had given birth to, ......in other words, ...all of Grandfather's descendants were included in the interest!
"You bastard!!  What a screwed up contract!  Lives as interest on gold, you say?!  That's almost like a contract with the devil. isn't it?!  Is that how you pretend to be a witch?!  Ha, you make me laugh!!"
"......Special clause.  .........However, should someone discover the afore-mentioned gold, Beatrice shall renounce all rights to its recovery for all time."
".........Hmmmmmmm............As for the cache of the gold, Kinzo-sama has already edicted it in the epitaph beneath my portrait..."
"......In other words, it's something like this.  If the motive for these murders was collection of the interest, the condition for stopping it, is to try and find the hidden gold she gave to Grandfather, ...that's what it's saying.  And it also says that this secret is hidden in the epitaph from that portrait."
"In other words, ......this is a letter of challenge from the witch?  If anyone thinks they can solve the coded paragraph where the location of the hidden gold is written, then try to do it?!  And if we can't, it's saying that the collection of the interest will continue as planned?"
"I'll beat you to death, no problem!!!"

"...B, Battler-kun!  Look......, here!!!"
The table had been full of sweets, ...so even though it had been right in the open, we had assumed it was a sweet.

......I mean, come on, you find stuff like this a lot, right?

......Come on, it might have been a box shaped like a golden ingot, filled with chocolate...!
"Th, ......this is, not a box of candy...  It's the real thing...!  This is a real gold bar...!!"
"...It's inscribed with the crest of the One-winged Eagle......I heard Mother talking about it earlier.  ......This is a gold bar from Granfather's Legend of the Gold...!!"
A gold ingot weighing a full 10 kilograms, ...wait, three of them, were piled up in the very center of the table!  It was where a cake would be placed if it was a birthday party.

...In other words, this was without a doubt the birthday cake of the party known as the family conference!

"If these are really four nines quality ingots......nn, *gulp*.  I, it's worth about 60 million yen!"
"Dumbaaaaaaaaaaasss!!!  That's too cheap!!!  Our parents have been killed, and all the gold you've piled up is only worth 60 million yen?!  Don't take us for fools, damn iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit!!!"
"......Kihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihi.  ...So, it has begun, Beatrice.  ......It's not like anyone can solve this riddle anyway.  So Beato will definitely win."
"......Quickly, open the door to the Golden Land.  Then bring Maria with you.  ...Kihihihihihihihihihihihihihi!"

Jessica and Kanon

Sun, Oct 5 1986 6:43AM

"Milady, please, calm yourself...!"
"We still don't know who the culprit is!  And Beatrice-sama is an important honored guest to the Master...!"
"So what?!!  If we grab that person by the collar, they'll definitely confess!!  If we can look them in the eye, we'll know.  I'll see through her!!  A witch?!  Beatrice?!!  I'll expose her!!"
Jessica never stopped moving.
Gohda and Kanon chased after her, doing their best to convince her, but Jessica never lent them an ear.
Eventually, the 'honored guest room of the witch' came into view.
The honored guest room that was forbidden and never used.

...No matter what kind of guest came, Kinzo wouldn't let them in this room.
......And yet, the servants were always made to clean this room, so that it could be used at any time.
So the servants had started calling this room the 'honored guest room of the witch', their other shapeless master.

Jessica also knew this.
And she couldn't forgive the arrogance of the one who called herself a witch and stayed in that room.
......The Golden Witch was just a fairy tale.
Come on, a witch?!  To Jessica, she was nothing more or less than the murderer who had brutally killed her parents!

Question them, make them give painful excuses, spit it out painfully, breathe painfully.

...No matter how hard she pretends to be a witch, I'll teach her that she's just a stinking, sweaty human!!
As Jessica yelled with all of her strength, she hit the door to the honored guest's room.
It definitely wasn't a knock.
...That sound was the beating of her anger's hammer, as though she was saying that if they didn't open the door, she'd break it down.
"Open it, Beatrice!!  Come out!!  You hear me, right?!  Open up!!!"
There was no answer.
...Jessica grabbed the doorknob without any reservation, but she felt the resistance of the lock.
Jessica turned around to look at the two servants, and spoke.

"The master key opens this, right?!  Open it!!"
"Milady...!  That would be horribly rude...!!"

Although Gohda was flustered, he still tried to somehow calm Jessica's anger.
......After hanging his head silently for a while, Kanon pulled a master key from his jacket pocket.

"Kanon-san...!  Is that alright?!"
"......If she is there, then I agree that it would be rude.  .........Still.  ...If Beatrice has nothing to do with this, she just has to explain herself so that we can believe her."
"Th, ......that's right, exactly!!  Give it here!"
Jessica snatched the master key from Kanon's hand, and violently shoved it into the keyhole.
...Immediately, there was a light sound and she felt the lock open.

And without excusing herself, she flung open the door.
"Beatrice!!  Where are you?!  Come out!!"
Jessica rudely stepped into the room.
...The witch wasn't anywhere to be seen.

"...That bitch!!  She's not here!!  Where the hell did she go?!"
".........Sh, she isn't here..."
Jessica, thinking that she might be hiding somewhere inside the room, peeked behind the curtains and under the bed, but she couldn't to find anyone.
However, there definitely were signs that the bed had been used, ......it's an odd way to say it, but the atmosphere in the room grew a little softer.

It wasn't the hard atmosphere of a place normally devoid of people, like the chapel.
You could definitely tell that someone had spent the night in this room.
But she could not be seen.

In reality, neither Jessica nor Gohda had met Beatrice.
...They had only been told by those who had met her that she looked like a double of the character in that portrait.

...So they were doubtful about what her face really looked like.
...However, Kanon alone had met her.
And he understood what kind of being that witch was, ......and what kind of character she had.

So he knew that if they were to force their way in here searching for her, she wouldn't let things go as they planned.
......She must be watching us bitterly flail about in vain from somewhere, sneering at us.
......She's that kind of person.

Because he was looking at things that way, Kanon was the first to find it.
...The other two were concentrating on finding the shadow of a person, so they hadn't noticed.
Near a water jug on the side table, there was a single sheet of writing paper.
It was accompanied by a short message and a fountain pen which had probably been used to write it...
Kanon understood the witch.
The witch would definitely scoff at them, as they found the bodies, forced their way in here in rage, and were unable to find her.

......Scorn cannot be fulfilled unless it is communicated.
So in other words, ...this was definitely, that...!

"......Milady.  .........There's something written here."
"Written, what is it?!"
After Jessica quickly dashed over, she violently stole the piece of paper.
......She probably wasn't trying to be violent.
...She just couldn't control her strength now.
".........What the...?!  D, don't fuck with me!!!"
As soon as she read the message, Jessica went into a wild rage, crumpled the paper up, and threw it.
Then, she grabbed an interior stand by the bedside and violently swung it around, mercilessly hitting the walls and furniture with it.

...The lightbulbs all shattered at once, and the fragments were scattered across the room.

"Milady, please calm yourself...!  You'll hurt yourself!!"
"Let go!!  Damn it, damn it!  Come out, Beatrice!!  How could you do that to Mom and Dad!!  You think you scare me!!  I'll kill you, I'll kill you!!  I'll beat you to death, so show yourself!!!  I told you to let go of me, damn iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit!!"
This was written on the paper...
'Do you think I'd be that senile, to wait comfortably in this place for you to barge in here?  You're too wild to be suitable for this intellectual night.

What kind of faces did your parents, who raised you to be so stupid, make?
Yeah, I saw them, they had a truly stupid look just like you.

Now, their bellies are full in the land of sweets!'
......It sounded like something that witch would write...

......It meant that she had predicted that one of the children who had lost their parents would come running in here.
...If she was hiding somewhere in this room, she would surely be rolling around with laughter...

The witch was that kind of person.
...She sneered at people's misfortune, using it to stave off the boredom of a thousand years...!

"Hand it over...!  I am saying that you will hurt yourself...!  .........nnnnn, ......nnnn!!"
"I told you to let go!!  Damn iiiiiit, damn iiiiiiit!!  ......au!"
Gohda grabbed the interior stand Jessica had been swinging around.
...Because if she kept swinging it around, she might hit something and get injured.

...To Gohda's eyes, Jessica probably looked mad with rage, burning with the flames of anger.

......But Kanon's eyes saw it differently.
Those were probably, tears of sadness, hidden by rage...

Therefore...
At the moment the interior stand was taken from her, when Jessica started crying on the floor, scratching at the carpet almost as though she was groveling...
......Gohda was surprised, but Kanon was not.

......Her way of crying by brandishing her anger, had been stolen from her, ...so this was inevitable.
"Uuuuuuuuuuuuuu, waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!  Dad......, Mom......, uwaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaauuuuuuuuu!!"
...Considering that she was a daughter of the Ushiromiya family, ...she was in a very shabby state.
......She scratched at the carpet with her fingernails, and even her feet were scratching.
Jessica cried very, very hard.
...Because if she didn't, her rage would start building up again, and swallow her up.

But over and over again, she remembered that humiliating message...

......What kind of faces did your parents, who raised you to be so stupid, make?
"They aren't stupid!!  Both Dad and Mom were smart!!  Unlike me, they were really smart!!  They aren't stupid!  Take it back, take it back!!"

Yeah, I saw them, they had a truly stupid look just like you.
Now, their bellies are full in the land of sweets!!
"Ooooooooooooooohhh, damn iiiiiit!!  I'll kill her I'll kill her, I'll slice her stomach and make her meet the same end!!  Uuuuaaaaaaaaaaaa, waaaaaaaaaaaaaa......!!!  Hic, *cough*cough*, *cough*cough*cough*!!!"
As Jessica cried and screamed, she triggered an asthma attack...
The servants watching over her hurriedly ran up to her and rubbed her back, but that only provoked Jessica's wrath...
"*cough*cough*!!  'the hell!!  If you have the time to do that, search for that bastard!!  Find them and bring them to me!!  If you won't go, then I will!!  And I'll kill them with my own hands, I'll slice their stomach!!  *cough*cough*cough*cough*!!  *cough*, *cough*!!  Don't touch me!!!  Damn it, damn it, *cough*cough*!!  *cough*cough*!!"
Jessica got up unsteadily, and as her asthma continued, she went out into the hallway...

"Milady, your medicine, quickly...!  I will call Doctor Nanjo!"
"............Gohda-san.  .........Would you, leave this to me?"

Kanon had noticed.
.........Gohda, who was much older, ...probably couldn't feel the tears in Jessica's heart.

......Kanon, who had noticed that himself, had to support her.

"K, Kanon-san.  ............Is that alright...?"
".........I believe that Milady needs some time to cry for now.  ............After seeing her parents, when they were killed like that..."
"...........................You're right."

Gohda also understood.
......And he also knew of the vague relationship that Jessica and Kanon shared.
So he understood everything, and left it to Kanon.

".........Understood.  ......I will go back to Rosa-sama.  ...Please, take care of Milady."
"Yes.  ......Leave it to me."

Kanon's voice was frail, ......but he nodded forcefully.
After looking at his eyes, Gohda also nodded forcefully.
...Gohda was a veteran with many years behind him.
He had seen a great number of people in his life.
...So he knew of the vigorous sparkle that could be found in the eyes of those who had self-control.

He had surely seen that in Kanon's eyes.
......Therefore, he would leave this to Kanon.
...When you think about it, maybe this was the first moment that Gohda had trusted Kanon and relied on him for a job...
As Jessica suffered from her asthma, ...it seemed she was heading towards her room, leaning against the wall.
......Kanon chased after her wordlessly.
If she had asked for a hand, he would have jumped over and supported her.
...But as long as Jessica didn't ask for that, he hid himself, watching over her from a distance where he could come to her rescue at any time.

......As Kanon remained in that spot where ten billion people would want someone else to be when their hearts felt like they would explode from sadness, he silently watched Jessica's back...
Then, finally, she was crouching in front of the door to her own room.

......The asthma attack had stolen all of her strength.
And her thoughts had gotten hazy from the lack of oxygen, so that she could no longer stand up.
......But right now, Jessica wasn't thinking that she wanted someone to lend a hand.
Because she still hadn't been able to overcome the flames of anger.

...Because even if someone had offered her a hand with good intentions, right now, Jessica would start wanting to tear it off.
...And she understood how unreasonable that would be.
...Until she could overcome the flames of her anger, she definitely wouldn't ask for help.
Probably, Jessica no longer had the willpower to call for help.

......But Kanon heard it.
...He definitely heard it.

......Kanon definitely heard that voiceless call for help, which is shared by those from across the world who are grieving, and which cannot be heard by anyone even though they scream and scream.
Kanon softly knelt by Jessica's side, and wordlessly offered her a shoulder.

......Even though Jessica kept coughing painfully, she accepted it, .........opened the lock to her room, and entered...

"............This way.  ............I'll prepare your medicine right away."
"...............*cough*cough*cough*...!  .........*co-, .........*cough*cough*cough*...!!"
Jessica had often said that when her asthma got serious enough, it hurt so bad that it felt like she would vomit her whole stomach.

Her face was pale, and her gaze wavered.
And yet, the coughing continued...

......Even so, ...her sadness was probably even stronger...
After having her kneel by the bed, Kanon took a bronchodilator from a cute basket on a side table by the bed, and handed it to her.
......Jessica sometimes forgot to walk around with her medicine.
When it seemed that this was the case, Kanon would take notice and secretly carry around the inhaler from the first-aid kit in the servants' room, but he hadn't done so today.

......He scolded himself, as though wondering how he could call himself furniture after failing to bring it with him on a day like this.
.........Then he remembered the day when he had said that, and somehow betrayed Jessica's feelings, ...which jarred Kanon's heart, ......but he thought that compared to Jessica's sadness now, that would be a very indiscreet emotion, and he suppressed it to the depths of his heart...
".........Haah, .........haah........................haah..."
When she inhaled her medicine, Jessica's wild breathing calmed down bit by bit, ...and she was finally able to regain her composure.

.........But the strength and willpower she had lost wouldn't allow her to rise up from the bed.

"..................Are you alright?  ......Milady."
"............I'm, .........alright............I'm all messed up over Mom and Dad, .........but, ......after I cry a little longer, .........I'll be alright............"
".................."
Kanon regretted misspeaking.

......He had said "Are you alright", to her?
...Was he really unable to notice the pain in her heart?
............Therefore, he was furniture after all.
Therefore he couldn't become human...
"...............I will be in the corridor.  ...If you need anything, please call me immediately."

Kanon understood that she still needed some time to cry alone.
He told her to call him at any time, bowed, and tried to leave the room.
"......ah, ..............."

"......Is there something?"

Jessica had spoken as though she wanted him to stop, so Kanon had stopped.

.........If she asks it, I'll do anything to help her.
...If it could heal the pain in her heart, right now, I would even become a cane or a chair.

.........If by doing that, ......I can repair the pain in her heart I gave her that day...

"........................"

...For a while, Jessica stared into Kanon's eyes.
......As though she couldn't put into words her reason for stopping him.

"....................."
".................."

For a while, neither spoke.
.........Jessica broke that silence.
...With a small voice.

".........I'm sorry.  .........It's nothing.  ............Could you tell Rosa oba-san that I want to be alone for a while...?"

"I won't let you be..., alone."
".....................Huh..."

"I won't, ...let you be alone.  .....................So, I will be in the corridor.  ...At any time, ......call me."

For just an instant, it looked like some kind of hope flew to Jessica's eyes.

...But it was very faint, ...and disappeared like the first snow does on the surface of a river.

"......Thanks.  ...............For just a while, let me cry alone..."
"............Yes.  ............Excuse me."

Kanon bowed once again, and closed the door...
.........He should have said something to give her some courage.
............But for some reason, it felt like that would actually hurt her.
...Why?  .........He didn't know.
......Surely, that was because, ..................he was furniture.
So even now, ...he couldn't grasp human sadness.
As Kanon repeatedly questioned himself, he walked down the corridor.
.........He felt like the window at the end was cooly calling to him.
"..............................In the end, .........am I nothing more than furniture after all......?"
It was still pouring outside, a dark, gray world.
...Even on days like this, Shannon would surely see the ocean and know it was blue.

......But to my eyes, even if it cleared up, I would only see gray...

As long as I cannot understand the blue of the ocean, ......I am nothing but furniture imitating a person.........
"...............You really don't understand a woman's heart.  ...In times like that, you should silently remain by her side.  ...*cackle*cackle*, that's why you're furniture."
"Y, ............you......"
There shouldn't have been a trace of anyone in this corridor.
It had been empty and cold.
.........But those scoffing words approached Kanon from behind.
When he turned around, ......he saw that witch.
That witch, who hadn't shown herself when Jessica had searched for her with a rage bordering on madness, who had left that sneering letter to toy with Jessica...!
"There are three ways to hurt a woman.  ...Let me teach them, just for you.  One is to hurt them with a knife.  Another is to hurt them in their heart.  ...And the last one is the most difficult, and the most effective way of hurting them.  And yet it can hurt them without you even realizing it.  Do you know what it is...?"
"H, ......how could I know, I don't even want to know!!"
"It's to betray their hopes.  ......No living being is more of a dreamer than a woman!  They see their own dreams, and hurt themselves.  ......A distant man like you hurts women the most!  You couldn't understand.  You don't have a clue how much you have injured Jessica."
"......Because you're furniture!  *cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*!"
"I, I have no intention of going along with your nonsense!  ......Did you appear only to sneer at me?!!"

"Don't be so full of yourself, furniture.  You aren't worth sneering at!  *cackle*cackle*!  Still, even though you may not be worth it alone, if the two of you are gathered, that's more than enough.  ......I never get tired of the pleasure that comes from laughing at the fate of a young couple."
"What did you say............c, ...could it be you, ......to Milady......"
"I need 'two who are close' for the sacrifices of the second twilight.  ...The two of you truly are convenient...!!"
"W, ......wait...!  Don't misunderstand......!  Milady and I, ......don't have that kind of relationship...!  We can't become the sacrifices for the second twilight!"

"*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!  That's why you hurt Jessica.  That's why you cannot become human!!"

"Then there should be no problem, if you won't admit that you have feelings for Jessica, I can accept that.  ......But I'll kill Jessica!!"
"Why?!"
"You idiot!!  Isn't it obvious?!!  

