Episode 3. Banquet of the Golden Witch


The vase was very beautiful, rich with history and value.

Even as young as I was, it still forced me to take a deep breath when I witnessed its beauty.
Of course, that was a member of Grandfather's favorite collection.

So that I didn't make a mistake and destroy its fragile beauty, I was always strictly ordered to never touch it.
......But that just made me want to touch it.

It was transparent and yet so elegant that just glancing at it gave it an indescribable sense of dignity.

...I wanted to see what it felt like to touch a vase like that.
However, ...just as Grandfather had said, it was something that shouldn't be touched.
Because something this beautiful shouldn't be touched.

It was a beauty that could only dwell in something that could break so easily.
Because of that, if someone like me touched it with their finger, it would happen quickly.

Just like how a fun dream disappears with a 'poof' when you wake up, ......it disappeared, fell, and broke into pieces.
I realized that, because of my own foolish curiosity, I had done something that couldn't be taken back.
No matter how much I regretted it, no matter how much I apologized.
The broken vase would not be returned to its original form...
I would probably be scolded by Grandfather.
Probably very harshly.

Frightened, I ended up breaking into tears and sobbing...
As I did, I noticed something, ............beautiful.  Lightly dancing golden butterflies, were coming towards me.
As mysteriously glowing golden dots shone, the beautiful butterflies began to gather, one at a time.
Oh, it's Beatrice.
That reliable Golden Witch, Beatrice had arrived.
The butterflies gathered one after another and became a group. and there, became the witch's form...
She was always my ally.
Whenever I was in trouble, she would always appear and help me.
"Good day to you, princess."
"Beatrice!  ......Waaaah, hic, hic...!"
"Oh, my...  Why are you crying so on a day so perfect for a tea party, my princess...?"
"...I broke the vase that Grandfather treasured...  Waah, Grandfather will get mad at me.  ...I don't know what I should do...  Hic..."
"How troublesome.  This was supposed to be a vase that the Master liked very much.  ......Hohohoho, it's terrifying even for me, Beatrice, to think about what kind of punishment you'll receive."
Grandfather was a very frightening person.

And when you failed to follow something he said even once, he would become so mad, with a rage that would make even the fallen angels in hell quiver.

Since I knew that so well that it pierced me to the bones, I couldn't do anything but shake like this and cry...
"I hold no magic to scoop up your fallen tears, princess, but if you want magic that will make it possible for you to avoid being scolded by the Master, I might be able to do something."
"R, really...?"
"If you will believe in my power, princess. The basis of magic power is the power of belief.  ......Miracles will only appear before those who strongly believe."
"I, ...I believe...  I believe in your power, Beatrice.  So please fix this vase.  Please...!"
"If that is what you want, princess.  ......Then leave it to me, Beatrice."

When she extended her index finger, a golden butterfly softly landed there, and changed its form into her favorite cane.
But even that was enough to give me a small glimpse at Beatrice's wonderful and great magic power.

She pointed her cane at the broken vase, and, just like a child's lullaby, she began speaking the magic words...
"Come, try to close your eyes.  And try to remember.  What form did you have?  It was surely a very, very beautiful form.  Please, show me that form one more time..."
Were they words, or was it a song?

No, it was surely magic.
After all, can't you see?  ...The pieces of the vase are obviously gathering together, and softly returning to the place where they had been displayed, ......returning to their original form.
"......Incredible..."
"See?  Now it's back to normal.  This way, you will be able to avoid being yelled at by the Master."
"Beatrice, you sure are incredible.  It was no trouble for you to repair a broken vase."
"That's not true.  Returning something broken to its original form is a very, very difficult thing.  With my magic, I could do no more than make it remember what it was, for the time being."
"......?  But, the vase really turned back to the way it was, right...?"
"That's right.  But that doesn't mean that the vase avoided its fate of being broken.  I did nothing but make the broken vase remember how it was before it broke for the time being.  Magic power that can repair a broken fate to its original form is at a very high level that I have yet to reach."
At that time, the high-pitched scream of a servant could be heard from inside the mansion.
When I went to see what had happened, ......I noticed that several of the servants had gathered, and were cleaning up the remains of the broken vase.

From what they said, it seemed that a black cat had sneaked in from somewhere and had climbed up on the vase, causing it to break.
I understood the meaning of what Beatrice had said.

...At the time that I had broken the vase, 'the vase was broken'.
Beatrice had shown me that the vase had been restored, but that had been a temporary thing.  It didn't mean the fate that 'the vase was broken' had changed.
As a result, ......the vase had remembered its true fate, and 'had broken'.
But I hadn't broken it, instead, it had been a cat which had snuck in...
That's right.  Beatrice hadn't said 'Let's mend the vase'.

She had said she would make it so that I didn't have to be punished.
The fate of the vase breaking hadn't changed, but the fact that I had broken it certainly had...

Beatrice had skillfully saved me from danger with that magic...
"It is very easy to break something.  Just like how you, princess, broke the vase, but you didn't need magic to do it."
"...Fixing something is very hard...?"
"Yes.  So much that you were at a loss at what to do and started crying."
"......So it's easier to use magic to do horrible things?  To break, ......to kill is very easy, ......but fixing and reviving things is very hard, as you say..."
"......That's right.  With magic, it is much easier to do things like breaking and killing.  Therefore, weak witches lose to temptation and are intoxicated with gathering easy power to themselves, and neglect their real magic training.  ......Real magic is the power to repair, to revive.  To call back happiness which has disappeared, to call back love which has gotten cold.  And it can call back a forgotten smile to a princess' face."
"Then, ......Beatrice, does that mean that since you could fix the vase, you are an incredible witch?"
"My days of training are far from over.  After all, I couldn't make the vase forget its fate for even an hour.  If it were my teacher, who taught me magic, I'm sure that she would be able to restore the vase to its original form forever."
"If it broke and broke, she could fix it over and over again...?"
"Yes.  When one reaches that level they are considered to be an Endless Witch.  That is the endless level that all witches should reach.  We respect those witches the most and call them this."
"An Endless Witch..."
"That's right.  ......To witches holding the power to mend something endlessly, the concept of breaking doesn't even exist.  They are released from all of the sadness caused by losing things and are promised eternal bliss."
Certainly, the human world is full of sadness caused by separation and loss.

To escape that sadness, people pray to god, and ask for the power to withstand the sadness, believing it to be a test...
In other words, a human's life is a journey, searching for a way to withstand sadness.
In that case, a witch who could revive all things would be freed from all sadness in the world.  ......In other words, it is eternal bliss...
"I wonder, ...if I could become a witch like Beatrice, and gain eternal happiness."
"You, princess...?  Hoh-hoh-ho..., that is a long, long, difficult path, you see?"
"I want to become a witch.  ......I want to be happy.  Beatrice, I want to become your disciple."
"...............Do you have even the slightest doubt in that feeling?"
"No.  I also want to become a witch."
"......I understand.  Then, until you get tired of it, princess, I will allow you to be my disciple.  ...Will you call me Teacher?"
"Yes, Teacher."
"That's a good answer.  Then from now on, learn the depths of magic along with me.  I am also training.  Let us both learn magic the right way, and do our best to reach that blissful level."
"Yes, Teacher...!"
".....................Ah, a dream.  ......That face brings me back..."
An Endless Witch, was it?
A name that I had yearned for in the past as the highest achievement, and was now just another one of my titles.

No, you can even say it's my calling card.
"...Every once in a while, it's nice to feel satisfied by being called that.  Isn't it something that I gained as the result of many days of training?  ...It's a little bit of a waste if I don't feel valued every once in a while.  ......*cackle*cackle*cackle*."
She shook her head lightly.

If it is called the highest level, that means that there is nothing higher.
An eternal dead end, the beginning of eternal boredom.
"Teacher said it once.  That when one is released from all sadness, it is the same as eternal bliss.  ......Which is why I think,

Teacher couldn't reach that level・・・・・・・・・・."
Eternal bliss means eternal boredom.
...That's the beginning of eternal torture.
But let's think about this.

Eternal boredom is the same as a sketchbook that doesn't run out of pages.
It means you can draw whatever you want, can try to have as much fun as you want.
Boredom is the worst poison that kills all witches.

......To the Great Witches who are given the title 'Lady', this is frighteningly true.
It is the eternal poison that tortures them because of the eternal bliss that they have reached...
"Now that I have earned the name of Endless Witch, I truly wish to speak with Teacher again.  ......Was the result of our training really 'happiness'?  And now I want to talk with her about what true 'happiness' is."
'There is no end in training.  When you think you have reached the eternal level, that is the time to regret your immaturity.'
......I remember her saying something like that as though answering herself.
"*cackle*cackle*, hahhahahahahahahahaha...  I see, ......I am immature, am I?!  How nice, how nice.  *cackle*cackle* *cackle*cackle*...!"
Some painfully shrill laughter could be heard.

It was from my furniture.  ...Did they break their toy again?

"Beatrice-sama.  This guy's stopped moving again."
"Even though I haven't played enough at all.  What a pathetic man."
"Even though I haven't played at all!  Let me play, let me pla-y!"

"Be silent, you filth!  Since you all devour him like starving dogs, no matter how well Beatrice-sama fixes him, he'll just break right away."
"Satan-nee broke him the most.  'Cause she doesn't know restraint."

"My apologies, Beatrice-sama.  Please forgive my stupid younger sisters."
"Fix him quickly-!  I'm next, I'm ne-xt!"

"Couldn't you be silent, shut up!!"

"""""""Iiiee!!"""""""
Just from that single yell, the noisy Sisters of the Seven Stakes disappeared and hid.

They just mess around, having as much fun as they want breaking him.
They only come to me to clean up afterwards.  ...Seriously, these furniture don't let me get bored.
What remained after the furniture hid themselves, ...was just the sloppy mess that was all that remained of the broken toy.

It had no form anymore.
"...It will be hard for me to make it remember its original form in this state.  It's better to make him remember for himself.  ......Oh, well."
I waved my golden pipe.

And I told.  I chanted.  I made it remember.
"......Come, try to remember.  What form did you have?  ...After all, right now, all I can see is a huge lump of scrap meat.  I've no idea which part is the arm and which part is the leg.  If you don't remember, I won't even be able to remember your face.  *cackle*cackle*cackle*!"
By the power of the magic, the pitiful pieces of meat began to remember what their form had been.

Which part should go with which part, and where should join with where?
That's right, just like that.
...No, no, you should be a finger on the left hand.  That's the right hand.  That's it, good, good, *cackle*.

"...Good morning.  Have you woken up, Ushiromiya Battler?  How truly ironic that being awake is even more like a nightmare."
".........*cough*, ...*cough*... .........eck, ...owowow......"

"If you would just accept that I am a witch, you'll quickly awaken from this nightmare, and I'll send you to heaven.  I am the king of Mount Purgatory.  There's no way out of this hell without my approval."
"Heh, ...hehehehe.  You call this hell?  That's just useless.  Aah, it's all useless."
"The pain of death, which humans only have to taste once, has been given to you more times than I could count with all of my fingers, and yet, ...how can you keep talking like that?  *cackle*  That's why I don't get bored.  I don't get bored of you."
"Yeah, not bored at all.  Anyways, I get to pick and choose from those big boob Nee-chan's with dazzling asses in my harem.  Thanks to that, I'm not bored at all."

"*cackle*cackle*, *cackle*cackle*cackle*!  That's great.  Otherwise I would be bored too.  So, my furniture.  I've fixed him, so you can play as much as you want."

"Thank you very much!  Kyaha, all mine!"
"Didn't I say you're done, you're done, I'm next!  Back off, waaah!"

"Uffufufufu.  Wonderful, isn't it Battler-ku-n?  You're so popular, aren't you?"
"It's hard being a popular guy.  Get in line, you beasts."

"If you didn't bluff and stayed obedient, this would be much easier."
"It's alright like this.  His screams are more pleasant this way."
"Alright, let's not break him easily this time.  Come on, your answer?!"
"You aren't in control!  So, Battler-kun.  Let's continue where we left off, alright?  After they locked Jessica-chan's room with the master key, how did they return the key to the corpse's pocket, which was inside the room?"

"......For example......that's it, they used a fishing line or something, and just the key went back into the room through the crack of the door..."
"Kyahhahahahahahaha!!  Wro-ng!"

"So naive.  Of all of the doors that exist on Rokkenjima, none has a crack through which a key can slip."

"Wrong, wrong?!  Right, this time me, my turn!  Whe-re should I strike!"

"Me, back of the hand!"
"That's me-an!  Then, the back of the opposite hand!"
"I'll take the tip of the nose!"
"Why, why, let me do it too, let me strike too!  Waaah!!"

"Levia-nee sure is slow, we've always done first one wins, right?!  Then, I'll take the top of his foot!"
"Waaah!!  Me too, me too-!  I'll take his shoulder, alright!"
"Keh...  You're sisters right?  Be nice to each other......Gwaaa, ......oh, .........hh..."
"......How can you withstand that?  Why haven't you realized that your false courage actually makes us more excited?"
"Sorry, but...false courage and being stubborn are my specialty.  No matter how you all try to speak in riddles, I definitely won't accept witches and magic...!"

"Even though you can't explain anything with human tricks?  Are you a moron?!  Know your place!"
"It's all right, we don't have to force him to accept it.  Right now he wants to accept it, crying.  Even now, he really wants to kneel down on the ground pitifully and beg our forgiveness!"
"Ugaah, guahgehgehgyahh...!!"
"Aa-h, he's broken already!  Beatrice-sama!"

"......Ah, well.  Since they know that I can revive him over and over, my furniture don't even hesitate to break him.  How troublesome."

Giving eternal rebirth and eternal death at will.
Before the Endless Witch Beatrice, all death and life has no meaning.
Even death can't become the key to escape from my cage.
"So, Battler.  Remember your original form again.  I'll toy with you as much as I want, you see?  I see, I see, it's truly pleasant to have a toy to play with for all eternity.  ......I see, could this be the endless bliss witches gain at the endless level?
I see, I see.  This is surely a pleasant bliss.  *cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*!  Wahhahahahahahahahahahaha!!  I'll revive you over and over, kill you over and over!  Let's see, what kind of murder play will unfold on the next game board?  Come, bring the new game board.  Why don't we begin the next game, Ushiromiya Battler!!"

Days as a Girl

Sat, Oct 4 1986

"My, my, what a shame that Aneki hates cigarettes so much."
"Sorry.  She's been grumpy since lass night.  Would ya mind ignoring it?"
Rudolf and Hideyoshi went out onto the deck, and took out some cigarettes.
Eva had always hated the smell of cigarettes, but when she was in a bad mood, she got even more oversensitive.

When they had decided to spend the time until they reached the island smoking casually, the two of them had been threatened and chased out onto the deck.
Hideyoshi tried to use his lighter, but it didn't go well with all of the strong winds on the deck.
Rudolf took out a Zippo with a stylish gesture, and let Hideyoshi borrow the flame.

"When did you start smoking cigarettes, Hideyoshi nii-san?"
"Juss afta the war.  In the beginnin', I was rollin' 'em.  Then I started usin' what I was sellin'.  Wahahahahahahaha."

"So you were already smoking when you met Aneki.  I'll bet she's always telling you to stop."
"I neva listened to her, so she's alre'dy completely given up on that.  Wahaha, looks like men hafta be stubborn."

Hideyoshi laughed heartily, but Rudolf chuckled.

After they had been scolded by Eva, they had dejectedly ran out onto the deck together.  They had almost certainly been dominated by her.
"...She ain't usually so short tempered.  ......Nah, she's usually a more gentle, quiet woman.  Every year, she changes when this day comes."
"Is that so?  To me, she looks just like the Aneki we've all known for so long."
"......Thass right.  She's returned to bein' Eva of the Ushiromiya family.  ...But, thass different from the Eva who's with me."
"..................Well, I can understand why she's grumpy.  ...This family conference is going to be a pain."
"......Oh, yer right.  ...That plan to threaten money out of Krauss nii-san.  Even though we call it a family conference, 's really just a fight between the siblings."
Before the family conference, three of the siblings had made a secret contract without Krauss.

The situation that pressed at all of them was an urgent need for a lot of money.

And the only one who could help them was Krauss, who spoke for the Ushiromiya head, since Kinzo was shut up in his study.
Since long ago, they had felt that Krauss was taking advantage of Kinzo's loss of interest in his own wealth, and had started embezzling that wealth for his own use.
When everything had been going well for the siblings, even though they had found it detestable, they had pretended not to notice, ...but now that they needed money, they couldn't just quietly accept that.

Eva had called Rudolf and Rosa into an alliance, and they had schemed to take that money away from Krauss.

".........Rudolf-kun, I am, and ya as well, a president of a company.  I am responsible for the livelihood of my employees."
"Rosa is a president too.  Well, as a hobby."

"Thass right, sorry.  ......In short, all of us are bearin' some burden."
"...Now that I have thrown the gauntlet down in front of the executive board, I gotta bring in the money, even if it means I have to kneel or even drink mud."

"Same here.  ...I can't betray those employees who've trusted me 'n followed me for so long.  ......That's why I must get some money out of Krauss nii-san, even if I have to grab him by the neck."

"Aneki has always been at odds with Aniki.  ...And now she must oppose Aniki completely.  That's probably enough to make her grumpy."
"Juss as I thought.  So Eva has had a bad relationship with Krauss nii-san since long ago...?"

"Hasn't she talked about it?  It was so massive."
"She won't tell me about the past even if I ask.  She probably doesn't have anything she wants to remember."
"...Aneki has always been smart and to the point.  Her grades were good too.  Compared to that, Aniki was just average.  ...Her just being there beside him should have been enough pressure, but Aneki kept boasting about it and driving Aniki into a corner."
"......That idiot...  Why did she drive him into a corner with that frank hostility?  That won't accomplish anythin'."
"Hahaha, seriously.  .........Aneki regrets being born a woman.  ...After all, she probably couldn't forgive Aniki, since it was decided that he would succeed the head just because he was a man.  ...So she would always boast to Father that she was superior at every little thing."

"Father really is an old-fashioned person.  His values discriminate between men 'n women.  ...Ya think that Father disliked Eva a little, since she likes to make herself conspicuous...?"
"....................."
"Don't you think that schooling for women is like sugar in black tea?  Without it, there's no taste, but too much of it ruins the tea."
...Since you can still drink black tea without sugar, it was almost the same as saying that study was unnecessary for a woman.

Those infuriating words were ones that my older brother had abused me with when I had been in despair, when I had wanted to go to college but was rejected by Father.
I had protested that, as the oldest daughter in the Ushiromiya family, I needed to gain proper dignity and an education, so advancing to college was essential.

But, if you sum up Father's and brother's answers, they were both the same.

'How conceited for a woman.'
Since the time I was born into the Ushiromiya family, I hadn't taken that name lightly even once.
And furthermore, I also hadn't ever taken Father's name, Ushiromiya Kinzo, lightly even once.
It was an old family with many traditions, but in the Great Kanto Earthquake, it had lost its wealth and its business, and had sunk all at once.
Then Father, with his ingenious talent, had taken control, and revived it to be even greater than it had been before.

I hadn't forgotten that I was the daughter of that great Ushiromiya Kinzo even once.
Therefore, I had always made every effort to become worthy of that name.

Dignity worthy of the Ushiromiya family.  Schooling.  Manners.  And leadership.

Even if I couldn't quite reach Father's level, I deepened my knowledge in economics and finance, and tried to improve myself so that I could help out with that at any time.
......However, in the end, Father never accepted that.
To Father, a woman was only meant to support a man, and nothing further than that was permissable.
I probably understood that.
......I had probably understood that since I was a young girl.

...But to truly accept that, I had to wait until I had grown up.
You couldn't have said that Krauss, as my older brother by two years, tried at all to become deserving of the Ushiromiya family name, and his effort was pathetic compared to mine.
Since we were young, my brother kept saying that it was natural that he'd succeed Father, just because he was born a man.

...He kept repeating that, as though it were an absolute gap between us.
I couldn't stand it.  Even though I always got better grades than my brother, even though while he was stuck as vice-president of his class, I became class president, ...even so, my brother was considered to be the appropriate person to succeed the Ushiromiya family just because he was a man.
Of course, you could get away with gender discrimination in those days.
No, it was even considered a virtue in those days.

It was a despicable time.  People said that, when a woman is born, they obey their parents, when they get married, they obey their husbands, and when they get old, they obey their children.
But because that way of thinking existed, I wanted to overturn it.
......Innocently, I kept trying to prove that I was the most fit.

......However, eventually, I realized that all of my efforts were doomed from the beginning.
"Don't you think that schooling for women is like sugar in black tea?  Without it, there's no taste, but too much of it ruins the tea."
"...What do you mean by that, Nii-san?"
"Just like how there are things that only men can do, there are things that only women can do, right?  I think things like giving birth to children, raising them, and supporting their husband can only be done by women."
"Are you trying to say that there's no need for a woman to do things like work and study?"
"I wouldn't go that far.  It's tiring just talking with an unschooled woman.  ...However, women who are too smart are even more tiring.  I think that a woman like you, who violently asserts herself, would cause their future husband a lot of trouble."
"Are you trying to say that a woman must marry and stay in the shadow of their husband?  That's none of your business!"
"I admire you as my little sister for feeling that you should respect Father and become a proper daughter for him.  Even I can respect that."
"That's just disgusting.  What is this 'watashi'?  Even though you always used to use 'ore'.  Are you already pretending to be the head?"
Ore/Watashi

Ore (俺/オレ) is a pronoun used by boys and young men in general, an informal "I" that denotes familiarity among friends and family, but also masculinity and superiority towards their peers or people of lower status.
Watashi (私) is the neutral and formal pronoun for "I", that can be used by anyone, regardless their gender or status.

Switching from ore to watashi may be a sign that the person is trying to sound more serious, rather than simply masculine.
"It was decided that 'I (watashi)' would succeed the head from the beginning.  Even so, you seem to be laboring under the illusion that you can become the head, and have just been making useless and reckless attempts to do that."
"Reckless attempts, you say...?!  Is my saying that I want to go to college really that odd?!"
"Yes, it's odd.  You are surely the oldest daughter of the glorious Ushiromiya family.  Eventually, you will bear the family seal, and be wed to a partner who is most valuable for Father.  ...However, what is asked from you is not excess learning.  It is gentle feelings to care for your husband and ability in housework, and it is a humble demeanor that will support the master of your household.  You are completely lacking in all of those things.  In the end, is that really proper for a daughter of the Ushiromiya family?"
"I have no intention of being a secluded daughter!  I just want to become the best person who can help Father with his work!"
"And isn't that improper for a daughter of the Ushiromiya family...?  What is it with you?  Even at this age, you still act like a man, you are careless with housework and cooking, and you never wear any makeup to please men.  I've heard that you've even been training to learn how to brawl."
"Th, that's rude!!  It isn't brawling, the martial arts are the perfect training for the mind.  And at the proper time, I can act like a woman well enough!!  What are you trying to say?  That women are slaves who work for men, so don't come outside uninvited, is that what you're trying to say?!"
"It isn't elegant to accept that, but in order to correct your mistake, I think that a few unpleasant words are necessary.  So let me say it plainly.  Women exist to serve men.  And men exist to cultivate women.  A woman's job is to protect a man's back, to protect their house and raise their children.
Normally, they don't have to be told that to realize it.  They realize it by themselves.  ...But no matter how old you get, you haven't realized that about yourself.  So I will clear away that misunderstanding for you before you exit this house into society.  You should thank me."
"A, all of that is an insult to women...!!  No, wait, ...I, I have never thought of myself as a woman, I've never depended on anyone because I'm a woman!!  How am I inferior to you, Nii-san?!  In grades and accomplishments, in everything, I'm better, so how can you look down on me when you don't have anything I don't, except being a man?!!"
"It's about whether or not you know your place.  Every day, I have been raised so that I would be prepared to be the next head.  In the future, that will definitely be essential.  But you are different.  Even though you will marry and lose the Ushiromiya family name, you keep seeing this illusion that you don't need to see.
......What's so unsatisfying about that?  Even if you were born as a man, you still probably couldn't succeed the head.  What's so unsatisfying that you keep attacking me?"
"What's so unsatisfying, you say?!?!  Nii-san, you are always, always, ......always always always...!  Looking down on me because you will succeed the head, ......and despite that..., ......aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahh!!"
What's so unsatisfying, you say...?

A billion things are.  Grudges, hard feelings, humiliations that I'll never forget kept floating through the back of my mind.

And all of them built up at the same time, coming out of my throat as a shameful moan.
"......What is all this noise.  God isn't the only one who values silence."
"Father.""Father!"

Our sibling fight was probably overheard.
Father entered with a clearly unhappy face.
"Krauss.  Are you fighting with your siblings again?  Why don't you have the dignity to lead your brothers and sisters?  How shameful!  I'm shocked to hear that from my eldest son!"
In a flash, he struck Krauss's face.

...I prepared myself to be struck in the same way, but I wasn't hit.
"M, ......my apologies, Father."
"Dignity isn't the only thing that you lack.  There's much more.  You're immature in everything!  And even so, you pretend like you're an adult!  Realize that it's a hundred years too early for you to talk like that, and devote yourself to your studies!  Don't make me lament my son's incompetence any more...!"
"Yes.  ...I will continue to strive so that I can become a person worthy to succeed you, Father..."

It was as if those words were directed at me.
Even when he was being yelled at by Father, he was still bragging to me about how he was special, ......about how he was the successor.
I just couldn't stand it, and finally spoke what was on my mind.
Even though I realized that this was improper for a person of the Ushiromiya family.
"Father...!!  Please tell me, how am I inferior?!!  Until today I've tried so hard, studied so hard to become a person who would not shame Father's name...!  Please, tell me, in what way am I inferior...?!  How can I improve myself so that Father will accept me...!!"
"Are you still talking about that?!!  How many times do I have to say it before you'll understand?  What you're expecting is nothing at all!  A woman should just learn cooking and sewing, like a woman!!  You aren't prepared at all as a woman!  I can't sense any of the disposition needed to serve a man, the heart to devote yourself to a man!!
What good are you as a woman!  Do you realize that you are a daughter of the Ushiromiya family!!  And yet, you only want to learn things so that you can act like a man!  Your duty is not to act like Krauss!!  Do you even understand your own duty?!!"
"A, as a person of the Ushiromiya family, I won't embarrass Father's na-""That's it, right there you're already wrong!!  Your duty is to marry out of the family, and bring me a man who is profitable to me!  And then devote yourself to your husband, give birth to children and increase in number!  Be a good wife who brings praise to your husband's family!!
Can't you do anything to please a man?  Do you think you can make tea?  Do you have any talent in cooking?  You have nothing!!  All you have done is to try and act like Krauss, right?!!  Krauss will succeed the Ushiromiya family!  If you are unsatisfied with that, then you are disobeying me!!
Are you saying that you won't even listen to what I say, even though you're my daughter!!!  Get out!!  You're disinherited!!  I won't let you be called Ushiromiya!!  Disinherited disinherited!!  Uu-, *cough*cough*!!"
"Father, hang in there.  Please calm down.  ......Genji-san, could you bring some water?"
"......Yes.  Immediately."
"Eva, leave this place.  He's not in his right mind.  I will calm him down."
"*cough*, *cough*cough*!!Disinherited, if you won't listen to me, you're disinherited!!  *cough**cough*, uu-, *cough**cough*!!"
Father was choking pretty bad, and my brother patted his back.

...As if that were naturally his duty.
It was so vexing for me then to let him monopolize that duty.
If I carelessly approached Father now, I would probably be hit again.

...However, I fearlessly tried to approach Father's back.
Genji blocked me...
"......Eva-sama, it would probably be better if you stepped outside for now.  The Master is not in a good mood today."
"B, but......"
"*cough*cough*!!  Why are my children so incompetent?!  Krauss is lacking in dignity, Eva is always a stubborn tomboy!!  I have no son who's like a man, and not even a daughter who's like a woman!  Where did I go wrong raising them?!  Why Genji, when and where did I go wrong?!!"

"......Master hasn't done anything wrong.  Krauss-sama has grown into a sturdy son, and Eva-sama into a lovely daughter.  You haven't made any mistakes..."

"How can you say that?!!  What's so lovely about her?!!  Far from a lady, she's always acting like a man!!  *cough*cough*cough*!!  Disinherited, disinherite-d!!  *cough*cough*!!"
"Father, that's just what I'm always telling Eva.  Eva has promised that she would have a change of heart and act like a lady.  Couldn't you postpone that for just a little longer?"
"Who's a lady?!!  *cough*cough*!!  Disinherited disinherited..., *cough*cough, uu-, *cough*cough*!"

Go quickly and leave this place to me.

Krauss gave me a look telling me that...
......Did I take the wrong path, just like Father and my brother had said?
Of course, I had never learned how to be a lady.
...Everything I had learned was because I'd hoped that I could help Father someday.
.........Wait, was that really the case?

Didn't I always hold a growing sense of rivalry with my brother, with whom I'd had a bad relationship since I was a young girl, and want to take advantage of his weaknesses and steal his position as successor to the head?
Every time, my brother told me that men should be manly and women should be womanly.
I was tormented by this unreasonable discrimination because of one's sex, something one was born with and couldn't do anything about.
I had resisted, had endeavored to study until today so that I could prove that I wasn't inferior, even though I was a woman.

...In that case, wasn't the basis of my love of learning just a boring complex against my brother?
Father had expected me to be a lady with whom he could go out in public and not be embarrassed.

...Had I betrayed that expectation and earned grades to threaten my brother just to clear away that pent up resentment...?
"That's not it.  You swore to me, saying 'I will become the successor to the Ushiromiya family'."
".........You........."

The one who came up to me, whispering, .........was the me of my days as a young girl, who had been born inside my heart on the day that I swore that.
...That's right.  'She' was my only ally.
When things got difficult, when I felt broken, she would always quietly appear and become my ally.

When I stumbled over difficulties, and was greatly troubled, she would always appear and support me.