It'll be fun to kill her and see the pained・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・

look on your face, why else・・・・・・・・・・?!!
Following the rules of the ceremony, I will make 13 people into sacrifices on a whim.  However, there's no rule saying that I can't kill any more."
"...If I think it's fun, I can kill any number of people!!  So I will kill!!

Make me laugh as hard as I can・・・・・・・・・・・・・, alright furnituuuuuuure, Kanonnnnnnnn?!?!"
At that time, Kanon definitely heard Jessica's scream.
In the instant he looked down the corridor, the witch, who had been making a perfectly ordinary face until a second ago, had disappeared.
...Right now, it was just him, standing alone in the corridor.

......And the person he wanted to protect was asking for help, and was right over there.
It was obvious what he should do.
It wasn't logical.  It was an electric reaction.
Without a trace of hesitation or idle thoughts.

...The person he wanted to protect was there, and asking for help.
.........Therefore, in that moment, he genuinely felt that he wanted to be the person who was there with her.
When he flew into Jessica's room, his eyes latched on to a bizarre scene.

The room was a fantastical world, where a blizzard of gold-colored specks danced, almost as though gold leaf had been scattered inside a snow globe.
.........No, that's not it.
I've seen this spectacle before.
This isn't gold leaf.

......Countless gold butterflies, Beatrice's family!!
Jessica was surrounded by countless butterflies, and was waving her hands around, trying frantically to swat them.

"Milady!!!"
"K, Kanon-kun......, h, help...... ...*cough*cough*cough*cough*!!"

Kanon rushed towards Jessica, and violently brushed the group of butterflies away.

...The butterflies, which were both beautiful and filthy, surrounded Jessica's face, trying to crawl in through her mouth and nose.
Jessica gagged violently.

...Almost as though the butterflies were triggering her asthma attack, sneering at her.

But when Kanon ran towards Jessica as she choked, the butterflies stopped attacking her, and this time, they began to elegantly dance a rondo around the two.

".........Kanon-kun......, Kanon-kun........."
"...It's alright.  ............While there's still life in me, ......I won't let anyone lay a finger on you.  .........Come out, Beatrice!!  Are you satisfied with this!!"

As he guarded Jessica, who was in pain and using her inhaler, Kanon yelled into the empty air.
......When he did, the empty air definitely laughed back, satisfied.

...Then, she showed herself.
It wasn't in response to Kanon's demand.

It was obviously because appearing and sneering humiliated them even more, and was more fun!
"*cackle*cackle*cackle*hahahahaha!!  Now everything follows the plot.  Now you are carp on the chopping board.  No, since the two of you are together, should I call it duck with green onions?  Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!"

"Y, ......you, ......B, Beatrice...!!"
"Please, stand back.  ......I'll protect you, Milady...!"
"It's essential that when the princess and the knight are together, the witch appears.  ......Come now, won't you show me how much power Kinzo's furniture holds?"
She snapped her fingers and there was a piercing sound.
When she did, a blizzard of gold butterflies started up, and they began to form a small mountain as they whirled around in a circle.

...Just like how a cold, wintry wind swirls and creates a mountain of leaves.
From that mound of gold, a hand sprouted, ...and it appeared, ......as though a resident of the world below was crawling out.
"W, .........what is this......?  What's going on......?!"

Jessica couldn't comprehend what she was seeing right now, and her mouth kept flapping open and closed...
It was the bite of wisdom, which came from trying to understand something incomprehensible.
That thing crawling up, ......was probably an attendant serving the witch.
It appeared to be wearing a uniform following the pattern of those who serve.
......But its face was different.  It was, strange-looking...
......It was covered with pitch-black hair, ...breathed rotten breath, and its eyes were filled with the same strange subterranean glow as lava.

...And, .........as a symbol that is was not human, ...it had two horns...  It was the figure of a goat-faced attendant who served the witch......
".........................!!!"
Jessica could no longer decide what to say.

...All this happening in front of her couldn't be explained with common sense, and she couldn't do anything except open and close her mouth.
......Jessica hadn't noticed.
...This island had already been cut off from the rules of this world.

But even so, she could understand.
......This goat attendant was the witch's familiar, ......and it was after her life.
And it seemed that the witch had already ordered that.
And she faced Kanon with an expectant gaze.

......She faced him with a provocative gaze filled with expectation, as though asking him how he planned to protect this maiden!
The attendant had looked especially like a beast when it had been crawling up, but in its composure, you could see that it had more than enough dignity to be worthy of serving the Golden Witch.

......And you could tell that it was overflowing with the joy of furniture wanting to meet its master's expectations.

".........Why don't you show me?  Show me the power of Kinzo's furniture!  Don't mess up this time, alright?  ......Don't forget that you're furniture, alright?  If you continue acting like a human even now, this won't be settled by your death alone.  Kukikikikikikikikikikikikiki!"
The goat attendant made a gesture as though bowing silently.
Was that in response to its master, ...or was it offered to Kanon, who opposed it?

Then, on the attendant's hand, ......a blade of wicked malice appeared......

".........Wh, ............what is, .........that............"Jessica had been unable to understand what was happening before her eyes for a while now.

......All she understood, ......was that this thing was being waved around to threaten her own life.
And right now, that was enough.

Kanon spoke quietly to Jessica, who was hiding behind his back.

"......Milady.  ...Please stay back, against the wall.  ...Never let your back leave the wall."
"Wha......?!"
"......*cackle*cackle*cackle*!  The maiden should obediently hide behind the great knight's back.  Enjoy having a man protect your own life to the fullest.  ......So!  Kanon, try showing me your blade!!"
"........................"
"......Beautiful.  ...At least when it comes to giving birth to furniture, Kinzo might reach up to my feet."
"...Something like this, ......can't even be used to trim the roses."
"...............K, .........Kanon-kun... ...............what is, ........."
".........I didn't want..., to show you."

"So, you've taken it out.  .........How does it feel to have the fact that you are a subhuman being exposed in front of the girl you have feelings for?"
"..................Be silent."

"......Hmph.  ......So you act composed even though you're really burning with wrath?  ...I see, they say that truly hot flames burn a cool blue.  Is that how you are now?"
"There's no way I can kill you with my powers.  ......You are the moon.  There's no way I can smash the moon by throwing a rock.  ......However, in order to manifest yourself, you had to reflect your image on the surface of the water."
If you throw a rock at the surface of the water, you might be able to disturb the moon for some time.
...But that doesn't mean the moon has been smashed.
"So.  ......Until this life of mine is over, ......I'll keep on striking your reflection......!"

"I like it, Kanon!!  Begin, furniture!!"
"............Hoh.  ...............A beautiful locus."
Locus

A locus is basically a curved line or surface.

The witch's words of admiration broke the silence, and for just an instant, broke Jessica's paralysis.
"........................, A, ......am I, ......dreaming.........?"

"............Come, furniture of the witch.  .........I'll beat you down to the hell you came from."
"........................"
A strand of red remained on Kanon's cheek.
...The witch saw this and grinned broadly...
"*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*.  ......Is it alright to mutter excuses for how your senses don't return?"

"........................"
"K, ......Kanon-kun, ............stay strong...!"
".........It's alright.  .........I, ...won't die yet."
The locus drawn by the goat attendant's blade, ......drew a large arc in empty space.
...Kanon, wasn't there.

......He was behind it.

".........Go back and await your master's return.  ......Die."
If this battle of drawing sparkling loci was chess...
...Then Kanon coming from behind was check.

And press, and press, and press, and press.
Use seven moves, and make it mate...!
......Had the goat attendant even been given the ability to go into death throes?
......As its knees buckled and it fell over, it broke into a bunch of gold butterflies with a pop...
So there was no sound of it hitting the ground.
Even the person who couldn't understand this battle, ...definitely at least realized that Kanon had been magnificent.

"......Hmph.  So it couldn't win against a handmade object.  ...It seems that you aren't so pathetic."
"You're next, .........Beatriiiiiiiiiiiiiiice!!"
In the instant that Kanon's blade sliced diagonally through the witch's form like a knife through butter, she turned gold and burst.
......She scattered into several thousand gold butterflies, and for just an instant, the room was filled with the color of twilight.

...It was just as Kanon himself had said.
Even slicing Beatrice was just the same as slicing the surface of the water where the moon was reflected.
...The witch's form was there, with an ordinary expression on her face, as though she had been there the whole time, ...behind Kanon.
"Hahahahahahaha...!!  It was quite an interesting show.  I was going to overlook that, and let you get away, but now your rudeness has caused me to change my mind..."
"Don't lie!  I won't let you kill Milady!!  ......Even if that's impossible, ......I won't let you kill her before me!"

"You can't even do that much.  Do not speak, furniture.  Be silent, furniture.  Know your place, furniture!!"

"K, .........Kanon-kun isn't furniture...!"
"......Hoh.  ...Why can you say that?"

"I don't need a reason.  ......Kanon-kun is Kanon-kun.  No, his real name is different, ......but a name doesn't make him furniture!  Kanon-kun has his own way of living.  That's a very noble thing, and it's up to him to decide."

"......There's no such thing as not being able to have an opinion because he's furniture, or not being able to have his own life because he's furniture!!"

"Milady..., you mustn't provoke her."
"No, let me say this clearly.  .........Kanon-kun isn't furniture.  He's human.  ......Why?  Kanon-kun rushed to save me of his own will.  And he stood in the path of a fearsome witch, you.  Even though he had many chances to just let me go, he didn't."

".........Self-sacrifice is part of the noble spirit that only humans have!!  Therefore, Kanon-kun is human!!  So take it back!  Don't call Kanon-kun furniture again!!"
".........Mila...dy........."
"Hmph.  ......*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*.  ...Kuhahahahahahahahahahahahaha.  Wahahahahahahahaha!!"
"Don't speak, human!!  Let's end this quickly, after all, this is only the second twilight.  Now, I will offer up as sacrifices 'the two who are close', who accept each other's dignity."
"Well then, arise, forgive the sin, one of the seven stakes of Purgatory, lust!!!"

The witch summoned her own furniture with a mixture of laughter and anger on her face.

"......Asmodeus of Lust.  Right here."
"I've had enough of this farce.  Quickly, execute the second twilight.  ......Don't keep me waiting, alright?"
"......As you command."

"A, ......another weirdo's shown up......"
".....................Ku..."

It took Kanon less than an instant to understand.
......That goat-face from a second ago had been nothing more than a pawn to the witch.

However, there was a remarkable difference in the value of this piece, of this furniture that had been newly summoned.

"......How lucky must I be, to be granted such wonderful prey.  .........*giggle*giggle*giggle*, you scared?  How cuuute.  *giggle*giggle*giggle*giggle*!"
"..................Come, furniture of the witch...  I won't be killed by you...!"

"*giggle*giggle*!  You're acting pretty smart for a dunce who can't even chase me."

".....Here I go, alright?  ......Hey hey, where do you want it?  Where do you want me to pierce you?  Answer me, cute kid.  I'll go all out and pierce you wherever you want...!!  *giggle*giggle*giggle*giggle*, come on, answer me, cute kid...!"

"D, ...don't call me cute!!!"

"Kyahahahahaha!!  Here I go, you dunce!!  Come on, try to chase me, you blind idiot!!  Kya-hahahahahahahahahaha!!"
"............M, ......Milady........."
"Heh, .........I couldn't follow it with my eyes...  But my guess, was spot on.........  Serves you...right............"
Kanon's back had been the target.
...But Jessica had predicted it.

She had predicted that the witch's target would be the complete opposite of fair and honest, ...his back.
But she had no way to block it.
...She had no intention of sacrificing herself.  She thought that there was no way other than this to protect Kanon's back.
............So, she could do nothing but block it with her own back.
The furniture of the witch, which had changed its form into a demon's stake, was stuck deep into Jessica's back.
...It was an obviously fatal wound that reached as far as her lungs.
When she saw this, the witch let out a loud, evil laugh.

Because it had hit 'where the witch had predicted'.  ...Everything, everything, was as the witch had predicted!
"What's wrong Kanonnn...?  Hasn't 'Milady Jessica' been killed before you have??"
"Kukikikikiki, yes, yes, that's it, that's it, that face, that look on your face is what I wanted to see!!  Kikikikikikikikikikikikikikiki!!  How truly enjoyable!!  That's enough, die, die, make me laugh!!"
"Come, arise, forgive the sin, one of the seven stakes of Purgatory, wrath!!"

"......Satan of Wrath.  Right here."

"The prey is yours.  Eat him right now, close the curtain on his stage."

"......If you were a human, I'd say it's time for you to step down, but since you're furniture, maybe I should say it's time for the stage manager to carry you behind the stage!"
"...............I am not, ......furniture anymore.  I won't, ......doubt that again!"
"......*giggle*giggle*, wha-t are you talking about?  You wanna be killed by me again?"
"Your chest, ......it's so warm, and it feels so good to pierce it, okay...?  Come on, let me have another taste, alright...?  Won't you make me feel really good with that hot, hot, fresh blood in that warm chest of yours...?"
"...Kyahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!!"
There was no way to block it.

The sound of a woodpecker filled the entire room, ...and before he could blink, ......it was already right in the center of his chest...
When you take a piece in chess, according to the rules, it's impossible for your opponent's piece to defend.
So this was an obvious result, following the rules.
Kanon landed on his knees...
And, he apologized.

......Not to the witch.
...And not to 'Milady'.

.........He apologized, to Jessica.
"...I'm sorry..................I couldn't......protect you............"

".........Don't worry about it............You were really...cool......"
Kanon finally fell over.
......He landed next to Jessica, and the two lay there like the constellation Gemini.
"......You know, Kanon-kun, .........you aren't, furniture anymore..."
"...Yes...............I was, ......too late, ......in realizing that......"
"I wanted to ask you, ............what your real name was..."
"...My, ......real name is, ............, ......ah, .........aaaaaaaaah...ah..."
In his last moments, Kanon wanted to tell her his real name.
...But, ...Jessica had already fallen into a sleep from which she would never wake......

So, Kanon's real name, which he had protected until today............in the end, ...he couldn't, ......tell it to Jessica...
".........I..., ............became, .........hu...ma........."
Those were, ...the last words Kanon left behind.
"Wahahahahahahahahaha, kukikakakakakakakakakakakakakakakaka!!  Don't make me laugh, furniture!!  Even after a hundred years, furniture is furniture!  Have you ever heard of an idiot who'll dig a grave for furniture when they throw it away?  You smash furniture to pieces and make firewood, so all that's left is ashes!!"
"*cackle*cackle*cackle, that's how it is, no tombstone can be carved for furniture!  ......It seems you believe that when you die, you cannot receive any more humiliation, but that's naive, you see...?  I'll tell you what it really means to disgrace the dead.  *cackle*cackle*cackle*!!!"
After taking a puff from her pipe, the witch breathed the smoke at Kanon's corpse...
......When she did, Kanon's corpse softly floated up into the air, ...and disappeared as though it had been eaten by a mouth in empty space.
The witch played dirty until the very end.
......The corpses of the two who had been able to understand each other in the end, were not even permitted to be close to each other...
If someone had been watching, they would probably mourn that this was indeed a disgrace to the dead.

...However, Beatrice was much crueler...

......That would become, immediately apparent...

New Rule

Sun, Oct 5 1986 6:50AM
"............I see.  So it has begun."

"...Yes."
"........................"
Even though Kinzo had heard of the six deaths, his emotions did not waver.
The expression on his face as he gazed out the window, ......was a smile, as though his opponent in a chess game had just made a spectacular move.

...It was unimaginable that this expression could appear on a father who had lost many children at once.

"......Under Rosa-sama's orders, Gohda and Kanon are calling the police.  After that, she ordered us to follow your orders, Master.........What shall we do?"
"............This island has already been cut off from the real world.  Phones and the like will be useless."
"Should I have them stop?"

"......Until the roulette is finished, what they do to pass the time is up to them.  Let them do as they like."
"............Yes."
"...Umm.........is there anything I should tell Rosa-sama?"
"Didn't I say they should pass the time as they like?!!  They can sing if they want, dance if they want!  They're even free to hang themselves by the neck or jump into a boiling kettle!!  Until 13 people die, they can spend their time as they like.  If that's too boring, then they can wonder about whether 6x9=42, or something!!  That's the answer to the mystery of man and the universe!!"
The Japanese word used here can also mean a trace or a track, and is pronounced the same as 'miracle' (kiseki).
6x9=42

Reference to Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxv.

The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything.

"Y, yes...!  M, my apologies......!"
Shannon cowered in fright at this sudden rage.
...Genji made a gesture as though telling her not to say too much.

Shannon couldn't help but regret saying too much...

"However.  ...You are also free to do as you wish.  ......Genji.  And Shannon.  You have done well serving me until today."
"Y, ...your words are to good for me.........but, umm........."

"............We are furniture who have sworn to serve the Master.  ......No matter what the time, we will be waiting by your side.  ......Until the very end."
"........................I want to tell you, .........about everything.......Shannon.  I am writing a will.  Please copy what I say.  ...Please Genji, my usual drink."
"Huh...............y, ............yes......!"
Nanjo often recommended that Kinzo write a will because of his health, but each time, Kinzo had gone mad with rage.

......Since that time, you would think that 'will' would have been the word Kinzo took most exception at.

Because that word had come out of his own mouth, Shannon couldn't help doubting her ears for an instant.
Shannon hurriedly prepared the side table and some writing paper.
Genji also began preparing the usual green, evil drink, just as he was ordered...
"I am ready."
".........Hmm.  .........Where should I start from?  ...Should I also speak of my life?  ......It would be fun to leave a record of my memorable games.  .........It truly is fun to read the records of old games from over a century ago, ...a journey searching for those players thoughts.  .........So should the game record of my life also beckon those in the future to go on a journey searching for my thoughts?  ......Hmph."
For a while, Kinzo considered where he should start speaking from, strutting all over the room with his hands behind his back...
"Master.  .........Here."

"Hmm.  Thank you, my friend.  ............Well then.  If I am to speak of my life, I must begin writing from when I met that witch.  ...Shannon, copy this.  ......My meeting with Beatrice took place a long way back.  What year of the Showa era was it...?  ...I think, after the war......"
We took enough time to regain our calm, .........and we each swore to our parents that we'd definitely catch the culprit.
It would be a lie to say we weren't still bitter.

...Even now, if we gave in just a little, we'd feel like going on a rampage like Jessica, protesting with some kind of violence.
According to what Gohda-san said after he got back, right now, Kanon-kun was looking after Jessica.
...Apparently, she was still very emotionally high-strung.
"......I see.  Thank you.  ...Maybe a young kid would be better at understanding a young kid's feelings.  ......It would probably be better if we left them alone for now."

"Rosa-san.........There is nothing more I can accomplish by remaining here.  ......The phones may not be working, but tomorrow, the boat will come, and we should probably be able to reach the police.  We should leave this place as it is for the police's investigation."

"...I agree with Doctor Nanjo.  ......If you stay in a place like this for too long, it is bad for your health.  ......Let us return and make some black tea..."

".........That's right.  ...I agree with that.  ......Battler-kun, George-kun, are you ready...?  Let's close this place up.  We should also leave this place as it is for when the police come."

"You're right.  .........Battler-kun, ...are you alright...?"
"......Yeah.  ...I've cried all I can.  ......I'm fine now."
The police would surely find some evidence from a thorough investigation.
...But we hadn't been adult enough to wait for that.

...I had investigated the chapel in my own way, trying to grab the culprit before the police got here.
......And all I figured out, ...it was frustrating, but I got nothing.

......I hadn't been able to find a single hint.

"Come on, ......let's go out.  ...Maria, we're going.  ......Don't keep staring at it...!"
"......Uu-."
"Come, come, Maria-sama.  Let us return...  It is cold here."
"............Father, Mother.  ......Thank you for everything.  I will, definitely become a man who doesn't betray your expectations, Father..."

George spoke his last words of farewell to his parents.
......After seeing that, Battler imitated him.
"...Dad, Kyrie-san."

Just looking at their faces, ...it looked like they were sleeping, ......but it was too bitter......
".........At least you were allowed to rest in a cool place like this.  .........I'll definitely get who did this...  Definitely..."

"......What is, ......this?  It's a disgusting scribble...  Did the culprit draw it?"
"It is worse than vulgar............This is horrible..."

When the door to the chapel was closed, we learned about that creepy scribble for the first time.

"When we first found this, it was like this.  ...It was probably drawn by the culprit..."
"...The culprit was a witch, so this is a magic circle to summon a demon or something......?"

"Kihihihihihihihihihihi...  This is the seventh magic circle of the sun.  Don't you even know that...?  Kihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihi.  Ouch.""Hey!!  Don't I always tell you not to make that creepy laugh!!"

"Maria, go on.  ......What does it mean?"
"It's a magic circle to escape from physical or mental bonds.  ......And the part written around the circumference says, 'The Lord has freed me from my chains.  I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call on the name of the Lord', in Hebrew."

"......Sacrifice of thanksgiving...?  So killing Father and the rest was so that they could be sacrifices for this magic circle...?!"
"Calm yourself, George-kun...!  This is the culprit trying to provoke us.  ...It doesn't mean anything.  Just thinking about it poisons the heart."
"......And there's some English written.  ...'HAPPY HALLOWEEN FOR, ...MARIA'.  ......I see.  And the key to open this door was handed over to Maria, ...is that what this is?"
"...But this is the chapel.  Maybe Maria doesn't mean Maria-chan, but the Virgin Mary.  ......In that case, you could read this as a blasphemy against God, in the name of Halloween.  They say that witches who make contracts with demons swear to always defile God's name.  ......In that sense, this really is a witch-like crime."
"...You sure know a lot.  ......Did you hear that from Maria?"
"......Yeah, something like that."
"So, the chapel.  ......They went to all the trouble of calling them out to the chapel and killing them...............Rosa oba-san, does this chapel have some special meaning...?"
"What do you mean, ......special meaning?"
"Well, umm, ............they carried six human corpses all the way over here, and made these elaborate decorations.  ...We can't tell whether she called the six of them over here before killing them, or whether she killed them before carrying them over here, ...but either way, it would take a lot of effort......  Why did the culprit

want six people to die here・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・......?"
"......That is true.  In doing something that elaborate, there would be an extremely high chance that when the police came, some disadvantageous evidence would be found.  ......There is no way the culprit failed to notice that.  ...Then, why did the culprit go to all the effort of doing this, is the question we face..."

"In that case, there's one question that comes out of this place.  ......What meaning did this place, where we found the six corpses, have?"

"......This chapel, ...was important to Father.  ......Since I was a kid, I was strictly told not to enter it."
"Uu-.  ...Maria also came here once, got in lots of trouble...  Uu-..."
"An important chapel...?  ......Does it have some relationship to the Ushiromiya head family...?"
"I don't know.  ......Father viewed this chapel as very sacred, and he treasured it so much that he had it redecorated several times.  ...But as everyone knows, Father wasn't a devout believer, so much so that he loved black magic.  ......I've never heard of him coming here to offer his prayers to God."
"......As far as I know, the Master has never come here.  We even call this the 'forbidden chapel', ...umm, I thought it was eerie, like a haunted house."
"Even if Father never approached it himself, for some reason, he made the servants clean it several times a year.  It felt like he kept it clean all the time so that it could be used at any time."

"And even so, it's called the 'forbidden chapel'.........Ihihi!  It may be indiscreet, but doesn't it have an interesting ring to it?  Doctor Nanjo, you're an old friend of Grandfather's, right?  Have you heard anything about that?"
"............I have heard about it long ago, but I forgot what he said to evade the issue.  ......That's right, didn't he say something like.........someday, he too might be able to receive a blessing there.  But unless a miracle occurred, that day would never come."

"What does that mean?  .........What would he do in the chapel?  He couldn't mean his own funeral, right?"
"I wouldn't believe that of Kinzo-san.  ...He was a man much more focused on the living now rather than things after death.  .........However, it does seems that this was the root of all the complexity in the inheritance problem."

"Then what would he do in the chapel?  .........Pray?  Aren't confessions done in the chapel?  ...............Anyways, it sounds suspicious."

"......I don't know why, ......but just as Doctor Nanjo said, in Grandfather's eyes, ......it seems that since this chapel was constructed, it was decided by fate that he wouldn't receive a blessing unless a miracle occurred."

"How do you know that...?"
"See, ...it's clearly written over there.  ......Look, over there."
George-aniki pointed to a relief with rusted gold letters on the arch above the door.

It looked like some message had been written there in English.
...The rust showed that the message had been written there since construction.
".........My English sucks.  ......What is it...?  ......'This door is, opened, only at, probability of'??  Sorry, my English sucks."

I gave up after I was unable to finish reading the first of the two lines.
...It looked like the others could read it properly.

"...Umm, I think it went 'm', 'b', 't', 'q', so, ...umm, umm...how many did that mean, I think...umm...umm, ..................Anyways, this is incredible.  You can't even count close to that with all the fingers on both hands.  It really would be impossible unless a miracle occurred."
"......Certainly.  He wanted to give a spectacular gambling-style example, very much like how Kinzo-san used to talk."

"What is it, what is it, can everyone read it?  Someone tell me what it means too."
"Kihihihihihihi.  ...At least learn English.  How did you get into high school without even being able to read this much?  Kihihihihihihihihihi, ouch.  Ouchouchouch."

"Mind your own business.  So, what's written there?"

"...It means something like this.  'This door is opened only when a miracle occurs.  You will be blessed only when a miracle occurs'."

"......Grandfather's magic is based on astronomically low probabilities.  ...In other words, the miracle that would open this door, ......would probably require an incredibly vast magical power.  ......Kihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihi.  Ouch."

"Ni-ce job, you can shut up now.  Rosa-san, will you let me take Maria with me to English class?  Looks like it's useless to try and learn English unless you start when you're young after all."
".........The forbidden chapel.  ......Whether or not the witch Beatrice really was a witch, it is whispered that she actually existed several decades ago, ......and was Grandfather's mistress."

"This is, umm, just my imagination, but.........perhaps the Master really did truly love Beatrice-sama.  However, he was already married, so they couldn't be united."

"...I see.  .........If Beatrice was dead, and could be revived with the magic of a miracle, now that Grandmother is dead, he could marry her with his head held high.  And if they married in this chapel, .........could it be a fairy-tale story like that?"
"......I don't think that story is so preposterous.  ...It is a well known fact that Father still loves Beatrice deeply.  ......Also, even though I said it was creepy, I get the feeling that the interior of the chapel used to be quite magnificent.  .........The thought that Father built this chapel in the hopes of having a wedding with his dead mistress, actually might not be that unlikely."
"...By the time he built this chapel, Grandfather probably knew that he would never use it as a church as long as he lived.  ......But, he prayed for the witch to be revived by some miracle.  And he thought that if that miracle occurred, they could be married here..."
"......I see.  ...If you think of it that way, this would be a place of utmost significance to Beatrice-sama as well...  And he knew it was a chapel never to be opened.  ......A story of sad love."
Even though Gohda-san's body was even bigger than mine, his words were touching.

...Everyone was silent, but it seemed that they agreed with that view.
"Even though he knew it was a chapel not to be opened, ......he still probably dreamed of the day that a miracle would occur.  .........Kinzo-san was very romantic in his younger days.  I feel as though I understand him."

"Ihihi.  I wonder.  ......But you all came in four times a year to clean it, right?  What do you mean, forbidden?  Didn't we just go in ourselves?  That wasn't a miracle or anything.  We brought the key, clunk, and we're in.  That's all that happened, this is ridiculous."

"...............Huh?  ............Wha?!  ...............So, .........what does that mean?"
"Wh, what are you talking about...?"

I'd thought I had just been messing around because I hadn't liked the atmosphere of that story.
......But then Rosa oba-san suddenly jumped on me, with a really serious face.

Rosa oba-san's face grew increasingly pale.
...She looked at the magic circle on the door, then at her hand, back and forth, back and forth.

"Wh, ......what has happened, Rosa-sama...?"
"Hey, Gohda-san!  The key to this chapel!  Didn't Genji-san say it?


He said there was only one・・・・・・・・・・・・!"
"...............Huh?  ............"
"...Kihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihi.  ...It took everyone too long to figure it out.  Kihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihi..."
...When a kid pulls a prank, it sometimes goes unnoticed by the adults, and the kid who did it loses heart.

......If one of those pranks catches someone later on, it makes that kid really happy.
......Maria's celebration just now looked a lot like that...
"...Y, ......yeah, yes.  There was only one of those keys.  It's the key to the Master's treasured chapel, so there is only one, with no duplicates.  ...It is normally kept safe in the key box in the servants' room, but..."

"That's right.  And Genji-san said that it had gone missing.  ......So someone stole it, ......put it in that envelope and handed it to Maria?!  And yesterday!"
"............What the...?  So in other words, .........isn't that strange?"
"...That's absurd.  .........This story is getting strange."

"Wh, what could this be...?  I don't have a clue what you're talking about..."
"Me too.  ......Would you explain it for us...?"

...Gohda and Nanjo's failure to understand definitely wasn't because they were stupid.
......They didn't know.

...They didn't know how long the only key to the chapel had been in Maria's hand.
"There's no mistake!  It was closed!!  I opened it!!  Definitely!!"

Rosa oba-san kept closing the door, locking it, pulling on it to check the lock, and opening it again.

Her face was becoming pale again...
"Until I took the key out of Maria's envelope and opened this door, it was definitely locked!!  But this key was in the envelope and in Maria's care, right?!  And that happened yesterday before noon?!?!"

".........What did you say........."
"Isn't that, ......strange......?!"
"It is.  .........Maria received a unique key from a woman calling herself a witch midday yesterday.  In other words, from midday yesterday until this morning, when Rosa-san unlocked the door, this chapel was a closed room."
".........How did they get those six people in here, and then how did they kill them?!"
We had been confused by the deaths of six people.
We'd thought that we had figured something out after seeing that weird magic circle and hearing the history of the chapel.

......That had all been a worthless problem!
From midday yesterday until this morning, this chapel was a closed room.

But our parents had been with us until last night.

How had the culprit opened this door?!
And how had they closed it?!
"......What are you trying to pull.  ...Again?  A closed room again?!  Are you trying to say that you unlocked it with the power of magic?!!  I'm not that stupid!!"

"If you tell me to show you how I open locks with my power, then I can show you.  ......But that will not make you surrender."

"This 'explanation with humans' you talk about!  The time that theory is exhausted will be the time of my victory!!  Come now, how will you destroy it?  If it was a human, what trick could they have used to defeat it, hmm~?"

"It's just like the closed rooms last time.  ...Not enough information!!  It's impossible to reason like this!  Any excuse could be made, any trick could work!!  Guessing is useless!"

"Ha!  That again?  There's no proof so you'll wait and see?  The information is uncertain so it's impossible to reason...?  Ha, this is always the excuse you humans use when you stop thinking.  What is this pretense, you lowly human?!"

"Are you saying that unless you're like Laplace's demon, you can't even think, you incompetent fool?!!  ......And you speak as though a lack of information is disadvantageous to you, when it's actually the complete opposite, you see?"

"The more information you're given, the more it will pain you!  It will only cause the strength of the compressor squeezing you to increase!  *cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*!!"
"Oh, in that case, let me say this.  It's impossible to verify that this is a closed room in the first place!!  If we're talking about demons, let me say this."
"......It's possible to prove that this isn't a closed room.  Just showing that someone can go in or out like this is enough!"
"But it is impossible to prove that this is a closed room!!  You can't deny the endless set of methods of getting in.  In other words, this is one of those Devil's Proofs!!  This definition of a closed room really is impossible to prove!!"
"So, after you stop thinking with a lack of information as an excuse, this is what comes next.  ......Oh well.  If that is your move, then I will accept it.  Continue."

"First off, it looks like you're trying to say that the chapel is a closed room.  ...Just a short while ago, I really did spend some time looking around in there, and I couldn't find any way in or out except for the door.

......But that's

just because I couldn't find it・・・・・・・・・・・・・, it doesn't prove that it wasn't a closed room!!"

"If there was a 'hidden door' or something that I wasn't able to find, your premise is completely blown away!!  In other words, whether I was able to find a hidden door or not, you can never deny that there was some method X by which the closed room could be entered!"

"And this method X could be carried out without magic.  After all, it's a 'hidden door'!  I'm sure that in this chapel, there's some hidden door that's impossible to find.  So there's no reason for me to guess, because magic is impossible!!"
".........Hohoh, so you use that reasoning.  *cackle*cackle*, how naive.  An expected move.  Let me make my move in response.  ......I always thought the idea of 'closed rooms' in worthless human detective novels was ridiculous."
"Why?  Because they're used the wrong way.  ......When a closed room appears in a detective novel, do you really think that is a closed room?  You don't, do you?!

What trick did they use to make this look・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・

like a closed room・・・・・・・・・!  That's what you think.
In other words, there hasn't been a completed one in the century's worth of closed room murders which humans have piled up!!"
"Oooh!!  Don't say that, mystery fans are pretty scary!  Christie is probably grinding her teeth in her grave!"

"Fu!!  But I am different.  I have given birth to a true closed room!  And I can demonstrate that.  Why?  Because I am a witch!!"

"For the Devil's Proof, all you had to do was bring someone a demon to prove it, right?  Well that's convenient, as a witch, demons are my good friends, I'll bring as many as you like!!"

"Sounds great!!  'Dad and the rest used a hidden door to enter the chapel, or were carried in through it'!  How do you plan to beat this move?!"

"With this.  Regardless of whether they were living or dead, 'the six people definitely entered through the door'!!"
"Huh?!?!  Dumbass!!  The door was locked, how'd they do it?!!"

"I opened it with magic, and invited them inside!!"
"That can't be true!!  Since I can't accept magic, there's no way I'll accept that!!  You're lying!!  That door can open with some trick.  Or maybe there's a hidden door, but I won't accept any other way!!"

"......Perpetual!!  That's what we call an endless repetition of moves in chess.  It's the same endless repetition as a discussion that won't advance because both sides deny the basis of each other's claims, like our game.  ......In most games, this would be decided as a draw, but that would terribly dampen the interest of this game!!  We will have no draws.  You will either accept and submit to me, or deny me!!"

"At least I agree with you there!!  We'll settle this without fail, just as you wish!!"

"*cackle*cackle*!  That disposition is good!  .........So I had a thought.  I think I'll add a new rule to this game between you and me."
"A new rule?!  ...I'll bet it's a rule that'll give you an advantage, right?!"

"Of course not.  I will give to all of you that which you couldn't stop demanding.  The reason that you incompetent fools always stop thinking in grief is a 'lack of information'!  And if I then give you information about that, next you start doubting whether the information is true or not, 'denying the basis'!"

"Isn't that convenient?  That really is a clever little phrase to shelve your incompetence.  I shall eliminate that convenient excuse.  You should thank me, *cackle*!"

"You said they entered through the door, and I said that couldn't happen.  ......Are you saying that's an evasive answer?"

"That's right.  So from now on, when I speak the truth, I will use red."

"Wh, what is this......?!  Keep explaining!"

"No matter what magic move I use, you can always keep running away by repeating 'lack of information' and 'denying the basis."

"...Even though I would still win in the end that way, it would be extremely boring.  ......Because of that, I think I'll give you that 'information' and 'basis' that you want."

"However, you'll probably doubt each word I say.  That isn't bad in itself.  I also will use every possible move to make you submit.  I don't dislike our posture of searching out the best moves for ourselves."

"......But that won't make a game.  So I set up this rule."

"Everything I speak in red is the truth!  There's absolutely no need to doubt it!"

"Are you telling me to believe that...?!"
"This is a game between you and me.  In a game, the rules are sacred!!  Those who take that lightly are not qualified to play!!"

"Alright, I got it, I'll accept that rule!!  Even an elementary school kid can get into an endless argument and find fault with everything.  Then let's restart right now, and continue where we left off.  I'll repeat it again.  'Dad and the rest used a hidden door to enter the chapel, or were carried in through it'!"

"Then I shall repeat what I said.  'Regardless of whether they were living or dead, the six people definitely entered through the door'!"
".........I, is there any proof?!"
"Stop!!  I will supplement the rule."
"......When I speak the truth, I will use red,

When I do, I do not bear the responsibility・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・

of establishing that by showing proof・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・!  It is simply a fact and the truth!!"
"The reason is simple.  I carried out all of the crimes with magic.  So for any impossible crime, all I have to do is wave my magic staff before your eyes."
"But that wouldn't make a game!  It would be like the barbarism of ignoring victory and defeat in a chess game and punching your opponent!"
"W, ......well, that is true.  ...If you were a witch,

There'd be no need for you to show proof・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・.  ......Because you could do anything with magic, it'd be pretty horrible...  What an unfair game...!"