As I had grown and forgotten my time as a girl, I'd also begun to forget my conversations with 'her'...
"I, Ushiromiya Eva, will definitely become the head of the Ushiromiya family.  And I'll triumph over that irritating, arrogant Krauss.  ...On that day, we promised to do our best together to achieve that."
"......That's right, we promised.  ...On that day, that I would become the successor to the head."

On that day, when I had been overcome with sadness, wondering why I was even alive, ...you appeared inside me, and lent me your strength.
"......I wasn't accepted by Father.  I wanted to take advantage of Nii-san's weakness.  I believed that, if I could do that, I could distinguish my wretched self."
In those days, I had really believed that my life had no purpose other than to be looked down upon by my brother.

...It's painful just remembering those days.  The fate that went into my heart and tore a hole in me...
'She' had taught me how to sew up that wound...

I had changed my anger into effort and improved myself, ......to become a person more worthy to be head than Krauss was, and to triumph over him by making Father accept me.  The perfect revenge.
I knew more or less that a woman couldn't succeed the head.

But maybe, if I tried to become so superior that I could overturn that, ...then surely even Father would select me to be his successor.
If that happened, ......then I could have the greatest and most perfect revenge against my brother, who always acted like it was completely natural for him to succeed the head...
"Right.  If we do that, then the wounds in our heart will be healed.  ......We promised each other that we would do our best until that day comes.  And yet, you're breaking this promise?  Scum.  Coward.  Why don't you just give up and die...?"
Give up and die

This line was originally 'bite your belly-button and die', pronounced 'heso kande shinjimaeba'.

The first part is a set phrase meaning something hopeless and isn't meant literally, but the literal meaning may end up becoming important as well...
Even though she had the form of my young self, she was another me.  ...Anyways, since she was me, she had a sharp tongue.
"...It really makes me mad hearing that from myself.  You have no right to speak of me like that."
"Then let's use that anger and learn from it.  ......Changing anger into power is my magic.  I've saved you from several predicaments with that power, and allowed you to succeed where you shouldn't have succeeded.  As long as you have my magic, there's nothing you can't do."
"......That's right.  Anger has always been my driving force.  I wonder when it was that I forgot that..."
"If you can remember me again, that magic will become ours once more.  Come on, let's turn that anger into power, and endeavor in our studies even more, alright?  I'm sure that we still need to study a lot more.
Let's go to college, study more and more, get excellent grades, and drive Krauss into a corner.  That guy makes a face as though we're nothing, but I'm sure he feels pretty well cornered in his heart.  If only he would just learn his place and die.  If he did, we could become the head.  Rudolf would just refuse.  That kid can't go against us."
".........Stop that.  ...Even if I study more, Father still won't accept me."
"Why...?"
"Father told me to be womanly...  No matter how hard I try, as long as I'm a woman, even if I had been born before Nii-san, Father wouldn't pass on the headship to me...  No matter how much effort I put in, ......I can't become anything more than a woman.  I won't be accepted.  I can't surpass Nii-san, who doesn't try at all.  I will always be looked down upon..."
"...Father and Krauss are the worst kind of male supremacists.  If only they'd just die."
......She cursed them for my sake.

Words that I couldn't say carelessly, ...she said for me.
Even though I understood that she was just another part of myself inside of me, ...I felt like she was the only ally I had who could sympathize with me.

However, while sympathy could calm my heart significantly, it wouldn't do anything to improve my current situation.  ......In the end, she could only console me when I was dejected by reality, and when I needed to accept it.
"......Thank you.  That's good enough.  ...Now that it's come to this, I'll become such a good lady that I'll surprise Father...  I'll find an excellent man that Nii-san can't even be compared with..."
"You can't do that."
"............"
'She' rejected my timid thoughts.

...I understand.  ......Because 'she' is me, I understand.
"Father said that he won't let a woman succeed the head 'now'.  But that's never been anything more than a rule that Father decided on.  Since Father decided on it, he can reject it.
.........People's feelings can change many more times than there are grains of sand on a beach.  Even if we don't prove that Krauss is a stupid man, Father will eventually realize it.  ...At that time, the wall that separates man from woman will be demolished by Father, who set it up in the first place.  That day will surely come."
"......How can you say surely?"
"That is my, ...magic."
"..............."
"If you'll just believe, this magic will surely create a miracle.  ......The basis of my magic is nothing more than your believing heart."
"....................."
If I can use that magic, ......then surely, until I die, I won't have to doubt that the day will come when I will become the head.

...But I don't know if that is the right thing for Ushiromiya Eva...
Shouldn't I aim to become the kind of woman that Father hoped for, someone he can take out into society and boast about?
Father might take a better view of me if I were reborn.  ......Maybe my brother could find his own lifestyle, and I could find mine.

No matter what, I can't imagine that my stubborn father would allow a woman to succeed the head, would even push aside my brother to select me.
".........You don't believe?"
"U, ...um, I was just thinking.  .........Maybe I can't succeed the head, but, as a woman, I can have a child.  And Nii-san still isn't engaged.  ......If Nii-san wasn't able to have children, and I could, ...then wouldn't the next head after Nii-san be my child?  In other words, ...wouldn't that mean the same thing as stealing the headship from Nii-san...?"
"............Are you serious?"
"Y, ...yes.  I'm serious.  ......It will indeed be quite sad to throw away the determination from my years as a young girl.  ...It will pain my heart to betray you, my younger self.  ......But this way is the most realistic...!"
"Are you throwing away your dreams?  ......And are you even throwing me away?"
"I'm not throwing anything away.  ......It's just that I've become an adult, and I'm different from you now."
"That's right.  Eva's already become an adult.  She's even forgotten how to use magic.  ......She is now the mother of a single child.  She's forgotten the magic that can grant her own dreams, and is now pushing those dreams onto her son.
...Even though Father and Krauss made your own life so chaotic, you're trying to push your dreams onto your son, and make his life chaotic too.  ......Is that what you call being an adult?"
"G, George is a confident son who won't embarrass himself no matter where he goes...!  The dream that wasn't granted me might be granted to George...!  Jessica's grades and behavior aren't good at all.  And she's a woman!  If only Jessica would step down, George would become the heir...!"
It was very painful to say it.
Am I just forcing my own regrets onto George?

Jessica hasn't done anything to be scorned for.
Wasn't I just horrible for hitting her with the same words that had caused me so much suffering...?
...I understand.  I understand...
Wanting to triumph over my brother was nothing more than my revenge.
...I couldn't use George for that...
"......So I'll take revenge myself.  I have a plan to cheat Nii-san out of some of his money, with Rudolf and Rosa as my allies.  I'll surely be able to get back at him.  ...In any case, I'm sure that Nii-san is embezzling Father's assets..."
"...What a boring plan.  Why don't you just give up and cry yourself to sleep...?"
"....................."
"We will become the head of the Ushiromiya family.  ......Don't try to confuse that dream.  Therefore, believe in me, so that your dream will definitely be realized.  Believe in my magic."

"...If I believe, I wonder if the magic will have any power."
"Yes.  My magic can definitely grant any wish."
".....................I'll believe.  ......I'll believe, ...so create a miracle with that magic.........If you don't, ......the hole in my heart will never heal......"
"Yes.  ......Then listen well.  Listen to my magic words.  ......And then understand.  If we can solve the riddle, we can become the Ushiromiya family head.  ......So lend me your ears and listen carefully..."

My beloved hometown, the bountiful river running through it.
You who seek the Golden Land, follow its path downstream and seek the key......
"Eva nee-san.  It looks like we're about to arrive."

When Kyrie shook her shoulders, Eva jumped and awoke from her doze.

".........eh.  .........Ah, ......I'm sorry.  I was half asleep."
"Sorry for surprising you."

"Eva oba-san, you were out cold.  Did you get up early this morning?"
"......Ah, well.  I showed you all something embarrassing.  I'm sorry."

"Although it's nice that you had enough spare time to be able to sleep, right?  Battler kept saying 'We're gonna fa-ll, we're gonna dro-wn!'.  Can't get bored with this guy around."
"Sh, shut up!  All humans have at least one thing that they're bad at...!"
Battler and Jessica came in, messing around.
Rudolf also made a face as if asking, 'Are you alright?'.

"Get a hold of yourself.  When you see the faces of Father and the rest, all that sleepiness'll go right out the window.  Let's do our best to stay firm, alright?"
"...That's right.  We have to stay firm, especially this year..."

"That's it.  ...Let's all tense up our assholes and go."
Rudolf said these strict words in a small voice that only Eva could hear.
Failure would not be tolerated in this year's family conference.
......All of their companies were hanging in the balance.

Even Rudolf's face looked a little tense.
Eva's expression probably looked tense as well.

"Mom, I have our luggage.  Let's go up onto the deck."
"...Thank you.  You sure are reliable, George."
"Why are you thanking me so suddenly?  It's not like you, Mother."

"Eva-, Geo-rge.  We've arrived.  Gather our luggage."
"Uu-!  Arrived, arrived!  Kya kya kya!"
"Hey, Maria!  You'll fall, so stop running!"

It seemed Maria was already getting excited.
She ran circles around Hideyoshi, escaping from Rosa, who was trying to catch her.
"....................."

"What is it, Mother?  ...Do you feel sick...?"

"George.  Take the luggage and go on ahead.  Yer mother's probably anemic, I'll give her a hand."
"Really...?  I understand, I'll go on ahead."

By looking at the strange appearance of Eva's expression, Hideyoshi realized that it had not been a pleasant awakening, and made George go on ahead.
Rudolf's family and Rosa's family also went up onto the deck, leaving only Eva and Hideyoshi inside the boat.

Eva had a vague expression on her face, as though she still hadn't been able to escape from her daydream.

"....................."
"...Whass wrong?  Why the meek face?"

".........I wonder if I'm using George as a tool for my own revenge......I wonder if my childish hostility towards Nii-san has caused me to treat that child's life like a toy...  Aah, what have I done..., what have I......!"

"That ain't true.  G, George is my confident son who won't embarrass himself no matter where he goes.  Eva, even if yer expectations were a little mixed, everythin's turned out alright in the end, hasn't it?!  Eva, ya haven't done a-nything wrong.  To the contrary, George should thank you for strictly disciplinin' him, right?"

"...Really?  Hey, really?!  I wonder, does George think I'm a horrible mother...?!  Does he, does he does he does he?!"

"He's neva said anythin' like that even once.  Thass just yer needless anxiety."
"Hideyoshi-sama.  Everyone has left the boat.  ......Oh, did you drop something?  Shall I help you?"
Kumasawa had come to check on them when they hadn't gone up to the deck.
Hideyoshi hid Eva behind his back so that her expression couldn't be seen.
"Yeah, sorry.  My necktie pin just got a lil' crooked!  We're alright, we'll go soon.  Wait outside fer us!"
"Is that so?  ......Hoh-hoh-ho.  Then I will wait outside..."
Even though she didn't really understand, Kumasawa realized that something had come up, and disappeared so that she didn't trouble them further.

If they stayed here any longer, they would probably make everyone else worry too.

"...'s 'bout time to go.  We'll make George 'n the rest worry."
"............Am I, ......really not despised by George......?"

"Yeah.  Nuthin' of the sort.  He's actually grateful."
"........................"

"...Did ya have a bad nightmare?  Again?"
"...............Yes."
Hideyoshi knew that it wasn't rare for Eva to be tortured by nightmares.
And they would always become more striking on the days leading up to the family conference...

Hideyoshi knew that Eva's relationship with Krauss was still so full of antagonism that it could even be called trauma, and that she still couldn't separate herself from the feelings she'd had as a child.
"That was a dream.  ...I'm with ya now.  If I grasp yer hand like this, that dream'll go away somewhere.  Right?  Look.  I'm holding tight."

"......*giggle*  That hurts.  ...Thank you.  I'm fine now......Let's get off the boat."
"Yeah.  Let's get off the boat.  Everyone's waitin' for us."

"...Umm, ............I'm sorry."
"Hmm?"

"......I'm sorry, ......that I yelled at you, ......about the smoke from your cigarettes just now......"
"Even though ya normally wouldn't apologize for that sort of thin'.  ...Yer all frail afta havin' that dream.  ...Dun' worry about it.  I was wrong for not realizin' that the smoke was reaching ya."
"............Have you, ...started to hate me...?"
"No way, no way.  Wah-hah-hah-hah-hah-ha.  If I hated ya afta sumethin' like that, we wouldn't have lasted three days.  Come on, stand up, stand up.  Let's get off the boat, let's get off the boat."
"Hideyoshi-sama, Eva-sama.  Is everything alright?  Are you not feeling well?"

This time, Gohda had come.  It looked like they had kept everyone waiting too long after all.
Eva also stood up without grumbling.
...She had to stop forcing her bad mood onto her husband and causing him any more trouble.

......Because that was probably what a 'good wife' would do.

"Is everything alright?  If you are worried about your health, shall I call Doctor Nanjo?"
"Thanks.  I'm just a little anemic.  I'm alright now."

"It's a woman's disease.  Don't worry about it.  Wah-hahahahahaha."
"Come on...  Don't say stuff like that in front of people, it's embarrassing."
"Oooh, sorry, sorry."

Eva elbowed Hideyoshi in the gut.
By that time, her normal expression had returned, which allowed Hideyoshi to relax a little.
It looked like the sunlight outside caused her to remember her giddiness.

A small plank was lowered to get off the boat, and Gohda was waiting there, smiling and ready to lend them a hand.

"Please, Eva-sama.  Your hand."
"Thank you."
"Welcome to Rokkenjima."
Welcome back.
"......Huh?"

When she left the boat, .........it seemed to Eva as though she had heard the voice of her young self saying welcome back.
No, it hadn't seemed that way.  ...Someone 'had told' her "Welcome back".

After becoming a shameless adult, ...the voice of her young self was distant.
"What am I living for......?  What can I do to release myself from this delusion......?"
Hideyoshi heard her talking to herself.

When Hideyoshi held on tightly to Eva's shoulders, just by his firmness, he communicated that there was no need to say anything more...
Maybe it was because the typhoon was getting closer.
The lively cries of the seagulls, which usually greeted them when they arrived, couldn't be heard at all...

My Preparations Are Complete

Sat, Oct 4 1986 2:00PM
"...Six years ago, you say?  Anyway, back then I was still in elementary school, right?  It's pretty unfair to force me to remember, don't you think?"

"That's right.  Especially since we were so young, we've grown a lot in these six years.  I was surprised.  If I hadn't been introduced, I wouldn't even have remembered you."

"Really?  I knew it was Battler right away.  After he opened his mouth, I was sure."

"Uu-.  Maria met him for the first time.  Six years ago, didn't know him."
"That's right.  Maria-sama was only three years old."
"When you say it like that, I'm the same.  I only knew Maria when she was three years old, and since she's grown so big, I didn't recognize her."
After lunch, we had all gone out to the beach to walk around, talk and take it easy enjoying ourselves.

It had seemed that our parents were having a suspicious, complicated discussion, so we had decided to leave our seats.
...Just as you'd expect, since it had been six years, the conversation focused on me.

"Still, you've really gotten taller.  I won't call myself short, but anyways, your height surprised me."
"That's right.  I remember well what Battler-sama was like six years ago, but I was surprised even so."

"Don'tcha think?  I couldn't even imagine that this was the same Battler as six years ago."
"I'm surprised at how everyone remembers so much about six years ago.  My memory's all hazy."

"No surprise.  You'll remember about us, it just might take a little time.  Should I feel a little hurt?"
"Wait, this was six years ago, right?  I'm the one who has it bad, being forced to remember...!"

"...Are you saying that you can't remember well because it was six years ago?  I can remember it as clearly as if it happened yesterday..."
"That's because your memory is good, Shannon.  You really do remember what kind of things Battler did and said, don't you?"

"Come to think of it, that's right.  Shannon's memory is surprisingly good."
"Uu-.  Maria's horrible at remembering.  Remembers fun things well but horrible at boring things.  Uu-."
We all laughed, saying that everyone was like that.
"Shannon.  By the way, what was Battler like six years ago?  Remember any interesting episodes?"

"Let's see.  ......I'm sure that he said something like this when he left.  'I'll be back, <see you again>.  
Lines in English

Some lines in Umineko were written in katakana English, meaning the phonetic Japanese characters were used to sound out English. These lines will be enclosed in <>, like <See you again.>

Because they're written in katakana, they would be pronounced a little different than you might expect, e.g. Shii yuu ah-gain.
I'll come to greet you riding on a white horse.'"
"Gyaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhh, Stop iiiiiiiiit, so embarassiiiiiiiiiiing!!"
"Gyaaah-hah-hah-hah-hah-ha!!  Sounds just like something you would say!   I remember, I remember that you always used to be full of those stupid lines, Battler!  Waaah-hah-hah-hah-hah-ha!!"

"Hah-hah-hah-ha.  It really does sound like something Battler-kun would have said back then."
"Uu-.  Embarrassing?  Embarrassing?"

"......Yeah.  Horribly embarrassing...  Maria, I'm sure that when you are in middle school, you'll want to say embarrassing things like that...  When that happens, write it on the back of some leaflet, and read it three times before you say it out loud.  If you don't, you'll definitely regret it...
Still, everyone has to pass through that pitiful period...  That's right, that's how you know your place, learn shame, and become an adult.  That's right, this is a memory I want to disappear, the bittersweet kind of thing that everyone does in adolescence as they transition to becoming adults... Aaaaarrggh..."
Anyways, it was just something I'd let slip out without thinking, so I hadn't remembered exactly what I had said.
But when those words were recited to me, it was all so embarrassing.
Recently, I had finally come to understand this weakness, and had worked hard to refrain from such careless outbursts......

...It looked like I was just born with the habit of speaking without thinking, and there was nothing I could do about it.

"Shanno~n, do you remember any other embarrassing things?"
"Yeah, well...  I remember various other things, but.........since it looks like the person in question wants to forget them, I think I will refrain from saying any more..."

"I don't remember anything about what I said off the top of my head.  Please, don't make me remembe-r."
"...Uu-.  Shannon's bullying Battler...?  Uu-.  You can't.  You shouldn't bully people."

"Hahahahaha.  She isn't really bullying him.  Let's leave it at that, okay?  But Shannon, you'll have tell me all about it sometime Battler isn't around.  It sounds pretty interesting."
"Yes, certainly."
"N, no, you can't, Shannon-chaaaaaaaaaan...!!"
For a while, George-aniki laughed at me, as though warming up for when Shannon-chan would tell him about more of my embarrassing misspeaks.

George looked like he was flirting with Shannon, ......but he seemed somewhat open and frank.

He was always frank with his cousins, but he usually took on a reserved, gentlemanly attitude when he came in contact with the servants.
...When I thought about it, I got the feeling that it was a little familiar, which seemed slightly weird.
Maria started scribbling in the sand with a stick, and George-aniki and Shannon-chan joined in.  This left me and Jessica off to the side, so I asked her secretively.

"......Hey, Jessica.  Is George-aniki, ......umm, going out with Shannon-chan?"
"Ooooh?  What the, how did you notice?!  Battler, you're really good at seeing through people."

"Huh, ...whaaaaaaah?!  I was just kidding, ... but they're actually going out?!"
"Shhh!  Your voice is too loud!  ...It looks like they're keeping it secret for now, alright?  It'd be better if nobody, especially Eva oba-san, heard about it."

"I, I see...  Love with a servant...  ...Y, yeah but, since when?  Wo-w, a lot can happen in six years......  But still, Aniki really is talented, and Shannon-chan is kind and brave, ......they might be a pretty good match."
Actually, six years ago, I remember taking notice of her just a little bit.

I see, she really fits well with George-aniki, nothing I can do about that.  ...Goodbye, my fleeting first love of six years ago...
.........Which means that, the collection of my embarrassing lines that Shannon-chan had just held back on, ......probably had something to do with that...  Aaaaaaaaaaarrghh, I can't take it...
"How long have they been going out?"

"That depends on what you call going out, but I think it's been at least a year.  But if you count the time spent when they both had one-sided feelings, it would probably be several years."
Before I'd realized it, the two of them had separated themselves from the group, and were walking down the beach, talking about something.

......They looked calm, and rather than a light relationship between two lovers, it looked like a more serious relationship, as though they were already engaged.
"......Six years ago...  That's a long time.  What did these six years mean to me?  I've just gotten taller.  It was just a waste of time, six years I spent obstinately fighting with my dad."

"What about you, Battler?  Have you gotten a girlfrie-nd?"
"Hmm, I wonder.  There's a lot of girls that I play with.  But there is no 'only one'.  ......I'm just like a kid.  I think it's more fun to be noisy with a large group of people than being alone with one person."

"Aah, that's so you, Battler.  But take your relationships with your female friends seriously.  A community of girls with the wrong impressions can be scary.  They could have some secret feud behind your back, and hurt someone or make them cry without you noticing it, right?"
"That's so weird.  I think I got the same bit of advice from one of the girls in my class just last week.  ......What did she say?  Why not have fun together with everyone?  Did they really want to hook up with me that much?"
"...It's probably because you have never had a partner like that, Battler.  Well, you might run into girls like that every once in a while.  You just have to wait patiently!"
"What?  It sounds almost like you've already found a partner like that.  What about you?  Have you gotten a boyfriend?"

"Huh?!  M, me?!  No, err, wahahahahaha......"

"Come on, that reaction's so easy to understand...  From the looks of it, there's some boy who you're thinking about, but you haven't been able to confess that to them yet, something like that."
"N, no, umm, that's not, umm, uh!  Sh, shut up, who cares about that...!"

"Even though you're the one who brought up this subject, why do you have to betray me like this?  Women are creatures who always ask questions, and yet, they almost never answer them.  What cruel creatures, seriously."
"......W, well, umm.  ...I did try, ...to confess once.  Well, umm, I struck out pretty badly."
"Did they say sorry?"
"No, umm, .........well, umm, it was really one-sided and I got confused, I guess...  It was like they didn't view me that way."
"I can understand that.  You talk just like a man.  If you don't act a little more elegant, you won't be able to entice a man's heart, right?"
"I, i, is it really, ......is the way I speak, ...really that bad?"

"...Hmm?  Well, umm, how you talk isn't everything, but to people like you, who usually talk badly, if you quickly try to start talking seriously, umm, that might start really get some guys' hearts thumping."

"R, really...?  I see......, ......yeah..."

As Jessica thought about suddenly speaking meekly, she blushed faintly.

...I see, even though her confession didn't go well, it looks like she still hasn't given up.

But still, I understood.
After seeing how close George-aniki and Shannon-chan had gotten, I also kinda wanted to find a girlfriend.
Six years.  ...Six years of puberty are pretty important, and they had gone by pretty fast.

As the typhoon approached, the clouds grew steadily grayer, and yet, even so, I had this really refreshing feeling.

...Maybe I'll start thinking about the opposite sex, more than just the size of their boobs...
"By the way, I know George-aniki is going out with a servant, Shannon-chan.  ......Could it be that you are the same, Jessica?"
"Huh, ...eeeeeeh?!?!  W, w, w, w, why do you think that...?!"

"Come to think of it, that young kid Kanon-kun, who greeted us in the rose garden...  You really covered for him since he's bad at talking, right Jessica?"
"N, no, that's not...  Wahahahaha, you're too suspicious...!!"

"Then tell me just this one thing.  Right now, is the boy you're after somewhere within one kilometer?"
"W, well about that, umm, ...I, I, I wonder..."
Kanon-kun was the only boy on this island now who could possibly become her boyfriend.
So judging by her reaction, I was right on.
I didn't think of the Ushiromiya family as a noble family, ...but love with a servant...
I wouldn't have dreamed that two pairs of Romeo and Juliet would be right next to me...
Eva oba-san would probably become an obstacle to George-aniki and Shannon-chan's love.

If Eva oba-san learned that the partner of her only beloved son was Shannon-chan, she would probably scream at her, as though a servant was the same as a cat who had snuck in.
And a relationship between Jessica and Kanon-kun would probably be just as full of difficulties.
Natsuhi oba-san was also very strict about that kind of thing.

......Anyways, Jessica's husband would probably become the head of the Ushiromiya family in the future.  If that person had once been a servant working for the family, ......well, things would get complicated.
"Well, who you love depends on the person.  Isn't everything fine as long as it's someone who's fun to be with?  Being with someone doesn't require any permission as long as the two people accept each other.  If you worry about your parents or your family, then you lose.  Don't forget that.  You can't go out with someone with incomplete feelings."

"...Heh...  I can't believe you're saying something so philosophical-sounding when you haven't even been in love."

"Don't treat love like a matter of profit and loss.  It's about heart.  That's all I want to say.  Well then, <see you again, have a nice day>."
"......Hu, ...wah-hah-hah-hahahahahahahahaha!!  George nii-san, Shanno~n, listen, liste-n!  This guy, he's said another one of those lines!!"
"I didn't say anything, I didn't say anything!!  Waaah, don't make fun of me, don't make fun of me!!"
"Maria heard it, Maria heard it!  <See you aga~in>, <see you aga~in>!!"
For a while, we forgot that the wind was getting stronger, and played around on the beach.
......I had grown a lot these last six years, and being able to celebrate my youth and meet with all of my cousins was truly refreshing.

......It was a little late now, but I realized that I should have gotten back together with everyone a lot sooner, and returned to the Ushiromiya family...

"It sure is nice to have all the cousins together every once in a while..."
"Uu-!  Maria also likes it when the cousins get together, it's fu-n!"
"That's right.  We're already old enough.  It's not like we couldn't meet each other when our parents aren't around.  ...It might not be a bad idea to gather the cousins together and play every once in a while."

"That's a good plan.  Maybe we should set up something like that the next time we get a chance."
"I agree.  I'd like to be friendly with my cousins all the time."
"Hey, hey, if you stress the point that much, doesn't that make it sound like relatives normally don't get along well?"

"Hahahahahaha."
George-aniki and Jessica laughed, but it felt just a little strained.
...Did I say too much?

Judging by how our parents made quiet expressions and tired faces every once in a while during the boat ride and at the airport, maybe that was something I shouldn't have said.

"...That's right.  Just like Jessica said.  Let's always be friendly to each other."
"Uu-!  Maria too!  Everyone friendly!!"

"That's right.  Yeah.  We'll always be together.  We'll always be friendly."
"Heheh.  Man, we've been saying some pretty embarrassing stuff.  I feel kinda awkward."

"But I think that is very important.  It's very hard for people to always be together, to always be friendly unless they desire it."

"That's right.  You really can't take everyone being friendly for granted."

"Uu-.  A witch that I know said it.  Happiness, if everyone doesn't believe in it, won't be granted."
"That's true.  Maybe some magic exists in the power of belief.  If we all believe in that, I'm sure it will bring us happiness."

"Alright.  Now the next embarrassing thing.  Let's all swear to believe together, alright?  That we'll all always be friendly, that we'll always be happy."
As if we could become like our parents.

As if we'd ever search for each other's weaknesses, going after Grandfather's fortune...
"Alright!  We'll always be friendly and happy.  And let's all believe that."
As all of us cousins were trying nostalgically to have fun, dark clouds approached Rokkenjima.

......I wonder if the typhoon will pass and show us the refreshing sky before we leave this island.
Who cares about what our parents expect?
Who cares about the inheritance and the honor of our old family?
As youthful as we were, we were renewing our old friendship.
And we all believed together that we could all be happy.
Therefore..., I wanted this day to end, without anything weird occurring, in peace and happiness, calmly...
No, ...I didn't just want it to end.
......Please, let it end......!
"Let it eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeennd?  Kyah-hahah-hah-hah-hahahahahahahahahahaha!!"
"Damn iiiiiiiit!!  Don't show up, don't appear!!  Damndamndaaamn!!"

"Sorry to keep you waiting.  I've finally made preparations for a new game.  Come, let us begin this tale of tragedy!  Come to me, winds, rain, typhoon!  Cut this island off from the real world!!  Throw Rokkenjima into another world, into the spirit world, into a world of fantasy!"
And so, the tale repeated for the third time.

However, to an Endless Witch, what did it matter whether it was the first, second, or third time?
It probably didn't matter at all.

After all, this was a tale of fantasy, endlessly repeating until the match was settled.  Would Battler surrender first, or would the witch?
Then the sky grew dark and cloudy, the rain and wind were summoned together and became a typhoon...
And Maria could be seen in the rose garden, paying no mind to the rain that had started falling, going around in circles, searching for that single rose which should have been marked......
".........Not here...  Not here......  We marked it, ......Maria's rose isn't here.........uu-.  ............Uu-!!"
Maria definitely remembered it.

That rose had been in the flower bed right here.  And yet, it wasn't anymore.
She didn't know what to do with her irritation at not being able to find something which should have been there, and, moaning bitterly, she couldn't help but keep going back and forth in circles around the same spot.
She was acting almost as though she would be able to see it if she looked at a different angle, but even though she did that, there was no way to find something that wasn't there...
The wind grew increasingly stronger, and the rain turned into cold, large drops.
There was no way Maria could ignore this.
However, if she couldn't find her rose here, it would surely disappear forever.

...Maria believed that.
That feeling spurred her on to keep searching for a rose that she shouldn't be able to find...
Just then, the cold drops of rain that were tormenting Maria were suddenly blocked.
"...............Uu-?"

Maria raised her head.
...When she did, she saw that an umbrella was opened there, protecting her from the rain...

And the one holding out that umbrella was, .........the witch she admired, Beatrice.

"Beatrice...!!"

"What are you doing so frantically in the middle of all this rain?  You could catch a cold like this.  Even witches have to care for their own health."
"Maria, ...can't find..., her rose... ......uu-.  No matter how many times she searches, ......even though it should have been here, ...can't find it..."
Maria told Beatrice about how there had been a slightly unhealthy, pitiful rose, and that she was sure they had marked it.
"Hoho.  So you can't find it.  .........If you are a witch's apprentice, you should use magic to search for the rose.  I believe that searching with just your eyes won't be nearly enough."

"......Uu-.  ......Can't find it.  ...Maria's done her best, and tried to search with magic, but can't find it..."