"So shall we resume once more?  Six people definitely entered through the door.  I unlocked it with magic.  ......How will you defeat this magic, this closed room?!"

"......Th, the key!  Genji-san and the others said there was only one key, but that's impossible to prove!  The culprit secretly made a duplicate key...!"

"*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle!  Only one key to the chapel exists!"

"Arg...... Th, then what about this.  The culprit made something other than a legitimate key and opened it!  I don't know what, but maybe a wire!  A tool for picking locks!!"

"What is this naive move?  It is impossible to unlock the lock to the chapel without the chapel's key!!  Although it can be opened with the power of magic, right...?"

"Then what about this!!  There's something wrong with the door itself!  Even while it is locked, there was some way to pass through it...!  As to what that is, I can think of a few ways!  Maybe like on the big doors to a castle which have a smaller door on them, there was another door here!  It's also possible that they removed the hinges, and then removed the whole door before entering!!"

"Wahahahahahahahahahaha!  Is this the intelligence of a hundred years of humanity, Battleeeeeeer?!  When the door to the chapel is locked, it prevents any and all methods of entry or exit!!  As long as you can't use magic, right...?  *cackle*!  Is it about time for checkmate?!"

"Not even close!!  You said that the six people entered through a door, but you didn't say it was the front door!  They might have entered through another secret door!!"

"You talk too much, you incompetent fool.  Then let me advance more on my earlier move.  The six people definitely entered through 'this front door'!!"

"That's screwed up!!  The door was locked, it was impossible to unlock without using that single key, and yet six people entered through this door?!?!  How did they do it?!!  Magic, you say?!  Damn it, damn it damn it damn it damn it damn it!!!"

"Wahahahahahahaaah!!  Have we already exposed a human's limits?"

"Then shout that you resign!!  When someone gives up and shouts that, it is customary for the king to be defeated.  Come on, do you give up?!  Then proclaim your submission, and kneel so that your king is defeated!!  And then you should kiss my shoes!  There's no greater joy than forcing a man like you to lick my shoes, *cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*kakakakakakakakakakaka!!"
.........Damn iiiiiiiiit...
It's useless, useless, useless...
So I can't win against the witch...?!

This isn't chess at all, I've just been made to take the losing side in a chess problem...!  Is quibbling about details and getting a draw the best I can do...?
"That definitely won't happen...!  Will I surrender, or will you?!!  There will be no resolution other than those!!  What happened to that bravery when you said this would be torture for us both?!"
"Oioioioi, what a let down, isn't that disappointiiiiiiing?  Ushiromiya Battleeeeeeeeeeer...????"
Damn iiiiiiiiiiiit, what should I do, what should I do?!!  I can see it, I can see the place where I'll face checkmate...!!

Aaaaaaaaah, it's useless it's useless, all of my hard fought moves are nothing more than desperately moving my king, running away from check.
......No matter how many times I move, I can't escape from check.  So even without waiting for the next several moves, I can see mate in my future!!  Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhh, damn iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit.........!!
.........After a few more moves, ......I can see where I'll face, ......checkmate......?

........................
......Don't give up, Ushiromiya Battler.
If I can see myself getting closed in upon...
......Then if I turn the chessboard over......, I can anticipate the next move, right...?

Kyrie-san told me...
When considering something, the closer you get to the very, very end, ......the easier it becomes to anticipate.
Turn it over.
......Turn over, the chessboard...!!

"................................."
"......What happened?  You grew silent all of a sudden.  Don't worry.  Surrender is but a momentary shame.  All that's left is the joy of giving in...  ......*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*!!  Come on, cry out in resignation.  .........Can you hear me?  Say it clearly in a loud voice."

"............No more sleep-talking.  You just aren't listening.  ...So I'll say it once more.  ......I won't resign.  ......Continue.  Resume the game."

"............Hoh.  Very well.  It is your turn, after all.  ...*cackle*cackle*"

"I was making the mistake of thinking that this rule you made was your own weapon.  ......However, I've realized that it can also become a weapon for me.  ............It all comes down to this."
"Try it."

"I've spent the whole time focused on how they entered the closed room of the chapel............That way of thinking was useless.  ......Aaah, it's useless, it's all useless.  ......Turn the chessboard over."

".........That's right.  The direction of my thinking was backwards.  ......This is how I should think. ............How was the chapel, which wasn't a closed room in the first place, made to look like a closed room?"

"Here it is.  ......The thinking technique that humans have given birth to after a century.  Give it a try, *cackle*cackle*!!"

"...Say this in red for me.  If it's impossible, then refuse.  ...Here I go."


......This man, ......does he plan to turn away from his defensive posture?
Impudent...

"I understand that the only way to enter the chapel is through the door, and that there was only one key.  .........But wait.  ...Was that key really handed over to Maria yesterday before noon?"
".........That's quite long.  Summarize it."

"It's something like this.  ...We've been under the impression that since midday yesterday, the key was unusable.  Therefore, we've been under the impression that this was a closed room from midday yesterday until this morning!"

"I want you to clearly state that this isn't just an impression, but a fact."
"Interesting.  ......So you reason not about the door, but the key."

"Yesterday, Maria received an envelope from you.  Maria didn't open it, but she might have felt it and known there was key inside.  ......But there's no way she could be sure it was definitely the key to the chapel."

".........So this is what it means.  ......There was a fake inside the envelope that was handed to Maria."

"...If you think about what you're saying, it's ridiculous.  This morning, Rosa definitely took an envelope out of Maria's handbag, and thereby obtained the genuine key to the chapel.  ...It wasn't a fake, as you say."

"Heheh...  I know that much.  I'll continue.  ......So, when Maria received the envelope, inside it, was there definitely that same key to the chapel?"

"..............................Hoh."

"In other words, it's something like this.  ......Midday yesterday, you gave Maria an envelope with a key inside.  And you told her that she must not open it.  .........Maria probably realized that there was a key inside."

"And because later on, Rosa oba-san used what was inside the envelope to open the door to the chapel,

we thought that was the key to the chapel・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・.

This is the suspicious part!"

"...............So is this what you are trying to say?  That when I entrusted Maria with a key, that key was a fake?  And then, by the time Rosa obtained it, it had been switched with the real thing...?"
"Yeah, that's it.  ......What's wrong, Beatrice-sama?  Looks like you haven't been feeling good for a while...?"

"......Those close to me also call me Beato.  Beato is fine."
"It's your turn, Beato.

Turn of the golden witch!  ......Show me how you defeat that."

"............Very well.  ...The key to the chapel truly was the object inside the envelope I gave Maria."

"I'll chase you.  ......Can you repeat it in red?  ......'That envelope was completely under Maria's supervision until Rosa oba-san opened it'."

"........................"

"...If it's impossible, then state that you refuse.  Check."
"............Ku, ...............I refuse."

"Now I've turned it over with just one move.  ...Now it's time for your king to run, Beato."

"......Fu, I have a reason for refusing.  That is regarding the definition of the phrase 'under her supervision'.  ...In its purest meaning, Maria would need to have her eyes on it around the clock."

"...But Maria didn't go that far.  It was probably completely under her supervision during the time she had it outside of her handbag, but after she put it into her handbag, it disappeared from her field of vision.  It's just that the phrase 'under her supervision' is inappropriate in that sense, so I couldn't use red.  ........................ku..."

"......That was probably a painful move.  Your face tells me that you've guessed the next one.  ...............Sorry.  I'm gentle with women.  I don't hurt women.

I don't betray a woman's expectations・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・.  .........Repeat it for me in red, if you can say it, try saying it.  'No one was able to touch Maria's handbag until Rosa oba-san took out the envelope'."

"..................I will also, ......refuse this.  ...I won't explain the reason."

"That's wrong.  ......It's not that you won't explain, it's that you can't explain it.  .........With this move, have we reached checkmate...?"
"........................Ku..."
"If you can't do it, then I'll explain.  .........The key to the chapel really was in the envelope that you handed to Maria.  ...Then Maria put it in her handbag, and the next morning, Rosa oba-san took it out and opened the lock."
"............However!  Maria didn't have the handbag under her complete supervision!  There's no need for magic.  It's a closed room trick that's possible for a human!"
"The human culprit handed Maria the key, and by making Rosa oba-san use it the next morning, they created the illusion that there was a closed room during that time."
"You can't deny the possibility that during that time, the culprit took the key from Maria's handbag, used it, and returned it by morning!!"
"Can you say it in red?!  Repeat it, if you can say it, then say it!!  It's check again!!!"
"N, ......not yet.  I remove the check......The envelope with the key in it should have been sealed with wax...!  Rosa took it from an unopened envelope..."

"Really, then try saying it!!  Repeat it!!  'The envelope handed over midday yesterday and the envelope that Rosa oba-san opened are the same thing'."
"Th, that I can repeat.  The letter that I handed over to Maria and the one Rosa opened are the same thing!!"

"......Haah...!  ...Aaaaah, it's useless, it's all useless.  That probably doesn't matter anymore.  ...I expected that.  ......I thought that if you had resigned here, you might be pretty good at reading between the lines.  ......So I'm disappointed.

.........You've betrayed my expectations・・・・・・・・・・・・・・."

"Wh, ............wha, ......aat.........!!"

"It isn't important whether the envelopes are the same thing.  ......Because envelopes can be sealed with wax over and over!  The key inside should be the important thing."

"...Ku, ..................kuuuuuuu........."

"This time, it's all over, Golden Witch.  It's a real checkmate.  ......I'll ask one more time, repeat it!!  If you can say it, try saying it!"
"'The key to the chapel inside the envelope Maria received wasn't used even once until Rosa oba-san opened the envelope'!!"
"..............., ............Ku, ............how, ............!  How........., c, ......could I........., to a lowly human.........!!"

"I'll keep on saying it, Beatrice!!!  Repeat it!!  'The key to the chapel inside the envelope Maria received wasn't used even once until Rosa oba-san opened the envelope'!!"
"......ooh, ku, ......ooooooooooooooooooooooooooohhh!!!"
"If you're gonna yell, then say it, you resign!  It's decided!!  This is the truth."
"Before Rosa oba-san obtained Maria's key this morning, at one point, it passed to someone else's hands."
"Then they used it, resealed it, and returned it to Maria's handbag, making it look like it hadn't been used!"
"This is a trick with a cheap loophole, the assumption that the key wasn't used because the sealing wax wasn't opened!!"
"Checkmate!!  There's no magic, it's nothing more than a trick that's possible for humans!!"
"I, in that case..., who do you say stole the key?!  Try answering!  This time, you try repeating it...!!"

"That's right, I'm making you repeat things all the time.  I probably have to answer every once in a while......


"But I refuse・・・・・・!!  My condition for victory is denying a witch's existence.  I'll prove that this impossible crime with your magic is possible by human hands!!"

"I've smashed your closed room with something possible even for humans.  However, I won't specifically investigate who the culprit is."

"Because I believe humans!!  Because I definitely won't accept that there's a person among us who would steal the key from Maria, use it, and do something so horrible!!"

"Fu, fufufufufufuhahahahahahahaha!!!  I give up, I resign!  Just once, for this board, I'll give up.  ...But, you really are naive, Battler."

"Parting remarks are a loser's privilege.  Say as many as you want."

"......Ku...!  Since you continue to deny my existence, you will eventually be cornered..."

"After all, since you deny me, you will have to suspect those relatives that you can't stop loving...!  In the last moment, when you have to suspect one who is beloved to you, then you will definitely accept my existence...!!"

"*cackle*cackle*, certainly, you have taken only this board.  ......However, that naive logic will definitely destroy you... ......You can't win against me after all!!  Ushiromiya Battleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeer!!"

A Suspect

Sun, Oct 5 1986 7:30AM
...Rosa and the rest returned from the chapel to the parlor in the mansion.
So many things had happened since early in the morning.
Of course they were high-strung...
Battler and George, who had cried, raged, and let their emotions explode after seeing their parents' tragic bodies, returned to the parlor and sat in the sofas, dazed, as though everything up until then had been a lie...
Only Maria was completely unchanged, and looked just like normal.
......When she wasn't playing pranks, she was basically a kid who played wordlessly by herself, so even if she was dazed, she would probably look as she did.
...But as she turned on the TV and flipped through the channels, it looked as though nothing about her had changed from normal.
Did Rosa think anything in particular about this attitude, which was clearly different from normal people?
......She stared at Maria's back with a gaze that wasn't quite pleasant.
Eventually, Kumasawa came to say good morning.
...Her cheerful manner was clearly out of place, and she couldn't help but be bewildered at the strange atmosphere in the room.
......Then, she heard the details from Gohda, and was really noisy and shocked.

"O o o, of course you've contacted the police, right...?!  What should we do in a time like this, oooh, what should we do...?!"
".........Please calm down and listen.  ...It seems that a machine was somehow done in by lightning last night.  Because of that, we haven't been able to use the phones..."

"Eeeehhh!!  Th, then, until the typhoon passes, we can't even contact the police?!"
Maybe Kumasawa's exaggerated surprise was a little comical.
Even in this kind of situation, Rosa giggled.

......Because of that, the fog of confusion that had covered her head cleared up a little.
".........I've got to stay strong.  ......It's not just Maria.  I'm acting as a parent for George-kun and Battler-kun too, so I have to stay strong......"
Rosa had been the youngest sibling, with a large difference in age between her and the others.
So she was always treated as a child.
Every time she learned something new, it was something obvious to her brothers and sister, and she had grown a complex, thinking that she must be incompetent.

So she had formed a passive attitude, asking her brothers and sister for advice every time something happened...
.........But she no longer had any brothers or sisters.
Now, Rosa was the only one of the four Ushiromiya siblings left.

...Furthermore, if Kinzo continued to shut himself away even in this extraordinary situation, ......Rosa had to surpass this crisis as the representative of the head.
"............I'm not a child anymore, not a child.  ....................."
...Rosa slapped her knees lightly and stood up.

She must not wait for orders now.
...She had to start moving herself.
She picked up the receiver to the extension phone on the side table.
......Then she immediately remembered that the phones were down.

Genji and Shannon, who she had sent to see Kinzo, hadn't returned yet.
...She had a general guess.
He was probably yelling about something nonsensical again, unable to control himself.

...His important chapel had been defiled with blood.
That was easy to imagine.
She had planned on using the extension phone to call the study, but unfortunately, the phones were broken.
Rosa decided to go to the study directly, with her own two feet.
Her old self would be so frightened that she wouldn't have been able go to see Kinzo.
...If she actually met him, she would probably be blamed for something and abused.

But now wasn't a time to be frightened.
.........As his true daughter, she had to make him aware of the current situation.
"......Kumasawa-san, I'm going to see Father.  ...Take special care of George-kun and Battler-kun.  ......I believe they are surely on edge right now."

"Yes, yes...  That may be true......It is truly pitiable....  I shall make them something warm to drink."
"Thank you."
Rosa went out into the hallway, and headed towards Kinzo's study.

The atmosphere in this mansion, which she had spent her younger days in and should have been full of memories, seemed somehow different...
Then she began to climb the stairs in the entrance hall...

......Just then.
In the thin darkness down the stairs behind Rosa's back, ...something glowed.
It was a single fluttering gold butterfly.
...It fluttered around and sparkled.
That butterfly quietly danced without a sound.

......Obviously.
No one can hear the sound of a butterfly's wings beating.

.........And then, ......it stopped on Rosa's back as she slowly climbed the stairs.
Rosa didn't notice.
And even if someone who didn't know saw it, they probably wouldn't have seen anything but a single sheet of gold leaf in the shape of a butterfly which had been stuck there.

Without noticing, Rosa continued heading to Kinzo's study......
".........So, how will you entertain me with this next one?  ...There are still many, many pieces left.  ...*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*...!"
In the parlor, which had returned to silence, the only sound was that of the TV, which Maria was watching alone.

If there was anything audible other than that, it was the sound of the rain which had continued on and on since last night.
Every one of those who had viewed that unearthly and horrible scene stayed silent, as though praying that the events of this morning were all a dream.
Because Kumasawa alone hadn't seen that, she acted slightly differently.

...She thought that this silence was more difficult to bear, and went around trying to encourage everyone.
...However, it seemed that she was planning to be of some use, even though she had to be careful what she talked to them about...
Normally it would be time for breakfast.
......However, maybe it was because something like that had happened, but Gohda seemed to have forgotten to prepare a meal.

...No, maybe everyone was so beaten up that they had forgotten their hunger.
Kumasawa wanted to bring up the subject of what they would do for breakfast, but it didn't seem like the right atmosphere, so she really couldn't.

But it was difficult being hungry.
...So, she casually made a proposal.

"...It seems that everyone is tired after all that has happened.  ......In times like this, I think the best thing is to heat yourself with some warm black tea."
"......Hmm, that is a good plan.  I agree as well."

"Hoh-hoh-ho.  How about some delicious black tea with biscuits and jam?  Yes, yes, it seems that it is near Halloween, and there are some delicious-looking pumpkin-shaped cookies on the shelf..."
"......Ah, Kumasawa-san, that's........."
Of course, she had said the wrong thing.
...Because she had reminded Battler and the rest about that horrible and tragic Halloween party in the chapel...

Nanjo hurriedly whispered into Kumasawa's ear.

"........................"
"......Battler-san, I am truly sorry!  ...I didn't mean anything bad, yes..."
"No, don't worry about it.  .........I'll definitely turn this boiling anger back on the culprit."

".........I wonder if that culprit is still on the island."
"Probably.  At least, until the typhoon passes, no boat will come."
"Y, ...yes, that is true!  Because the boats don't come even if there is a little wind.  They certainly wouldn't come during a typhoon, yes!"

"......It creeps me out."
"You think so too, Aniki?  Me too.  .........Whether the culprit was that mystery guest or not."
"That's right.  ......We've just naturally suspected the mysterious guest who calls herself Beatrice, but we still cannot be sure that she is the culprit.
...There is still the possibility she's a

victim whose body still hasn't been found・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・."

"......When I think of it that way, there's something I just can't understand."
"What......, do you mean by that......?"

"It's simple.  It's just like Kumasawa baa-chan said a short while ago.  Right now, this island is right in the midst of the typhoon, and escape is impossible.  The same thing goes for the culprit.  .........In that case, having the crime come to light should have been the thing that the culprit most wanted to avoid."

"......That's right.  ...There was no need to draw that creepy magic circle on the entrance to the chapel, and show off the fact that the corpses were there."

"Right, that's what it means.  Furthermore, if they were able to take the time and effort to do something so horrible to those six people, it should have been possible for them to hide the six corpses where they would be impossible to find."
"I agree.  That brutal Halloween party probably wasn't directed at those who died.  ......It was directed at the people who would eventually discover it, us.  You could probably claim that the magic circle was there to show it to us."
"...The culprit knew that they wouldn't be able to run away from this island for a while.  ......And yet, they acted as though they wanted to make us find the corpses in the middle of this typhoon.  ......What, does this mean?  ...If I was the culprit, I definitely wouldn't play around and make us find the corpses."
"............Beatrice-sama was not in her room.  ...The room did not seem particularly disturbed.  ......Ah, no, Milady did disturb it quite a lot though..."

"...Come to think of it, what happened to Jessica?"
"Kanon-san is looking after her.  ...They are probably in Milady's room."
"............That isn't good.  ...The culprit is definitely still on the island.  ......In this situation, I don't believe it's a very good idea to isolate ourselves in small numbers."

"Wh, what do you mean by that...?  Y, y, you don't mean to say that the culprit plans to kill all of us...?!  Awawawawawawawawa..."
"Let us remain calm...  That is not yet certain..."

"But even if it's stressful, we can't deny that the possibility exists.  Ihihi.  ......This letter was in the chapel.  According to this, the culprit is the witch, and if we don't solve the riddle of Grandfather's epitaph and find the gold, they'll massacre the whole family..., something like that."

"Is that true...!  Umm, would you allow me to read it as well...?"
"Hi, hi..., hi, hieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee... eeeeeeeeee...hh..."
"......Umumumumumumumu......"

As they read the witch's letter, Gohda, Kumasawa, and Nanjo's faces grew even paler than they had been...
Kumasawa could no longer hide her shaking.
".........If you don't want to die, try finding Grandfather's hidden gold, is it?  ...Screwing around with us.  I'll bet you can't solve the riddle, so you're trying to make us solve it...!"
"However, ...I wonder what the truth is.  Madam always stated that the Legend of the Gold was nothing more than an illusion created by the Master.  ......It is doubtful whether that actually existed..."
"True...  Supposedly, they thought it would be nice if it existed, and only somewhat believed it.  ......All of the relatives started believing in the Legend of the Gold after Kinzo's health worsened and the inheritance problem came up.  I believe there are very few people who believe it very much."
"...Really, is that so?  Do you remember?  On the table in the chapel.  ...There were three gold ingots.  That alone is worth quite a lot.  Couldn't that truly prove that the Legend of the Gold was real?"

"E, ...excuse me, ...please wait.  Just now, did you say three gold bars......?"
"......Yeah, there were definitely three of them piled up.  So what?"

"Well, umm, I, .........happened to hear Krauss-sama say something.  ......Yes, I just heard it, right?!  It's not like I was trying to listen to secret discussions, yes!"
"Don't worry about that now.  So then what?  What's wrong with there being three of those gold bars?"

"...Y, yes.  According to Krauss-sama, ...there was only one bar ever found to support the Legend of the Gold."
"......That is correct.  I do believe the story goes that Kinzo-san showed the president of Marusoo a mountain of gold, and let him take one bar back with him."

"And that one came to be in Krauss-sama's possession.  And, he also said that there was no gold which supported the Master's Legend of the Gold besides that one..."
"You're talking about Krauss oji-san here?  So what does that mean?  ......No wait, ......3?!  Wait, wait, where did they come from, that's too many, right?!"
"Might you not think of it this way?  Maybe the other people in the family each found one, and they each brought one of them there..."

"No, I cannot believe that.  When all of the relatives came to the mansion, I was entrusted with their luggage.  I did not feel a suspicious weight back then."

"......I think those would weigh about 10kg.  If that much weight was in their bags, even I would notice.  But it didn't seem that way."
"Same here.  At the most, there were some changes of clothes, medicine, Kyrie-san's makeup.  Stuff like that, I think.  Rosa oba-san's luggage also looked pretty light."

"......In that case, those three piled up gold bars were being shown to them...or maybe us.  ......The Legend of the Gold is definitely real.  It isn't an illusion.  They're trying to force us to uncover the gold."
"Could there be a scheme, ...to have us solve the epitaph which points to the hidden location, and then try to snatch it away?"
"............That does fit.  ...But there are a couple parts that don't make sense.  First, our parents, who should have been the most likely to solve the epitaph, were killed first.  I think that suddenly creates a contradiction."
".........And something else makes even less sense.  ......If they're trying to say that the Legend of the Gold is actually true,

why would they pile up that gold・・・・・・・・・・・・?  ......It's almost like the culprit has already found the gold...and is telling us to try and find it too."

"Maybe the culprit, like Krauss oji-san, obtained those three and is therefore certain about the Legend of the Gold, and is trying to make us search for the rest...  I think that way fits the best."

"........................The pieces on the chessboard aren't lined up at all.  ............We don't have a clue what the culprit is planning, what they want, what they want to make us do.  ............Is it pointless?  No matter what we think, at this point in time.................."
"......Kihihi.  It was written down.  What she wanted to do.  Couldn't anyone read it, kihihihihihihihihihi."
Maria suddenly laughed in a creepy voice.
...I'd thought she had been concentrating on the TV, but she was also listening in, apparently.

As she remained facing the TV, ...she very simply told us what we were forgetting.
"Beatrice hasn't said once that she wants the gold.  ......I haven't heard that she's said anything except talking about whether we can solve the riddle of the epitaph or not.  ...Although I think it's just impossible.  ......Kihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihi."

"......So you're saying you can solve it, Maria?"

"...Do-n't know.  After all, she'll take Maria to the Golden Land.  Won't get in Beatrice's way.  Kihihihihihihihihihihi, ouch."

"In any case, it looks like to understand any more than this, there's nothing we can do except ask Maria.  ...Maria, tell us.  ............Who is this Beatrice?  What is she planning?"

"Kihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihi!  You know, Beatrice is a witch!  She can do anything with her strange power.  Anything can be done with the power of magic.  You can even create gold, even create bread.  And of course, you can create sweets, right?  You saw, didn't you?  Kihihihihihihihihihihihihi hihihihihihihihihihihi!"
At that time, everyone jumped at the sound of a door being closed forcefully.

When we turned around, Rosa had suddenly returned, bringing Genji and Shannon.

......Then she rapidly approached Maria, her heels squeaking, and hit her on the cheek.

"......Stop talking about that.  Battler-kun and the rest will take it badly."
"...............Uu-..."

Without waiting for a response, she hit Maria's cheek once more.
Everyone could only stand there, shocked.

"I don't know what uu- means.  What about yes?"
"............Uu-."

She mercilessly hit Maria's cheek again.

......Maybe she didn't feel like resisting after being hit twice.
Maria weakly said yes.

"R, ......Rosa-san, there was no reason to do something so harsh..."
"...This is my daughter's education.  Do not interrupt."

The atmosphere around Rosa, accompanied by Genji and Shannon, was somehow cold, and yet dignified, ...completely different from how she had seemed before she left.

We saw that Rosa oba-san was holding something that looked like a gun.
......I couldn't imagine that she would be holding a toy in this situation.

"Rosa oba-san, what is...?"
"......This is Father's.  Because of the current situation, I borrowed it specially.  .........Everyone should understand.  The culprit is still nearby.  We don't know what could be there."

"............I agree.  ......Rather than trying to figure out what the culprit is planning, it might be better to first think about our own safety."
"........................."

"Father was alright, but he was slightly distracted by these sudden events.  ...Fortunately, he said that he won't leave his room, so he's probably safe.  Now, we should do all we can to gather in the same place."
"...I agree.  We don't even know where the culprit is hiding, so, ......anyways, there's no proof that there's only one of them.  ............"

I said it myself, and shivered.
That's right.  Could a single person kill six people and create such a horrible scene all alone?
......Isn't it natural to assume that this crime was carried out by multiple culprits?

"......I agree with Rosa-san.  It is probably good for us to gather in one place."
"Yes, yes, I also think that is good, yes, yes!"

".........Maybe it would be good to call Milady and Kanon-san here by now."
"That's right.  ......Let's have them come down."

George-aniki tried to grab the extension phone, but Gohda-san shook his head.
......That's right, we couldn't use the phones right now.

"......I'll go with a couple people.  If George-aniki and Gohda-san also come, that should be enough."

"............No.  Let's all go together.  ...It's a 'Wolves and Sheep Puzzle'.

If we're all gathered together in equilibrium・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・, that situation is the most safe."

"...'Wolves and Sheep Puzzle'?"
"......Uu-.  Maria, has it.  Show you."

"Maria, turn off the television.  ......Genji-san.  Please tell me where Jessica-chan's room is.  Let's all go together."

"......Yes.  I will guide you."
"Come on, everyone.  We'll move together.  Follow my instructions."

We stood up.
Maria alone looked like she had some regrets about the TV, but she went along with everyone for now, and got up.

"...Shannon, thank goodness.  I was worried when you took so long to get back."
"I am sorry to have worried you.  The Master ordered me to copy down something..."
"Copy down?"

"............Shannon."
"I, .........I am sorry, excuse me..."
We headed for Jessica's room, with Rosa oba-san, holding the gun, and Genji-san in the lead.
Jessica and Kanon-kun were a boy and a girl of about the same age.
That'd sure be a shame if we walked in on them at a bad ti-me, or at least that's what we would be joking about normally.

However, Rosa oba-san was on edge, constantly overflowing with a sense of tension.
...So it really wasn't the kind of atmosphere where we could joke like that.
"Hey, don't fall behind!!  Everyone move together!  We don't know when or where the culprit might leap out at us, right?!"
...No, maybe Rosa oba-san's attitude was more appropriate.
......Since Grandfather hadn't come down, Rosa oba-san was the leader.
This wasn't a situation where she could smile like she always did.
......And Rosa oba-san was herself a mother.
She probably also thought that, if she didn't get a hold of herself, some harm might befall her beloved daughter.
The culprit had killed six of our parents at once.
......The method they had used was unknown, but there was a good chance that this opponent could take down a large number of people in an instant.

Was that with weapons, or with numbers?
......Or was it the magic of a witch?
In any case, it definitely didn't look like an element we could get careless about...
The rest of us should also take much, much greater care, like Rosa oba-san...
"............Everyone, stop!"
Rosa oba-san spoke in a sharp voice.

We wondered what it was, and when we peered forwards...
......we immediately noticed the reason...
".........Wh, ......what is this......"
"Hee, ............!"
"Everyone, get back...!"
Gohda-san and Genji-san approached the door...
Beyond the door, was probably Jessica's room.

"This, ......seems to be the same paint that was scribbled on the door to the chapel."
"......It appears so.  It appears that not much time has passed since it was drawn."

"What is that............another, ...magic circle?!"
"......It's the first magic circle of the moon.  ...It has the power to open unopened doors."
The door to Jessica's room, ......had that creepy scribble on it which had been drawn on the door to the chapel.

......That strange pattern definitely had some meaning related to the occult.
But it didn't matter what that meaning was.
We were worried about whether those two were alright.

"Th, that doesn't matter!  Are Jessica-chan and Kanon-kun alright?!"
"...I have a bad premonition...  We should quickly take those two downstairs."
"Milady!  Milady!!  Are you there?  Please answer!!"

Gohda-san knocked violently and yelled, ...but there was no answer.
He gripped the doorknob with a clatter, but the lock just resisted him.

"......Rosa-sama, it seems to be locked."
"There are no other options.  Please open it."

Genji nodded, and Gohda quickly unlocked the door with the master key.
...In the back of my mind, horrible images floated up and disappeared, one after another.
......A magic circle had been drawn on the door to the chapel.
And six corpses had been behind that.

......So, if there was a magic circle drawn on the door to Jessica's room, ......then beyond it............
"Je, ............Jessica-sama!!"

"Wh, what happened?  Is she there?!"
"Jessica!!  What happened?!!"
......It was truly heartless.
...The expression on Gohda-san's face and what he said when he opened the door, prepared us for the brutal fate that Jessica might have met, even without seeing her...
Everyone rushed into Jessica's room at once.
...That scene told everyone that their worst fears were right on...
"...Jessicaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!"".........How......horrible.........D, ...Doctor Nanjo!!"
Inside the room, which seemed elegant for her age, Jessica had fallen over.
There was a large pool of blood on the floor.
......And there was a knife or something sticking deep into her back......

...Was it a knife?
There was a design in the handle that had to have been done in a devil motif.
Was it a weapon with some occult meaning?  Definitely.

"...This is, .........horrible.  ...She has passed away.  ......This, probably, reached her lungs.........Not much time has passed since she died."
"Jessicaaaaaaaaaaaa!!  Damn it, damn iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit!!""......B, Battler-sama......"
"I was naive!!  I knew it!!  Since they couldn't escape the island, the culprit was definitely close by! Then why didn't I get cautious sooner!!  ......I was naive!!  I just assumed that the culprit would commit a crime and then sneak away!"
"......We were stunned then.  We thought it was just too bad that Jessica-chan gave in to rage and ran off.  ......But we were naive.  We should have stopped her...!"
"...Gohda-san, why did you leave those two alone!  If only you had been with them, something like this...!!"

"N, no, t, ...that is, umm!!  I said it was dangerous so we should return!  It's just that, Milady said that she wanted to be alone!  Kanon-san told me to leave it to him, and...!  ......Speaking of which, where is Kanon-san...?!"

"That's right!  What in the world happened to Kanon-kun?!"
"K, ......Kanon-kun...  Where........."
"Kanon-san should have been with Milady...  Where in the world...!"
"You don't think, they got him...?!"
"........................Quiet.  .........Someone might be hiding in this room.  Search under the bed and in the closet."
There was a chance that Kanon-kun's corpse had been pushed away somewhere.
At Rosa-san's order, everyone searched throughout the room together.

......But there wasn't a single human hiding anywhere.
"......He's nowhere!!  Could the culprit have taken him out of the room?!  Then we have to search for him quickly and save him!  ......If we're slow, something awful might happen!!  Rosa oba-san, let's search all over the mansion!  Let's search for the culprit!  Let's save Kanon-kun!!"
"...........................Quiet!!!"
When Rosa oba-san yelled at us with a loud voice, we fell instantly silent.
She was probably contemplating something.
...However, what in the world could that be......?

...Rosa oba-san walked around the room as though looking for something, or as though she was collecting her thoughts.
............Then, she found something on the side table by the bed, and picked it up.
"............If anyone knows, tell me.  ......Which key is this?"

Rosa oba-san showed everyone a key with a cute mascot attached to it.

...Judging from its cute appearance, I didn't doubt that it was Jessica's key, but I had no way of knowing what key it was.
".....It is probably the key to this, ...to Milady's room."

After hearing that, Rosa oba-san made a point of going outside the door and checking.

.........Without a doubt, it was the key to this room.
"............I wonder why it was set in a place like this.  Normally, don't you keep an important key in your pocket?"
"...Umm, ............Milady wasn't in the habit of locking her room.  It seems she would only do it when she went to school, because she didn't want Krauss-sama to look inside her room..."

".........I see.  She wasn't at school, so it's natural that Jessica-chan would set the key down here.  How many keys can open this door?"
"J, ...just the one Milady had..."

"Can't it be opened with your master keys?"
"......They can open it."

"How many master keys are there?  Are all of the servants holding them?  Are there extras?"
"Yes.  We are all holding them.  .........As for extras, ...I wonder."

"There used to be several, ...but Madam strongly scolded us that this was careless, so they should have been dealt with."
"......That is correct.  There is only one held by each servant.  There are no more."

"...Nn?  Wait a second.  ...I think we talked about extra master keys in the last game, right?"
"Hmm.  Well, regarding that.  I have noticed that having several master keys whose locations are unknown is quite disadvantageous for me."

"......That's probably right.  Since you want to make me believe in magic by using closed rooms, it would be really disadvantageous for you if there were more master keys than we supposed.  ...In any event, every time a trick related to locks shows up, I planned to resist by arguing that the culprit possessed a master key that someone had lost in the past, or a duplicate."

"Yes, that's correct.  So I've decided to make a move to defeat that.  ......I'll alter the setup."

"The only master keys are the ones that each servant holds, one per person.  *cackle*cackle*"

"...Messing with me.  ......More importantly.  What is this move?  ......What's Rosa oba-san saying."
"*cackle*cackle*.  Who knows?  You should try listening in."
"............Thank you.  I have the situation sorted out.  ......And I've been able to specify the culprit who assaulted Jessica-chan, or maybe one of their accomplices."

"Wh, what did you say...?!  Who is that?!"
"...Rosa oba-san, you couldn't be talking about Kanon-kun...?"
"......Huh, ......eeeeh?!  Wh, why Kanon-kun?!"
"This room was locked.  And the only keys that can unlock this room are the master keys that each servant is holding, as well as the key Jessica had.  ......But Jessica-chan's key was closed up in here.  ...Which means it is only possible that one of the master keys locked it."
".........It is as you say."
"In that case, someone killed Jessica, then locked the door!  That person was holding a master key.  And there are only five people who are holding master keys!"
"O, oh my!!  It wasn't me, not me!  Yes, I couldn't do something like that!"

"......Kumasawa-san got up late.  After we returned from the chapel to the parlor, we did meet you there, but it's impossible to prove where you were and what you were doing until that time.  You watched us from the shadows, chased after Jessica-chan and Kanon-kun when they were isolated, and stealthily attacked them."

"A, are you saying that I visited Milady's room, and did something so horrible?!  I, I, I did no such thing!  Yes, no such thing!!"
"What about Gohda-san?  You said that you left Jessica-chan in Kanon-kun's care and returned.  ...But I wonder if that's true?  ......I wonder if you didn't really kill the two of them, hide Kanon-kun's corpse, and then come back with an innocent look on your face?!"