"I think that practicing your magic is a very good thing, but it might be a little too much for you with all of this wind and rain.  ......Allow me to lend you some special power.  Being concerned for their disciples is also one of the duties of a teacher."
"Th, ...thank you-.  Beatrice!!"

Maria's face, which had been full of sadness until just now, split open into a grin.
Maria knew.
She knew that there was nothing Beatrice's magic couldn't do.

So she was sure that Beatrice would be able to find the rose easily, even though Maria couldn't...
Beatrice closed her eyes lightly, acting as though she was listening for something in all this wind and rain.  Then she heard it, opened her eyes, and spoke.
"............Hmm.  All things in this world are transitory.  Too bad, Maria.  ...It seems that your rose couldn't withstand all of this wind and rain."

"Uu-......  Then, Maria's rose.........?"

"It was uprooted by the wind, and is no longer of this world."
"...............Uu-......"

What Beatrice had said was quite appropriate.
...There was nothing odd about the flower being broken off at the stem in this strong wind.

...However, Maria couldn't accept this, and bitterly gave a low-pitched moan...

"............No."

"Hoh?"

"......No no no!  Maria's rose!!  Maria's rose won't come back, no!  Maria will bring it back to life with her magic.  Beatrice, teach me how to revive a rose with magic...!!"

"Ha!  It's much too early for an apprentice like you to learn the hidden art of Endless Magic.  Know your place."

"...............Uuuuuu."

Maria wiped the tears from her eyes, full of regret.
Beatrice shrugged her shoulders and laughed at the pity that Maria's expression invited.

"Very well.  I will lend you power for the hidden art that can revive a rose."
"Really?!"

"Hmm.  ......Well then, concentrate the power of your heart.  Close your eyes, forget the rain, forget the wind, search for the soul of the wandering rose with the eyes of your heart."
"......Uu-."
Maria closed her eyes.
Then, she repeated Beatrice's song-like words...
"Come, try to remember.  Rose, what form did you have?"
"...Come, try to remember.  Rose, what form did you have...?"
"Don't look.  Don't listen.  And believe.  ......Release the power of your soul from the cage of flesh that imprisons it.  ............That's it.  ......Good..."
Around Maria, who was concentrating her power, her eyes tightly shut, small golden butterflies began to dance.  ......Was this the manifestation of the magical power Maria held?
"Lost soul of the rose.  Gather into one, and remember your form.  ......Come, gather, remember..."

The glitter of the gold butterflies began to strengthen, and their numbers increased.  Then, Beatrice raised a finger up to the skies, and they began to gather at the tip of that finger...
This was the miracle of the golden magic...

And the gold butterflies began to condense into a single dazzling grain of gold.  ......It was a single seed, glittering gold.
It rode on the tip of Beatrice's finger, budded into a golden sprout, and opened into a golden leaf.
It then slowly fell from that fingertip, sank into the mud of the flower bed, and began to grow steadily...
...Maria, who admired magic and the witch, really wanted to see this fantastical sight.

However, as an apprentice, Maria was still not qualified to see it.
...No, she was probably afraid that, if she opened her eyes to look, the power that she had concentrated in her heart would be interrupted, and the magic would be lost.

Therefore, Beatrice, as the only witch permitted to lay eyes on the golden miracle, was the master of these many miracles...
Then, the fully grown rose bloomed, creating one golden flower.

And when Beatrice poked it with her finger in just the right way, the gold-colored sparkle scattered, just as if a golden soap bubble had popped, and what remained was a single beautiful rose.
"...Hmm.  It looks like you've remembered a splendid rose.  ......However, if we just leave it mixed in with these other roses, you won't be able to tell it apart.  Shall I perform one last service?"
Beatrice, for the sake of her cute apprentice witch who was moaning even more now in concentration, decided to use one more bit of magic.
When she snapped her fingers, a single gold butterfly appeared, fluttered around, and landed on the flower that had just been revived.

Then it suddenly burst open and disappeared, becoming golden lace and marking the rose...
"That is sufficient.  ......Maria.  You may open your eyes now."

".........Uu-?  Where's the rose?  Not here.  Not here."
"Not over there, over here.  ...Look.  I've marked it with golden lace."

"Wah..., you did...!!  Awesome awesome awesome awesome!!  Thank you Beato, thank you Beato!!  Maria wants to become a witch quickly, a Great Witch like Beato!!"

"And you can.  Long ago, I too wished for that innocently, just as you do, and I have attained that level."
Maria was ecstatic over the revived rose, clapping her hands and jumping around in joy.
...Watching that, Beatrice also smiled, looking fairly pleased.
Now, if I tried, I could break and repair any soul, not just that of a rose, and kill and revive as I pleased.

So, the barrier created by the storm had closed Rokkenjima off from the real world.

Now was the time for Golden Witch Beatrice to descend, as an Endless Witch.

Beatrice pulled from her pocket an envelope with the family crest, the One-winged Eagle, and gave it to Maria.

Maria frolicked around at being selected to be the witch's messenger.
"So, Kinzo.  I've come to join in on your fun once again...  My preparations are already complete.  What about you?  Have you prepared enough coins to bet in tonight's game...?"
"Of course.  I'm fully prepared, Beatrice...!!  I've prepared plenty of pieces.  I am ready both physically and mentally!  So, let us make the ante.  All that you have given should be returned to you in the end.  Come, take it!!"
After Kinzo flung the window of his study wide open, he took off the valuable golden ring which had been on his finger, and threw it into the darkness of the raging wind and rain...
That ring was struck by lightning, and after twinkling gold for an instant, disappeared.

Kinzo watched it go, grinning broadly and fearlessly.
"I don't feel like losing.  You are mine.  Forever!!"
The ring that Kinzo had thrown became a single gold butterfly, and fluttered around in the wind and rain.
It headed for the rose garden, almost as though it was being guided there.

It then found the figure of the Golden Witch, and fluttered down......
When it came down right in front of Beatrice, it burst open, and returned to its original form of a ring, flying through the air.
The way it was going, you'd have thought that it would fall into a puddle of water, but it stopped suddenly in midair.
...Almost as if some transparent person had caught it.
Somehow, this seemed unexpected even to Beatrice.

However, she realized what, ...who it was, and grinned broadly at it.
As she did, the shadow of the person who had caught the ring began to fuzzily appear...

It was the figure of a young man wearing a butler's uniform embroidered with the One-winged Eagle crest...
There was no man like this among the servants who served the Ushiromiya family.  Even so, Beatrice laughed as though it was someone she remembered fondly.

"Ronove, is it.  ......It's been quite some time.  It seems that you have remembered me.  You were always a man who was serious about loyalty."

"It has been a very long time since you last corresponded...  There hasn't been a single day that I, Ronove, have forgotten that I serve you, Milady.  I was more fearful that Milady had forgotten about me.  In any event, Milady is quite forgetful."

"*cackle*cackle*...!  I see, yes, I do forget easily.  I couldn't even remember your sarcasm until I heard it again."
"Milady, here."

With an exaggerated yet elegant gesture, he bowed respectfully, and held out to Beatrice the head's ring that he had just caught.

"It is the Ushiromiya family head's ring, returned to you from Ushiromiya Kinzo.  It is now once again in the possession of its Master."
"Hmm.  A proclamation from Kinzo to start the game.  Of course I'll receive it."

"So, how shall we play tonight?  Shall I prepare the roulette immediately?  Or shall I prepare some black tea first?"

"I can't decide which, but for now, I need you to greet someone.  I'm sure that guy has his mouth hanging open and can't shut it.  Right, Battler?"
"Greetings.  Allow me to introduce myself.  I am called Ronove, and I serve at the side of Milady Beatrice.  It is truly a pleasure to meet you."

"See?  His mouth's hanging open and he can't shut it, right?  *cackle*cackle*!"

"Isn't that obvious, another incomprehensible guy's just appeared!!  Back when I was grumbling that goat-headed people would start doing the Bon dance, goat-heads started showing up in swarms, and since then, not only have those seven ass nee-sans appeared, but now even a butler has shown up!!  It doesn't make sense, cut it out!!"

"By the way, Battler.  Did you notice?  Did you realize that meeting him is a true 'Devil's Proof'?"

"Huh, Devil's Proof, you say...?!  What do you mean...?"

"He may not look like it, but this guy's name is amongst the 72, and he's a genuine demon.  In other words, I've brought a demon right in front of you, which truly proves that they exist.  *cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*!!  Ronove holds a noble rank in hell, the 27th highest ranked great demon.  He's a pretty useful man.  I summoned him at high cost and made him serve me."
"It is an honor to be introduced to you.  While my name is amongst those of the nobles of hell, I now serve as the head furniture of Beatrice-sama, the Great Witch with the standing of a vulgar human, from whom even demons can escape barefooted."

"*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*.  He's a very useful man, but he is impudent with his words.  It's slightly frustrating that he sometimes forgets to respect his Master."

"There is nothing in my contract regarding the way in which I must speak.  Would you like to change that contract?"
"It doesn't bore me, so it's fine.  *cackle*cackle*!"
Beatrice turned her back to him, cackling.

After bowing once to her back, Ronove turned back to Battler and stuck out his right hand, showing off an innocent smile.  Normally, this would mean that he was asking for a handshake.

"......Wh, ...what is this supposed to be?"

"I am also one who has been subjected to Milady's whims.  In that sense, I am sure that we could become good friends.  This is a handshake of friendship.  ......Of course, it doesn't mean that you will be entered into a demon's contract, so rest assured."

"Sorry, but I'm right in the middle of a big fight with your master.  I only shake hands with an enemy after we've beaten each other up in a rainy schoolyard and are all worn out, like one of those situations in adolescent dramas.  Remember that."

"I see.  To shake hands with you, Battler-sama, I must create a fitting atmosphere in a suitable location, and exchange sweet words and physical language with you that rings true to your heart.  When the opportunity arrives, I will prepare that location.
You know, I also lo-ve those kinds of situations?  Pu ku ku ku...!"
As Ronove laughed tauntingly, he whispered to Battler, bringing his face so close that their noses were almost touching.

Battler, his face turning red after getting so close to another of the same sex, pushed him away.
"Y, you're a creepy bastard...  I see, just right for Beato's butler..."

"It is an honor to receive such words of praise.  I'm very confident in my tea brewing abilities, so please look forward to tea time.  Baking cookies is one of my hobbies, so please feel free to request teacakes and such."
"Just what I would expect from a pair of the same gender.  You've started to get along well very quickly.  I'm jealous."

"My, my.  I apologize for making you jealous, Milady.  I will not stealthily snatch your guest away from you.

Well then, I will leave for now to retake my post as head of the furniture and to greet the rest of the furniture.  Please forgive my short absence."

"Hmm.  Only the common goats and the seven sisters used for the ceremony have manifested themselves.  You will be able to finish up greeting them with ease."
"Oh?  Those lively seven sisters are here?  I wonder whether those naughty girls have grown a little more graceful?"

"......Ihihi.  If that's graceful, I'd have to doubt the definition of graceful."

"Is that so?  It seems that those seven sisters are still playing around.  Judging by your expression, it seems that they are just as naughty as they were before.  Even though I am always telling them to act more fitting as a group of those who serve Beatrice-sama.  What troublesome kids..."

"If that's your problem, don't worry.  They actually act perfectly fitting for their master..."s
"*cackle*cackle*cackle*!  Even you have begun to say it!  However, a conversation means that you accept your partner.  Now that you have started to respond to my idle chatting, that is proof that you are gradually starting to accept my existence."

"Heh.  That's because, even if the sun starts rising from the west, I will definitely, definitely definitely, never accept that you're a witch.  You might want to consider a slightly more positive approach, like crying and kissing my shoes."

Even if Battler was bluffing, he still spoke forcefully, a fearless expression on his face.

The witch and her butler snickered together, realizing that their guest had regained more than enough of his willpower to attend to a new game, and that preparations were complete...

After Ronove exchanged a few words with Beatrice, he bowed silently to Battler, scattered into several gold butterflies, and disappeared.
"*cackle*cackle*.  It is truly pleasing when everything gets so lively.  ......How boring were days when I was trapped alone on this island, unable to regain my power and without anyone to talk to..."

"......I get how that unpleasant guy is really fitting as your butler.  ...But tell me.  Why has that butler only appeared now?  You said something about how only the goats and the nee-chans of the seven stakes had manifested themselves.  What did that mean...?"

"Hmm.  You still resist, but I am a fully-fledged witch.  I am in contact with several nonhuman entities in the spirit world."

"I'm sure.  No worthy people would relate with you.  First some goat monsters, then those ass nee-chans, and this time a demon butler's showed up.  ......I hate to think about it, but the way things are going, I wouldn't be surprised if even more weird people showed up..."

"Hah-hah-hah-ha!  Among the furniture that work at my great golden mansion, how many demons do you think want to come over and play?  They will keep coming.  Many of them will appear.

When the door to the Golden Land is opened, I will call back all of my furniture, and build my new castle here on Rokkenjima.  Then I plan to invite all of my old friends, and we will drink and dance together for three days and three nights.

......Of course, I also plan to invite Kinzo's family, you see?  You too, if you wish.  *cackle*cackle*...!"

"......So is this what you mean?  That, since you lost your power for a long time, you couldn't summon them?  ...And then, since your magic power gradually increased, you became able to summon more and more monsters, is that what you're trying to say?"

"It is as you say.  You barely stumbled at the very end, but your heart is already wavering, and you are unable to deny that I am a witch.  That wavering in your heart has slightly restored my power as a witch."

"So are you saying that creepy butler appeared, ......because I started to surrender?"

"That's right.  Bit by bit, you are surrendering to me...!  Didn't you submit to me in the last game so much that you received all of that humiliation?  Wasn't it great when you had to sacrifice your back for my feet?  *cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*!!"

"...D, ......damnit..........I thought that, as long as I didn't accept you, I'd be able to keep on going.  ...But apparently I was mistaken somehow."

"That's right.  The closer you get to surrendering, the more the game will swing in my favor.  Isn't chess the same?  In the process of cornering each other's kings, we trade several pieces.  Of course, I still haven't cornered your king."

"......And furthermore, you're giving it everything you've got just to help your king escape, and have lost several pieces to me, as well as a large advantage.  It is only natural that further advances will lean in my favor."

"..................Damn........."
From now on, you will probably be frantic as you try to avoid my checkmate.  ...However, as you do, I will steal your pieces from you one by one.  In the end, you'll have lost everything but your king, and you won't be able to escape no matter how much you try.  Then you will receive a true checkmate."
"......You were talking big last time, weren't you?  Something about, since you would never accept me, that you would torment me with eternal torture.  Only witches who have reached the endless level can talk about eternity.  You haven't been capable of that since the very beginning.  *cackle*cackle*cackle*, hah-hah-hah-hah-hah-hah-hah-ha!!"
"As for the cache of the gold, Kinzo-sama has already edicted it in the epitaph beneath my portrait.  Those who are able to read the epitaph shall be equal before me.  If you manage to find the gold, I will most certainly give everything back to you.
With that, please enjoy to the fullest your battle of wits with Kinzo-sama.  I pray from the bottom of my heart that tonight turns out to be an intellectual, and yet elegant, night.  ――Beatrice the Golden."
When Maria finished reading the letter that Beatrice had handed her, everyone was at a loss for words for a while.

And then, they all broke the silence at once...

"R, ridiculous.  What a worthless, vicious prank!"
"Seriously.  There is no way that Father gave up the head's ring.  Beatrice?  Ha!  What a transparent prank, hoping to confuse us just by bringing up that name."
"Hey hey, who was it that filled this dessert up with a little too much punch?  I want to applaud and admire you, so come clean, alright?  Rosa?"

"O, of course not...!  I wouldn't pull a prank assuming Father's name!"
"Then Aneki?!  Aniki?!"

"Me?!  Are you an idiot?!  It was Nii-san, right?!  He could plan something this vulgar!!"
"Are you trying to mock me?!!  I'm the one who wants to question you!  Who is behind this ill-natured prank?!"
Krauss beat the table and stared at everyone.
...Since that included the children too, he scared most of them...
"...A letter from a mysterious person who claims to have been given full rights to Father's assets.  And if you think about how this family conference is all about discussing that, ......I think it's too hasty to call this just a prank."

"I don't understand.  It might really be one of Father's vulgar pranks...  He might've planned this to shock us a lil', since we've been discussin' the distribution of his inheritance without him..."

"If Father was the one who planned this, ......then we can't take what Maria-chan just read aloud as a joke, right...?"
"......That's right.  If you interpret the contents literally, ...then this is a test from Father.  The epitaph of the witch has been displayed in the hall for quite some time now, so that any one of us could solve it.  There was plenty of notice.  That means he was saying that the first person to solve it would be handed the inheritance along with all of his wealth, right...?"





......See?  My magic granted your wish......

"It's nothing like that!!  It is an unshakable fact that my husband will become the next head of the Ushiromiya family!!"

"Doesn't this letter shake that!?  This letter is a message from the person who was given full rights to all of Father's wealth!  Nii-san's right to become the head has returned to a blank slate.  The person who solves the riddle, ......the person who finds Beatrice's gold will become the next head of the Ushiromiya family!!"
"Ridiculous...!  Do you think we can trust the meaningless words in that letter?  That the seal was the real thing?  There's no way we could trust that!!"

"Then let's try to go and ask Father directly!  We aren't at the level where you can get away with saying that his mood's bad or that he's feeling bad, right?!  The sealed wax clearly shows that it was from Father's representative!  If you doubt that, then show some proof, Nii-san.  Show that this letter does not contain Father's will!!"

"V, very well.  It is just as you say.  It no longer matters whether Father's in a good mood or not...  Let us go up and ask him directly."

"Let's do it.  We'll ask Father directly.  Father is Father, why would he act in such a roundabout way?  Well, that is a little like Father!"
"I, I wonder if we should continue this discussion assuming that it is Father's letter...?"

"Stupid Rosa!!  Isn't it obviously Father's letter?!  That letter was Father's!!  Isn't it obvious that he's giving the four of us an even chance to become the next head?!!  Die, you brainless idiot!!"

Rosa really is dumb.  Why doesn't she just give up and die...?
"I, I'm sorry...!  Th, th, that's right..., I'm sorry..."
In the beginning, the adults had all doubted the credibility of the letter, but after just now realizing that this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance for the three siblings other than Krauss in the struggle for the inheritance, Eva had changed her position, and had claimed that the letter was authentic.

Rudolf and Rosa also realized that, and agreed.
"Seriously!!  How could adults like you take such a worthless prank this seriously...!  Even though I am not Father, I understand his shock!!"

"Whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa!  Natsuhi-san, won't everythin' be fine if we just ask Father...?!  Won't everything be fine if Father simply mentions that he doesn't know about the letter?"

"Nii-san.  Take responsibility, and just get him to say that he doesn't know about the letter.  This isn't a time to get scared just because he's in a bad mood, right?!"


He's still scared of Father at his age, that idiot.  Why doesn't he just give up and die...?

"Ah, aah!  You really are trying to paint things as black and white.  He's probably in the middle of eating in his study now.  He isn't going to put down his chopsticks for a while to talk to us...!"
"It's decided.  Let's go!  Kyrie, wait here for a while.  We'll go to check whether it's true or not and come back quickly."
"......Thank you.  I will wait patiently for Gohda-san to bring the dessert."
The four siblings, Natsuhi, and Hideyoshi all stood from their seats forcefully and flew out into the hallway with a clatter.

Afterwards, only the children, stunned completely speechless, Nanjo, who looked uncomfortable, and Kyrie, who just shrugged, were left.
In the middle of all of this was Maria, who looked a little scared at the adults' sudden change.

...However, judging from her appearance, she didn't look like she realized the full meaning of the contents of what she had just read.

"...What in the world, ......was that all about...?  I don't get it..."
"......They're all bastards.  Do they really want the inheritance that much...?!"
"............Everyone, this is our parents' problem.  It has nothing to do with us.  So you mustn't worry about it."

"Even if you say that......they were so obvious..."
"I misjudged them...!  Showing off their greed...!"

"Uu-!  Everyone has to believe together that we'll be happy!  Uu-uu-!"
"...That's right.  We all did promise.  Come on, Battler-kun, Jessica-chan, you too..."
"............Haah."
"......I feel horrible..."

We couldn't accept it at all, but we laid down our arms for the time being.
...We had known vaguely how filthy the family conference was going to be this time.  ...However, after that six-year blank, I couldn't help being shocked...
When he saw that the children were completely dejected, Doctor Nanjo cleared his throat uncomfortably.

"...It's an adult discussion.  It has nothing to do with all of you young people.  Let us forget about it."
"I would if I could...!"
"I know that it's harsh.  But forget it for now.  ...All of your parents are fighting frantically to make your futures just a little brighter.  Please, don't look at your injured parents with those cold eyes when they come back."

"..................No matter how much you ask us, Kyrie-san, ......it's hard."

"If you explain it that way, ......that's not something us kids can do......"
"Uu-!  Everyone happy-!!  Can't get da-rk!!  Belie-ve!  If everyone doesn't believe we can be happy, that happiness will get away!  Everyone has to believe!  Uu-uu-uu-!!"
"......That sounds good.  I'll believe too.  That we can be happy."
"Uu-!  Kyrie oba-san, thank you!!  Battler and Jessica also believe!  Beatrice is also always saying that the magic won't have any power if you don't believe.  Uu-!"

Kyrie-san rose from her seat quietly, went over to Maria, and crouched down so that their eyes met.

"......Uu-.  Kyrie oba-san believed.  Now, Battler and Jessica have to believe."
"Those two really are strong.  They'll feel better soon and do that."
"Yes."

"More importantly, ............I want you to tell me."

When Kyrie-san said that, Jessica, George-aniki, Doctor Nanjo and I all listened closely.

...It looked like our parents were so concerned with the inheritance problem that Grandfather filled their minds, but we wanted to ask Maria about something simpler.

"Uu-?  What?"
"Who was the person that gave Maria-chan that letter...?"
"Beatrice!!"

"The witch drawn in that portrait...?"
"Uu-!  She gave me this letter and an umbrella!  And she used magic to fix Maria's rose that was broken!  Beatrice is an awesome witch who can do anything!!"
"............Would you mind telling us the details...?"

The Witch's Written Challenge

Sat, Oct 4 1986 8:00PM
Without even being allowed to wait for dessert, we were chased out of the room.
I heard that, in the end, our parents were unable to get Grandfather to respond.

...Well, it sounds like Grandfather's feeling pretty good about himself.
He was probably pretty satisfied with how his strange letter had given his children a good shock, since they had all been so infatuated with the distribution of the inheritance while Grandfather was still alive.

I also felt like our despicable parents had gotten what they deserved in all of this confusion.
......But I couldn't really say that I was feeling great.
I felt all sulky.

Apparently, Grandfather hadn't seemed concerned with the whole thing, but he also hadn't denied anything about the letter either.
When talking about the witch's letter, Grandfather's name kept popping up.

If Grandfather knew that someone was stealing his name, then considering his character, he would probably be mad with rage.
But even though Grandfather now knew the contents of that letter, he coldly ignored it.

In this case, did that count as a silent yes?

Eva oba-san and Dad were trying to interpret the letter in their favor, their greed clearly visible.
It wouldn't have mattered so much if that was all, but the adults had now started focusing on Maria, who had received the letter.  They kept pounding her with questions about who had given her that letter.
Maria repeated over and over again that she had gotten it from Beatrice, but there was no way that such a mysterious person would sneak onto the island.

...In any event, this was a small island where no one lived outside the Ushiromiya family.
Maria kept repeating that she had gotten it from Beatrice no matter how many times she was asked.

It seemed that the adults felt that she was trying to trick them, so they didn't hold back and questioned her until she broke out in tears...
When Maria was released, she sobbed, all worn out from crying.

After our parents ordered us to go to the guesthouse and take Maria with us, they shut themselves up in the dining hall, and started getting louder and louder as they discussed the inheritance.
It seemed that, because of that strange letter, the possibility had appeared that Krauss oji-san's ability to become the next head had been reduced to a blank slate, and in exchange for accepting him, my dad and the rest were trying to swindle Krauss oji-san out of a lot of money..., something like that.

Astonished as we were, Jessica and I were happy to move over to the guesthouse.

We didn't want to be under the same roof as those filthy adults, their heads so filled with thoughts about money.
George-aniki pleaded on behalf of our parents, saying that he wanted us to understand them.
...I understood his reasoning.
No matter how filthy this talk of money was, it wouldn't go away if you just closed your eyes to it.

But even so, how could they sink so low as to overtly fight over the money of the dead...
Maria had cried herself dry, and was hiding in her bed.
She hadn't even twitched for a while, so she was probably sleeping...
".........Who in the world gave that letter to Maria-chan?"

"George nii-san, you can't ask her that.  Isn't it fine to say that Maria got it from Beatrice and leave it at that...?"
"Because we don't want to make her cry any more than this."

......Even though we said that, we couldn't clear away our gloomy feeling.
"There are only 18 people on this island now.  The thought that, somewhere in the rain, a 19th person gave Maria-chan that letter, and is now hiding somewhere, doesn't seem realistic at all."

"Probably..., Shannon or someone put on the dress from that portrait, and skillfully planned this ahead of time with Maria.

...Of course, as soon as Maria saw that dress, that might have been enough to convince her that it was Beatrice."
"Maybe it doesn't really matter who handed her the letter.  The important thing is who sent it.  ...The point is that Grandfather wanted to cause an uproar by assuming the name of the witch.  Seriously, that old geezer's good at riling people up."
It was probably true that our occult-loving Grandfather was playing around, since he had chosen that dramatic way of handing the letter over to Maria, who shared the same hobby as he did.

......Failing to consider how much Maria was troubled would trouble her even more, but...
"Seriously.  Messing around with Maria's pure heart...  It doesn't matter who handed the letter over.  Maria says that she got it from Beatrice, so let's treat it that way.";

"I agree.  Let's do that.  To Maria-chan, Beatrice is kinda like what Santa Claus is to most kids."

"As long as we accept that there is some non-existant 19th person or Santa Claus, they will at least 'exist' inside Maria.  ...I see, it's important to lie to a child to protect their dreams.

............Hmm?  What's up, Jessica?  Are you still angry?"
Jessica had her hand on her chin, as though there was something that she just couldn't understand.
When I called out to her, she came to her senses.
"Aah, ......sorry.  Well, ......actually, ......I was wondering if it was possible that Maria actually met Beatrice."

"...What do you mean by that?  Are you saying that there's a 19th person on this island?"
"If we take what Maria-chan said to heart, then we do arrive at that answer."

"No, that's not what I mean.  ......I'm talking about the story that someone we don't know has been living on this island since long ago."
"Living, you say.  Where?"

"...In the forest."
The adults were gathered in the dining hall, spending a very long time continuing the discussion that had been started by Beatrice's letter...
Krauss strongly claimed that the letter was a simple prank, but he couldn't overturn the claim that Kinzo's failure to deny the letter was answer enough.
Judging by Kinzo's character, if he knew that a letter had been written which faked his name, he would be mad with rage.

Since all of the siblings knew that, Krauss had no choice but to withdraw his claim.
Without even having to summarize it, the contents of the letter were simple.

The person who could solve the witch's epitaph would receive the inheritance and assets.

This did a lot of damage to Krauss, who had been sure that he would receive the inheritance, and was better news than the rest of them, who had already given up, could have hoped for.
However, there were some points that worried them.

'The person who solved the epitaph' was not limited to a member of the Ushiromiya family.
Taken literally, anyone, no matter how doubtful their origin, could receive the inheritance of the Ushiromiya family.

And furthermore, this meant there was a chance that all of the Ushiromiya family's assets could be stolen by some unknown person.
In that sense, it was definitely not a situation where even the other siblings could afford to lower their guard.

Had this letter come from an assassin sent by Kinzo who called themselves Beatrice?  ...Or was this the scheme of some unknown person trying to steal the Ushiromiya family's wealth?  They still didn't know the truth.
...But they could say one thing for certain.
Maria had, received this problematic letter, today, on this island.
In other words, someone who was planning something related to that letter was on this island today.
......Was the person who set it up Kinzo, one of the four siblings, or maybe some unknown person?

No matter how much they suspected each other, they couldn't reach a conclusion.
After getting tired of bickering with each other, they finally reached the extremely obvious conclusion that doubting each other was just a waste of time...

"......We've made no progress.  We've just been wasting time."
"That's right.  Now that you realized it, we won't have to waste so much."

"It is not certain that Father is the one who sent the letter.  You've done nothing but leave my husband dumbfounded by ending this conversation."

"Who's ending the conversation?  You keep yelling at me every time I say something.  Do you truly think that such shameful behavior is fitting for a member of the Ushiromiya family?"
"Would ya give it a rest, Eva.  You too, Natsuhi-san.  That topic's finished for now."

"Sh, shall we all cool our heads off for now?  Let's have some cool drinks brought over."
"That sounds good.  It would probably be wiser if we cooled our heads.  Don't you want to take a short break too, dear?"

"...Because Aneki looks like she's in a bad mood, I'll pass on that break.  But I agree about the cool drinks.  Rosa, have someone bring some water.  A whole pitcher."
"Yes, understood..."
Rosa headed over to the extension telephone in a corner of the room and called the servants' room.
She then passed on what Rudolf had told her to the person on the other end.
The vicious bickering up until now vanished as though it had been a lie.
That silence continued until Gohda finished setting the table and retreated from the room...

".........Is there anything else that you require?"
"No.  Please leave us."
"Yes.  ...Then if you will excuse me.  If you need anything, call me at any time."
After listening to the sound of Gohda's footsteps disappear off into the distance, everyone took a deep breath at the same time to break the tension.

"...It sure is raining hard.  I wonder if this 19th person is taking shelter in the arbor in the rose garden?"
"I, ...I wonder.  ......They might be able to endure the rain, but it would be quite cold."

"......A mysterious 19th person as a visitor.  Sounds pruty interestin', just like a mystery novel.  Normally, in that kind of story, 's a safe bet that the person doesn't exist, that one of us 18 would be fakin' it."