"Nothing of the sort happened!  I, Gohda, swear that I did not do anything like that!!"
"......I, it wasn't us...!!  We were following the Master's orders..."

"Yes.  At least you and Genji-san are alright.  That is backed up by what I heard from Father.  The two of you were in Father's room the whole time, copying and witnessing for him.  Father and I can guarantee that."
".........Thank you very much."

"In that case, I think the argument becomes who is more suspicious, Gohda-san or Kumasawa-san?  ......I even thought that as soon as I entered this room.  .........But still, I thought it was strange.  Look at the state of Jessica-chan's body.  Doesn't everyone think it's strange?"
"......Strange, ...you say...?"
"Jessica-chan was struck in the back.  .........Come on, it's often generally said, right?  That in crimes where the victim is struck in the back, there's a high likelihood that the culprit was someone whose face was known to the victim.  She definitely wouldn't invite a person that she doesn't trust into her room, and defenselessly expose her back."
"R, ......Rosa-sama, you couldn't mean, ............to say that was Kanon-kun...?"

"Yes.  We know well what state Jessica-chan was in right before she was killed.  ......After seeing her parents' tragic bodies, Jessica-chan was very panicked.  And it's easy to imagine that after she regained her composure, she would be in a horrible slump."
"......It would be very understandable if Jessica's frame of mind lead her to shut herself up alone in her room.  And those particulars would also fit with Gohda-san's story."
"......Jessica-chan said to leave her alone.  ...Then Kanon-kun, who is of a similar age, and may have some adolescent relationship with her, said to leave it to him.  That feeling is also very understandable."
".........So, for that reason, I think Jessica-chan welcomed Kanon-kun into her room."
"But what if it had been Gohda-san or Kumasawa-san?  Would she have let them into her room?"
"......I, I believe that I have gained Milady's trust.  But even so, err..."

"Then you are another suspect after all, right, Gohda-san?  I thought that you probably weren't liked by Jessica-chan, so I believed she wouldn't have let you into her room.  So I thought it was impossible that you were the culprit, but...?"

"No, umm...!  .........I am afraid to say that I may not have been accepted by Milady.  ...Wh, what about you, Kumasawa-san?"

"Ho, hohohohohoho!  A senior like me is far too separated by age to understand the feelings of a young person like Milady very well...  And perhaps Milady did not open her heart up to me.  Right, Gohda-san?!"

"Yes, that's right!  She probably did not open her heart to us to a great degree!  It would be inconceivable that Milady would let us into her room when she was heartbroken!"

Gohda-san and Kumasawa baa-chan each rubbed their hands together, affirming each other with forced smiles on their faces.

It was a really unpleasant rondo.

"Someone who would be permitted to enter Jessica-chan's room when she was heartbroken.  Who would have been given access to her defenseless back.  And that person had a master key.  That only points to one person.  ......It was impossible for anyone except Kanon-kun."
"P, ......please, wait...!  Kanon-kun definitely wouldn't do something like...!"

"Oh, then is there someone else?  Is Gohda-san or Kumasawa-san suspicious after all?  Who do you think is more suspicious, Shannon-chan...?  Come on."
"I..., ......I, ...something like that............"

"It wasn't me, Shannon-san!  Yes, it was not me!"
"Of course, it wasn't me either!  The people who had close relationships with Milady were Kanon-san, and then you, Shannon-san, right?!"

".........Yeah, isn't that right?  ......Jessica-chan might also let Shannon-chan into her room.  But you should have been with Father.  .........But in reality, ......were you the culprit............?"
"Sh, ......Shannon couldn't be the culprit!  Didn't you just say that she was doing some important work with Grandfather!"

"Yes, I understand.  Neither Shannon-chan nor Genji-san is the culprit.  Father also admits that they were together the whole time.  .........Well then, what do you think, everyone...?"
After being told that, no one could respond...
Even if someone did argue back, they would then have to offer the name of a different suspicious person.

......And no matter whose name that was, that person was here.
...No one could do something like that.
Rosa oba-san glanced at everyone in turn, fingering the gun like it was a toy...
.........She seemed so different from the Rosa oba-san who was usually kind.
...No, it's probably because I don't feel the danger we're in.
...Maybe Rosa oba-san's attitude would seem natural if I really felt how much danger we were in...
"It seems that no one has an opinion.  Then I will say mine."
"Of course, I cannot deny that Kanon-kun is a victim without a corpse.  But until we find his corpse, I definitely can't deny the possibility that Kanon-kun is a suspect.  ......There's a chance that Kanon-kun was attacked by the culprit and confined somewhere..., and with that as an excuse, he may appear unexpectedly."
"But take care.  Maybe, no, definitely.

.........Kanon-kun killed Jessica-chan・・・・・・・・・・・・・・."

"............N, ...............no way........."
"I, ...I can't believe it...  Kanon did, .........to Milady, ......that's too much!!"
"I feel the same as Shannon.  I oppose labeling Kanon-kun as the culprit."

"Then is the culprit Gohda-san or Kumasawa-san?  Tell me who's more suspicious."
""I I I, It wasn't us!!""

"If it wasn't Kanon-kun, then who could have opened this door?  Shannon-chan.  George-kun.  ......Right?  Right right right...?"

Rosa oba-san closed in on Shannon-chan and George-aniki, laughing unpleasantly.
...Of course, they couldn't say anything back.

They wanted to believe in Kanon-kun.
...But if they did, they would have to suspect the other servants.
The simplest culprit was the mystery guest Beatrice.
......But she was nothing more than a guest, and didn't have a master key.

.........Then if Beatrice was the culprit without a master key...
...Do we have to accept the argument that she really is a witch, and locked the door with the power of magic......?

"............That's a filthy argument.........filthy......, filthy......"
"What are you worried about?  Make it my fault.  You can just make it the fault of the 19th person, the mystery guest, right?  If you do, you won't have to watch this ugly battle of humans pressing each other, right...?  *cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*!"

"So then what.  The culprit is the 19th person, the guest Beatrice.  ...She's a witch, so she could lock the door without a key using magic.  Are you telling me to accept that?  Damn it...!  ...Damn it, damn it...!!"

"......*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*.  In the last game, I learned all of your weak points.  So, what will you do, what will you do...?  You definitely weren't going to accept me, right?  Then, .........you can use Kanon as a perfect sacrifice."

"Kanon killed Jessica!  If you support Rosa's theory, everything is settled here, right?  Kanon is already dead.  There should be no need to show concern for the dead.  And, you won't have to doubt anyone here!  *cackle*hahahahahahahahahahaha!"

"Damn it!!  I won't accept you!!!  But, ......Kanon-kun being the culprit, ......that's impossible!!"

"..........I don't want to suspect anyone.  ...However, it is sometimes the case that the suspicious are the guilty.  ......Anyways, there is probably nothing better than caution..."
"D, ...Doctor Nanjo...  What do you mean by that...?"

"...Umm, please do not misunderstand.  ...I do not wish to label Kanon-san as the culprit.  ......However, until we understand the situation, there is the possibility that Kanon-san is the culprit, and I believe thinking that way is safer."
"Ho, ......hoh-hoh-ho...  Yes, that's right..., you cannot be too cautious."

It didn't seem as though anyone blamed Nanjo.
In reality, no one thought that Kanon was the culprit.

...But if they did not suspect him, they would have to suspect one of the servants here.

......We didn't want to do that.
We didn't want to suspect.
We didn't want to be suspected.
"That is correct.  ......We cannot be too vigilant.  Is there anyone who objects to that?"
"Alright?  ...There is a very high likelihood that this murder case is related to Father's Legend of the Gold.  In that case, it's certainly the crime of someone plotting to keep a vast amount of gold worth several ten billion yen all for themselves.  ......With that amount of money, you could play around for the rest of your life in any country.  ...It may be possible that they would massacre us for this reason."

".................."

"Because she wasn't holding a master key, the 19th person, the guest Beatrice, is removed from suspicion only for the murder of Jessica-chan.  But we cannot say that she is unrelated to the crime.  ......After all, it's a vast amount of gold we're talking about.  We can't deny the possibility that there are multiple culprits.  ......Right now, one of the people here among us might have been bought by the culprit!!"
As Rosa oba-san yelled, she looked all around, her gun still raised.
......Don't believe anyone, suspect the person next to you, ...that's what she was saying.

But no one wanted to suspect.
...They didn't want to suspect anyone here.
That weakness in their hearts demanded an answer from those not here...
"There are only two ways you can be sure someone isn't a suspect.  .........If it's yourself, or if they're already no more than a corpse.  .........The same goes for Kanon-kun."
"Until we catch sight of his corpse, he is the most likely suspect in Jessica-chan's murder!!  So take care.  Even if he's still alive, even if he smoothes things over with some explanation, you definitely must not trust him!  Alright?!"
No one gave a answer of their own initiative.
......However, those who met Rosa oba-san's eyes had to nod their heads...
Humans are beings who live by molding themselves to fit society.
......In other words, from the time they are born, trusting each other is genetically imprinted on them.

...It is, unpleasant to go against that.
They definitely don't want to suspect someone.
...But if they had to suspect someone, ...they thought that choosing one of the people not here right now would be the safest.

For just the reason of safety, they half-heartedly chose Kanon to be the sacrifice.
That's ridiculous.........
I definitely don't want to believe that Kanon-kun is the culprit!

I'd heard it from George-aniki just now, but not only were those two close in age, they also had that adolescent relationship Rosa oba-san had mentioned.
......It may be a little late now, but yes, they really did have that kind of air about them.
After seeing her parent's tragic corpses, Jessica, bearing deep wounds in her heart, would only have trusted Kanon-kun.

...That was a very conceivable story.
So I don't like it...!!

Kanon-kun was the only one she trusted.
So she wouldn't have let anyone but Kanon-kun in.

So, this argument saying Kanon-kun was the only one who could have killed Jessica, ......I just couldn't accept it......!!!
"...Understand?!  Even if Kanon-kun appears, don't get careless!  As long as we cannot prove Kanon-kun's innocence, we will suppose that Kanon-kun is the culprit who killed Jessica-chan!!"
Rosa oba-san made that claim.
By using the vague word 'suppose', ...in the end, she encouraged everyone.

Everyone nodded weakly, ............and, under the temporary excuse that they were just supposing it, .........they 'claimed' that Kanon was the culprit who had killed Jessica...
.........I wonder what the dead Jessica and Kanon would think if they could hear this exchange.

Jessica, was crying.
......She was crying in the chest of the person who had put his life on the line to fight for her, Kanon.

It was frustrating.
So frustrating that it felt like her chest would explode...

She grieved and resented how far the dignity of the dead had been trampled...

"...Those guys, ...why are they treating Kanon-kun like the culprit!!"
"....................Because there's, ...no corpse."

"Why are they treating you like the culprit because there's no corpse?!  You risked your life to fight for me, right...?!  Then, ......that witch erased the corpse for fun......!  After that, Kanon-kun being the culprit, it's horrible, it's too horrible!!"

"......It's alright.  ......In the end, I couldn't completely protect you, but............I was able to be of use to Milady..."

"......Why doesn't everyone understand that?!  Stop it, Rosa oba-san!!  Don't call Kanon-kun the culprit with that messed up reasoning!!"
".........She isn't saying that I'm the culprit.  ...She's just saying I'm suspicious, ......no, ......she's saying to be careful."

"She is saying it!!  These people are saying you're the culprit, Kanon-kun, so they can stop thinking!  They aren't thinking about who the culprit who killed me is anymore!!  They aren't thinking of the possibility that you aren't the culprit!!  And after this, every time something happens, they'll repeat the excuse that it was the work of Kanon-kun, whose location is unknown!!  ......I can't stand that!!"

"............It's alright.  ...At least Milady knows the truth."

"If only I know the truth, that's pointless!!  I know after dying.  Truth belongs to living humans!!  If the truth doesn't remain, the dead won't be rewarded!!  They won't know why Kanon-kun risked his life!!"
"*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*, hahahahahahahahahahahaha!  Truly a splendid sight.  You hardly ever find a sweeter honey than the laments of the dead."
"Lament, lament.  No matter how much you lament, the voices of the dead never reach the living."

"Damn it, damn iiiiiiit!!  It doesn't matter who!!  Hear my voice!!  Kanon-kun isn't the culprit!!  Kanon-kun's corpse was just erased!  Why, why don't you understand that?!!"

".........Milady."
"......I can't stand that!!  It's sad!  It's vexing!!  Don't, .....you care that Kanon-kun's dead?!!  The honor of the dead must be accepted by the living!  It doesn't matter who!  Notice it!  Notice it, I beg you!!  Kanon-kun isn't the culprit!!  Aaaaaaaaaaaaaahh, don't go, don't go, everyone!!  Please, don't let it end like this......!  Don't go, ......don't goooooooooooooo!!!"
Rosa proclaimed that this room should be sealed until the police came.

...The rest didn't want to suspect each other, so they happily accepted that.

......For now, they accepted that Kanon was the culprit.

...Without even imagining how much disgrace that gave to the dead, they accepted it.

"......Milady..., it's alright now.........Thank you......"
"Don't go!!  Don't go everyone!!  For heaven's sake, come back!!  Don't leave us like this!!"

"Don't leave us, ......still treating Kanon-kun......as the culpriiiiiiiit!!  Uwaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhh...!!"

"It won't reach!!  The laments of the dead never reach!"

"You make me laugh, yes, that face of yours makes me laugh!!  Did you think your voice would reach?  It won't reach, will it, Jessicaaaaaaa???  *cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*, wahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!"
"It's all useless."

"Huh?  .........Battler-kun, did you say something?"

"Yeah, it's useless.

...It's all useless・・・・・・・・."

At the time everyone made to leave the room...

...Only Battler had his back to them, and he was still looking down at Jessica's corpse.

"What do you mean, ...it's all useless?  Do you have some objection...?"
"I'll at least agree that we have to be vigilant.  ......But this talk about having Kanon-kun be the culprit, sorry, but allow me to refuse."

"......Hoh.  So you're biting into this part.  If Kanon wasn't the culprit, and it wasn't my doing, how do you explain this closed room that Jessica's room has become...?"

".........Honestly, I give up there.  ...Seriously, why'd I say it's all useless?"

"...I don't take any responsibility for my own conduct.  Ihihihihi...!  ............I'm empty-handed with zero weapons to argue with.  ...But you know, I won't hold my finger to my lips anymore!!  Beatrice!!"

"B, ......Battler-sama......"
"......I, is there some proof that Kanon-kun isn't the culprit......?"

The expression that rose to the faces of those two was definitely expectant.
......They didn't want to believe that Kanon was the culprit.
They really believed Kanon.

So this expectation was because they wanted to be made to believe him even more strongly!
"Then Battler-kun, which of the other servants do you suspect?  Gohda-san?  Or is it Kumasawa-san?"

"Quit it, Rosa oba-san.  ...I know the person called Kumasawa baa-chan well.  ......She'll sometimes slack off on work, but she'll always make things fun for people.  ......Even if her eyes were dazzled by money, she is not a person who would kill."
"B, ......Battler-sama........."

"And I've just met Gohda-san yesterday.  ......Honestly, I still don't really understand him.  ......But there is something I understand."
"................I, I........."

"......I've never seen someone who can make food that looks so fun.  ...You're the same.  The same as Kumasawa baa-chan.  ......Gohda-san likes to make people happy."

"As if a person like that could kill those that praised his own food as delicious, ...even if money was piled up in front of him!!"
"...Then, who do you think killed Jessica-chan, Battler-kun?  Who do you think shut Jessica up in a room that could only be locked by a master key?"

"Wait.  ......Before I argue about that, there's something I want to make clear.  I don't want to talk about, if so-and-so is not the culprit, then so-and-so is the culprit.  ...I just want to talk about how it's completely impossible for Kanon-kun to be the culprit."

"You say that you can establish that Kanon isn't the culprit?  *cackle*, how?!"
"It's actually simple.  ...It's something I dangerously overlooked.  ......Beato!"
"Repeat it!!  If you can say it, try saying it, 'Kanon-kun was holding a master key'!!"
"........................Hoh...!"
"......Kanon-kun wasn't holding a master key?!  How could you know that?!"

"Just now, I heard what Gohda-san said.  Just before he split up with Kanon-kun.  ...The part about when Jessica went to raid the honored guest room."

".........Gohda-san, you did a good job remembering it.  You protected Kanon's honor."
"......I, ......I, ...did...?!"

"I heard him say the same thing.  But I don't really understand!  Could you explain it, Battler-kun?!"

"......That's right.  When Jessica unlocked the honored guest room, she borrowed the key from Kanon-kun,

but didn't give it back・・・・・・・・・!  So Kanon-kun wasn't holding a master key!!"
"*cackle*cackle*!  Is that really so?  Certainly, Gohda has no recollection of the master key being returned to Kanon.  However, she might have returned it when Gohda wasn't looking!  How does that prove that it definitely didn't happen?!  *cackle*cackle*cackle*, if you could just search the pocket of Kanon's corpse, you could establish that, but you can't!!  It is impossible to prove!!"

"It's all useless.  Isn't it actually simple?"
"......No way...!  So, you're saying that Kanon-kun wasn't holding a key?!"

"Yeah.  And to prove it, all you have to do is search Jessica.  ......Kanon-kun's master key should be in Jessica's pocket.  Doctor Nanjo, would you check for us?"
"H, ......hmm."
Nanjo dashed up to Jessica, and searched in her jacket pocket......
Everyone, ...was expectant.........!
"......Mu..."

...Please.  Be there............!!

"......Here it is!  Is this it?"
"............Yes.  That is a master key.  Without a doubt."

At Genji's statement, there was a small 'oooh' of joyful voices.
"That is Kanon-kun's master key.  .........I'll say it again."
"'Kanon-kun isn't holding a master key'.  Therefore, there's no way he could have locked the door!!"
"......It certainly does, ...appear that way.  ......But Kanon-kun was the last person to meet Jessica-chan.  The fact that he's suspicious hasn't changed."

"Let's give it a rest, ......enough doing that."
"......Huh?"

"Normally, humans are supposedly creatures that trust each other.  ...But because we live in a tough world, we learn the depths of doubt.  ...So we'll doubt anything.  We are sad creatures.  ...I won't deny that's our nature."