"...I'm going to keep an eye on Genji.  I think he's suspicious.  Just as I thought, no matter how we try to assign blame, it would have been better if we had dismissed all of the servants of the One-winged Eagle."
"Come now, don't say that.  We must be grateful for their long years of service.  ...Of course, we can't let our guard down."

"I'm sure you agree too, Nii-san, that whether or not Father was behind this, the person who handed Maria the letter was a servant."
"Hmm.  In any event, we were all being 'friendly' in our big happy circle the whole time until dinner, weren't we?  All of the siblings have alibis.  Only a servant could have handed Maria that letter."
"...But all of the servants, ...said that they were too busy with the bed-making to have any spare time during which they could go to Maria-chan in the rose garden....................."

"Hey hey, what are you trying to say then?  You aren't saying that the witch of the forest, Beatrice-sama came over and actually handed Maria that letter, are you?"
"Ah-hah-hah-ha.  Rosa, you used to believe so much that it really frightened you, right?  You don't mean to say that you still believe at this age, right?  The witch of the forest."

......If she did exist I'd love for her to appear.
But no matter how much I wished, she didn't appear before me even once.  She didn't save me from my crisis...

"O, of course not...  I just thought that since all 18 of us said that we didn't do it, there might really be a 19th person..."

"That can't be.  In the first place, we were the only ones who came on that boat.  We didn't see any mysterious person ridin' with us.  Ya don't think that they might have swam across this rough sea, right?  I can't really imagine it.  Wah-hah-hah-hah-hah-ha."

"......Logically that's true.  It is difficult to imagine that there's a single hidden and uninvited guest on this isolated island......However, .........it still looks like there are some people who can't entirely throw that possibility away, right?"
Hideyoshi had laughed it off, saying that there couldn't be a 19th person, but Kyrie had sensitively picked up on the delicate atmosphere among the four siblings.
In a normal situation, there shouldn't have been any guest on this small, isolated island who hadn't been invited.

How had they come here, and from where, and where were they hiding themselves?
And why hadn't they appeared openly, even though they had sent a letter in their name?  ...Nothing could explain that.
But not only had the four siblings not joined in on Hideyoshi's laughing, they also seemed unable to completely deny in their hearts the possibility of a 19th person...

"Kyrie-san, I don't want you to misunderstand, but we don't believe in anything like that fairy tale-like legend of the witch."
"......Another topic to insult Father, is it?  Simply saying that is a betrayal against Father."

"*giggle*giggle*.  I wonder.  ......However, this is Father we're talking about.  It could be possible, ......right?"
"............I, ...I don't know anything......"
"What's this, what's this?  Why's everyone gotten so gloomy...?  What are ya talkin' 'bout?  ...In short, the legend of the witch isn't a joke, ...but a fact?  Thass ridiculous!"

"Hahahaha.  Of course, nobody believes in some witch riding a broom and flying in the sky.  ......But, the woman in that portrait, ...Beatrice, may really exist on this island."

".........Hideyoshi-san, it looks like we aren't talking about a witch, but something a little simpler.  ...So, it must be something like this.
Everyone suspects that Father has a mistress named Beatrice secretly living somewhere on this island.  ......Is it something like that?"
"Father was a man who was exemplary at strictly obeying the rules!  It is completely inconceivable that he would bring something so filthy onto this island...!"
Natsuhi snapped at them immediately, but it looked like the four siblings, including Krauss, didn't think that way.

...On the contrary, it appeared that they thought Kinzo wouldn't even have hesitated to do something like that.
It had been whispered from the beginning that Kinzo had built a mansion on this island because of the existence of an entrancing mistress......
"......I'm sorry, Natsuhi-san.  I know how much you respect Father, but that rumor's been around for a long time.  Father prepared this island by himself, and built everything.
...It's been suspected from the beginning that Father had some device or secret room in this mansion, and it has always been whispered that a secret mansion that none of us knew about was hidden somewhere on this island."

"I see.  This island might look small on a map, ...but it's quite large for just the Ushiromiya family to live on.  ......So people have wondered whether he might have built a secret mansion somewhere in the uncivilized forest for his mistress to live in?  That's a rather large-scale story."

"In the beginning, we used to say that it might be somewhere inside this mansion.  ......That there might be a hidden basement, with a fabulous hidden room, where the witch in that portrait was secretly hiding.  ...After seeing that intricate auto-lock on Father's study, it isn't too hard to imagine, right?"
"......In any event, Father did spread the rumor that a large amount of gold was hidden somewhere by some mechanism.  I wouldn't be surprised if there existed some hidden room inside this very mansion that none of us knows about yet."

"When Mother was alive, she would often scour the entire mansion searching for Father when he wasn't anywhere to be found.  ......Mother also suspected what Rudolf has just said.  She believed that there was a hidden door or stairway somewhere, and that his blonde-haired mistress was hidden behind it."
It's hard to believe, but there are some actual examples in other countries of people cheating with someone over a period of several decades by making them live in a hidden attic room.

Furthermore, Kinzo had a mansion this extravagant.
......It was possible to suspect the existence of a hidden room...
"From what I've heard, ...the legend of the Rokkenjima witch was just a fairy tale made up to prevent children from entering the uncivilized forest by scaring them.  ...But it's starting to sound like there's a little more to the story."

"Well, as you know, this is a lonely island without anything but the Ushiromiya mansion on it.  When Rosa and I were little brats, on stormy nights, we were so scared by the sound of trees rustling, which came from the forest.  We had this crazy delusion that something weird might be looking out at us from between those trees.  It's only natural for any brat to think something like that.

...But when Rosa and I complained about it, there were some people who couldn't accept it as a mere delusion.  ...Isn't that right, Aneki?"
".........Yeah.  Nii-san and I thought that you might have, by coincidence, spotted Father's mistress, who had been living in secrecy on this island, as she went out for a walk when no one was looking.  Of course, Mother did too."

"...Among the older servants too, you often heard that ghost story about how the witch of the portrait wanders around the mansion at midnight.  Outwardly, I laughed that off as just a ghost story, but on the inside, I suspected very much that it referred to the existence of a hidden mistress."

"In that case, .........yer sayin' that the existence of a 19th person, might not be a completely ridiculous story?  ...That they might actually be somewhere around here......?"
".........Sounds like a case of that 'Devil's Proof' Rudolf's always talking about.  ...It might be possible to prove that there is a 19th person, but it's impossible to prove that a 19th person doesn't exist.  ......Should we continue this discussion assuming that there is a person named Beatrice hiding somewhere on this island......?"

"As a basis for handling the worst case scenario, I believe that is appropriate.  It's probably much more prudent to say she might exist, rather than saying she couldn't exist."

"I, ...I see.  Sorry, I was a lil' careless...  Rosa-san, sorry for laughin' just now..."

"Huh, ...ah, ......it's alright, I don't mind."

Hideyoshi apologized deeply for taking the worst case scenario lightly, despite calling himself the president of a company.
Silence fell again.
By preparing for the existence of a 19th person, they were accepting that some unknown person was hidden on this island.

And since this person might have been planning something bad for them, it was only natural that a few uncomfortable things might come up...
"......In the past, Father would sometimes suddenly disappear without telling anyone where he went.  After all, he is a person who appreciates silence.  It wouldn't have been out of the ordinary for him to shut himself up in some library after purposefully not telling anyone where he was going.
......However, after the witch theory began to be refined into the theory about his mistress, it was eventually whispered that he was secretly going back and forth to this mistress."

"Mom was completely overridden with doubt in her final years.  She would sometimes suddenly start making a racket, asking the servants to start looking for Father immediately because of some urgent situation."

"......Yes, that did happen sometimes.  Mother was always doing things like that in her later years, and that frightening atmosphere still hasn't gone away.  ...I can say it for certain now.  She was a pitiful person."
"And then, ...what were the results of those large scale searches of the house?  Did they find anythin'?"

"No.  Father wasn't caught foolishly in a hidden room even once.  Every time, after a lot of time had passed, he would suddenly show up somewhere.  Then he'd say that he'd taken a nap in some library, or that the wind had called him down for a walk on the beach.

...But it was always some place where the servants had already looked.  ......We never knew where Father had gone.  Since that time, Grandfather started to become famous for his adoration of the occult, so some of the servants exaggerated, saying that he might have turned into butterflies and danced around the rose garden."
"So in short, Father frequently disappeared, and no one knew where he went."

"Yeah.  Since we couldn't find him no matter how much we looked inside the mansion, we grew increasingly of the opinion that Father might have gone somewhere outside the mansion.  But the area outside the mansion isn't large at all.  ......Which leaves only the forest.

And if you tie that in with the legend of the witch, you get a theory like this: Father actually built a hidden mansion somewhere in the forest, inside of which a mistress by the name of Beatrice lived, and he sometimes went to see her."
"...I was also young at the time.  I was so enthusiastic to find where Father was having his affair that, at one time, I followed him when he went outside.
...Of course, it was a failure.  Every time Father went outside, he was oddly intent on avoiding places where he was visible, and was extremely cautious to prevent anyone from seeing him.  He was like that to a very odd extent.  But that actually made me sure.  He must have been going out for some reason that the members of his family couldn't know about."

"'n that would be going to meet his mistress.  Probably tryin' to avoid being seen."

After seeing Hideyoshi nod and say 'yes, yes' as though this was quite obvious, Eva got a little sullen.
"...Well, anyways.  This island was like a sketchbook in which Father, with his western obsession, could draw out all of his dreams.  ...Everything about this island was exactly how Father wanted it.  It wouldn't be odd at all if there were some hidden mansion for his mistress to live in..."
Eva's words spoke for what all of the siblings had come to think.
For a while, the room returned to silence again, and everyone listened to the sound of the wind and rain...
......Was there a hidden mansion on this island, and had Kinzo's mistress been living there in hiding for a long, long time......?

Everyone thought that they were being too suspicious, and they hesitated for a long time without speaking, but.........everyone shared a common opinion.
Kyrie, who had been listening the whole time with her eyes closed, spoke to no one in particular.
"...How long has this rumor about Father's mistress been around?"

"As soon as we moved to this island, about 30 years ago.  Anyways, it probably would have been impossible for him to have a hidden mansion constructed while we were here.  People and materials would have to be going in and out.  It would have been exposed quickly.

Therefore, if it was possible, it happened before we moved here.  ...It probably could have been built along with this mansion when we were still living in Odawara."

"Since Father had to set up a double life with his family and his mistress, it's probably appropriate to assume that he had it all planned from the beginning.  And his relationship with that mistress probably went back to the days when we lived in Odawara."

"Probably.  If, as Father says, she is the source of the vast amount of gold that he used to gain the funds which resurrected the Ushiromiya family, we could probably conclude that they had a close relationship since Odawara.  ......A relationship trusting enough for her to lend him a vast quantity of gold.  I can't even imagine how old that relationship must have been."
".........Possibly, after achieving success in business, Father gave her some kind of valuable advice.  It's natural to think that, out of a sense of gratitude for that, this person gave Father the gold.  If you think about it that way, it's obvious that they would have a close relationship after that.  Rather than a festering relationship with a mistress, it was probably a relationship of gratitude to the person who saved the Ushiromiya family from crisis."

"......I don't know whether what Natsuhi-san's saying has a ring of truth to it or not.  But, even in that case, isn't building a hidden mansion and havin' her live in it going a little too far?  Doesn't that mean that there were some emotions beyond gratitude?"
"Well, this is all speculation.  ......In the first place, no one has ever found that hidden mansion.  ...Aniki was planning on expanding this island into a resort, right?  As you were doing that, you didn't manage to stumble on it by chance, did you?  Or maybe unexpectedly find some gold there, too?"

"...Hahahaha.  Do you think Rokkenjima is Treasure Island or something?"

"Don't play dumb.  ...We know that, although you say that you are opening a resort, you have really been planning to investigate the entire island, right?  Judging by all that trouble and confusion we were talking about earlier, you haven't been very successful, have you?"

"I don't know what you're talking about, it's a misunderstanding.  Isn't it perfectly natural that investigating this island would be the first step in turning it into a resort?"

Krauss tried to play dumb, but it was plainly obvious to his siblings, who knew him so well.

...Krauss was definitely sure of the existence of a hidden mansion.

And under the pretense of opening a resort, he had been closely investigating the island, searching for a clue as to the location of the hidden gold.

They couldn't tell whether that conviction was just him over-thinking things, or whether it was based on some physical proof.

......Still, if Krauss, with all his guile, was sure, that was enough proof for the other siblings to be sure, too...
"......The story about a witch livin' in a forest is obviously a fairy tale, but the story 'bout some blonde-haired nee-chan livin' secretly in a mansion no one knows about in the middle of the forest, ...that also sounds like a fairy tale."

"That's right.  That situation would sound just like a children's story.  You like those, don't you Rosa?"
"......Huh, ......w, ...well..."
"When the mansion was built on this island, Father was at the height of his prosperity.  With his money, he could probably obtain anything, make any of his delusions real.  ...A mansion in the forest where a witch quietly waits.........It sounds like the kind of situation Father would like."

"......Doesn't it?  Like something from the occult or a fairy tale.  ...It feels like Father's hobby."
On this island, which the Ushiromiya family had lived on for 30 years now, a hidden mansion that no one knew about had been quietly built, with a witch, who was unknown except for a portrait, living in it...

Even this hastily thrown together story, ...might not be completely delusional considering all of Kinzo's strange habits and his vast wealth...
"......It might not have been impossible for Father to build a hidden mansion to satisfy his dreams.  ......However, let's be realistic.  Would it be possible to house his beloved woman in that hidden mansion for decades without it becoming inconvenient...?"

"......Well, if there was love, it could have been possible, right?"
"Think about the facilities needed to let his beloved woman live healthily.  ...And how Father would do it.  For example, even if it was on a small scale, it would have to be an intricate and pleasant residence.

And it would probably need to have electricity, gas, and running water maintained, as well as some people to help her.  Cooking would be quite difficult.  She would need clothes and makeup, the daily necessities.  ...The needs of a woman aren't simple.  ......Would it be possible to maintain all of that without any of the family or the servants noticing?"

".........When you say it that way, it sure sounds like a weak point in our theory.  ...But that isn't enough to get rid of my feeling that Father might have been able to do it anyways.  After all, it's our Father."
"That's right.  ...It's our Father."

"If Father had something he wanted to succeed in, he would succeed no matter what.  ...Saying that it would be difficult for a normal person and is therefore impossible, doesn't apply when it comes to Father."
"Hmm.  You should never underestimate Father.  ......Father's madness can't be understood by normal people."
I wouldn't put it past 'that' Kinzo.

...As long as you stick to this phrase, a considerable amount of credibility can dwell in any absurd story.
However, that didn't cause the importance of what Kyrie had said to waver.

This was different from stealthily raising a kitten in a cardboard box and keeping it a secret from your parents.

Taking care of a person in secret over a period of 30 years would be an incalculably massive task...
"......Because Father's Legend of the Gold started before he gained possession of Rokkenjima.  That would mean that his relationship with his mistress was over thirty years long...  How old would that make her?  In the worst case, she could be as old as us or older, right?
...By that age, the body starts to break down.  I don't care what the mansion's like, I couldn't call livin' in a place where people's eyes can't reach, almost as though she were under house arrest, agreeable..."
"That's right.  ...If what Father told us about Beatrice is true, then that relationship has lasted for over 30 years.  ......She might have been a charming young woman at the time, but it is probably appropriate to think that she's now an old bag like us.  I can easily imagine that, given the contents of that letter."

"You should talk.  *cackle*cackle*."

Krauss laughed, as though blind to his own shortcomings.
Of course, Eva was offended, but she didn't strike back.

"Quit it, Aniki.  ......So if everything we imagine is true, then she should throw out her chest with pride and join in on Father's inheritance problem.  Anyways, ...there's a good chance that this love was mutual, unlike with Mother.  Father himself might have been aware that she was his mistress, and yet at the same time, he might have been proud of her as though she were his real wife."

".........That is an insult to Mother."
"Yeah, sorry.  ...However, everyone knows that it was a political marriage decided by the elders among his relatives.  ...Because of that, we can be sure that it wouldn't be odd for Father to have a mistress."
The family sank after the Great Kanto Earthquake, and Father was set up as the Ushiromiya family head against his will.

However, in the beginning, the elder relatives treated Kinzo like a dummy and had a strong influence on him, almost like he was a puppet.

He wasn't permitted to decide anything by himself, not even his marriage partner...
......Since the time he met that Golden Witch Beatrice in those distant days, Kinzo's Legend of the Gold was quickly embellished into something dramatic.

In other words, ...it could mean, that Kinzo really did meet with a woman he loved.
If she also knew the whole story, even if they weren't marriage partners, it wouldn't have been odd for her to consider herself his true wife, inside her heart.

...And now, the person registered as his true wife was already dead...

"...In which case, she might feel confident encroaching in on not just the rights to his assets, but the battle over the inheritance as well."
".........I see.  I'm starting to see the purpose of this letter.  The inheritance for the one who solves the riddle of the epitaph...  Is that what it means...?"

"Even if that mistress was added into the family ranking system, since she is not a direct relative of Father, she would be inferior to even the children.  ...In other words, she would be right below Rosa in rank.  That's not a good position to join the battle for the inheritance."

"Is that so?  ...If someone can solve the witch's riddle, they will receive the inheritance regardless of rank.  In other words, it is the most advantageous condition that Beatrice could get, since she has nothing to do with this."
The revival of the Ushiromiya family had been made possible by the gold Beatrice had bestowed.
...That was quite a distinguishing service she had provided.
She had built that wealth together with Kinzo, so it was natural that she would have thought of herself as the one who should inherit it...  It would also be natural for her to despise the thought of giving that up to the children of the wife Kinzo had never loved.
"D, don't say something so shameless...!  Even if a mistress actually existed, joining in on the battle for the rights to the head's inheritance would be a reckless action far above her place!  What disregard for her own place...!"

Natsuhi turned red, her fist quivering.
...She had also come into the Ushiromiya register due to complicated circumstances.
Those who knew that understood more or less why she was so angry for the sake of Kinzo's dead wife.
"...Well, thanks to her reckless action, we now all have an even chance, right?  And also, Father has given that reckless action his silent approval.  ......Will the person who succeeds the Ushiromiya family be his mistress Beatrice, or one of us, the relatives he doesn't love?  Maybe he wants to make us struggle over that to see who is worthy."

As Eva giggled roguishly, Krauss shrugged his shoulders and looked away.
"......However, since it was the other party that brought up this condition, I wonder if that means that the other party has a significant advantage."

"Th, thass right.  ...In the first place, if Beatrice meant that letter literally, then she's Father's alchemy counselor.  In other words, she's the manager of his gold.  It wouldn't be strange at all if she knew where it was hidden, would it?!

Isn't that cruel?  It's like she's telling us a riddle that she knows the answer to!  She'll probably show up rudely, say 'Hey, here's the answer, I'll take the inheritance now', and snatch everything away from us!"

"........................That's right.  The person who brings up a riddle always knows the answer.  There's a good chance that this is all a trap to steal everything from us."

"...If you think about it like that, don't you start to doubt whether she really had any gold in the first place?  Why would she tell us about it?  All she'd have to do would be stay silent and embezzle it."

"It really is, ...a strange story."
That was certainly the case.

If the epitaph showed the way to where the gold was hidden, why would she challenge them to try and solve it?  If they actually did solve it, wouldn't the gold all be stolen...?
Could it be that this person was trying to stir the siblings up so that they tried to solve the epitaph, and would then snatch it up before they did solve it...?  That was a very reasonable guess.
"............No, if you turn the chessboard over, there might be a pretty good chance that they actually do have the gold."

"Why are you so certain?"
"...Wait, Aneki.  ......Kyrie, please keep talking.  Why do you think that?"
"After all, do they really think that we would give up the inheritance of the Ushiromiya family, just because someone told us the answer to the riddle in the witch's epitaph?  That we'd be so impressed at the answer to the riddle that we'd just give up?"

"......Well, ......that's true.  They wouldn't be so naive to think that, after being told the answer to the riddle, we would just give up, just say 'Here ya go' and hand it over."

"Of course.  The inheritance of the Ushiromiya family is not something that can be handed over so easily!"
"That's it exactly.  No matter how one-sided a game Beatrice proposes, even if she splendidly shows us the answer, there's no way that we'll obediently hand over the inheritance.  ......So as long as this game isn't on an even footing, unless they have some kind of compelling force, the game won't succeed."
"That's right.  ......Unless the inheritance is handed over by the losers

because of a compelling force・・・・・・・・・・・・, this game won't succeed."

"And what would this compelling force be?  Would they bind us in chains and threaten us into handing over the inheritance?"
".........I see.  I get it.  ......They would just have to do something which would make us willingly give up the inheritance.  I see.  ...To do that, Beatrice would have to own 10 tons of gold...!"

"R, really, I get it too!  In other words, ...it's a trade?!"

"Huh?  Wh, what do you mean...?  A trade?  Trade what?!"
"The Ushiromiya family inheritance for the hidden gold.  ...Beatrice surely plans to tell us the location of the 10 tons of gold, and use that as a bribe to gain the Ushiromiya family inheritance."
"R, ridiculous!!"
"They want to trade the inheritance of the glorious Ushiromiya family for, ...m, money?!  Blasphemy!!  Blasphemy against the Ushiromiya family!!"

"......Listen without getting mad.  ...About how much wealth does this glorious Ushiromiya family have right now?  Are we really that affluent?"

"Th, the definition of affluence is not dependent on property.  It is about heart!  Our financial situation has nothing to-"
Krauss interrupted Natsuhi as she started to go on and on emotionally.

In this situation, the more she went on and on emotionally, the worse it would actually sound.
"......Other than me, I've heard that the rest of you are in pretty unfavorable situations right now."
"Oh, really?  I've heard that your financial situation was extremely unfavorable.  Repeatedly exchanging collateral for new money to gamble with.  Repeatedly dabbling in new gambles, unable to accept your losses.  ...Considering our actual state of affairs, none of us are as impoverished as you, Nii-san.
You've suffered massive losses, Nii-san.  You have no talent!"

"W, who are you saying has no talent?!!  And impoverished, you say?!!"

Natsuhi became indignant once again, but Krauss raised his hand again and interrupted her.

"......It seems you are making a small mistake.  Business is not something that can be judged based simply on progress.  For someone with a long-term outlook on business such as myself, it may sometimes appear at a glance that I have suffered some significant short-term losses."
"Aniki, we've been collecting evidence.  Your position right now is not one to be proud of.  ......So this is what Kyrie is trying to say.  ......Every one of us is in trouble with regards to money.  And Beatrice has 10 tons of gold."
"......As the only person who knows the location of the 10 tons of gold, Beatrice is planning on using it to force us to sell the inheritance.  ...About how much is 10 tons of gold worth?
As a rough estimate..., 2 billion yen?  .........No, 20 billion yen.  With that much piled up, we would be mad with joy and accept her as the next head."
The scene returned to silence.

Even the rain and the wind sounded louder.
...That was probably the sound of the windstorm that disturbed the insides of their minds...
"............Th, ...this isn't funny.  ...The thought that we'd give up the inheritance to some woman of doubtful origin..., ......just because they had a little money stored up......"

"Don't talk stupid...!  This wasn't even yer inheritance in the first place, right...?!  We have nuthin' to lose 'n money to gain.  We'll have to calculate our profit 'n loss, but it's sumethin' worth listenin' to...!"
They knew that much of the Ushiromiya family assets had been eaten up by Krauss.

The dregs that remained of that inheritance, ...versus the 'compensation for being accepted as the head' that Beatrice would pay.
It was a shame, but honestly, the former was less enticing than the latter.
"...Well, it probably wouldn't end up as four equal portions.  Since Aniki would be giving up his position as the next head, his portion would have to be larger.  ...Makes me feel kinda jealous, you know?"

"........................"
"Dear...!  The amount of money isn't the problem, right?!  Your cowardly younger siblings are trying to sell the glory of the Ushiromiya family for money, right?!  Why aren't you displaying your dignity as the oldest son?!"

".........Natsuhi, stay quiet for a while."
"Dear?!?!"

"......This is a dizzying proposal.  ......We were each planning on getting 250 million yen out of Aniki.  If the witch would treat us with 10% of those ten tons..., ......ummm-"
"That's 2 billion."

"...Yeah.  That would means she's treating us with ten times our original goal.  That alone would be more than enough for us.  ......It's not like I have any attachment to the Ushiromiya name.  I'd be happy to sell it off..."

"Even if 10 tons might be a bit of an optimistic figure, .........I see, it would still be a fascinating prospect for us.  ...We were trying to form an alliance among the siblings to kick this outsider called Beatrice out.

......But, if this is her plan, ......it will tear apart the unity between us.  ...Yes, by this point we can state it clearly.  ......The goal of Beatrice's letter was to disturb our alliance."
If the three younger siblings, who had never had anything to do with the inheritance, were paid enough money to satisfy them, they would happily accept Beatrice as the next head.

A moat had been dug all around Krauss.
In that case, the negotiations would be one-on-one between her and Krauss.

He tried to look strong, but Krauss's financial and political situation was extremely weak.
...He did bluff in front of his siblings, but on the inside, he was thinking that it might be alright to enter negotiations depending on the sum of money involved.
In order to bury his losses, Krauss had taken advantage of the fact that Kinzo had shut himself up in his room, and had embezzled Kinzo's personal assets.
Therefore, when Kinzo died and the inheritance was distributed, Krauss' own responsibilities would doubtlessly be investigated.
But if he gave up his seat as the head to Beatrice, she would also receive rights to the assets, and as a result, the distribution of the inheritance to the siblings would not occur.

......In other words, Krauss' embezzlement might not have to be made known to the other siblings...
Of course, the siblings were frightened of Kinzo, but it was doubtful whether they still actually respected him as a father.
By this time, they each had their own families, their own wealth, and their own lives.

If they were paid enough money in exchange for Rokkenjima, the wreckage of Kinzo's dreams, ......there was a significant possibility that they would relinquish the Ushiromiya family name......
In other words, Beatrice's victory was already decided in this 'game'.

Not as the winner of 'Beatrice's game', ...but as the winner of 'Kinzo's game'.
...Kinzo had had the epitaph displayed.  And until today, no one had solved it.

Therefore, Beatrice had 'solved' it.

In other words, rather than a game, this was more like Beatrice's declaration of victory...
However, Kyrie still thought there might be a catch.
If this was a declaration of victory, Beatrice would only have to display the gold openly, and state that she would buy the inheritance.

And yet, she had gone to all of this trouble, telling the siblings to try and solve the epitaph.  And why had she set up this 'new game', where she agreed to hand over the all of the gold and the inheritance to the person who solved the epitaph?
Kyrie tried turning the chessboard over several times.
...Searching for the best strategy that might have guided Beatrice to this line of thinking.

...In the end, ...she reached a single conclusion.

"............Could it be, ...arrogance?  Or maybe, ......she's playing......?"
"...What are you talking about?"

"The witch sent us a letter of challenge, forcing us to try and solve the epitaph.  She might be taking us lightly, thinking we could never solve it.  ......However, there should be at least an extremely small chance that we will solve it.

After all, we have here four of Father's children by blood, right?  The questioner called together four blood relatives who, if they tried frantically to work together and avoid having those assets stolen from them, might come across the answer of the riddle by chance."
The reason the witch had a superior position on the negotiations compared to the siblings was that only she knew the location of the hidden gold.

But if that hiding place was exposed to someone other than her, the witch's superior position would crumble.

"In short, Beatrice gains nothing but risk by writing this witch's letter of challenge.  ......Of course, it might have had the effect of splitting apart the siblings' alliance, but if that was her only goal, why would she take this risk, however slight it might be......?  I think that's reckless.

...But if you keep in mind a certain type of emotion, it becomes possible to understand that risk."

"..................And you're saying that's arrogance?"

"Yes, that's right.  ......When people have an overwhelming advantage, they tend to get arrogant.  And when they do, they want to show off that advantage to the losers, so they sometimes take on a small risk.  ......A moderate amount of risk adds a little spice to the joy of victory.  It'd be boring to win without any risk."

"............I understand.  I also like that sort of thing.  ...I understand well."
"I thought of a few plausible explanations for the true motive behind Beatrice's letter, ......but I think that this really might be the truth.  ......The emotion hidden behind that letter was, .........arrogance."
"............Arrogance."
"She's trying to throw her weight around, looking down on us, as if there's no way we could figure out such a difficult epitaph.  ...It might even be possible, if surprising, that the epitaph wasn't written by Father, but by her."
"......Sounds great.  ......Solve the riddle of the epitaph, she says?"


If only I solved it, I would be made the head, right...?


...I'll solve it...  I'll accept the witch's challenge.
As if those other idiot siblings could solve it.

I'll solve it by myself, and then I'll prove that I am the one who is fit to succeed the Ushiromiya family......
"I'll take that challenge.  ......I will, ......solve the riddle......"

Possibility of a 19th Person

Sat, Oct 4 1986 9:00PM
"...I see...  She's not a witch, Beatrice is the name of his mistress who lived on the island.........So there can be more than 18 people!  Which means I can defeat that line of reasoning which says that, if it was impossible for all 18 people, it must be a crime involving magic.  ......That's some big information."
"Excuse me.  Battler-sama, how about some black tea and cookies?"
Beato's butler, who called himself Ronove, appeared out of nowhere.

A plate set on a silver tray that he held was filled with delicious-looking, steaming black tea and cookies.
...I really don't like this guy's smile.
For some reason, it didn't look like a smile used to warmly greet a guest.
It felt like he was making fun of me for some reason.

...I don't know whether he really takes me for an idiot, or whether it's just a joke or something, but it's really irritating me.
"......I don't need it.  I'm busy now.  Leave me alone."

"Oh, my.  Such a shame, the cookies were so delicious too.  Cooked so wonderfully it would be a shame to waste them on a simple human, truly wonderful cookies."

"I'll eat some when I feel like it.  Set it down over there and get out of here."

"Will that be acceptable?  Then I shall do so.  You may eat them when they get cold and stale, and then regret as much as you like that you did not eat them when they were freshly baked."