"............But I won't permit statements without proof!!  Being suspicious doesn't make you guilty, it makes you innocent!!  Of course, the world is filled with wolves.  I won't tell you to carelessly believe everyone!"

"But if you're going to say someone's guilty, prepare some perfect evidence!  As long as you can't do that, definitely don't say someone is guilty because of speculation!!!"

"............u......That is........."

"......I was the one who said the suspicious were guilty.  .........That was careless.  I apologize."
"............Battler-sama........."

"...W, wonderful reasoning, Battler-kun!  Thank you too, Gohda-san.  Because of what you remembered, Kanon-kun is cleared from suspicion!"
"N, no I.., hahahaha..."

Clap clap clap......It was the dry sound of the witch applauding.

"Well done, well done.  ......Not a bad job."
".........Shit.  Was I fooled by that bait piece just like you wanted...?"

"You wonderfully proved that at least Kanon couldn't lock the door to this room.  The servants should all have been holding master keys.  With that as proof, Kanon was treated as the culprit, so at least you wonderfully cleared away that suspicion. *cackle*cackle*cackle*."

"......In that case.  ...How did the culprit who killed Jessica lock the door?  So that's the problem that we have now.  Sheesh.  ......I've been drawn into a development that went exactly like you wanted..."

"Has it gotten through...?  Furthermore, you said something outrageous about not doubting any of the other servants.  We-ll then, it'll be worth seeing how you gloss this over..."

"Shut up.  ...Let's start right away.  I'll probably deny it as best I can, ...but first let's check the definition of this room as a closed room."

"Very well.  First, there are absolutely no types of hidden doors.  This door is the only way in or out.  The only way to lock this door is with Jessica's single key or the master keys, only one of which is held by each servant.  It is on the second floor, but it is probably possible to enter or leave through the window.  However, the window is locked from the inside."

"......Let me suddenly turn the chessboard over.  ...If I start by arguing about the door and the lock, I probably won't leave the palm of your hand."
"Do as you like.  Well then, well then, what should I repeat?"

".........Repeat it.  'Kanon-kun was killed in this room'."
"Hmm.  'Kanon was killed in this room'.  But I erased his corpse with magic, right?  *cackle*cackle*cackle*!"

"Again, repeat it.  'Kanon-kun's corpse is in this room'."
"*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*!  I refuse.  I can't repeat it.  ...Because I erased the corpse with magic.  *giggle*giggle*giggle*!"

"So you won't say that.  ......There's got to be a secret hidden in there somewhere.  ......Damn, where's the mysterious point in question?  .........Did they lock it without the master key?  Or did they somehow kill those two when they were inside the room and it was locked?  Or did they kill those two, and then somehow escape?"

"......I hate to say it, but I'll have to cover up the moat.  ...Repeat it.  ......'The last time it was locked was due to the master key'."
"I also refuse that.  *cackle*cackle*."

"......This refusing thing is really vague.  I don't know if you refuse because it's impossible to repeat, or whether you can repeat it and you're refusing on purpose..."

"Back when discussing the lock to the chapel, you completely turned the tables on me.  When I have an advantage, there's no need to go out of my way to use red and say things in a risky way.  That's all it is."

".........That's right.  ...Originally, you used the red when you wanted to stop my strange theories."
"It is natural that I would use it to my advantage.  Because of the risk of it being quibbled with, I won't use it uselessly."

"...*cackle*cackle*.  Well then, what move will come next?  A move that puts Gohda or Kumasawa under suspicion would probably be the easiest to use, right...?"

"......Damn.  It's annoying being provoked...  Stay quiet a while, I'm thinking...!"

"Of course, this door is the same as the chapel.  When locked, entry is not possible by any means.  I'll say more.  No trick could have the effect of locking the door from the outside without using a key.  *cackle*cackle*...!"

"Sheesh.  Damn you for always using red when I don't ask for it..."
............I have a score to settle.
...Anyways, let me think.
I'll lay out everything I know.

First, there are two victims.
Jessica and Kanon-kun.

...Kanon-kun's corpse isn't here, but Beatrice admitted in red that Kanon-kun was killed.

So even without a corpse, he is included as a victim.
There are a few questionable points.
And depending on which I focus on, my line of thought changes a lot.
First, after the culprit committed murder in this room, how did they lock it?

If we assume that the culprit was one of those holding a master key, it's extremely simple.
......But I want to avoid that if I can.

Because I would have to suspect Gohda-san or Kumasawa-san, ...no, in the worst case, even Shannon-chan and Genji-san.
Here, I noticed something.

......I was contradicting myself.
I was restricting my own path.

I wanted to deny Beatrice no matter what.
I wanted to erase the existence of that brutal, fickle, ridiculous witch!

Because of that, I had to explain everything with humans, not magic.
......But that also meant suspecting some human.

I don't want to suspect someone.

......Of course, if there was some clear proof, I would have to believe that person was the culprit, but, ...as long as that didn't happen, I didn't want to raise suspicions.

Was I just green...?
Was I just a kid who didn't want to have my feelings, which told me that at least this person or that person couldn't be a murderer, betrayed...?

I want to deny that it was a witch, I also want to deny that it was a human.
.........Now I don't know what is what anymore...

"*cackle*cackle*!  In the first place, the only victory condition in our game regarded whether or not you could deny my existence.  ...Even though that alone was a game that put you at a disadvantage, you've increased the number of victory conditions all by yourself, and made your own victory difficult...!"

......It was just as she said.
...If I started arguing that someone holding a master key was the culprit, this closed room could be easily broken.

......However, the number of keys that could open this door were limited, and furthermore, since it was clearly known who held those, saying that meant that I was suspecting someone I knew well...
...No, ......am I simply averting my eyes?

In that closed room trick with the chapel, which had been exhilarating to destroy, I had proposed that 'someone stole the key from Maria's handbag, and returned it'.  If that theory was right, then the question becomes who could have stolen the key from her handbag.
...Maria's handbag had probably been the most unguarded when she was sleeping.

......In that case, .........in addition to me, ...George-aniki and Jessica are also suspects.
George-aniki or Jessica was the culprit?
Or maybe an accomplice?!
......All of our parents had been killed, right?!
And yet, ......and yet, one of us consented to that and assisted with the crime?!
We had lamented, mourned, and shed tears in the chapel.
...And yet, one among us, ......had been lying?!

"......*cackle*cackle*.  That theory of yours about taking the key out of the handbag and putting it back cast a pronounced suspicion on the cousins, did it not...?  And despite that, how could you act like you didn't notice, and say a theory like that so happily...!  *giggle*giggle*giggle*."

"D, ............damn it...  That doesn't guarantee that one of the family or the servants is the culprit!  If you snuck up on us hiding in a cardboard box, for example, there's a good chance you could have slunk into our room when we were fast asleep and stolen the key, right?!"

"Hmmmmmm.  That is also acceptable.  By suspecting the guest, the 19th person, you won't have to suspect them."

".........Then how was Jessica's room locked?  It's no trouble at all for me to open the lock with magic, but of course, I don't have a master key.  If you deny my magic, you also have to deny that I'm a suspect, right...?"

"So, in other words, that means suspecting one of you 18 people...!!"

"Y, ......you're so nice, thanks.  ...I've been able to sort things out a bit.  ......My goal is to pursue how the 19th person, the human guest Beatrice, committed the crimes.  If I do that, I won't have to suspect anyone!!"

"*cackle*cackle*!  If you can do that?  Foolish man.  ......A room like this wasn't a closed room from the beginning.  After all, there are a total of six keys that can open it."

"And there were several who possessed those keys!  You can suspect any of them!  Suspect as much as you like!!  But you went to all the trouble of denying all of those, and made a closed room yourself."

".........Understand?  This is a closed room born from your mental contradiction.  *cackle*cackle*!  There's no one else, you closed that door yourself."

".....So you're trying to say that there are two options, ...accept that a witch opened it with magic, or accept that someone I know is the culprit.  Damn, are you trying to fork the rook!"

"So much that I wanted to show you that this move also exists."

"......*cackle*.  So, what will you do, Ushiromiya Battleeeeeeer?  Isn't it actually simple...?  Don't you just have to make sacrifices of that overly self-confident cook and that hag who wouldn't be a loss if she died?  *cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle* *cackle*cackle*!!"

"............Damn it!!  If I suspect Gohda-san and Kumasawa-san, everything's fine?!  It's useless!  .........I can't think of Gohda-san as the culprit!  I can't think of Kumasawa-san as the culprit!!  But I won't accept you!!  Definitely!!"

"In that case, they would have to enter the room without using magic or a master key, kill Jessica and Kanon, and even erase Kanon's corpse without using magic."

"......How could it be done?!  How could it be done so that you can deny me and not suspect anyone at the same time?!!  *cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*!"

"............Resign."
"Huh?  Battler-kun, what did you say?"

"......I give up.  I was able to prove that Kanon-kun couldn't have locked this door.  ......But that doesn't mean I was able to figure out who killed Jessica."

"N, ......no, ...that's more than enough...  Umm, ......for Kanon-kun's sake, ...thank you very much...!"

"......No need to thank me.  After all, ......that means that Shannon-chan is also under suspicion."
".................."

"...And sorry, Rosa oba-san.  ......It's not like I wanted to resist you.  I just don't want to die, so I wanted to find Dad and the rest's true enemy.  ......Sorry for saying something that wasn't cooperative."

"......No, it's alright.  I was also a little rash.  Let's make up.  As an aunt and nephew, we have to be friendly with each other.  ............Right?"

Rosa oba-san shifted the gun to one hand, and held out her other hand.
...I reached out, and for the time being, we shook hands.
Oba-san's gaze was sharp.
......In order to deny the witch, she would make anyone a sacrifice.  ...That's what her eyes told me.
And me...?
I denied the witch.
......But I wasn't prepared to lose anything.

I was probably the one most ready to fight, ......and the one most separated from reality.

Wolves and Sheep Puzzle

Sun, Oct 5 1986 1:00PM
With Jessica's death, it became certain that that the culprit was hiding somewhere nearby, and that they would come after our lives if they had a chance.
According to Genji-san, when tomorrow morning comes, the boat should arrive.

The boat had a radio.
We could probably contact the police directly with that.
All of us gathered in the parlor, and decided to wait quietly until tomorrow.

I proposed that we should search throughout the mansion for clues about the culprit, but Rosa oba-san rejected that, saying that if we managed to corner the culprit, or maybe provoke them, it might lead to a third murder.
...That was probably the right thing to do.
If a bunch of amateurs like us investigated, there's no way we'd find anything.

It would be wisest to focus on protecting ourselves without doing anything unnecessary, and leave it to the police after tomorrow.
We had been tense in the beginning, but other than Rosa oba-san, most of the people had spent all afternoon watching TV and were getting bored, so our sense of danger had grown much less intense.
When we thought about it, even though there certainly had been six adults killed at once in the first murder, that made us imagine that some back-handed method like poison had been used.
And in the second murder, it was thought that those two had become sacrifices because they were unfortunately isolated from the rest of us.
From this, we imagined that the culprit wasn't a large number of adults, and they weren't someone who could kill this large group gathered in the parlor all at once.
Right now, in this parlor, George-aniki and I.  Maria.  Rosa oba-san.  Genji-san, Gohda-san, Shannon-san, Kumasawa-san, ......and then, Doctor Nanjo, a total of nine people, were here.
Furthermore, Rosa oba-san was even armed with a gun.

Surely, with this many people staying in this room, they wouldn't be able to touch us easily.

That feeling of security, along with the passage of time, allowed us to recover from the shock of that morning bit by bit...
By the way, lunchtime had just ended for us.
However, it had been a canned food lunch, a far cry from last night's dinner which Gohda-san had skillfully made for us.
...Rosa oba-san had also suspected that poison had been used in the murder of those six people.
...So, we probably couldn't deny the possibility that the culprit had snuck into the kitchen during all that confusion in the morning, and mixed poison in with the ingredients there.

......Rosa oba-san ordered all of us that, until the police came, we should not put anything into our mouths except safe foods like canned food.
As a cook, Gohda-san must have felt very let down.

As though he wanted to display his skill anyways, Gohda-san said that he at least wanted to bring the plates and pile them up with canned food.

At first, Rosa oba-san had been reluctant, examining each one of the plates that were brought, but she hadn't been able to find anything to complain about, and Gohda's 'Chef's Pick Canned Food Combo Lunch' was born.
Gohda-san said something about taste being savored not just with the tongue, but with the eyes too.

...I see, it's the same canned food we ate for breakfast, but it feels like something completely different...
"Uu-, Battler. Look, look.  This is the 'Wolves and Sheep Puzzle'.  Uu-."

As I was sitting lazily on the sofa, with no desire to watch TV, Maria came over, pulled a picture book out of her handbag, and held it out to me as she said that.

"......What is that book?  'Wolves and Sheep Puzzle'?  ...............Let's see."
'Wolves and Sheep Puzzle'.

It was a phrase that Rosa oba-san had said this morning when we had gone to call on Jessica.

...At the time, I hadn't known what it meant, and then after that, there was the uproar when Jessica's corpse was found, so I'd forgotten about it completely.
The book that Maria held out to me looked like a foreign picture book or something that had been translated.
When I opened it, I realized that it was a book stuffed with riddles.
"Uu-.  So there's several wolves and sheep, right?  It's a puzzle to take them to the other side using one boat."
"......Hmmmm?  I've heard of a game with rules like this.  This is the wolves and sheep puzzle?"
It was a very simple puzzle, passed on from long ago.

Let's try posing a question.
On the right bank, there are two wolves and two sheep.

There is a boat that as many as two animals can ride on, and using it, you have to move all four of them to the opposite left bank.  That's the puzzle.
There are two rules.

The first is regarding the boat.
Even a single wolf or a single sheep can paddle it.
But it can only hold two animals.
The second is regarding the wolves.
When they are greater in number than the sheep in that location, they attack the sheep and it's game over.
For example, at the start of the game...
The two sheep ride the boat, and go to the other side.
Then one sheep gets off, and the other goes back to the first bank.

......When it does, there are two wolves on the first bank.  And a single sheep returns there.

When that happens, there are more wolves, so the sheep is attacked and it's game over.
On either bank or even the boat, there must not be more wolves than sheep.

It's a puzzle about how to shuttle them across in the boat under these conditions.
By the way, the right answer is to move both wolves to the opposite bank in the first turn.
Then one wolf comes back.

On the second turn, you move two sheep to the opposite bank.
Then one wolf comes back.

Then on the third turn, you put that last wolf that was on the right bank on the boat and cross to the opposite bank, and congratulations, transport successful.
Partway, there may be the same number of wolves and sheep in the boat or on either side, but that isn't a problem.
You only lose when the number of wolves is greater.
This book uses wolves and sheep as an example, but lots of people probably know this game with a different example...

It looked like Maria wanted to test whether I too could solve the puzzles she knew how to solve, and she kept showing me different pages, saying 'solve this one' and 'this one's hard'.
What had been happening when Rosa oba-san had said the name of this puzzle...
That's right.

...When we'd decided to call Jessica, we had been talking about how many men should go, and Rosa oba-san had mentioned 'Wolves and Sheep Puzzle', saying that we should all go together......
"........................Wait a sec..."
That could only mean one thing.
...Rosa oba-san was saying that there was a wolf among us.

And when the number of wolves and sheep was balanced, we were safe, but when a situation came up where that wasn't the case, the wolves bear their fangs, ...is that what she thought......?
At the time we had found our parents corpses, Rosa oba-san had already suspected that the servants might be 'wolves'.

She had sniffed out the possibility that, while she didn't know whether it was all of them or a group, some 'wolves' were hiding among them.
......That's no surprise.

That murder scene was very elaborate.
It was easy to imagine that there were multiple culprits.
And because she had reached that conclusion, when we went to Jessica's room, where Jessica had been alone with a servant, Kanon, and had been killed, .........it isn't hard to imagine why Rosa oba-san had suspected the servants so persistently...
"All you servants.  Gohda-san is going to the kitchen to clean the utensils.  Just in case, would you please all go with him?"

"My apologies, everyone.  Let us go as a group."
"......Shannon, Kumasawa.  We are going."
"Yes, yes, coming.  Hoh-hoh-ho."

"Well then, George-san, excuse me for now."
"Yes.  .........Take care.  Ah, Rosa oba-san, could I go as well?"
"I'm sorry, would you remain here, George-kun?  There's something I want to talk to you about."

"......Is that so?  Sorry, Shannon.  Anyways, take care.  ...Don't be alone."
"...Yes..."

"I'm sorry, Doctor Nanjo.  ......I wanted to consult you about something."
"Yes, ......what could that be?  .................."

The servants put the utensils and empty cans on the serving cart and started to head out into the corridor.

Behind them, Rosa oba-san was talking to Doctor Nanjo about something in a small voice.

"...Understood.  I will go."
"Yes, I am counting on you."

Doctor Nanjo closed the book he had been reading, stood from the sofa, and followed after the servants...
Rosa oba-san stuck her head out into the hallway, and after seeing them leave completely, she closed the door, and spoke.

"Everyone, listen.  With this, everyone here is an Ushiromiya person."
"......Hmm?  Yes, that is true..."
"So you're saying that you've chased out all of the 'wolves'?  ......Rosa oba-san."

With that one sentence, Rosa oba-san's gaze grew sharp.  ...Apparently she had picked up on the sarcasm.
......Rosa oba-san laughed lightly.

"...Your mind sure works fast, Battler-kun.  I like clever kids.  It means there's less to explain."
"Uu-.  Battler, smart...?  Can you solve this?  Page 64 is hard.  Uu-!"

"Maria, watch TV for a while.  Mama wants to talk with Battler-kun and George-kun."
"...............Uu-."
"Rosa oba-san.  ...I heard about the puzzle from Battler-kun.  ...I don't think it's bad to be very careful, but I think being too suspicious isn't good either."
"Whether the real culprit is Beatrice or not, there is reason for us to suspect that the servants are in league with her.  ......In the first murder, where Nii-san and the others were killed, they were treated very brutally, right?  Did that look like something that could be done alone?"

"............Maybe the mystery guest, Beatrice-sama worked all night, and did it all."
"And the case with the master key involving the door to Jessica's room?  Isn't that proof that one of the servants was involved?"
"......Nn..............."
Only the master key could have locked the door to Jessica's room.
...In that case, we can only suppose that one of the servants locked it......