".........You really are annoying.  ...Well, you're a lot better than that Beato, who keeps doing that creepy cackle right next to my ear."

"No, no, that is quite true.  There are times when Milady's laughter becomes quite undignified.  Every time I hear it, I find it painful to comprehend why such a noble demon like myself must have such a person as his Master.  Pu ku ku ku..."

"......Man you're weird.  If you don't like it, then couldn't you just not work for her?"

"And yet, to continue serving is furniture's joy.  If we do not, we would not be working as furniture.  

......Let us set that aside.  How has the game been proceeding?  Just now, I believe I heard you say that you had found some good information, and were quite pleased by it.  Well now, I wonder what your shallow wit has thought up."

As Ronove made fun of me and giggled, he followed my earlier words literally and half-heartedly set up some black tea and cookies nearby.

"......In any case, it appears that you are now more confident regarding the matter of a 19th person's existence, right?  Would you be gracious enough to allow me to hear your opinion?"

".....................Yeah, sure.  I'm just going to say it again in front of Beato anyways.  No reason to hide it.  ......Alright.  It looks like there's a hidden mansion somewhere on this island, and that Grandfather had his mistress living there.  In that case, the question that's been torturing me, about whether there are 18 or 19 people, can be easily resolved."

"You have driven yourself into a corner because of the dead-end that you yourself have created.  Even though you deny the witch, Battler-sama, you hold a double standard, and refuse to accept that the culprit is one of the 18."
"...The easiest way to deny the witch would be to doubt one of the 18.  ......It isn't easy to gather alibis for every one of them.  You always find at least one person with a fragile alibi.  ......I could probably continue to deny the witch forever if I just used that person as a sacrifice."
"However, I refuse to do that!!  Aah, it's useless, it's all useless!  Every one of those 18 people is either a parent, a relative or a cousin to me!  And those reliable servants, who are sometimes serious and sometimes interesting.  I won't let myself use any one of them as a sacrifice!!
In the past, my resolve wavered.  That's how Beato hit me where my heart was weak."
"......Accepting and understanding your own weaknesses.  That is not something which can often be accomplished.  Battler-sama, you are using this theory about a 19th person as a spear.  ...Or should I say, a shield?
In any event, unlike how unprepared you were in the games up until now, let us call the fact that you now have a compass bearing on how to fight, ...a dramatic leap forward.  With this, you can suspect a 19th person and can pursue your theory that the culprit is a human, without having to doubt any of the 18 you love and respect."

"That's it exactly.  Like in the first game, when Kanon-kun was killed in the boiler room, ...there were plenty of tricks I could have mentioned without hesitation, as long as a 19th person existed."
In the very first game, Kanon-kun had been killed in the boiler room.

One might think that he was attacked by Kumasawa-san, who had gone down into the boiler room with him, or maybe that someone who had appeared to be dead earlier was actually faking and had ambushed him.  Either way, it was a move that forced me to suspect one of the 18.
However, by simply proposing that a 19th person existed, there was no longer any need to suspect one of the 18 for that murder in the boiler room.
"In short!  I can at least deny the line of reasoning which says this: something is impossible for every one of the 18, therefore the culprit is a witch."
Using this argument, it is easy to explain, for example, that problematic case which has already occurred in this game, 'who gave Maria the letter?'

Even if all 18 people have alibis, I could easily explain everything by saying that a 19th person must have visited her and given her the letter.
".........Hmm, hmm.  I think that is quite a good move.  How shall I strike back?
......Battler-sama, you may already understand, but there are still plenty of weak points.  Maybe the '18 people attack' will be an effective move.  As an attempt to judge how strong your defense is, it may be interesting to challenge that point again."

"Then how will you do it, demon butler...?!"

"......I believe it would be appropriate to ambush the piece representing this 19th person that you mentioned.  Battler-sama, have you ever met this 19th person?  Would you please show some proof that this 19th person exists?"

"How naive.  Of course, I knew you'd probably try that move...!"

"My, my.  Please respond to it."

"Witches and demons and the like...  That isn't a move appropriate for you to use.  ......It's one of those 'Devil's Proofs'!"
When you try to make some claim to humans like us, we always counterattack by telling you to show some proof.
Because that's a human move.
But I'm fighting with a witch.
I'm taking part in a battle with someone who isn't human!
And some moves exist which can only be used in a game against a witch.  There are cheap moves!

And that's what this 'Devil's Proof' is.
Because it's impossible to prove!
Let's assume that there is a hidden mansion on Rokkenjima separate from the Ushiromiya family mansion, and that a woman named Beatrice is living there.
In order to prove this, one must find this mansion and actually bring Beatrice out of it.

That's called actual proof in the human world.
However, if we follow the rules of the 'Devil's Proof', you can't deny that she exists, even if there's no proof that she does.
Because it's impossible to prove that something doesn't exist.
......That's right, I'm finally able to turn the tables using this 'Devil's Proof', which tormented me so much before.

Those guys were always trying to force me to accept the existence of the witch by using the 'Devil's Proof'.
That was because, with regards to the self-styled witch, Beato, I couldn't offer physical proof that 'witches don't exist'.

I kept getting hit with the reckless argument that this meant witches do exist, and was unable to counterattack.
And that's why I'll turn the chessboard over right now!

If I can't disprove that witches exist, then that means, if I suggest that a 19th human exists, you can't deny that either.
In other words, because this problematic and mysterious mistress is craftily hiding herself, it would be perfectly natural if you never find her no matter how hard you look.

So you can't say that the 19th person can't be found, and that therefore, the 19th person doesn't exist.
That's because it's impossible to deny the 19th person's existence.
Beato used the 'Devil's Proof' to make denying her existence impossible, but this time it's become my weapon.
If we can get away with this argument, then forget just a 19th person, this island could be full of people we don't know about, and even if there were 10 or 100 of them, she still couldn't deny that they existed.
In the last game and the one before that, among the murder scenes that showed up, there were several that were extremely intricate and must have taken a lot of effort to set up.

It's very difficult to imagine that a single culprit could have set all of those up.
However, if not just a 19th person, but 10 or 100 people were hidden somewhere, that wouldn't be any problem at all.

If they all split up the work, they could handle any job in a short period of time.
Of course, doubts will naturally arise at whether a large group of people like that could sneak around the mansion without being noticed, but those are all settled by the 'Devil's Proof'.

You can't deny that even 100 people were there just because they weren't seen or noticed.
Even though I'm saying it myself, it's such a stupid argument that it makes me wanna throw up!  However, because it's such a dirty move, it's a perfect one to use against a witch.
Well, this is just my imagination, ...but what if about 100 suspicious men wearing goat masks were hiding in the shadows......, something like that's worse than laughable, almost like they're cockroaches.

If you see one, it means there's 100 hiding in the shadows.
"......Well, I think that this is a ridiculous argument that's horribly twisted.  If my opponent was human, I'm sure they'd yell at me like I was out of my mind.  ......But my opponent is a witch.  And after all, that is the kind of competition we're having, isn't it?  I'll use any kind of reckless argument to explain it using humans, and deny the witch!!"
"......Anyways, with this move, I won't have to doubt any of the 18 who are close to me again.  I won't repeat a defeat like last time again...!!"

"......I see.  You have learned from your defeat last time.  That is good.  It is no surprise that by the third game you have become quite devious.

.........You first strengthen your own defense.  That is truly a solid first step.  Quite a spectacular move, I think."

"Well, even if we do assume that there is a 19th person, there are still a few tricks left that I can't clear, like the actual number of master keys, no matter how many humans I add.  ...Still, it isn't bad as a first step, for the time being."
"Battler-sama, your trump card is the important piece called the 19th person.  ......You countered my move of asking where the proof was by using the 'Devil's Proof'.  ......A good skirmish.  Although I have no excuse for making a move by myself when Milady isn't here, .........I find that I too am becoming slightly interested.  ...I wonder if you will allow me to make yet another move on Milady's behalf?"
"......Come on.  I don't care if you're a witch or a demon, it won't be enough!"
"This move that you presented called the 'Devil's Proof'.  It's a specialty of us demons, but there are also various other moves available to us.  ......Do you know of a move called 'Hempel's Raven'?"

"Hempel's Raven...??  What are you talking about?"
"...*cackle*cackle*. Ah-hahahahahahahahah-hahahahah-hah-ha...!"
Just then, ...aah, that enraging laugh I'd heard so many times started echoing.
The room was filled dazzling golden butterflies, and in the center of that whirlwind, the Golden Witch appeared.

"If it isn't Milady.  Good morning."
"I thought you might be doing something interesting while I was away.  ......'Hempel's Raven', was it?  That move is so familiar I could almost laugh.  I was certain the day would come when it would be introduced to Battler.  It's a classic move to use against the 'Devil's Proof'.

......Ronove, I will make this move.  Do not get in the way of my fun."
"So you've finally shown up, you guffawing witch.  I see that you still have that undignified laugh.  ......This guy was talking behind your back just now, telling me about how undignified it is.  Right?"

"What a surprise.  Really?"
"Nonsense.  Why would I speak such gossip about Milady, of whom I speak most respectably from my heart?"
"...I can't believe you'd say something so shameless.  Doesn't look like we'll be getting along well together..."

"*cackle*cackle*cackle*.  Well, that is fine.  Let us return to the conversation.  'Hempel's Raven' is used to show actual proof using the contrapositive.  ......In other words, it is a move like this...  What must you do to prove that ravens are black?"

"Huh?  What are you talking about??  Prove that ravens are black......Wouldn't you just have to catch a raven and check to see if it's black?"

"That is right.  You must simply prove that 'a raven is black'.  And do you see that, if you also prove that 'birds that aren't black are not ravens', you would reach the same argument?  If you go throughout the world and examine all birds that are not ravens, and prove that none of them are black, then as a result, you can claim that 'therefore, black birds are ravens'.  This is called an argument by the contrapositive.  ...Is that difficult for you?"

"Yeah, completely.  ...I have no idea what you're saying."

"Battler-sama.  What about this example?  Let us say that you have two boxes, and one of them is the winner, with a cookie inside.  Of course, the other one is the loser, and is empty."
For example, here are two boxes, one is the winner with a cookie inside, and the other is the loser and is empty.

At this moment, 'the one that has a cookie is the winner', which means that, at the same time, 'the one that is not the winner does not have a cookie'.

When such a relationship exists, the latter is called the contrapositive...
When 'if A then B' is true, then 'if not B then not A' is also true.
"...Well, that's obvious.  If the one you guessed was the loser, then you would automatically know that the other one was the winner.
...In other words, if you choose the box at random, whether it's the winner or the loser, you'll be able to figure out which box has the cookie in it after your first move."

"That is correct.  If the cookie is in the box you open, then the 'Devil's Proof' is satisfied.  You can clearly prove that 'this box was the winner, therefore this box had a cookie in it'.

However, if the box that you open is empty, then the reverse, Hempel's raven, is satisfied.  It means that 'this box does not have a cookie in it, therefore, the other box is the winner'.

That is because, as long as we accept the premise that there are no more than two boxes, the contrapositive shows that the other box is automatically the winner."

"......Well, I think I'm starting to see your reasoning.  Only poison can stop poison, and only twisted logic can stop twisted logic.  ...Then what?  How does that overturn my claim that, 'because there is certainly a 19th human hidden on this island, even if all of the 18 people have alibis, I still can't accept witches'......?"

"Very well.  I will teach you about my move.  First of all, you are stating that 'if the culprit is not among the 18, then the culprit is a 19th person'.  *cackle*cackle*!  ...So if you use the contrapositive, it ends up like this.  In short, 'if the culprit is not a 19th person, then the culprit is one of the 18!"

"Whaah?!  What the, what does that mean?!"

"Only that I've countered your move.  Let's try and keep things simple.  Ronove, explain.  It seems you've made things easy enough for Battler to understand with your cookie in a box analogy."

"Then forgive my presumption.  Allow me to explain my earlier example once more."
Allow me to repeat once more my earlier story about two treasure boxes, one of which had a cookie in it.
In this situation, there is a single box which represents '18 people', and another single box which represents the '19th person'.
So the cookie would represent the culprit.

Battler-sama, you open the 18 people box.
Because the cookie is not there, you have paradoxically proven that 'therefore, the cookie is in the 19th person box'.
Then, in this situation, we could make this next, even more paradoxical claim.

In other words, if it was first shown that the 19th box was empty, it would prove at the same time that 'the cookie is in the 18 people box'.
Battler-sama played this move in order to avoid having to doubt any of the 18, but it has now actually been used to prepare the '18 person attack'...!"
"......Huh, ......what did you say......"
"*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*!  If I go first and prove that the inside of the 19th person box is empty, you will automatically have to accept that the cookie is in the 18 people box.  All you have done is say this the other way around, you see?"

"So, ......that move that I was so confident in, ...was actually a double-edged sword?"

"That's right.  As soon as you played that move to explain everything with a 19th person, you had already taken on a risk that you might be forced to accept that the culprit was one of the 18."
I see...  'Hempel's Raven'.
......So this is a countering technique?!

...Wait, if I really think about it, this counter is really disadvantageous for me.
I couldn't think about it like a cookie.
If I imagined that the 'loser' treasure chest actually had a bomb in it, I could begin to understand it quite well.
And there weren't two treasure chests, but 18 plus 1 more for the 19th person.  If you think of it as a total of 19 boxes, it gets even easier to understand.
First of all, one of the premises established by the human culprit theory was that the bomb would definitely be in one of those boxes.
Because I hadn't wanted to place that bomb in any of the 18's boxes, I had used the 'Devil's Proof', and created the 19th person box so that I could throw the bomb in there.  ......That much was alright.

But then, Beato had struck back.
Now, if the contents of the 19th person box were empty, that would automatically mean that the bomb was set in one of the other 18 boxes.
If I could examine the contents of all 18 of those boxes, then as long as I could show that the bomb was not in any one of those boxes, I would be able to safely show that the 18 people were innocent.
As long as that was possible, it was all reassuring!

However, in reality, that was infinitely impossible.
The police wouldn't come here in this typhoon.
We couldn't have a scientific investigation, we didn't have any experts on this sort of thing, and we couldn't do anything.
In short, we couldn't show anything decisively!

It was impossible for me to find any proof other than simply gulping down whatever alibis each of the 18 gave.
In that case, I personally had to prove their innocence, and perfectly.

Like staying with them the whole time, never letting them out of my sight for a second.

And by doing that, I could probably be sure of that person's innocence, and that the bomb was not in that box.
...However, in reality, something like that was impossible!
In other words, I would have to expend an incredible effort just to check the contents of one box.

And there were 18 of them!  In other words, unless I bound all 18 of them in chains and watched over them, it would be impossible to prove that all of them had empty boxes.
However, Beato only had to open one box, the 19th person box, and show that it was empty to prove that the bomb was in one of the other 18 boxes.  (Furthermore, there would be no need for her to show 'which' of the 18 boxes had the bomb!)
I had 18 times more work to do to explain my pet theory than Beatrice did for hers......
"When a 'Devil's Proof' exists in the world, it takes a vast amount of effort to argue against it, and there are many cases where it is impossible to do because of the situation.  However, 'Hempel's Raven' turns that problem around, and makes it possible to prove things easily!"

"By using 'Hempel's Raven', various reckless arguments become possible to prove true or false.  ......For example, let us say that I make the proposition 'All humans except me are foolish'.  Normally, I would have to examine all of humanity except myself and show that they are all foolish.

...However, in reality, it would be impossible to investigate billions of people.  It is exactly the same kind of effort you would need to open all 18 boxes."

"*cackle*cackle*!  However, by using 'Hempel's Raven', the contrapositive of that proposition would change it into this.  If you, to use your style of phrase, turn the chessboard over on the claim that 'All humans except me are foolish', you would have to do nothing more than prove 'not foolish=me'.  ......And what do you think that means?"

"*cackle*cackle*!  As soon as I know the fact that 'I am wise', I will be able to show in an instant that every one of the billions of people in the human race is foolish.  In less than a second, I could finish proving that the entire human race is more foolish than me!!

It's the strongest and fastest QED in the world, this 'Hempel's Raven'!"
"Wha, .........what a ridiculous argument.........!!!"

"It is a very, very convenient move.  Not only demons, but gods also use it.  When they propose 'blessed, therefore god's servant', the contrapositive is 'if a human is not a servant of god, then he must not be blessed'."

"So in order to prove that servants of gods are blessed with divine protection, they only have to bring ill fortune down upon those people who don't receive that divine protection.

.........So by bringing misfortune down upon those people who don't believe in them, they prove their blessedness."

"It takes an enormous cost to give humans happiness.  ...However, the necessary cost to bring humans misfortune is much cheaper.  *cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*.  So by using 'Hempel's Raven', gods are actually giving believers the joy of divine protection at the lowest cost."

"Ah, ......you demon.  It's a demon's argument......that's all messed up...!!!"

"It seems that we've gone off-topic.  Let us return to it.

The move for my counterattack is complete.  ......And now, in response to your claim of 'the 19th person is the culprit, therefore, the 18 are innocent and the witch doesn't exist,' I say 'therefore, if I can prove that the culprit is not some 19th person, we can be sure that the culprit is either one of the 18 or a witch, right?'"
For a while, I just stood there, shocked, completely forgetting to close my mouth...

Just when I'd thought that I'd countered one of their strong points, the counter attack to that had been this reckless argument that I could not even have begun to imagine...!
Was it really, ...impossible...?!
To continue denying the witch on an island with no more than 18 people, and still believe in the innocence of those 18 people, .........or was that just a delusion?!  Was I just trying to escape reality?!
Not yet.........don't give up this useless struggle yet.
Who cares about 'Whoever's Raven'?
They're just trying to speak in riddles by bringing up some weird bits of trivia...
I had used the 'Devil's Proof'.
Don't feel uncertain about something you've used once.
Believe in the spear you've drawn.

And then forcefully, ......gouge it in......!
"......We are still in the opening part of the game.  Do you plan to keep thinking on this level?"

"...............Ah, ......wait a sec, I want to be sure.  I'll admit that I talked about a 19th person in a way that was easy to understand, but if we're going to use the 'Devil's Proof' to raise the number of people above 18, then we would have no way of knowing whether there were 10 people, 100 people, or an indeterminate number of people.

There's always one more than you assume・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・.

...Understand?"
They had returned my twisted logic with something even more twisted.
So the only thing that could counter that would be even crazier twisted logic...!
"Hmm, I see.  .........Even if I somehow prove an alibi for the 19th person, as soon as I do, you will think up a 20th person, and claim that they are the culprit.  By repeating this endlessly, you would make it so I kept searching for their alibis for all eternity.  ......I see, I see, *cackle*cackle*!  Just like a demon king summoning a plague of locusts.  I wouldn't expect anything less from Kinzo's grandchild.  It looks like you have been gifted with a talent in summoning."
"......In short!  It is impossible to always prove an alibi for each person X outside of the first 18!  ......How do you like that, Beato...?!  Now that I know we're having a battle with twisted logic, I won't lose!"
"*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*!!  How foolish...  Who do you think I am?  I am the Endless Witch!  The thought that you could challenge me endlessly is just absurd.  Endless control means that I am able to kill endlessly."
"......When your 19th person folds, you will call a 20th, and when your 20th person folds, you will call a 21st, and when your 21 person folds and your 22nd person folds, you will call 23rd person, a 34th person, a 64358223579673204th person, will you trifle with me for all eternity?!
I laugh at 'infinite regress', the 'infinite' doesn't affect me!!"

"Well then, how will you kill my 'endless' plan?  Just try and show me!!"

"I have the power to speak the truth in red!!!""...............!!  .........Here it comes........."

"When I speak in red, it will contain absolutely no illusions.  If I say once in red that there are no more than 100 people on this island, you will no longer be permitted to create a 101st person.

*cackle*cackle*!  See-, Battle-r.  What truth shall I tell in red this time?  Where shall I strike for the kill and force you into hopelessness?  *cackle*cackle*cackle*!  Come, show me your usual frightened face......"
".................."
"...............What?"
"......Ihihihihi."
"...Why, ...are you laughing...?"
I wonder what kind of creepy look I had on my face as I laughed right then.
That red sure is scary.  ...Every time it jumps out, I'm driven into the depths of hopelessness.

But, ......I had already realized it.  ...There was no need to be unnecessarily afraid of the red.
".........You've brought out your trump card again.  So...?  What and how will Beatrice-sama speak in red this time?"
"......Hoh.  What do you mean by that?  Suddenly looking so relaxed..."

"Sorry, but I was also waiting for you to take out that blood-red treasured sword.  ......Let's see, what will you proclaim in red this time?

You aren't going to say 'the culprit was one of those 18 people', are you?  Let me warn you, that would be self-destruction, right?  That would be the same as throwing away your own witch theory yourself.  A complete resignation."
That's right, the red hadn't always been a weapon that only Beato could use.  It was the other way around.  If she used it the wrong way, it was dangerous enough that she could bring about her own death.

If she used it carelessly and said something which ended up denying herself, that would be exactly the same thing as self-destructing.
"Of course, it would also be sad and difficult for me to accept if you told me in red that one of the 18 was the culprit.  ......No matter who the culprit actually was, it would surely bring me some tough emotions...
But before that, it would mean your defeat!Saying in red that the culprit is a human is equivalent to your proclamation of resignation!!  If you want us to stab at each other in a simultaneous clash, I think that's a pretty interesting move.  However, this battle will end in my victory!!"
Beatrice's red was her true trump card.
When that person spoke in red, it was surely the truth, and no amount of proof or counter-arguments could change that.

Until now she had used that to severely wound me, and each time a little part of my heart would split in half.
However, if she used it carelessly, then I could also find a little information about the truth.

...In the last game, I had countered that, especially during the chapel's closed room trick, and had once closed her in almost completely.
But she was also pretty sly.
She had learned from experience, and since then, had started using discretion in the timing of the red...

This feeling of tension was almost literally like a battle with real swords.
...This was a battle of high intelligence.
......No, not of intelligence.
It really was twisted logic.

This was the world's craziest and worst battle of twisted logic...!!
"So, this time it's your plan.  ......That's right.  To use your 'Hempel's Raven', first, you'll have to confirm in red how many humans there are other than the 18.  And after that, if you proclaim in red that none of the people in this group are the culprit, ......that's right, that might be a fatal wound to me."

".........I'm surprised that you no longer have even an atom of fear for that red which you feared so much...  You're quite sturdy."
"Try taking it out.  That trump card of yours.  This time, you might be able to make me surrender with a single stroke, right...?"
"......*cackle*cackle*cackle*.  ...Interesting.  I wouldn't have it any other way..."
Agitate her.  Challenge her.
Drive her into a corner to make her speak in red...

Of course her red was always wiping out my only ray of hope.
But, ......don't be afraid of that.
On this island overcome with falsehoods and illusions, the only thing I can trust is, the information that she speaks in red.

It was my only way across the chasm of hell.  Just a single tightrope.
Her merciless blood-red blade was the only way I could survive.

...This wasn't just walking on a tightrope, it was like literally walking on the edge of a blade...
Of course I was afraid.
Because of her contrapositive, my victory condition, the denial of the witch, meant that the culprit was a human.
But I didn't want to search for the culprit amid the 18.
...Therefore, I held on to a weak point, since I had to claim that it couldn't be a witch or one of the 18 at the same time.  Since I had been unable to understand that last time, that was where she had hit me, leaving me tattered and defeated.
......But that's all right.
Let her hit me.  Let her attack.  No problem...

Someone said it once in an old sword-fighting movie.
That 'A good fortress has one, and only one, intentionally weak point'.

The enemy would gather there.  They would be lured there.
And that would be where the actual battle took place.
...As long as I understood my weak points, and as long as that bitch wanted to attack those weak points, ......it was as if I were inducing her to attack there...

Consider that weakness with care, ...and retreat step by step.  Make them move forward.
The more she recklessly flourished that red, the more chances I would get to strike back.

Don't be afraid of the red.
Keep her cornered, so that she won't be able to refute me with the red......!

No matter how oppressively she speaks in red, ......that's right, that red itself is the same as fresh blood leaking from her wound.

"So.  ...What's wrong?  ......First of all, why don't you tell me how many people are on this island total?  If you don't, your raven can't cut me up......!"

"..................Hmph.  ...How surprising that you can be this desperate and yet this difficult.  ...One cannot make light of someone putting their life on the line, no matter what the era.  ......It's no surprise you're Kinzo's grandchild.  The more cornered you are, ............the bolder you become!""...Ihihihi..."
Ronove cleared his throat.

"It appears to be a stalemate.  That black tea I worked so hard to make is getting cold, Milady."
".........Ku."

Ronove, who was supposed to be her ally, roguishly rushed her next move.

Beato probably planned to smile back and appear relaxed, ......but she couldn't hide the sweat building up on her forehead.

By now she had completely lost that relaxedness which had allowed her to turn her nose up at her worthless opponent.

Of course, that bitch probably wouldn't be cornered by something like this.
...She was just being cautious.

Until now, I had been inexperienced.
Without knowing how to fight, I hadn't had enough strength as an opponent.

However, now that we had reached the third game, she realized that I was starting to become skilled, and she had grown more cautious, thinking every move over carefully......

Sure, that's just fine, Beatrice.
Sorry to keep you waiting.
Are you happy now...?

"......Now things are starting to get interesting, right......?  Hihihihi!"
"*cackle*cackle*cackle*!  ...Battleeeeeeeeer......"

"I'm still waiting...  Then, should we get to the heart of the matter and go with the usual?"
"......Hoh.  The usual, you say.  ...Then by all means.  If I don't hear that, I guess I just won't feel like starting..."

The first move was mine...

"Here I go, Beato.  Repeat it.  ......'On this island, there are no more than 18 people'."

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

"...If I hear you say this in red, I will have no choice but to doubt one of the 18.  ......Since it could no longer be the work of a 19th person, all doors will be closed to me.  .........However, I believe that the culprit is definitely not one of the 18!  There's no way that any of those 18 could commit such brutal murders...!!"

"..............."
"I'll say it again.  Repeat it!  'On this island, there are no more than 18 people'."
"..............................I refuse.  I won't say why."
Whew...!
I had avoided what would have been the worse red for me.

If she had repeated that, I would be faced with those two worst choices of accepting the witch or suspecting one of the 18, like last time all over again...
But Beato had not proclaimed my ultimate and greatest weakness in red.
She had rejected repeating it, even though there was no reason why she shouldn't have struck, even though it was a weakness she should have been drooling at.
She hadn't sliced me up with red by using that move, which should have been as good as forking a rook and the king...!

......This was a big sign of my advantage.
That's right.  The culprit isn't one of the 18 people.
I won't doubt anyone...!

And since the culprit isn't a witch either, .........it means that a 19th person exists on this island.
And that's you.

A person who, as Grandfather's mistress of 30 years, has been living secretly in a hidden mansion in the forest for a long, long time.

The 'human' Beatrice.........!!
"That's right.  You aren't a witch or anything like it.  ......You're just a human, ...who's been living on this island in hiding for several decades...!"

".........*cackle*cackle*.  *cackle*cackle*cackle... ...Did you just call me, the Endless Witch who has lived for over one thousand years, a human?  ......*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle* *cackle*cackle*!"

For a while, Beatrice continued to laugh unpleasantly, gloating or maybe spiteful.
"...Are you ready?  I'll keep going.  ...Again, repeat it.  'There are at least 19 people on this island'!"
"....................."

Beatrice fell silent once again.

She would probably remain extremely cautious as long as confirming the number of humans on this island might give her some large disadvantage, depending on the situation.
The red had already become a foothold for my counterattack.
With that in mind, the red had become a risk for the witch.
But if she couldn't repeat this, her 'Hempel's Raven' wouldn't be effective.

To break my 'Devil's Proof', she would need to settle the existence and number of people outside the 18 in red.
That's right.  She couldn't break the existence of a 19th person unless she used red.

I had closed Beato in・・・・・・,

giving her no choice but to speak in red...!

There really was..., .........a way to fight, ......in this witch's game!
"It's alright to refuse.  ...If you can't say it in red, then that means there are a total of 18+X people on this island.
......If that X is allowed in my first move, that's a really enormous hint, right?  Anyways, from now on, all of the tricks that were impossible for the 18 people, can be explained with human X outside of the 18 people.  ......This is a huge piece that can break open all of the rooms that you called closed because everyone had an alibi...!"
It was just like how a chess bishop can cut a thin line through enemy forces as long as there's a slight gap.

It could only be effectively used on squares of the same color, but it had a great ability to control the board.

".................................Ku."

It looked like Beato also noticed her current plight.

She couldn't just let such an important piece go, especially this close to the beginning of the game...
If she pulled out her red treasured sword, it wouldn't be that difficult to save her from this.

......But Beato was completely aware that I was expecting it.
She was afraid that a careless red truth might end up strangling her own neck...!

Because, ...in the first place, a witch was something which should be denied in red.
Believe.  Don't doubt!  Witches don't exist!
Something like that couldn't exist in this world.

They could only exist in the valleys between truths.
...They were a fragile existence, curled up in these cracks, frantically trying to protect themselves from the brutal winds of truth, and they could only barely exist like a mirage by surviving on falsehoods and illusions.
That was the truth by which witches couldn't help but deny themselves, using the red words which only they could use.

......The more they brandish their red words......the more they begin to lose bit by bit that crack in truth inside which they can endure.
That was why they didn't want to use the red words and carelessly lose that crack in truth which was based on fuzzy information, ......in other words, illusions.

That was because they understood that they were gradually being cornered.
Of course, that bastard would never admit it.
Because, if she did, it would be the same as admitting that she was something that couldn't exist in this world, like an imaginary number.
Don't be afraid.  Stay strong...!
I know that she is the one who has really been pierced to the bone.

Because her red treasured sword couldn't easily be used without a lot of preparation...!
"...What's wrong.  I'll say it again.  ......Repeat it!  'There are at least 19 people on this island'!"
"........................Hmph.  ...I refuse."