.........No, ......wait.
"Turn the chessboard over.  ......That's strange, Rosa oba-san."
"After killing Jessica, why would the culprit go to all the trouble of locking the door?  Since it was locked, it became inevitable that the owners of the master keys would be suspected.  ......There was no need to go to all the trouble of locking the door."
"...Th, that's right.  It's just as Battler-kun says!  There was no need for them to go to all the trouble of making themselves suspicious."
"Yes.  That's an interesting thought.  Of course, I also thought that.  ......If that's so, then the person who locked it wanted to cast suspicion on the servants, and locked that door without a master key.  But that's impossible.  Right?"
......That's right.
If there was a trick that could lock the door without a master key, this would be a good disguise aimed at casting doubt on the servants.

...If the culprit wanted us to isolate ourselves and attack us one by one, this trick would also be effective at giving rise to paranoia.

However, there was no way to lock that door without using a master key...
"How can you make the claim that there's no way to lock the door without using a master key?  Isn't that a Devil's Proof, like Rudolf nii-san was talking about?  Maybe it

was locked by a method we can't think of・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・."
"Even if we can't think of it, that doesn't mean we can deny that there was some unknown trick."

"............That's also true.  So is that it?  The suspicious ones are guilty...?"

"I don't know the practical details of the trick, but I have a general idea.  My apologies, but if we supposed that Kanon-kun was the culprit, it can be explained extremely easily.  Even as to why there was no corpse."
"Huh......  But Kanon-kun wasn't holding a master key, right?!  Putting aside the other servants, at least Kanon-kun shouldn't have been able to lock the door!"

"......I see.  ...So that's why you told us to search in the closet and everywhere else right after we entered Jessica's room.  ......Rosa oba-san, ...your mind works faster than I could imagine judging by your normal appearance."

"The brain speed of a little sister is always the big sister's minus 1.  ...Right now there is no one I need to worry about, so I feel relieved."

George-aniki realized that she was referring to Eva oba-san, and seemed a little disturbed about how he should take that sarcasm...
"......I, I'm sorry.  Could you explain it so that even I can understand?  Kanon-kun's master key was in Jessica-chan's pocket, closed up inside a closed room.  After the door was locked, it should have been impossible to put it in her pocket from outside the room no matter what trick he used...!"

"That's not it, Aniki.  ......If it was done in the way Rosa oba-san imagines, ......this trick could only be used by Kanon-kun.  ...And, the door could be locked without a key, while the master key was still in Jessica's pocket.  ......And, as a result, his corpse would also disappear."

"H, ......how?!  How would he lock the door without a key?!"

"It's simple.  George-kun, when you return home, you lock the door, right?  You twist the knob, *click*, right?"
"Huh...?!  .........C, ...could it be, ......no, but, ......Kanon-kun wasn't anywhere......"
"...It looks like you've got it, Aniki.  .........That's what Rosa oba-san was searching inside the room for.  ......She was searching for Kanon-kun, who had locked the door from the inside, stuck the key in Jessica's pocket, and was hiding somewhere, waiting for us to walk right past him."
That was the simplest closed room trick.
...It meant he had been hiding inside the closed room after the murder had been committed.

...And if he could get out after those who discovered the body left, the closed room murder would work perfectly......
"We searched that room, but we didn't find anything.  ...But, that doesn't mean we know that the room didn't have something like a secret hidden passage that only the servants know about."
"We don't know where that might be hidden, but if we assume that there was a hidden passage, we can make the claim that it was impossible for anyone except him."

"...............You know, that line of reasoning, ...I also thought that in the very beginning.  ......It's the reasoning I hate the most, so I wanted to destroy it in the very beginning..."

"*cackle*cackle*...  'Kanon was killed in this room', right?"

"Because you seemed to suspect Kanon as the culprit, you made me repeat this to destroy that possibility right away.  I understand, I understand.  *cackle*......"

"...So this is what I thought next.  A theory that there were actually three people in that room.  Jessica and Kanon-kun were victims.  And I thought that the culprit, the guest Beatrice, was also there with them."

"You wanted to make it 'the human me' who committed the crime without using magic.  I see, a strange theory that fits you perfectly.  *giggle*giggle*."

"......I guessed that you killed those two, then locked the door from the inside.  And you carried Kanon-kun's corpse using some secret method that normal people wouldn't notice.  ......In other words, you used a secret door to escape."

"But you told me it in red.  ...You said that there are no types of hidden doors."

"Hmm.  No secret passage exists that you all do not know of.  Was it Knox, or was it Van Dine?  It seems that in mystery novels, there must not be hidden passages, no matter what.  I also follow that etiquette."

"So even without having to thoroughly search the room, a famous detective could claim that there are no secret passages.  .........*cackle*cackle*, playing as human detectives is so easy."

"Damn you, talking so big...  Thanks.  Thanks to the witch's arrangement, I can claim that the room doesn't have a hidden door without searching the whole thing."

"Hmm.  There are no hidden doors in this room.  There is no way to get in or out other than the door and the window."

"......Which means, ...that theory Rosa oba-san's so confident in, ......is wrong.  ...Furthermore, it's annoying, but it's impossible to disprove that theory.  If you, the witch, say 'there are no hidden doors' in red, then it's settled."

"......However, no matter how much a human like me tries to argue against her, Rosa oba-san probably won't accept it.

Humans can't prove there's no hidden door・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・.
It's a Devil's Proof.  ............Damn.  It sure is convenient being a witch..."

"......No way!  You're calling Kanon-kun the culprit because of a hidden door that we don't know exists...  I, ...can't accept that."

"You can't accept that, so you'd like to hear some reasoning that is easier to accept?  .........There is none.  I've been thinking the whole time.  There's nothing but this!"
"........................"
"George-kun, you had a good relationship with Shannon-chan, right?  So I think it would be hard for you to accept that all of the servants are the culprits.  I also don't want to believe that Shannon-chan is one of the culprits.  .........But whether it's all of them or not, the culprit, or maybe an accomplice, is definitely in that group.  You must not fail to see that!"
"......If you thought that someone other than Kanon-kun was a wolf, ...then causing that uproar by saying that Kanon-kun was the culprit in Jessica's room was to see the servants' reactions...?"

"Yes, that's right.  And as a result, I began to suspect them even more.  ......There certainly is a wolf among the servants.  Certainly.  And, just like the 'Wolves and Sheep Puzzle', while they are normally docile, they will surely attack if they get the chance."

"......Jessica-chan was a lone sheep on the boat.  ......In that puzzle, they may not attack when there is a balance between wolves and sheep, but our puzzle is different.  Depending on the opportunity and the number of people, they'll attack even if there is a balance.  Just like when Jessica-chan was killed!"

".........Th, there's something I don't like!  In that case, Shannon, who you had go to the kitchen, is in a dangerous situation, right?!!  We should also go to the kitchen right now!  No matter who might or might not be a wolf!  If we can form a balance by gathering together, I think we should maintain that!!"

"......Shannon-chan went to see Father along with Genji-san.  At that time, she was supposedly isolated, but she wasn't killed.  Because Genji-san wasn't a wolf either?"

"......That's wrong!  Because they were both wolves!!"
"Shannon isn't the kind of person who would take part in a crime!!  Even if it's you, Rosa oba-san, I cannot ignore that.  I demand that you take back what you just said...!"
"...I hate to say this in front of Aniki, but that argument, ......feels just like something Eva oba-san would say.  If we can't argue back, then you automatically assume that you're right.  ......Looks like you can't fight your blood after all, Oba-san."

".........Even I don't think of myself as very praiseworthy right now.  But guess what?  I'm a mother!  I would even become a demon to protect Maria's safety.  I really wish I could shut myself away somewhere alone with Maria."

"......But I also plan to act as a mother to you two.  Right now, you are as good as my children.  ......Even if you aren't my own children, ...I won't forsake you.  .........Definitely."
"......Sure, thanks."

"I just wanted to warn you not to be careless, as your mother.

Always remain where I can see you・・・・・・・・・・・・・・.  I will protect you."

"And at the same time, you'll be observing us to make sure we aren't 'wolves'.  ...Yeah, thanks a lot for that.  Can you, Oba-san, prove that you aren't a 'wolf' yourself?"

"Yes, I can."
"That's a quick answer.  How?"
"With this.  ...This is my proof."
Rosa oba-san held up the gun, and pointed the barrel at me.
But that was only for an instant.

She immediately lowered the gun, laughing impishly.
......But to me, the time I spent staring down the barrel of the gun had felt like an eternity.
"...How does that gun prove that you aren't the culprit, Rosa oba-san?"

"Think about it.  What if I were the culprit?  Did you think I would let the once-in-a-lifetime chance I got when the servants left get away?  I could just shoot you, *bang*, and think of a fitting excuse later.  Something like, Beatrice appeared outside the window and shot you with a gun.  I would claim that I fired off a second shot back at her, and throw away two shots worth of empty cartridges."

"That's a crazy violent argument, but it does make sense.  Ihihihi!"
"Long ago, there's something Krauss nii-san often said.  Might is right.  .........I wonder if that's really true?"
".........I'm sorry, you two.  I've somewhat lost my composure after all these crimes since morning.  Since you know how I normally am, right now I must seem inflexible and a little short-tempered.  ...But understand.  I want to protect you from the malicious culprit.  I will become a demon to do that.  That's all there is to it.  ......I'm sorry for saying something that's angered you.  Battler-kun, George-kun.  ...Let's make up."
An unsatisfied expression rose to George-aniki's face.
...He probably couldn't forgive the damage done to Shannon's honor.
...What about me...?
Several bits of circumstantial evidence hinted at the servants' participation.

......I didn't want to believe that one of them was the culprit, or possibly colluding with the culprit, ...but in the current situation, that was nothing but wishful thinking.
Who should I believe?

In the first place, who was the culprit?
Were there accomplices?
If so, how many?!
......It seems that I've only been suspecting the people involved.
...I had quickly forgotten that 19th person, the guest, Beatrice, who had come yesterday and boldly called herself the Golden Witch.
I hadn't actually seen her face.
I'd heard that she was like a double of the witch in that portrait, but because I hadn't seen her directly, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't really feel like a 19th person was on this island.

...So I had unconsciously been hallucinating that the culprit was one of the 18...
Damn it......  Come out, Beatrice.
If you're the bad guy, then act like the bad guy, and show yourself, laughing in a high-pitched voice and looking down on us.

Just like the bad guy in one of those dramas who, even though they are exposed as the culprit, aggressively says 'is there any proof?'

"*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*.  Is there any proof?"
"Shut up, no more talking..."
There were five humans in the kitchen, but it was very quiet, filled only with the sound of the rain.

It was only accented by the sound of Shannon and Kumasawa washing the dishes.
Gohda was using the leftovers from breakfast and lunch as ingredients for a soup.
......Rosa had suspected that poison might have been added to the food, so they had decided to eat canned food, but it hadn't really been satisfying.

But Gohda thought that she was being too careful.
So he was spontaneously creating a soup to be served only to those that wanted to drink it.

Shannon and Kumasawa were washing the dishes that the food had been arranged on.

On the inside, they thought maybe Gohda should be the one to wash them since he had been the one who wanted the food on plates in the first place, but they left their complaints unsaid for the time being.

Genji and Nanjo were facing each other across a crude chess set which had many years of experience.
...It had still only just begun.

And because the opening game of the experienced players had been endlessly refined, it looked like a ceremony where they just moved specified pieces in a specified order.

"That's a nice aroma...  You wouldn't get this from canned food."
"It was made only from sealed ingredients, so there won't be any poison mixed in.  I am making enough for everybody, so please, eat.  Of course, I will also taste for poison.  Please feel secure and eat."

"That really is a nice aroma.  Gohda-san, the food you cook really is delicious."

"It's natural that you can create delicious food if you buy delicious ingredients.  ......My master taught me that perfecting your ability to make delicious food from whatever is at hand is what makes you a true cook."

"That was a good master.  Thanks to him, it looks like we can enjoy some truly delicious soup."
"......Although it is a shame that it was made from ingredients intended for all of the family members to eat."

"I'm sure that Rosa-san is also tired after everything that happened this morning.  It is only natural."
"But thanks to that, we get to drink some soup made from delicious ingredients, hoh-hoh-ho."
Rosa had fervently told everyone that they didn't notice the danger they were in, and that they must suspect that poison was mixed in with the food.

The atmosphere in this place accepted that, but their hunger wouldn't be overcome by that momentary emotion.

"Ironically, it has become a soup that we normally wouldn't be able to savor.  I would like to also serve it to everyone in the parlor, but...?"
"......Seeing that would violate Rosa-sama's instructions, it would be better to give it up.  ......It is alright if only those who want to drink it do so."

"Hoh-hoh-hoh-ho.  Skillfully taking a breather when no one is looking is also something a servant knows, isn't it."
When Kumasawa cackled, Shannon and Gohda also laughed.

It seemed that, in an area where only their fellow servants were gathered, they could be very relaxed.

Shannon didn't like Gohda's occasional dishonesty, but she knew that there was no falsehood in his childish smile when he cooked food, nor in his desire that people enjoy his food.

So even though it was a little aggravating to be made to wash the dishes, she couldn't really hate him.
However, they couldn't have dreamed that Rosa was calling them wolves in the parlor at exactly the same moment that they were spending their time peacefully like this......
At that time, several of the servants heard a sound like something was being dragged, and then a *thump*.

It seemed like the sound made by a servant outside the back door when they were carrying a mountain of trash bags on a rainy day, or maybe when a servant was returning from work wearing a raincoat.
So after hearing that sound, at first, none of them noticed anything out of the ordinary...

But they quickly realized.
............In a situation where everyone was either in the kitchen or the parlor, who in the world was at the back door...?!

As the servants all looked at each other, they checked to make sure that each one of them knew what that sound meant.
"Wh, ..........who could it be......?"

The servants knew the mansion's layout well.
So they understood how incomprehensible it would be for someone from the parlor to actually go outside in this typhoon, go all the way around, and come up to this back door.
Then was it Kinzo?  ...They couldn't imagine that Kinzo, who never left his study, would dash out into the middle of this typhoon and come to the back of the house, where only low class people came in or out.

"......Th, ......that wasn't, our imagination, was it......?"".............Awawawawawawawawa..."
Shannon and Kumasawa drew close together, fearfully looking at the back door...
"...Wh, ...who is it......?"
As Gohda fearfully approached the back door, he called out.
......And he checked with his eyes the location of a butcher's knife set in a nearby sink.

......He didn't pick it up yet.
Because there was still a possibility that this was a member of the family.
However, that possibility wasn't possible...
There was no response from across the door to Gohda's initial question.
...Maybe his voice had been so quiet that it hadn't reached through all the wind and rain outside.

".........Genji-san."
"......Hmm.  .........Stand back, Doctor Nanjo and the women."
"...Wh, ......who in the world could it be......"
Genji took a knife with a classical design from a stationary box placed near the chess set.

...It was something to be used instead of a paper knife to open envelopes for statements of delivery and bills.

But it was fundamentally a knife.
So the blade on it could injure someone...
Genji hid it in his sleeve with a well-practiced manner.
Then they both approached the back door, Gohda silently signaling his approval.

Gohda cautiously approached the back door, .........and slowly started to open it......
"Wa, wahyaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa...!!!"
The shadow of a person suddenly shuffled into sight, landed on its knees, and fell over.
Gohda fell backwards onto his backside and couldn't get up.

That human shadow was soaked with rain, smeared with mud, and drenched with blood...

"K, ............Kanon-kun?!  Kanon-kun!!"
".........Kanon.  Are you alright...?  Doctor Nanjo...!"
It was Kanon.

......His breath was feeble, ......and the puddles of mud he left quickly became drenched bright-red.
When Nanjo held him and turned him face up, there was a deep, gruesome scar right in the center of his chest, as though a spear or something had been stuck there.

Even now, deep-red blood poured out from there...!

"Th, th th..this is horrible...  Wh, what shall we do, first aid kit?  First aid kit?!"
"Kanon-kun, put your hand against the wound!  Please, push firmly!  Let's carry him to the bed in the servants' room!!  Everyone, please, lend a hand."

"C, come now, Kanon-san!  Please, hang in there a little longer...!"
"Hang in there!!  It's alright now!!  So don't take your hand from the wound...!!"
"Anyways, let's carry him to the servants' room.  ......Kumasawa, inform Rosa-sama that we have found Kanon."
"W, .........wait...............not, .........to Rosa-sama........."

"...Please wait!  Kanon-san said not..., to Rosa-sama..."
"......Wh, what do you mean, Kanon-kun...!"

"............It's alright for now.  Let us quickly carry him to the servants' room.  Kumasawa, do not tell Rosa-sama yet.  ...We will do it after we hear the situation from Kanon."
"Y, ......yes............hiiiiiiii..."

After appearing in this horrible state, he had said not to tell Rosa.

......That could only mean something very disquieting.
......An eerie impatience rose to their faces...

"C, come now, everyone!  Let's hurry and carry him...!  Quickly, quickly...!"
Kanon's wound was unbelievably deep, ...and judging from Nanjo's pale face, it was almost a miracle that he was still conscious...
"......This is......horrible...  It appears that he has been stabbed with something like a spear.  I, If it hasn't reached the lungs, I might be able to do something......  Anyways, stop the bleeding......!"
"u, guo......, aaaaga!!!"
No matter how much Nanjo tried to wipe off that gushing deep-red blood, ...he couldn't wipe it he couldn't wipe it he couldn't wipe it all away...!  And each time, the wound was aggravated, causing Kanon to cry in anguish...

"Kanon-kun, Kanon-kun Kanon-kun!  Hang in there..., hang in there...!!"
"Doctor Nanjo!  A new towel...!  ...How, horrible...!!"
"What is his condition...?"

".........In all honesty, ...it is so severe that I cannot believe he is alive...  Maybe the location of the stab was fortunate...  But the blood loss is too horrible...!  A blood transfusion is necessary, but that's impossible until tomorrow...!"
"......u, ......*cough*cough*!!  R, ......Rosa-sama, ......to us......, ugaaaaaa!!""D, don't talk, Kanon-kun!  Your wound will open...!"