In the end, Beato's worries won out.  ......Taking a single deep breath, she quietly proclaimed her refusal.
......I had thought that she'd use it.
But Beato refused to speak in red even though it would cost her victory in the opening part of the game.

"You refused......?  Which means that, from now on, I can create as many fictional character Xs outside of the 18 as I want...?"

"Do as you wish.  ...I have refused to repeat as you have told me.  Isn't that enough for now?  ......The reason I refused was, ............No, I still won't tell you.  Anyways, you'll know soon."

"...Ihihi.  Still acting tough, I see..."

"......Red words that I don't have to use are a kind of red words in themselves.  You called it my red treasured sword.  A pleasant example.  I will use it too.  ......A treasured sword is at its best when it is sheathed.  In fact, there are times it can instill even more fear because it is sheathed."

"That's right.  ...As I fight, I always have to keep in mind whether you might turn everything over with those red words.  It's some pretty serious pressure.

......And there are also times when you make things pretty tough by refusing to repeat after me.  ...Those times, I can't tell whether you can't repeat because my guess was right, or whether you're just misleading me and letting me think whatever I want.  If you think of it that way, I see.  A sheathed treasured sword."

".........Wha-t's wrong?  If I'm going to push you off a cliff anyway, I might as well let you climb a little higher first.  ...We have still barely begun.  Much is left to come...

I'll resign from this challenge.  ...Go and get drunk on your faint victory for now.  ......Only for now."
Her being a poor loser looked like it would last for the whole early part of the game.
Even so, I couldn't relax my guard at all.

...I was unable to relax my feeling of tension until I was greeted by the sound of Ronove's applause...
"......Spectacular, Battler-sama.  I wonder if you have started this game with an advantageous development?"

"Ah, well...  I still don't know whether I've taken a piece by my move, or whether she guided me into taking it.  ......After all, knowing you...  You probably know that I'm being led into a trap, and that clapping is just a barefaced lie, right...?"

"How could you think that?  I am innocently celebrating your ability that has enabled you to take one shot at Milady, even though it is only the first round.  ...In any event, Milady is a person who is quick to become arrogant.  I believe that a little encouragement such as that makes for a good medicine every once in a while."

"...This butler of yours sure has a vicious tongue..."
"Isn't that so?  Sometimes he offends me as well."

"My, my, how incredibly rude of me.  Well then, Milady, Battler-sama.  How would you like some more black tea?  The game has still barely begun.  Please leave any tea or pastries that might adorn this game to me.  Please, do not feel hesitant and advance further in the game."

"I will.  Let's move forward.  Now is when it really starts."
".........Hmph.  Very well.  Let us advance the clock.  Ronove, black tea please."

"Certainly.  What about a cookie?"
"I don't need one.  Give it to Beelzebub to keep her happy.  ............Remain silent for now."
While listening to the sound of the demon butler pouring tea, the witch closed her eyes slightly and fell into silence.

......For some time, she was deeply lost in thought, but eventually a roguish glint came into her eyes.

"Very well.  .........Why don't I inform you now why I refused to speak in red for the first move."
"......What...?  Bring it on.  Show me what you've got."
"*cackle*cackle*...  It really is a big piece that you'd hate to miss.  ......It may be hasty, but allow me to move.  I won't use red, but from here on, Rosa will explain on my behalf.  Listen."
"Of course, I think the same way.  Rosa does too, right?  ............Rosa?"

"Huh, ah, sorry...  M, me too.  I think that too."

".........Whass wrong, Rosa-san.  ...Ya've been really quiet fer a while now.  Ditcha feel sick...?"

From the beginning, Rosa had never been one to cut in on the siblings' fights.
...But even so, she seemed unmotivated, and had said almost absolutely nothing during this night's conference.

The whole time, she had hung her head, and appeared to be thinking of something else...

"You've been in a daze for a while now.  Do you think you can protect the inheritance like that?  You are also the mother of your child, so get a stronger hold on yourself."
"I, I'm sorry......"

"Did you wake up really early in the morning?  If you feel sick, you shouldn't overdo it."
"......A bed has been prepared in the guest room.  How about taking a rest?  I will guide you."

"No, ...I'm fine.  Thank you."
"...What is it?  Is there something you're worrying about?"
".........No, not really........."

"Is that so...?  It feels like your mind has been elsewhere this whole time.  ...I wonder if that has anything to do with what we've been talking about...?"

At those words, everyone stared at Rosa together.
As if in response, Rosa's shoulders quivered.

Apparently Kyrie's guess hadn't been wrong.
...Rosa couldn't deny that either...
"...............No, umm...  ....................."

She swallowed whatever it was she had been trying to say, and went silent again.

Of course, the other siblings also began to realize that something about her appearance was different from usual...

"What is it?  ...You've been weird for a while.  Did you think of something...?"
"All of us've just sworn to remain united, haven't we?  Don't be reserved, worryin' by yerself.  We said we'd talk."
"......Rosa.  Tell us."
The men pressed her one after the other, and Rosa confessed resignedly and nervously...

The atmosphere made it seem as though she was confessing to some modest prank, which had inadvertently brought about a serious situation.
"No, umm............Th, this mistress of Grandfather's, this Beatrice, ......I was wondering if she is still, .........alive..."

"Huh?  Isn't it obvious that she's alive?  After all, she was able to send that letter to us."
"Whether she's healthy or not is a different story though.  The woman in that portrait must be getting up there in age by now."

"I'd think she's healthy.  People who are crafty when it comes to money are healthy no matter how old they are!  Her evil plan might even be the best rejuvenating agent.  Wah-hah-hah-ha."

"......She shouldn't be, ......alive."
"Huh?  ......What did you just say?"
"Beatrice is, ......dead............I, ...I killed her...!"
"Wh, ......what did you say......?!"
"...Wh, ...what do you mean, Rosa...?!"
"B, but, it's not like I killed.........but, but I was the one that brought her to a place like that!  ...I really did kill her...  I tried to make myself believe it was a dream!!  ......But, ......it wasn't really a dream, was it?!  Which means this is, ......a letter from Beatrice's ghost!!  Uwaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!"
It was so sudden that everyone was lost for words.
Rosa kept on talking, unable to stop, holding her head as her hair flew all about...

"Calm yourself...!  Rosa-san...!"
"I, I have absolutely no clue what's goin' on...!  Already dead?  What do ya mean...?!"

"......I think it means two things.  First, ...its literal meaning.  ...And second, it backs up our earlier guess."

"Which means...............Rosa, ......has met with Beatrice, right?"
"I, I've never heard Rosa speak about that once.  ...Rosa, when was it?  When could you possibly have met Beatrice?!"
"Long ago!  Long, long, long ago!!  We had just moved over to the island and I was young!!  It wasn't my fault, it's not like I killed her...!!  Whaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!"

"...Calm down!  Nobody's blaming you for anything, right?  First, drink some water.  Okay?  Natsuhi-san, the pitcher please."

"Y, yes.  .........Here you go, Rosa-san.  Please, calm yourself......"
"........................"
Until Rosa was able to regain her calm amidst her ragged breathing, ......no one was able to speak a word...

Rosa and the Witch of the Forest


"......Beatrice.  I have been calling to you for a while.  Did you not hear me...?"
"......Hmm.  Were you?  My apologies.  I was lost in my thoughts.  Forgive me."

"The weather is pleasant.  ...I see, I can understand how the weather has stolen your heart.  Will you drink your black tea here...?"

"............Who, am I?"

"..............................I will bring some black tea now.  Wait here for a while."
"Forget about the black tea.  Talk with me."

"......Very well."
Kinzo had used the excuse of going to bring some black tea to try and interrupt the conversation for the time being.
...But his attempt had been very transparent.
I sat in the garden chair, and beckoned Kinzo to do the same.
Kinzo sat down heavily, exaggerating his age.

For a while, we sat, appreciating the silence...

"......Who am I?  Until today, no one has answered me this question.  ......For some reason, everyone averts their gaze and evades me."
".................."

"......I have known you for a long time.  I think of you as my best friend, even as a father.  ......That is why I want so much for you to tell me.  You should know.  ...Who I am..."

"........................Why are you worried about something like that?  You are Beatrice.  The Master of this mansion, is that not so?  ......What more could you want to know?"
"............I do not know."
"What's this?  ......Don't you even understand yourself what it is you want to know?  That is baffling.  In my younger days, I sometimes wanted to play in the maze of thought that has no exit.  Maybe that is what your worries are..."

Kinzo laughed as though it was a trivial matter.
...However, I couldn't help but feel that this behavior was another attempt to force me to stop my further questioning.

"........................Hmph.  ......So you won't tell me that, ...after all."
"There is nothing to tell.  You are Beatrice.  Isn't that more than enough?"

"......No, that's not it.  .........What I wish to know is not my name.  It is, who I, am.......Who am I, what am I.  ...How long have I been here, ...and how long will I be able to continue my days here?"
"..................I really should bring some black tea.  Do you not think it a waste of all this fine weather?"
"....................."

".........What is this all about...?  Somehow, it looks like the story of your past, right?"
"Something like that.  ...To think that I would go this far back..."

"It looks like you still had some pretty high-minded worries even then, ...wondering who you were."
"......That is to be expected.  At the time, I was unable to understand who I was, or why I was alive."

"Well, in puberty, everyone is captured by those philosophical worries, wondering what meaning there is in their life, at least once.  Doesn't this just mean that you had this kind of charming period once in your life?"
"..................I had been in that mansion since the time I was born.  And I lived only inside the mansion.  Of course, I went out into the garden, but the area around the mansion was surrounded by a very tall fence.  I was unable to leave through it, and I would be told severely that I mustn't leave.
......I could walk freely throughout the mansion and the garden, but outside of that, my desire to take just one step outside of my own accord was never granted."

"............What do you mean by that?  ...Are you trying to say that, as long as you can remember, you were always a bird in a cage?"
"......I did think of it that way.  Anyways, as soon as I became aware, I was living like that.  I didn't even think to question it."

"What in the world, ............are you?"
"That's it.  That is what I also hoped to know."

".........Heh.  I'm sure you'll say something like 'I wasn't a human, I was a witch,' right?"


"No, that's wrong.  That's still・・・ wrong.

......Or should I say it used to be・・・・・・ wrong.  ......I was constructed by Kinzo, a human built by a human.  ...No, maybe I should call it a cage made of flesh."

"What's that supposed to be...?  ...This is starting to sound weird."

"......You probably won't believe it anyway.  Listen first.  .........I was a great witch who had lived for one thousand years.  But at some time, I was summoned by Kinzo, ...and by that hidden art I was bound as his prisoner for eternity."

".........Never heard that before.  From what we hear in the Ushiromiya family, you were summoned by Grandfather, made something like a devil's contract with him, and gave him the gold."

"Hmm.  That is correct.  ...Then I was supposed to hide myself until the contract was over.  But, .........well, it's tough being a popular woman.  .........By some turn of events, Kinzo fell in love with me."

"...Grandfather's nearsightedness must have gotten pretty bad.  With astigmatism too, ihihi.  To fall in love with you, of all things."

".........Hmph.  Well, to me it was annoying at best.  ...However, the power of humans is a frightening thing.  He displayed that fearsome power and rooted me to this place.  ...He said I wouldn't be freed until I nodded my head in agreement.  ...Such an overbearing man."
"Isn't that awesome.  Everyone knew Grandfather was obsessed with the occult, but......that he would have the power to root down the Great Witch Beatrice...  ......Heh, ridiculous.  Who'd believe such a weird story?"

"...As I thought, you don't believe."
"What I believe is only the fact that you retired to this hidden mansion in the middle of the forest.  You are the 19th person in Rokkenjima, right?!"
"......Indeed.  Just as you imagine, this is deep in the forest of Rokkenjima.  A hidden mansion not to be found from the outside world.  It's name is Kuwadorian (Nine Birds' Retreat)."
"......Come to think of it, I heard that the guesthouse's real name was Toraian (Visitor's Retreat).  ...I see, the naming sense is similar.  ......Then, you were Grandfather's mistress, who retired here.  Isn't that right?!"
"Mistress isn't the right way to say it.  ......You should probably call it Kinzo's unrequited love.  I spoke of it just recently, correct?  He fell in love with me of his own accord.  He then courted me, but I rejected him."
"......Then, I was shut up in this hidden mansion.  .........No, I shouldn't say that I was shut up in this mansion.  ...It would be more correct to say that I was shut up in this body."
".........I have no idea what you said at the end there."
"You will just make fun of it and not listen, right?  After all, you say that you don't believe in witches or magic.  If you have no ears to hear what I tell you, saying it would be the pinnacle of foolishness."
"...........................I'll decide whether I believe or not.  ...After all, if I don't ask, the story won't continue.  Tell me.  ...The story from your past."

"Hmm.  .........I refused Kinzo when he courted me, but he was not a man to lose heart at something like that.  He wanted to make me nod my head in agreement no matter what.  He shut me up in this mansion, and spent an eternity trying to win my heart."

"...He really is overbearing.  Obstinate men are dislikable, right?"

".........*cackle*cackle*  Regardless of whether I responded to his courting or not, making him so desperate for me was, ...well, as a woman it wasn't unpleasant.

......However, I never nodded my head.  I tried to do something to escape his guard, but that barrier was firm, and I couldn't break it."
"......And then?"

"After trying to resist in various ways, I eventually reached the conclusion that, to escape from Kinzo's barrier, I would have to throw away this body of flesh.  ......The physical body is a vessel which can be restricted in many ways through magic."

"Throw away your body of flesh......?  What's that?  Something like an out-of-body experience?"

"Well, if you want to think of it that way.  However, I am not a spirit.  Even though I am a witch, in the beginning, I was born with a human's body of flesh.  So for me, throwing away that physical body, while it didn't mean the same thing as death, it did require a corresponding level of preparedness."

"So in other words, ......you had determined that you couldn't be released except by suicide, is that what you mean?"
"It wasn't suicide.  It was nothing more than throwing away my body of flesh.  ......Of course, becoming nothing more than soul is a precarious situation.  When the soul leaves its body of flesh, it is constantly exposed to the strong winds of the sun.  It was not easy for me to maintain myself and avoid being scattered by them."
"It was a final measure that I wanted to avoid if I could.  However, there was no other way to break through Kinzo's barrier.  ......*cackle*, anyways, I am an unfettered person.  I couldn't stand being kept in a cage until Kinzo's life was over."
I couldn't understand this story Beato kept going on about, about throwing away her body of flesh, as anything more than suicide.

Grandfather persistently courted her, and to escape from that, ......she chose her own death...?

"............So you're saying you committed suicide?  What are you saying?  Isn't that you, sitting carefree there in the garden chair?"
"......That's right.  That is the new cage I was given by Kinzo."

".........Cage?  You mean this mansion?"

"No.  I mean my body, relaxing in the garden chair over there.  .........After I became a soul and tried to escape, Kinzo had no desire to allow me to escape any further.

...No, he was a frightening person.  Normally, when the woman of someone's unrequited love shows that she is willing to die, it should be enough to bring that person to their senses, even if their love was 100 years old.  ......I guess he was a petty excuse of a magician after all.  ......*cackle*."

"Don't try to speak in riddles with that incomprehensible witch-girl talk.  ...In short, what are you trying to say?"
"That Kinzo didn't let me escape even after I became a soul.  ......Human emotions are terrifying.  That he would be able to exhibit this much power...  Tying down a spirit of the dead, is not a situation that occurs readily, even for a magician seeking that as his specialty.  Because I knew that, Kinzo's fearful magical power shocked me for the first time."
".........Then Kinzo seized my body and brought me back.  However, a cage to hold a seized soul cannot be made from iron or lead.  ......Only one thing remained."
".........What?  You aren't going to say it was a magical cage or something, are you?"

"Wrong.  That body of flesh over there, just like yours or mine.  ...Only a cage made of flesh and blood can tie a spirit down to this world.  ......Kinzo shut my soul up in a cage of flesh built to be exactly like me."

".....................So in summary, is it something like this?  Grandfather persistently courted you, you started to hate it, and you committed suicide, but you weren't clever enough to finish the job?  ...Damn, you really took a roundabout way to say something like that."

"No, that's wrong.  My soul was shut up in the seed of a homunculus, and I was born out of a test tube."
"Huh?!  Ridiculous...!  That isn't even possible, right?!"

"Kinzo accomplished even the miracle of creating life.  And only to shut my soul up in that cage.  ......That he would show such magical power simply because of his own love...  A thoroughly terrifying person."

"Aah, it's already gotten pretty ridiculous!  Say whatever you want.  I won't believe anything.  Just do what you like."

"............Mu.  ...What is this unpleasant attitude?"

"Heh, in the beginning, I showed a little interest, thinking that there might be some huge hint hidden, but the more I ask, the weirder this story starts to get.  I get the feeling that even though this is supposed to be a game about denying witches, I'm suddenly being made to just swallow this story about witches."

"Sorry, but I don't feel like listening to this any more.  Just keep rambling on to yourself as much as you want.  I'll just pick my earplugs or something."

"........................Hmph."

When I started showing a cold attitude, Beato acted unusually discouraged.

Of course, her expression was still shameless..., but I had the feeling that I was able to catch a glimpse of loneliness because I hadn't found the story of her past interesting, in that really easy to understand expression of hers.

......For some reason, that slight reaction made her seem pitiful, so even though I kept my careless attitude, I decided to cover for her slightly.

Damn it, even though she's an irritating witch, I'm still weak against her because her chromosomes are XX...

"......Well, I have absolutely no desire to believe you, but, ............keep going.  I'll listen instead of eating tea cakes, alright?"

"So you treat the story of my past like tea cakes.........You think that if you abuse me like that, I will just casually tell you...?"

After I made fun of her, Beato reacted a little sensitively.
It looked like, even though making fun of people was her specialty, she was horrible at being made fun of by other people.

Just then, my black tea cup suddenly made a sound, surprising me.
"......Milady's soul was seized and breathed into a cage of new life.  In other words, Milady received life as a human once more."

Before I had realized it, the demon butler had taken my cup, and was adding more black tea to it.

"Ronove.  That is enough of this story.  This person said that it was too ridiculous to listen to.  I also have no intention of speaking ridiculously."

"Some new cookies are currently being baked.  I thought that, until then, the story of Milady's past will be a perfect substitute for tea cakes.  Pu ku ku...!"

"E, ...even though I already said that I've had enough of that story!  You are all unpleasant people.  I'm leaving!  Ronove, leave as soon as you are done serving.  Don't talk pointlessly with Battler."
"Certainly.  I will make an effort."
Beato's short temper particular to women, which I didn't really understand, took hold of her, and she turned her body into gold butterflies, scattered, and disappeared.

After that, only Ronove and the scent of the black tea were left...

"......I feel kind of bad for making her angry."
"It appears that you are aware of it, so there is nothing more to be said."
"Wait a second.  Weren't you the one that finished it?"

"Pu ku ku ku.  My, what could you mean?  How would you like some sugar and milk?"
"...Just milk will be fine.  ............And I also want some tea cakes."

"......You are aware that baking the cookies will take some more time?"
"There's a substitute for tea cakes, you said?"

"......Certainly.  If you would listen quietly, I will continue the story."

"She said something about a homunculus.  ...I know a bit about that.  It's that thing, right?  A manufactured human created with alchemy or something?"

"Yes.  Milady's soul was shut up in a homunculus, and she was revived into this world, receiving life again as a baby.  ......However, because she was a baby, even if Kinzo tried to profess his love to her, it would be useless."

"...........................You aren't saying.........Grandfather shut that baby up in this hidden mansion, until it grew to reach the same age?!"

"Yes.  That is what I am saying.  However, while her soul was the same, a human spirit receives a strong influence from its container.  Milady lost all of her memories of the past, and grew up as a very normal human girl."

"And you're saying, ......that was the Beato sitting in the garden chair?"

"Yes.  That is correct.  It grew to be completely identical.  However, it did not possess her power as a witch.  ......Milady was completely like a human."

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

Beato, who was sitting in the garden chair, looking up at the sky, said that same question again.

She asked who she was.

...The meaning of those words was finally starting to click.
She couldn't understand why she was living here, all locked up.

Grandfather had seized Beatrice's soul, shut it up in a body of flesh, and then shut that up in a hidden mansion.

However, since she had lived here since the time she had been born, she couldn't even understand who she was, or why she lived shut up in there...
......W, ...wait, wait.
Who would take such a stupid story seriously?

Why don't I change my interpretation?
...In other words, couldn't it be something like this?
Grandfather met Beatrice.
He then fell in love with her and courted her, but she didn't nod her head in agreement.
And then he betrayed her and shut her up inside this hidden mansion.

Beatrice tried to escape, but no matter what she did, she couldn't succeed, ......so she finally chose her own death.
......And then, .........no.

...Maybe there was a girl that looked just like Beatrice, ...no, a baby.
And Grandfather raised this child with care.

But maybe Grandfather didn't view this child as his daughter.
'The soul was once again shut up in a cage of flesh'

Those words probably meant that he didn't view this kid as her child, ......but as her reincarnation.  Maybe that's what it meant.
If you interpret it that way, even a story that weird might make a little sense...

...No no no.
This might be some bullshit Beato cooked up to confuse me.
As if I could accept any of this...!  In the first place, Kuwadorian was it?  There's no proof whatsoever that a hidden mansion actually existed.

Couldn't this be something she had just fabricated on the spot?
"In the forest of Rokkenjima, a hidden mansion called Kuwadorian exists.  That is the place we were just talking about."

".........Huh?  R, ...red?!"

Ronove said that Kuwadorian existed in red.

...Did that mean the same thing as the red Beato used?

"Apparently I am lacking as a demon.  ...Please keep this a secret from Milady, alright?"
"...Y, ......yeah!"

Beato, who knew I would try to trip her up, had grown extremely cautious when using red.
That Ronove could also use that red was...

However, it was the red of a crafty man.
I didn't know how far I could accept it, but anyways, I might be able to get some hint out of it......

"So that Beato relaxing in the garden of Kuwadorian, ...and that conversation she had with Grandfather, were the truth?"

"Yes.  It is the truth.  In the past, those two actually had a conversation like that in this place."

"Th, thanks a lot.  I'll ask for some more red.  You've said that she was born from a homunculus, but does that kind of unscientific, magical thing actually exist?!"

"I am unable to answer that question.  The reason is that it would become a stalemate."
"......Stalemate??  What's that?"
"Similar the chess term which means a perpetual repetition of moves, it would be a proclamation which would make any further progress in this game impossible.  This would be the opposite of an endless repetition of moves, because all moves would disappear, and it would bring about a kind of deadlock.  In chess this would lead to a draw, just as if there were a perpetual repetition of moves.  ...However, there is no draw in you and Milady's game.  Therefore, I am unable to answer a question that would bring about a stalemate."
".........You're speaking in riddles by saying something I don't really understand, but in short, you're trying to trick me because you can't say in red that something magical like a homunculus exists, right?"
"If I were to say in red that 'a witch exists', what would you do, Battler-sama?"

"............Mu.  ......That's what we're having this big fight over whether or not to believe, right?  If I was told that point blank, it'd be game over."

"If I said 'a witch exists' in red, you would have no room for argument.  However, since the reason would never have been made clear to you, Battler-sama, you probably wouldn't accept it.  However, after being told that in red, you would have no room for argument and would not have been shown any proof."

"In this situation, Battler-sama, even though you wouldn't be able to admit defeat, you would have no way to make a counter-argument, and it would become a deadlock.  Even though checkmate would not have been reached, there would be no existing moves left."

"Since you would not be able to play your next hand, it would never become Milady's turn, and the game would stop there for all eternity.  As a result, Milady would be unable to force you to submit.  ......That would be a deadlock situation.  In order to avoid that, I am unable to answer questions of this form in red."

"......So, to say it quickly, you mean that point blank questions are prohibited?  Well, that's true, I guess.  If I were told 'a witch exists', I'd have to give up from the start."

"I am pleased that you understand.  I believe we might be able to work together if you ask a question of a different form."
"......Can you help me with that line Beatrice dodged when I told her to repeat it?  About the number of people on this island?"

"If Milady held back on repeating it, then of course I cannot respond.  As Milady's furniture, I am unable to act too forward."

Ronove made an exaggerated gesture, trying to act like a loyal retainer.  This guy's so shameless.

"Heh.  Just when I thought you might be useful.  ......I'll give up on that and search for a different question.  ...That's right.  I was forgetting to check something important.  .........This is a story about Beato's memories, right?  When did it happen?  It couldn't be happening right now, right?"

"Correct.  This is the world of 1967.  It is the world of 19 years ago."
"............Hmmmmm..."
Let's try rearranging this story again.
I wonder if it couldn't be something like this...
Grandfather had a person with whom he fell in unrequited love with, called Beatrice.
Then, he confined her in this hidden mansion and continued to court her.
But she was stubborn and didn't nod her head in agreement.
Eventually, she grew pessimistic about being able to escape from here..., and probably, committed suicide.
......And then, ......her soul was put in a homunculus and......
No, no, if I accept that, it's the same as accepting the witch.
I can interpret that part like this.
She probably had, ......a posthumous daughter.

Grandfather must have believed that her soul was put into a new physical body..., and maybe that the child was the reincarnation of Beatrice...
...In that case, Beato had existed on this island for at least the last 19 years as the 19th person, ......umm......

"......I'm starting to get confused.  ...In any event, I can't get out of this fortress of guesswork.  Something that you can certainly say in red, is that in 1967, in a hidden mansion on Rokkenjima, Beatrice-sama existed as a human.  That's all."

"That is correct.  In 1967, in a hidden mansion on Rokkenjima, Beatrice-sama existed as a human."
"Oh, thank you.  That really helps."

"Congratulations.  With this, you have made clear the existence of the piece known as the 19th person.  The 19th human outside of the 18 who you can blame, just as you longed for.

......A sacrificial sheep that you can shift the blame of any crime onto.  And you must be so glad that it is Milady.  Pu ku ku ku."

Ronove laughed indiscreetly.

Somehow, I didn't like his phrasing, so I didn't feel like laughing along with him.
"......That's right.  Rosa oba-san said it.  ......Beatrice is dead?  'I killed her'?  What did that mean...?"
"As for that, it may be faster to see the actual circumstances rather than listen to me tell you.  Let us advance the clock a little more."
Ronove pulled a stylish pocket watch from his pocket, and made to touch the watch stem.

As soon as he did, I saw gold butterflies gather behind Ronove's back and take the form of a person.
...Was it Beato?  I quickly realized that it was someone else.

It was her.  That oldest sister of the seven stakes, who loved tormenting me more than three meals a day.

......If I don't think myself lucky to see that sexy ass, I won't be able to play along with their torture game...

"Ronove-sama.  So, you were still here.  This is an urgent call from Beatrice-sama."

"My, my, what kind of urgent business could it be?  ......It does seem to be slightly more important than chatting with Battler-sama.

Well then, Battler-sama, if you will excuse me.  Please continue to enjoy your game with Milady."
"Yeah, yeah.  I'll enjoy it as best as I can.  ...'Cause the conversations are more lively with you than with Beato.  And because you use the red more graciously.  Come and talk again any time."

"............Battler-sama.  Despite how I look, I am Milady's furniture.  ...I cannot do something that Milady does not wish.  What I said in red was something that normally should have come from Milady's mouth.  ...I did nothing more than announce the red truth in Milady's place as she sulked."

"So she really was sulking then?  Ihihihi!"
"Pu ku kuku."

After looking at me and Ronove incomprehensibly hitting it off, that Seven Stakes nee-chan cocked her head slightly.
"Ronove-sama.  We are keeping Beatrice-sama waiting.  Let us hurry."

"Yes, I will go immediately.  Well, Battler-sama, in a while, then.  ......It appears that we have finally started getting along.  As I thought, I have the feeling that we can become good friends."
"If by that you mean partners at gossiping behind Beato's back."

"Ronove-sama!""Yes, yes.  If you will excuse me."

Maybe it was because she really didn't like seeing him act friendly with me, or maybe it was because she had really been told to hurry.
When the Seven Stakes nee-chan let out a thunderous cry, Ronove laughed foolishly and disappeared, as if running away...
"......Humm.  How could I, the oldest sister of the Seven Stakes of Purgatory, be called on for this level of work!  ...Even though Beato-sama could have told one of the younger sisters, who look like they have so much free time, for something like this.  Sheesh...!"

"Why so grumpy, nee-chan.  If you're hungry, eat a cookie or something.  Why don't I give you the last one?  Ihihi!"

"......Hummmmm?  How thoughtful.  Then, shall I take one?"

I lightly pushed the snack plate with the last remaining cookie on it over to her.

"Thank you."
As though coming as a period at the end of the sentence, a sharp sound pierced the table...

The nails on three of her fingers had extended and gotten sharp..., and had stuck sharply between my fingers on the hand that was pushing the plate.

......It had happened in an instant, ...so for a while, I didn't even realize that her fingernails had grown.
The tips of those sharp nails were like blades with a red manicure.
......The spaces between the bases of my fingers hurt sharply.

......That razor-like blade was sticking sharply into the back of my hand between my fingers...

By now, those three blades didn't even cause that right hand which I had carelessly outstretched to shake, and only resulted in a single line of cold sweat dripping down.
".........Whoa. ...Nee-chan, isn't it about time you cut your nails?"

"Lucifer.  ......That is my glorious name.  The honored furniture who serves Beatrice-sama, and the oldest sister of the Seven Stakes of Purgatory.

.........I'm not like those other disgraceful younger sisters.  If you don't show the proper respect, you will regret it."

"...How would I regret it?  I don't have a clue."

".........fufufufufu.  Stupid kid.  ...Do you really want me to play that much?  You really can't forget that much?  I'll thrust my stake deep, deep into you and have you enjoy being gouged to the fullest, alright......?  Ufufufufufufufufufufufufufufufu......!"

"......You bitch.  No matter when you knock me down, I'll keep saying the same line."
"Oh, really?  I can't wait, you see?  Ufufufufufufu...... ...Ahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha...!!!"
Rosa eventually regained her calm.

The men wanted to hurry her into talking faster, but Kyrie intervened.
...If something like she had just mentioned really had happened, ......it was an abominable past that she wouldn't want to remember.

After taking several deep breaths with her hand over her chest, it seemed that she had more or less resolved herself to talk...

"......How old was I then, I wonder......Probably, middle school, ......I don't remember well.  Anyways, I think I was about that old..."
"Which means, ...maybe, about 20 years ago?"

"Back then, my grades weren't very good, and Mother was always angry at me.  ......I had tried to do my best in my own way, but I couldn't respond to Mother's expectations at all..."

"......Mother was always very strict with Rosa.  I sympathized with her at the time."

"Hmm.  You say that even though you were always talking behind her back."
"Would ya give it a rest, Eva.  And then?  Where did ya meet Beatrice, Rosa-san?!"

"Hideyoshi-san, you mustn't rush her now.  ......It's alright, Rosa-san.  Tell us at your leisure."

".........Thank you.  ...It was a day that I had been harshly scolded by Mother."
Even though my tutor had promised to keep it a secret, ...apparently, they told Mother all about how I had complained.
Mother scolded me horribly, saying that my name was a disgrace to the Ushiromiya family.
......Of course, I was doing the best I could.

But I had none of Krauss-san's dignity, I couldn't get excellent grades like Eva nee-san, and I had no leadership like Rudolf nii-san.
...I never stood out, didn't particularly excel at anything, and it was almost like I was asking myself why I had been born into the Ushiromiya family.

I didn't know why I had been born.
...On that day, I had the experience of my mind going blank for the first time......
For the first time since I was born, ...I realized that in addition to facing or surrendering to my problems, I had the third choice of running away.
Even though I say run away, there was no way I could have left Rokkenjima and gone somewhere else.
But, anyways, I wanted to run away from the mansion and the way I was at the time.

......In a way, it was like running away from home, or maybe a half-hearted suicide...
"......I wanted to disappear.  Or maybe it was that child-like form of resistance where I tried to make my parents worry by disappearing............I thought childishly that if I went into the center of the forest, escaped from the Ushiromiya house, and maybe became lost, then I would make them worry and be able to get back at them."
"So then, ......you went into the forest that you were told not to go in?"
"......Yes.  After reaching the beach, I followed alongside the ocean.  ......I didn't have any particular reason, ......but I felt that, if I went around to the opposite side of the island, there might be a place there that no one knew about, which might become a hidden house just for me."
"If you go around by the beach, that'd be impossible.  It becomes a cliff partway, right?  There's no way you could pass that way."

"...Of course.  So, I kept going wherever I could, and kept going deeper and deeper in.  ......It's a horrible forest without any paths, but that was comforting to me then.  ...If I could make it through such a dangerous forest, then being that much further away from the Ushiromiya family, ...made me feel good."

".........How shameful.  If you were scolded because of your grades, all you had to do was work harder."
"You mustn't say that.  Doesn't Rosa have her talent as a designer instead?"

Literally this could be taken as him covering for Rosa, but everyone knew that Rosa's company had not been profitable.

"Quit it.  Now isn't a time for sarcasm.  ......So then you dragged yourself there by coincidence...?  Beatrice's, ...hidden mansion."

Rosa nodded weakly......

"About how far did ya walk.  Could ya show it to us on a map...?  Natsuhi-san, is there a map of this island?"
"No, there is not one here now..."

"That would be impossible.  I was just walking randomly.  Even if you showed me a map, I wouldn't know.  ......And 20 years have passed since then.  I probably couldn't reach it again if I went into the forest..."
".........Hmmmmmm..."

Several people let out dejected sighs.
It was vividly clear that in their haste, they had thought some hint related to the witch's epitaph, or maybe even the gold itself might be resting there.
"On Rokkenjima, only the land around the mansion has been prepared to be developed.  ...The rest is completely uncultivated, and it would probably take a considerable effort to survey the entire island."

"But just knowing that it actually exists is helpful.  It would take some money, but if we enlisted an aerial photography company to investigate, or asked the businessman who constructed this mansion about what happened at the time, we could probably find some way to search for it."

"That's right.  ...There should still be some ways to do it now that it isn't a question about whether it exists or not."
"......Hmm.  It may be worth investigating right away."

"The siblings will do that investigation together.  We won't let you be alone, Nii-san."

It wasn't certain that the gold was hidden in that secret mansion, but it seemed that the fireworks between Krauss and Eva had already begun.

"Give it a rest for now you two.  Rosa, please continue."
"............Yes."
Blindly, randomly, I kept running, on and on.

Suddenly, it felt like I had come across something like an animal trail.
I was very tired, and had no idea how far I had walked, so at that time, I naturally took the easiest path to walk on.
As I did, .........suddenly, right before my eyes, a very, very tall fence appeared.
It was a fence wonderfully adorned in a gothic style.

For an instant, I spun around, thinking that I might have returned to the original mansion.
Of course, there were fences around the mansion to stop us from entering the forest.
But this fence was decorated differently, ......and moreover, it was very tall.
It probably reached a full two stories up.

It was covered with ivy, and created a mysterious, solemn atmosphere...
At the time, ......I believed the legend of the witch of the forest, Beatrice.

I had been told that she was frightening, but some of the servants told me that she would sometimes help you if you respected her.

......Since I had lost my confidence in those days, I believed that the only way I could be saved was by receiving her help.
So I thought.
......I believed that this was the fence of the mansion of Beatrice, the witch of the forest.

I thought that if I could meet with Beatrice, she would definitely save me.
So I thought I would try to go in.
But that fence was very, very tall, and it didn't look like I could go over it.
So I decided to walk around it.
I thought that if I did, I would eventually reach a gate.
But it wasn't that easy.
The fence had a length to match its height, and no matter how far I went, I didn't reach a corner.

It probably gave me the impression that it encircled a very massive area, ...or maybe it was because my child's legs made it difficult to walk in the forest.
Anyways, because I couldn't find a gate for a while, I started to feel sad, as though the witch had rejected me...
As I did, I eventually came upon a large tree, whose twisted root had bent the fence.

It might have gotten my western-style clothes dirty, but if I crawled, it looked like I would be able to sneak in...

".........And that was the hidden mansion?"
"I don't know whether it was the hidden mansion we have been talking about...  Still, at the very least, it wasn't a place that we know of."
It wasn't as though I came out into a garden as soon as I passed the fence.
I had to continue through a lot more uncultivated forest after that.
As I did, ......the forest suddenly opened up.
And what appeared there..., .........was an unbelievably fantastical scene.
On Rokkenjima, where I had believed no one other than us lived, ...that there could be such a wonderful mansion hidden somewhere...
A beautiful flower garden spanned the front of the mansion.
It was a flower garden of a completely different design from the rose garden we know so well, and was very lovely.
Of course, the mansion was also wonderful.

...It was one or two sizes smaller than our mansion, but it was a very elegant, and yet lovely mansion.
Then, ............I saw her figure.
I saw her sitting in a garden chair positioned to give a view of the flower garden, wearing an elegant dress.

It was that black dress embroidered in gold that we would later know from that portrait.
......I hadn't seen an elegant dress like that except in fairy tales and on the stage of a musical.
...That a person would be wearing it as their normal clothes, ...that in itself seemed quite fantastical.
That mysterious scene was enough to make me lose my sense of reality.
If someone had told me then that it was a dream, I might have nodded obediently, and waited to wake up in my bed...
Since, in my shock, I had forgotten to hide myself, she eventually noticed me.

At first, her expression was quite listless, but when she noticed me, her eyes opened very wide.
...It was only natural, a guest that she didn't know had suddenly appeared.

I lowered my head automatically, planning to greet her and apologize for entering without permission...
".........Who are you?  The new gardener?"
Those were the first words she said to me.
...I grew slightly calmer.
Because I realized that we could talk to each other.

Because I hadn't been turned into a frog just by meeting her eyes, like the terrifying witch in that fairy tale.
"......I, ......I'm sorry.  ...I shouldn't have entered the garden without permission..."
"........................Who are you?  Name yourself."
"I, ...I am Ushiromiya Rosa."
"......Ushiromiya.  ...............Hoh.  ...One of Kinzo's family?"
"Huh?  Ah, yes!  I'm Kinzo's daughter.  G, good afternoon...!"
I was only a little surprised.
...After all, Father was a great man feared by everyone.

And she had addressed to him without using honorifics.
So she quickly became frightening.

...After all, if she could refer to my fearsome father that way, she must have been a witch with incredible power.
After staring at me curiously, she beckoned me to come over with her.

Frightened as I was, I obeyed.
......After all, I thought I might be turned into a frog anyways.
...And the closer I got, the stronger that fear became.
After all, ...I said it several times already, but, .........that woman and her dress and the flower garden and the mansion, ......that entire harmony was so fantastical and beautiful that it seemed separate from reality.

It surely wouldn't have surprised me even if she was actually a witch...
And I was truly lucky.
She hadn't turned me into a frog.

As I awkwardly stood there stock still, she motioned to an open chair, and urged me to sit down.
"Sit.  Welcoming and speaking to those who visit this garden for the first time is my only pleasure.  .........I have no pleasure other than that."

As she said that, she showed an unhappy smile for just an instant.

Because I was full of a strange mix of tension and excitement, I rudely asked her a question suddenly.
"...Umm, .........Are you the witch of the forest, ...Beatrice......?""Indeed.  I am Beatrice."

"As I thought.  Beatrice actually existed..."
"...Did she really look like the portrait?"
"......Yes.  Really, just like the portrait."

"So she was, ......not a witch from Father's imagination..."
"And then, what did you talk with her about?"
"...As she prepared some tea, she asked me various things about myself.  ......First, she was surprised that I had come through the forest.  It seems she believed that many dangerous wolves lived outside the fence.
...So when I told her I had reached this place by going through the forest, she was very surprised.  She asked how I had managed to escape from the wolves.  Did I give them a biscuit and they let me go?  Or did I cover myself in a magic cloak, that kind of thing."

"Wah-hah-hah-ha.  ...That sure sounds like a witch.  What an interesting person."
"Quiet, dear.  .........It was a long time ago, but didn't Father threaten us, saying that wolves lived in the forest, so we shouldn't get close to there?"

"Yeah, something like that did happen.  Ridiculous.  Even though Japanese wolves went extinct long ago.  What a childish trick."

"I don't remember though.  Were we really told something like that by Father...?  It was the witch of the forest, right?  I don't think I've ever heard about wolves."
"You were still in elementary school.  Don't you remember?  Back then, you actually said that you'd want to try petting the wolves.  Father immediately gave up the wolf story and changed it to the story about the witch.  He was already saying such obvious lies, ahahahahaha."

"Hah-hah-hah-ha.  At the time, the witch story had a much more immediate effect on you, Rudolf, than the wolves.  I remember it well.  Don't you remember those nights when you clung to my back?"

"...*giggle*.  I see, even Rudolf-san used to have that cute period."
"Shut u-p.  I was just a kid."
"......Well, anyways.  If Father was the one who shut Beatrice up in there, it makes sense that he would use the same wolf story.  To him, the vast forest of Rokkenjima was a wall that shouldn't be crossed, dividing his two incompatible worlds: the Ushiromiya family and his mistress's mansion."
"If you think about the height of that fence, it does seem that Father had turned the whole area, garden and all, into a giant jail cell.  ......Just like a national border dividing his two separate worlds."

"...Forget the wolves, were there any kinds of stray dogs there at the time?  It could have been a fence to protect against those."

"There are no wolves or stray dogs on Rokkenjima.  That fence was probably, a border between us and Beatrice."

"However, if she innocently believed the story about the wolves, that's kinda, naive.  That's pretty different from how I imagine a witch."
"......That's right.  I also sensed that.  ...She was very pompous, just like my image of a witch, ...but she was somehow very childish, how should I say it, too honest?  ......She gave me the impression that she didn't know anything about the world.
For example, ...it was almost as though she had come from a fairy-tale land.  ......She was a truly odd person."

"......What happened after that?  ...Did you end up talking about Father at all?"

"Yes.  Once every few days, usually on an arranged day but sometimes suddenly, Father would appear casually, and they would drink together, or take a walk together or something.  She said that, by coincidence, she was by herself on the day I visited."

"I see.  Truly a mistress, or so you could say.  ...My, my.  I don't know how much younger she was, but good for Father."
"......We can be sure that it was not an indecent relationship."

"Idiot, there's no way a lover's meeting between a man and a woman wouldn't have some sensuality.  What happened next?  What did you talk about after that?"
".........Because I had introduced myself, I then asked her about herself.  ...When I did, the atmosphere quickly grew depressing.  ......How should I say it, she seemed very listless and lonely.  ...It was the same expression as the one I had first seen on her face."

"Well, that's because she was his hidden mistress.  If she just walked around wherever she liked, she might have been discovered by mother.  ......I'm sure the situation was almost like house arrest.

Even though she had beautiful clothes, a beautiful mansion, and a garden, she must have felt very constrained.  It might even have troubled her.  .........And then?"
"There was definitely something she was worried about.  ......I remember that when I noticed that it didn't seem like something I could resolve just by talking to her, I was also really sad.
.........She seemed to forget that I was even there.  ...She gazed vaguely off into the distance, and was silent for a long, long time.  ...I thought that I must have said something wrong, ......but it didn't seem to be the type of atmosphere where I could offer words of apology.........so I too remained silent for a long, long time, until she remembered that I was there..."
When she did, ......she muttered unexpectedly.
".........Are there really no wolves beyond the fence?"
"...Hmm?  Y, yes.  I've never seen wolves outside a zoo."
"What is a zoo?"
"Ah, ...it's a place where they keep all kinds of animals.  Elephants and giraffes and pandas, they're full of rare animals."
"........................Are there, no wolves in a zoo?  Then, umm, ...that might not be scary."
"Even if there were wolves, all of the animals are put in cages, so it's safe.  So you can feel safe as you look at and study them."
This person who might have been a witch, was for some reason scared of and didn't like wolves.
I remember it looked pretty comical.
"...............How is that any different from me?"
".........Huh?"
She didn't know about zoos.

I explained how fun zoos could be, but it was very difficult for a person like her, who had never been to one, to understand...
Quite the opposite, as I explained it to her, her expression grew increasingly dismal.

...She couldn't see the difference.
It seemed that even though she lived in an elegant mansion that didn't seem inconvenient at first glance, surrounded by a high fence, she couldn't see how she was different from the animals shut up in cages...
"Who am I?  ......Everyone calls me Beatrice.  ...And that does indeed seem to be the name of a great witch, as you say.
......But that isn't me.  I cannot use any magic.  ......I simply have the soul of that witch sealed inside my body."
"............?"

There was definitely something odd about her.
It wasn't just that she was somehow cut off from the world, but it seemed that she truly believed magic exists.
I think she talked about various weird things, but I don't remember the details.

All I thought was, ......this might be a pitiful person.
She was unable to leave this mansion of her own will, a prisoner without even realizing it.

......And she didn't know anything about the outside world, didn't even understand who she was.
......She probably vaguely understood herself that she was pitiful.

But since she didn't know anything, it seemed that she couldn't realize that this was unhappiness.
Long ago, when I told Nee-san that I felt sorry for a bird in a cage, she said this.

'A bird that only knows about the inside of the cage doesn't long for the outside'.
But she wasn't a bird.
She really was a person.
Even if she had never been outside the cage, she understood that it wasn't the whole world.

So, .........I invited her.
"Do you want to try, ......going outside the gate?"
".........Th, there really aren't any wolves?"
"There aren't.  You'll definitely be safe."
"...........................I want to leave.  But the gate is always closed."
"There's the place I came in through.  There's a crack you can escape through."
"......If we go through there, is there a world outside?"
"Yes."
"...............There really aren't any wolves?"
"*giggle*.  Right, there aren't any."
"....................."
I had only planned to invite her for a short walk, ...but she kept looking over her shoulder at the mansion, as though she were seriously unable to decide.

Then I learned what she was preparing herself for.
"............I, have had enough of this place.  ......I want to go, outside.  And I want to know, who I am, what is happening in this world, ...why was I born."
I didn't know what her life had been like until then.
It was probably something that she couldn't express easily.

If it was harsh, she just had to say that she wanted to escape.
If it was sweet, she just had to say that she would stay.
For example, was it something like how a hot fireplace on a winter day makes the air get thicker and thicker, giving you a headache...?

Even though you know that you shouldn't keep things the way they are, you still need the courage to open the window and be tormented by the cold wind...
She was starting to realize that she couldn't stay there forever.
She was starting to realize that she had to go outside sometime.

But, since she didn't know about the outside world, she must have needed the courage to take that unspeakable first step outside...
And she had therefore resolved herself.
She put that resolution to go outside into words, that resolution which she had surely been born with.
...I was slightly bewildered.
It had been decided that she would live here by Father.
It was as if she were Father's beloved bird in a cage.

If I just let her escape, ......wouldn't I be harshly scolded by Father...?
"I want to see."
".........Hmm?  What?"
"I want to see, a zoo."
"...............ah."
I was just a little surprised when she finally showed me a very soft smile.

Could that have been, ...a farsightedness caused by her determination to venture out from her cage?
That soft smile which I wouldn't have imagined could have come out of that dark face...
"......When I speak with you, I keep hearing about things I don't know.  ...I don't even know about this thing called school, not even about zoos.  I don't know about movie theaters.  I don't know about amusement parks.  .........And I think, from the bottom of my heart, that I want to know about that.  ...Will you take me there?"
"Huh, ......y, yes."
...I was nervous about how I would do it and keep it a secret from Father, ...but her face looked so happy, so I went along with her and nodded.

But it seemed that the meaning behind my vague expression was not communicated to her.
It seemed that she believed that I would really take her to all of those places.
She was pure and genuine.
......She had probably never been tricked by anyone.
No, ......maybe it should be said that she hadn't been taught how to doubt.

Her face was somewhat radiant, and yet pathetic.
...I wanted to somehow grant her modest wish.
"I, ...have had enough of Beatrice.  I want to know who I am.  I want to start out as a new human, not Beatrice.  So, I want you to take me from here.  .........I don't need tea anymore.  I don't need this dress.  I won't meet with Kinzo again.  ......Please, take me from here.  Rosa."
However, that responsibility was one that a child such as me couldn't possibly bear fully.

But her serious gaze and her brilliant smile, almost as though an evil spirit had fallen away, ......made me feel a little courage start to rise up inside myself.
This was definitely something that would get me in a lot of trouble.  ......But, it was definitely the right thing to do.

I don't know how it will turn out, but......, ......I'll take her out.
Of course, I won't be able to talk to Father, and not Mother either.
.........Should I talk to Onii-sama or Onee-sama?
No, what about that reliable Genji-san, that's right, what about Kumasawa-san, to whom I can always talk when I'm in trouble.

I'm sure they'll be able to do something.
Anyways, for now I'll take her out of here.
This was already a place where she didn't wish to be.

......Then I took her to the crack in the fence and led her outside.
She was all nervous, checking to make sure there were no wolves around, but after that fear disappeared, even just walking around this dense forest seemed to be fun somehow.
Every time she found something, she would ask me about it.
And they were always really meager things.
......What's that flower?
What's that leaf?
And that sound?  And that smell?

It was really like the inside of that fence had been her entire world.

Therefore, she found the world on the outside, .........
......Strange.
In the beginning, when I first saw her, I had thought that she was actually a witch relaxing by a witch's mansion.

But now it was different.  Or actually, the complete opposite.
......She had gone out of a world she had believed to be finite, and was full of joy at realizing for the first time that the world was endless.
So everything she saw was new.
......It was almost as though she was the one who had been thrown into a fairy tale.

If she was Alice, then I felt almost like a rabbit holding a watch......
To her, it was probably a really fun walk, filled to the brim with excitement.
...But I was truly lost.

......After all, I had walked randomly to get there.
So there was no way I could have known the way back to the mansion.
There were no lights in the forest, and I hadn't brought a flashlight.
I realized that it would be terrible if it got dark while we were still like this, and grew impatient.

She was too innocent, and apparently, she couldn't understand at all how frightening it would be to face the night inside the forest.
But I was the one who had brought her outside.
...Somehow, I had responsibility, and I had to resolve this situation.

So I thought.  ......Let's go out to the sea for now.
If we then follow the beach around, eventually we should definitely return to the mansion.
However, that was much more of a problem than I had imagined.
...I didn't have a map or a compass.

There was no way I could walk in a straight line through an uncultivated forest, and I had immediately lost my sense of direction.
I already had no clue which trail I had come by, and was completely lost...
At this rate, without even knowing where to walk, night would definitely fall.
But there was no reason to complain.
Because that woman following behind me was so innocent and having so much fun.  ...Therefore, I definitely had to guide the way through this forest, for her smile as well.

Gritting my teeth so that I didn't show her a troubled face, I pushed my way through the woods, advancing down the path that wasn't a path.
Then, I had various troubles, but fortunately, I was able to reach the sea...

At that time, I still didn't even have a clue where I was on the island, but for the time being, I was just a little reassured, realizing that if I just went around this way, I would surely be able to return to the mansion.
However, although I said that I reached the sea, we were on the top of a rock cliff.  The beach was far below us.

I was tired from walking around the forest for so long, so I thought that even though it was a rocky beach, an open area would probably be much easier to walk in.
So I planned to somehow go down the rocky cliff.
...It looked pretty dangerous, but I thought there was no other way.
However, Beatrice agreed with my plan without any doubts.

......Even though she was probably older than me, ...she meekly obeyed me, almost as though she were some kind of chick who believed I was a mother bird.
I searched to see if there wasn't some place where I could go down the cliff.
...Then I found a place where the cliff had fallen over and made a slope.

.......It looked a little dangerous, but if I went down on both hands and both legs, like I was crawling, I thought it would probably be okay.
"......Let's go down here.  If you aren't careful, it will be dangerous.  But for now, if we go down to the beach and walk along it, I think we won't have to stay lost any more."
"Hmm.  If you will do that, then let's go.  I'm still having fun even though we're lost.  I'm very happy."
.........She really had no sense of danger.
There was probably no mistake that she had lived a life without discomfort.

Even though she knew it would get dark when night fell, she couldn't imagine how dangerous the inside of a forest could be without a light.
Furthermore, it seemed that she couldn't grasp at all how dangerous it might be if she fell from the cliff.

I warned her once more to be careful.
I cautiously examined the place where we could go down.
...It looked, ......pretty high up.
I think it might have been about 10 meters down.
If you looked at it from the bottom up, it would probably have looked shorter than the roof of the mansion.
But looking from the top, it felt almost like staring down from the observation room on Tokyo Tower.
But Beatrice still appeared to be completely without fear.
...It felt as though she had never even been taught that high places were dangerous.

......No, maybe she believed that she was a witch, and that she could fly, so there wasn't anything dangerous.
"Please be careful.  ...It's pretty, high."
"Hmm.  I will be careful.  If we go down, there's a beach.  Is there an aquarium there?"
"No, there are no aquariums on this island.  But I think there are lots of fish in the sea."
"I see.  So there are fish.  Are there, ...umm, whales and dolphins and penguins, like you talked about?"
"No, you would have to go to an aquarium for those.  ......And you would have to leave this island to go to an aquarium."
"Is that so?  ......But I'm looking forward to it.  What kind of fish are whales?"
"Umm, ...they're really big fish, huh, aren't they mammals?  And they spit out seawater."
"Hoh.  Then the dolphins?"
"Umm, they're really smart fish, huh..., weren't they also mammals?  They're really smart and they can be taught tricks and stuff."
"Hohhoh.  Then what about penguins?"
"Umm, ...huh, weren't they birds...?"
"What's this?  Didn't you just say that there were fish in aquariums?"
"Ummm, ummm...  Well, um, there isn't only fish, they're full of various things that live in the ocean."
"Hohhoh.  I am really looking forward to that............nn-"
Wa, hyaa.

As she tried to ask me, she spoke in a funny, ...rushed and short voice, ...no, it was probably a scream.

That voice rose suddenly.
......Her body separated from the cliff, and gently fell down.
I immediately wanted to say something to her.
I wanted to say 'Didn't I tell you to please be careful!'
......It was the thought of a child.
It was how a child immediately gets mad when something happens, trying to find an excuse to show that they are not at fault.

Of course, I also spoke.
Are you alright?  Didn't I warn you so strongly......?
"...............Then, ...after she fell from the cliff, ...what happened?"
".................."

"......What happened to her?  ...Rosa."
Rosa fell silent.
...Her gaze fell to her feet, ...as though she were seeing through the floor to some disgusting memory...
"She died, right......?"

Eva's brutal words were the ones that Rosa had most wanted to avoid.
And when she was hit with them, she screamed in resignation.
"Yes, she died!!  It was a rocky beach, many sharp and dangerous rocks lay exposed!!  Her eyes were still open, the blood kept pouring out...suddenly a red carpet was spreading out...!
I spoke to her, shook her!!  But she refused to respond, not even a blink, ......no, she wouldn't even close her eyelids!!  It was my fault!  She was wearing a dress, remember?!  Even though I knew that her outfit was difficult to move in, I said that we should go down the cliff!!  She was incredibly innocent, so she obeyed what I said without any doubts...!!"
"......How long do you plan on remaining dead?  Open your eyes already.  Seriously, just turning into a lump of meat without me."

"I was just flirting with your friend the ass nee-chan.  ......More importantly, what is all this?"

"Hmm.  As you see.  ......I missed my footing, fell down, 'and died'."

"What did you say............even though you appeared as the 19th person, ......you say you died......?

Don't mess with me, that can't be...!  Rosa oba-san was a kid, so she was rushed.  It's not like there was a doctor.  She probably made a mistake, thinking you were dead, and you probably, umm, ......were alive and pretending to be dead or something.  Isn't that right?!"
It couldn't be.
She's obviously alive.
If she isn't, then she couldn't be here, right...?!
...The kid-aged Rosa oba-san shook Beatrice's body, crying.
I stared into that face, ............but her eyes were still open, and it really was a corpse.

...I wanted to trick her, saying something vague like she must be pretending to be dead, ......but no matter how I looked at it, it didn't look fake at all, ...I couldn't help but notice that she really was dead...
Beatrice had fallen upside down from a cliff of that height, ......and her head had smashed against the pointed tip of those sharp rocks.

.........You would probably die, ......from that height, ......on those rocks......
But I couldn't accept it...
No matter how dead she looked, ......she had to be alive...!  And she had become this damn irritating witch!  That way, all of the inconsistencies fit.
She had been confined by Grandfather in a hidden mansion the whole time.

And then to avenge herself, she had planned her revenge, ......and had committed several atrocious murders!
Rosa oba-san probably just mistakenly thought that she was dead.
But she was really alive, and as soon as Rosa oba-san left, would miraculously breath again.

......And then she had somehow lived until today, and opened the curtain on the scene of her revenge.
Otherwise, the facts wouldn't fit together!!
"......I won't let you trick me so easily.  Can you repeat it in red?!  That she is certainly dead!!  She has to be alive, right?!  It's obvious!!"

"How does that look alive to you?  She is definitely dead!"
".....................Muuuu..."

My theory that the 19th person was Grandfather's mistress, who was a human Beatrice, had been defeated.

...I had planned to strike back from a defensive position, but......

"......Then, ......who are you?  You just died, right?!  You aren't going to say that you revived yourself with magic, are you?!"

"*cackle*cackle*.  I think that I've already explained it though.  ......The me that is lying over there, definitely has my soul, but that body was nothing more than a cage of flesh tying me to the physical world.  And that cage of flesh was broken like this.  ......Do you understand what that means?"

"............I don't have a clue anymore.  ......Keep having fun with your witch girl tricks.  I'll listen instead of eating tea cakes!  What the, it's empty.  Hey, could I get some more black tea?"

"*cackle*cackle*!  Ronove, the guest wants some black tea."

When Beato clapped her hands, Ronove appeared.

......Butlers sure are convenient.

"A refill, you say.  Certainly.  How much shall I pour you?"
"Well, I've got more than enough tea cakes.  Half will be fine."
"Even so, filling it to the brim is the English custom."

Even though just enough to wet my throat would have been fine, he filled it to the top with tea.

I turned my back to Beato, sipping it in silence...
"Wait..., open your eyes...!!  Beatrice...!!"

Rosa shook me, .........no, shook the corpse that had once been me.
I watched over her from a short distance away.
Ah, ...so I fell from there and died......

I believed that was true for a while.
...After that, I saw Rosa spend a long time beside my corpse, then watched her as she ran away.

......Eventually, I realized that I was a different individual from that corpse...
"...............That's right.  I am, ......me.  ...So, I have finally been able to escape from Kinzo's restrictions..."
Eventually, I felt the memory returning...
The fact that I was an Endless Witch who had lived for one thousand years.
And then I remembered that I had been summoned by Kinzo, and for a long time, had been imprisoned by him...
While I had been imprisoned in a cage of flesh, I had completely lost my memory as a witch.

However, thanks to Rosa, if you could say that...
Thanks to my accidental death, I had now finally brought myself together......
"......Rosa.  You are probably regretting that you brought about my death.  But I could almost thank you.  *cackle*cackle*...!"

I already couldn't see Rosa.
Had she gone to call a doctor, or had she escaped from a scene which had become frightening?
...That no longer matters.
That soulless shell is no longer worth anything.

And yet even so, ......how frail I am now.
Even this glorious midday sun is agony to me now.
I destroyed my human form.
Then I changed it to several gold butterflies.

......Hmm, with my magic power as frail as it is now, this form is easier.
And to escape even a little from the light of the sun, I rode the wind and lightly passed over the cliff.
It would probably be somewhat cool in the forest.

Anyways, I'll take some time to recuperate, and regain my original power.
......As I think of how Kinzo will repay all that he has borrowed.
Dancing alone through the air, I looked down at the shore one more time.

On the rocky shore, lay the figure of what had once been me, ......and that I would eventually regain.
To regain the form of that physical body I had thrown away, ...it would probably take more than one hundred, two hundred days.
...And it might require one thousand days, or maybe even more.
However, I am the Endless Witch.
The Golden Witch who has lived for one thousand years.
Waiting any countable number of days would be no problem.
*cackle*cackle*.  Oh, Kinzo.
You may regret that you are not here now.
No longer will you be able to capture me.
...*cackle*cackle*!
".........And then, you changed into gold butterflies, hid in the forest, and waited for your magic power to be restored?  Is that what you're saying?"

"That is correct.  I take this form to sneer at you, but normally, it is easier magically for me to keep my form as gold butterflies."

"Don't stress yourself and stay in an easy form.  I wouldn't mind not hearing your irritating laugh."

"*cackle*cackle*.  When I turned into butterflies and slipped into the forest, it was already no longer possible for Kinzo to find me.  ......However, Kinzo was not dismayed.  Still, he was unable to immediately prepare a way to catch me.

Therefore, he first moved immediately to prevent me from leaving this island, and to keep me from regaining my power.  .........My, my, anyways, Kinzo's spitefulness was unimaginable.  ...It was pretty tough to be loved by someone like that.  *cackle*cackle*!"

"A way to keep you from leaving after you became butterflies?  What, did he put a bug net around the entire forest?"
"Hmm.  It was done magically.  .........Did you know?  On the sea in front of the harbor floats a reef, on which sits a small shrine of Eastern magic."

"......Ah, that.  It was gone this year, though.  It was a small shrine built long ago by a mountaineering ascetic, right?"
"This island was originally an island of a distortion.  Things magical and those things that are related to magic were attracted to it.  ......Milady herself is one of them.  How about some more tea?"

"*cackle*cackle*, please.  ......They did harm to humans, and probably left several eerie legends behind them.  That small shrine was built in ancient times by an Eastern magician who heard of them.  A long time passed, and that power was lost.  By repairing it, Kinzo restored this island's barrier, and once again tied me to this island."
"......Can Eastern magic work on a Western witch like you?"

"Normally the affinity is poor.  However, for the purpose of sealing me there, in a way, the conditions might have been good.  

If it was Western magic, I would have some knowledge.  For any barrier, there would have been some measures I could have taken.  But Eastern magic is outside my area of expertise.  It was as if I had been given chopsticks instead of a spoon for some soup that I couldn't drink."
In a space strongly controlled by Eastern magic, Western magic loses much of its power.  Even if she had one thousand days to regain her power, she would have to wait many, many more."

".....So you're trying to say that it took you 20 years to regain your power, and now you are revived, like this?"
"Those were horribly long years...  I spent many days in the form of gold butterflies, found Kinzo's mansion, and watched over him every day.  I lived through those days with no means to enjoy myself except to ponder how I would get back at him.
......That period of 20 years was fortunate for me.  Kinzo tried to use every magic to find and capture me, and failed in them all.  A human cannot bring about miracles very many times.  Even simply holding me captive for that long had been a miracle far above his place.  It would be unthinkable for me to be captured like that multiple times."
".........Grandfather said something in the previous game. It was something like, magic lies in a miracle related to probability."

"Hmm.  While Kinzo searched for a hidden art to capture me again, he ended up at that.  ............Then, he finally worked out the ceremony involving the offering of 13 people as sacrifices to revive me again."
"13 people as, ......sacrifices..."
"That was the witch's epitaph.  It is a song of sacrifices.  ......Six people at the first twilight.  Two people at the second twilight.  And then five more people on the fourth through eight twilights.  A forbidden ceremony, involving the offering of a total of 13 people as sacrifices...  Those sacrifices were to be chosen randomly, and the one who held the ceremony, Kinzo himself, was not an exception."
"Dumbass...  Are you saying that all of the gruesome murders that occurred on this island were a weird ceremony?!!"

I had vaguely thought that this might be a possibility...
But I couldn't just hear that this was the truth from a witch and a demon and say 'Oh, really?' and accept it!
"There are 18 people on Rokkenjima.  13 are offered as sacrifices, five are left alive.  Then I revive.  ......In other words, the odds that Kinzo will be able to meet me again are probably around one third.  He bet his own life on those odds, wishing for a reunion with me for the last bit of his remaining life."

".........You're saying he gathered our family for the sake of that joke of a ceremony?!  Don't fuck with me!!  Don't say stuff like that, damn it!!"

"It was according to the contract from the beginning.  When Kinzo's life ended, all of the gold I had lent him, and all of the assets that Kinzo had created, would be received by me.  ......I had been horribly stabbed in the back by Kinzo, but it was an exceptional time, even amid the thousand years that have passed until now.  After all, boredom is my natural enemy.  To Kinzo, who offered me a chance to run away from that for several decades, yes, if you include that, it might settle the debt.

I decided to go along with Kinzo's game.  Then, first off, Kinzo returned to me the ring of the Ushiromiya head.  It was the house that had been revived by my gold, you see.
.........Then the 13 people were chosen randomly as sacrifices.  And by just doing that, you were all so confused, and when you showed me various aspects of the fabric of human relationships as you stood against me, it gave me great pleasure.  I really like this game of Kinzo's!  *cackle*cackle*."
"Aaaaaaaaaahh!!  I definitely won't believe in that kind of magic story!  ......Then who are you?!  You fell off a cliff and died, right?!  Your soul slipped out, became butterflies, and went to the forest?  That isn't possible!!
But you are here!  Who are you?!!  Aren't you the 19th person?!"
"That is true, I am the 19th person.  *cackle*cackle*!  But it's useless, right?  It's all useless!!"
"There are no more than 18 people on this Rokkenjima!"

"Wha, ............what did you saaaaaaay...... So you're saying, that 18+X, ......that the X in that doesn't exist?!  Are you saying the piece that I took, the X, ...doesn't exist?!"
"Pu ku ku ku...  That is what it means.  It is truly sorrowful.  ...However, Milady truly is a fast worker.  Just when I thought you would let him flounder around before turning everything over at the end.  Well then, Battler-sama, would some more tea be agreeable to you?"
"I, I don't need it, damn it!!  I don't believe!  The culprit couldn't be one of the 18 people!  Then, what are you, why are you here?!!  If the 19th person doesn't exist, then are you saying you're one of the 18 in disguise?!"

"*cackle*cackle*!  Perhaps you are castling.  Though reluctantly, you are doubting one of the 18 people as your last way out.  ..........However, it will be difficult for me from here on.  If you throw away appearances, you could prepare a culprit freely amid 18 people!  Making you reach checkmate by evading those 18 pieces, .........will be truly difficult."
"As if I would do that!!  I won't doubt any of the 18!  I don't want to doubt!!  Have I really been cornered here again...?!  Damn it, damn it damn it!!"

"It looks like you have finally reached the end of your battle with this third game, doesn't it?  There's nowhere to run anymore, right?  *cackle*cackle*!  You don't want to doubt any of those beloved people in the 18, do you?  Were you trying to hide that from me?  And yet, why do you refuse me?

They say you should play the opening like a book, the middle game like a magician, and the endgame like a machine.  I'll corner you from here on.  Slowly, carefully, ...surely.  Or, on the other hand, would it be better if I pressed you all at once, as would be fitting for you?

That should suit you, let's do that.  I now thoroughly know of your unskillful method of attack!  *cackle*cackle*cackle* hihihihihihihihihihi!!"

The Beginning of the Ceremony

Sun, Oct 5 1986 0:00
".....................Well then.  How will this game be resolved?  ...You may submit, and you may resist.  ......Either way, it will truly be an entertaining banquet worth betting my short remaining life on."
In his dimly lit study, which was occasionally brightened by lightning, Kinzo kept mumbling to himself, laughed by himself.
On the antique clock with the intricate design that had been sitting on his desk, the two overlapping hands tilted to the right, and began to slide.

The measure of time that counted to 24 had returned to 0, and had begun to count back again...
"......Measuring time is a brutal thing.  It drags itself all the way to 24 over the course of a day, and then returns back to 0.  ......It surely counts to 23:59.  However, is it ever able to reach 24:00?  ......If you believe that it returns to 0:00 again without reaching it, how futile it seems."
No, is that the same as a person's life?
You live, aiming for a perfect 24, and in the instant you reach it, you return to 0.

People will probably praise the departed, saying that he did reach 24, but that surely is not 24.

.........After all, that is 0.
"I am different.  ......I will live and reach 24.  That itself is the Golden Land.  ...Because that is Beatrice's dwelling."
Kinzo had been fumbling around with some tarot cards for some time.

It looked as though he was trying to divine his own luck in the contest, and doing it over every time he didn't like the result.
The most forbidden action in tarot reading was to try predicting the same thing twice.

That was a desecration to the result of the fortune telling, and also desecrated the existence higher than humans which became an oracle through the tarot cards.
However, Kinzo knew.

The reason the tarot cards shouldn't be used twice was that, since it was nothing more than a random number generator, it was natural that if you read them twice, a different result could appear.

......Therefore, reading twice was only forbidden to preserve the mystique of the tarot cards' results.
...However, that didn't mean that Kinzo didn't take tarot reading seriously.
Kinzo's interpretation of tarot reading was done in a completely different way.

That was to repeat the reading, over and over, without giving up in the slightest, until he reached the result most favorable to him.
What the best result was depended on the definition, but if he demanded the best result in a strict sense, it was the same as a simple roulette of luck, where he seeked an arithmetic miracle.

......However, to Kinzo, who made miracles of numbers the basis of his magical power, this could become very much like a magic ritual.
In other words, until the result he desired appeared perfectly, he would strive to repeat the tarot readings over and over, with conviction, turning the feelings of his heart into a prayer, so that when it reached heaven, the result would be sublimated.  This was Kinzo's personal magical interpretation.

Therefore, even though the tarot cards Kinzo used were exactly the same as generally used tarot cards, the way they were used was completely different...
".....................Tonight, ......will not go as I thought."

Kinzo stopped his hands for a second.
...It seemed the result he expected wasn't showing up.

On the contrary, many bad cards that shouldn't appear appeared repeatedly, and continued to interfere with the miracle Kinzo wished for.
"...............Hmph.  ...Is that how it is?"

It seemed that Kinzo had received some oracle that that was different from normal.

But judging by the unlucky cards scattered over the desk, it was difficult to imagine that the oracle had been a good sign...
For a while, Kinzo closed his eyes tightly, pondering something.
Then as the thunder roared, he made up his mind about something, took the telephone receiver, and dialed.

".........It is I.  Is Genji there?  It is urgent."
"............Haah."

In front of the entrance hall, Shannon's previously burning face had been cooled off by the frigid air.
...She had thought, ......that George's proposal would surely come sometime.
It wasn't that her heart was not prepared.
And she had nodded as if in answer.

Had she been reckless because of her youth?
Should she have thought about her future more seriously?

I wonder if he doesn't think of me as a cheap girl because of my immediate reply.
...Would I have been able to look like I was thinking more seriously if I had at least held off until tomorrow morning?

Now that she had already received the ring from George, Shannon kept fidgeting in embarrassment.  I should have done this, I should have done that.
As she did. she heard the sound of footsteps splashing through puddles.

Shannon immediately chased away the emotions welling up inside her.
"......Genji-sama?  Kanon-kun too...!  I, I'm sorry, I have to go back soon, umm..."

She grew stiff, thinking that she would surely be scolded for spending too much time in her secret lover's meeting with George.

"Shannon.  The Master told us to come to the study, saying it was urgent.  Let us hurry."
"......Huh?  Y, yes, certainly...!  What in the world...?"

"He said he had a premonition of misfortune.  ......It would be convenient if he could carry out the ceremony by himself."

"We will enter from the back, so that Gohda doesn't notice us.  Hide your footsteps."
"Yes.  .........Nee-san, take care.  You're so noisy."
Kanon was especially good at hiding his footsteps.

...Like he was a cat.
He was able to suddenly be there without anyone noticing, and leave in the same way.

For example, even though he stepped in the puddles, that sound was far smaller than the sound of the rain hitting the puddles...
Genji also had that ability.
...Well, originally, those servants called furniture were supposed to be like that.

Just like how desks and closets went unnoticed by members of the family, the servants also treated being able to appear unconcernedly when they needed to as a great virtue.
In that sense, Shannon's footsteps still strongly asserted themselves.

...She was also trying to hide her footsteps, but compared to Kanon and Genji, well, you could say she was a little more lively...
Eventually they reached the back door, and the three of them entered the mansion.
Immediately, .........they thought they felt something.

It was different from a sense of smell, ...it was as though they felt it from the depths of their noses, ......and this hard to describe sensation, which you might call a sixth sense, allowed them to perceive that something was different than usual.  

"............Genji-sama."
"...Hmm.  Hurry."
That perception made it feel as though some kind of tension was pressing on them.

Realizing that, the three of them dashed up the stairs, aiming for Kinzo's study, still hiding their footsteps.
When they dashed up the stairs, ...that smell of sweet poison particular to Kinzo's study reached their noses.

"..................Mu."
"What is it, Genji-sama...?"
"......The barrier is, ...dead."
"Huh?  ...............Ah."
After hearing Kanon, she looked at the door to the study.
A scorpion pattern was engraved on the doorknob.

A powerful magic-repellent.
The final barrier, which protected Kinzo himself.
It had been broken.
Of course, there was no change to the doorknob that the eye could see.
However, they who could understand things that people couldn't perceive, were able to recognize that there was a dramatic change...
"......Master.  Master...!  It is Genji.  Please open this door."

Genji called in this way after knocking several times, but there was no answer from the study.

"Shannon, protect our backs.  Kanon, search inside the room."
""Yes...!""
Kanon put his ear against the door, searching for a presence inside the study.

To protect the backs of the other two, who were watching the door, Shannon faced the other way, with her back to them, prepared for the unexpected.
"............The Master should be here.  ...However, it's too quiet."

"Are you saying he is safe?"

"No.  It's too quiet・・・・・・・."

"...Could it, ............possibly be..."
"Master.  Excuse us about the door."

Genji pulled a gold key out of his pocket.
It was the only key to the study that existed, other than the one Kinzo held.
He stuck it in the key hole, and turned it heavily.
......At first glance, it looked like that meant that is really was a strong lock.
However, now that the barrier had been destroyed, this door was as good as open for anyone with magical power...
The heavy sound meant that the door could be

opened even by humans・・・・・・・.
"......Excuse me."

As Genji respectfully bowed his head, and Kanon's sense of tension grew tighter, and Shannon acted nervous, they entered the study...
They immediately discovered Kinzo's figure.
......He was sitting in the reception sofa so that his back faced them.
Genji noticed the person sitting across from him, and again bowed deeply.

Kanon also noticed that person, ......and he didn't bow his head.
He went in front of Shannon and spread both arms, blocking the way to her.

So without even seeing that person's face, Shannon already had a good idea who it was...

"...So you have come.  Beatrice-sama."
"Genji is it?  You came very quickly.  Yes, it is better when furniture answers their master's call quickly.  Very different from this person."

"..................So Ronove-sama has come as well."

Genji directed his greeting towards the thin darkness behind and to the right of Beatrice, where there shouldn't have been anything.

Even Kanon and Shannon couldn't have imagined that someone would be there.

......However, the darkness answered immediately, and praised Genji's eyesight...
"As usual, you don't disappoint.  It has been quite some time.  .........Even so, you have gotten old, haven't you?  Have you really reached that age?"

"I have lived a full life.  ...It appears that your life has grown to be even more full, Ronove-sama."

"Yes.  Thank you.  .........And Shannon, it has been a long time since I last saw you, as well.  You have grown quite beautiful.  And, it seems that you have grown quite strong.  That is fortunate."

"............Thank you very much."
"......Nee-san, who in the world..."

"This will be the first time I have met you, Kanon-kun.  ......I, Ronove, have been entrusted with the position of Beatrice-sama's head furniture.  ......I am an old friend of Genji-san's.  I am also furniture, just like you.  Although the master I serve is different."

The color of tension didn't disappear from Kanon's expression in the slightest.
......If furniture served a different master, they could be kind or brutal or a fraud.

...If he called himself furniture serving the hated Beatrice, then surely he was a despicable being as well...
"*cackle*cackle*!  It seems that I'm completely despised.  It's as though you hate everything to do with me."

Beatrice openly sneered at Kanon's hate-filled face...
Then, Kanon finally knew.
Beatrice and Kinzo were enjoying a chess game across the reception table.
But Kinzo hadn't even quivered.
He was holding his head with both hands, his eyes closed tight..., as he contemplated his next move.

......No, was he in anguish...?
".........Master........."

"I have told Kinzo two things.  There was good news and bad news.  ......The good news was that he would have the fortune of being reunited with me before the ceremony ends.  The bad news was that Kinzo had been selected for the very first sacrifice of the ceremony.

*cackle*cackle*!  There's absolutely nothing I can do about it.  Because it truly was decided by the fickle roulette."

"...L, liar.  You just take pleasure in killing people......"
"Stop it, Kanon-kun......"

"......So, Kinzo.  Isn't it about time you decided to accept your loss?  ......*cackle*, by this, our long lasting contest is resolved, right?"
"........................"

At a glance, you couldn't tell the current situation on that chaotic chessboard.

...However, judging from Kinzo's anguish and Beatrice's malicious relaxedness, it looked as though it was already decided...

"............It is unavoidable......Is this also entertainment?"
"It is to me too.  ......Resolving my contest with you may bring a flood of emotions, but it has already surpassed love and hate.  ...It was fun.  Several decades that were not boring...!"
Beatrice advanced her queen, and made her final move.

......It was then, decided.
"Checkmate.  .........This is a final tribute from me to you.  Without reserve, ...sleep."
"Fufufu, ......fuhahaha, haahhahhahhahhahhahhah!!"
Kinzo suddenly stood up and laughed, like an opera singer facing a full crowd and spreading his arms, ...as though he had succeeded in a century-long plan.
That laugh, ......spat crimson.

Crimson flames poured out from inside him, spitting even out of his mouth, ears, and nose, and all at once, his body was wrapped in hellfire...
But Kinzo kept laughing.
The more he laughed, the more the hellfire spewed from his entire body, and began to char him...

Those flames became a brilliant light, which dazzlingly shone on the various magic tools throughout the room, and made their distorted shadows dance across the walls.
...Those shadows looked like the dead in hell, in ecstasy over Kinzo as he burned...

And, after making a contract with the witch, it was an extremely fitting end, ...in accordance with that contract...
After laughing and howling in the roaring flames for a some time, Kinzo flopped to the ground, as though he was a puppet whose strings had been cut.
Those incredible blazing flames disappeared as though he had been completely burned up, and afterwards, all that was left was a festering and burnt corpse that would make you want to avert your eyes...

"...............Horrible..."
"Hmph.  You should talk.  Even though you think that was a fitting way for him to die..."

"......Why have you shown yourself...?  Do you have some business with us...?"
"Stop it, Kanon-kun.  ......You must not provoke Beatrice-sama."

"It appears that you have completely terrified them.  Pu ku ku ku."
"It seems I just can't get along with Kanon.  It's not as though you hate me that much, right...?"

Beatrice grinned.

Kanon violently averted his gaze, obviously unhappy.

...His reaction was so different from what he had anticipated that it made the witch and her butler laugh.

"Kanon.  ......You stand in the presence of Beatrice-sama.  Carefully consider your manner of speech."
"Oh, there is no problem, Genji.  Let him say as he likes.  I am gracious."

"......How are you gracious...!"
"I am always gracious to those who are about to die.  *cackle*cackle*...!"
Kanon was taken aback by that creepy laughter...
Beatrice's reason for being here was not just to take Kinzo's life.

The first twilight required six sacrifices.
Kinzo alone wasn't nearly enough.
...And they had just nonchalantly came to this place...
"*cackle*cackle*cackle*!  Don't worry, Kanon.  ......You won't be selected as sacrifices just because you came here.  ......It was because you were selected as sacrifices that you were called here...!"

".........What the.........!"

He instinctively figured it out immediately...

Six sacrifices were required for the first twilight.
After Kinzo, how many more would you need to add up to six?

......In this mansion, the number 5 instantly made them think of the number of servants here...

"............Is that, what you desire?"
"Hmm.  ...Thank me, furniture.  Tonight, your days of suffering will finally be at an end.  You should thank me, as I have come to tell you this."

".........Certainly.  If that is your desire."
"...G, ......Genji-sama..."

Genji had agreed to the witch's heartless announcement in his usual manner, without raising an eyebrow.

"After the Master's death, Beatrice-sama is our master.  Answering her demand is our final duty.

......Shannon.  Kanon.  You have done well serving until today.  That hard work is now over."
"......As I expected of you, Genji.  As furniture like you, I think honorably of you."

"Shannon.  ......Do you have any objections?"
"......No."

".........I heard that George-sama gave you a ring.  Is that still, a regret?"
"No.  ......That blessing was more than furniture deserves.  ...Just receiving the ring has already fulfilled my feelings."
Compared to Genji, Shannon had not yet reached as high of a philosophical viewpoint.

There probably really were regrets left in her heart.
....She probably wanted to spend a little more warm time with the person of her thoughts, George.
......But she released herself from that.
After she took a single deep breath, a blank expression rose to her face.

"............That is fine."

"I am a little surprised that you have been able to calm yourself this much, Shannon.  It seems that you have also taken a philosophical view as furniture."
"Won't you at least shed some bitter tears for not being able to spend a night with the man you love?  What a boring woman."
"............This feeling cannot be understood by the likes of you, Beatrice-sama.  ......If you desire my life, please accept it.  We will solemnly carry out that duty."

"......That is fine.  Well said..."
"Pu ku ku ku.  Just the type of person Beatrice-sama is bad with."

"Recently, this person has taken quite a philosophical view of things.  In any case, it seems that I tortured her too much last time.  Speaking of which, didn't I do the same to Battler?  ...Hmmm.  Am I still soft?  Or is my style of cornering them lacking?  In any case, she's just no fun.

.........However, it seems that you will still entertain me, right?  Kanooon?"

"............Kanon-kun..."
"..............."

Compared to the two who had taken a philosophical view of things, ...there was a painful anguish on Kanon's face.

Kanon was still far too young to accept his demise after being told of it by a suddenly appearing witch...

"......Kanon.  I hate boredom more than anything.  And it isn't interesting that those other two have obediently accepted their deaths.  ......So I don't want you to betray my expectations."
"............Are you trying to make me your plaything...?"

Kanon realized that he was being provoked.
...However, no matter how much anger spurred him on, his opponent was a witch.  He was furniture.  He hadn't had a chance of victory from the beginning.

But the witch was expecting that he would struggle in vain and writhe around, and was looking forward to it...

......Just thinking about that was frustrating enough to get his blood boiling.
Was disappointing the witch by refusing to resist, like the other two, the only way he could strike back at her...?
"Eldest of the seven sisters of Purgatory, Lucifer.  Arise."

"......Lucifer of Pride, right here."

"Kanon.  It would be too cruel to force furniture to fight a witch.  No matter how much anger spurs you on, you could have no hope in a battle without a chance of success.  Of course, a battle without a chance of success would be boring for me as well.

......So, furniture against furniture.  Why not resolve it with a battle between furniture?  That should be enough to allow you some hope for victory, right...?"

"..................Please, Beatrice-sama.  Is there any way in which I am inferior to this good-for-nothing furniture?  As if this cute kid would have any chance against me...  Ufufufufufufufufufufufu."
"........................Ku."

"Show me that you can defeat my furniture, the Seven Stakes of Purgatory.  If you superbly defeat them, .........let us see.  I will let you choose the five people who will escape becoming one of the 13 sacrifices.  I will welcome the five people you recommend into the Golden Land without conditions.  ...How about that?"

Kanon understood that he was being provoked.
......However, the witch's condition was very tempting.

By this point, Kanon couldn't care less about this evil ceremony the witch and the rest were trying to carry out.

......On the contrary, it was much more important that he remain alive so that he could be invited to the Golden Land, ...and have his wish granted by Beatrice there...
"You cried that you'd had enough of being furniture, right...?  I shall grant your desire.  I shall give you that human body which you wanted so much that you cried yourself to sleep.  What do you say...?  Then you could be together with Jessica, right?  Ooh, just perfect.  You may recommend that Jessica and yourself be invited to the Golden Land.
......If you resist because only you will be happy, then you can add Shannon and the person of her thoughts, George, as well...  If you're worried about duty, then you can also add Genji.  Hoh!  That's five people.  Isn't that enough, Kanon?  .........With this much of a reward, ......*cackle*cackle*cackle*!  You won't let me get bored, will you...?"

"......She's just playing with you.  There is no need to listen to her."
"I, ......I don't like it.  Are you alright with that, Nee-san?!"

Beatrice couldn't hide her evil smile at those words.

"I don't like it.  I want to be happy!  I've had enough of being furniture. I want to become human, ......and have normal love...!  I want to know that, ...the ocean is blue, like you!"

"............How young.  I'm jealous."

"That's why I like the young ones.  ......Genji, Shannon, stay back.  Kanon, Lucifer, forward."
"As you command."

"........................"
"...Ufufufufufufufufufufu.  I don't like it.  ...That way you look down on me, as though even though it would be impossible against Beatrice-sama, you might be able to win against me, ......I really don't like it."

That was probably humiliating to Lucifer.

...But at the same time, she was also happy that she was so lucky, and had this lovely prey all to herself...

".........Come, furniture of the witch.  .........Don't think that you can look down on me forever...!"

"So, Battler.  Isn't this a fun show?  *cackle*cackle*!"
".........Damn.  Another weird thing's happening...  Like I'd ever accept that it's a magic battle...!"
"Look, look, don't turn your eyes away, look at it.  Look look, look look!  It's magic, it's furniture, no matter how much you try to deny me and magic, look look, look look look look!
If everything happens like this right in front of your eyes, that's all worthless,  right?  Look look look look, Stop thinking already, I told you magic exists!  I told you this is fantasy!  Don't close your eyes, look closely, look look look look look!!"

"Damn it, damn it damn it damn it...  I won't accept witches, I won't accept magic...!  But, if it's so obvious like that, what should I say?!  ............Damn, damndamndamn!"

"Come now, don't turn away, look closely, alright??  Magic exists, it's fantasy, stop playing detective.  I know, you really are awful at not thinking about things, right??  Stop, stoooop, *cackle*cackle*!  Look look, obviously fantasy, obviously fantasy, kihhihihyahyahhyahhyahhyahhyahhyaaaaaahhh!!"
"Shut up shut up shut uuuuuuuuuuup...!!!  Don't talk to meeeeeeee...!!"
".........This guy's gotten obstinate.  ...Won't you apologize and crawl on the ground right now for being so conceited that you think you could beat me...?  If you do, I'll forgive you, alright...?
I could spare you from having your skin ripped off while you're still alive, and being lashed all over your body as you squirm until you die.  Fufufufufufufufufufufufu!
You're a cute kid, so apologize...  If you do, I'll let you die gently, gently, while I'm still in a wonderful mood......"
"Be silent, furniture of the witch.  ...I have no intention of speaking with you."

"S, ......so you say that you think nothing of me, right...?  Fuffufufufufufufufu, I don't like those eyes that don't feel awe, I really don't like it!!"

"............Kanon-kun..............."
"........................"

"......Isn't he stronger than he was against Satan?"
"That is why furniture is so frightening.  Sometimes they even become witches, and treat demons as butlers."
"Pu ku ku ku ku!  So, which should I cheer on?"

"...Are you, .........saying that this guy's on par with me...!"
".........Don't look down on me.  As long as you have that pride, you definitely cannot win against me."
"Y, y, ...you speak of Lucifer, the eldest of the seven sisters of Purgatory, and say that I cannot win?!  H, how conceited!!"

"...Wha..............."

Kanon was desperately trying to stay alive, and he had a strong desire to become human.
But Lucifer didn't feel anything stronger than a slight desire to play.

......So, that reached its inevitable result.  That result could be expressed by the power of humans.  ...The power of the heart.

"............That's as far as you go.  You definitely cannot win against me."

The glowing red locus extended straight out from Kanon's arm, ......pointing at Lucifer's throat, just beneath the tip of her chin...

"Wh, ......what is this...?!  How could I, ......there, must be some mistake..."

As she ground her teeth in irritation, she tried to deny the truth right before her eyes.
...But no matter how much she believed in her own superiority, it didn't change the facts right before her eyes.

"Hoh.  ...Well done, Kanon.  Wonderful, you haven't made me bored.  ......How pitiful my furniture is compared to that.  *cackle*cackle*!"
"......Lucifer.  You are boring Milady.  Was this opponent really too much for you to handle...?"

"I'm disappointed, eldest of the seven staaakes.  Ku hihihihihihihihihihihi...!"
That would have seemed like nothing more than a simple rebuke to an outsider.
However, furniture serving the witch knew what kind of severe treatment was promised by that rebuke, and understood what had been left unsaid...
"Whaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!  You, ......good for nothing furnituuuuuuuuuuuuure!!!"
She howled.  ...Abandoning her last bit of pride, she made her body explode, exposing her true form.

That form was a demon stake, which bounced off the walls surrounding the room...
"How could you shame me so much!!  Kill, kill kill kill!!  You blockhead!  Even though you can't even follow my movements anymore!!  I won't play around anymore, I'm seriously mad, I'll pierce your heart in one blow!!  I'll plow right through you, and make a fountain of bright-red blood reach the ceiling!!  Diiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiieeee!!"

"Ka, Kanon-kun.........!!"
After Lucifer was completely deranged, with a speed approaching the limits that a human eye could follow, she flew at Kanon's heart...
Lucifer confirmed that the sweet taste she could feel was definitely Kanon's blood.

...But she quickly noticed.
...She hadn't pierced Kanon's heart...

"............Hoh.  *cackle*cackle*!"
"This is why humans are frightening.  ...Would you like some black tea?"
"I am fine for now.  This is so interesting I don't need black tea...!"
"......K, ............Kanon-kun............"
"So arrogant............That's why you can't win against me......"
The floor was stained with dripping blood.

...It really was Kanon's blood, ......but it wasn't flowing out of his chest.

Kanon had sacrificed his own left hand to protect his heart...
Lucifer was arrogant.

Even though she had been given enough time to realize that this was an opponent capable of cornering her, even so, in her pride, she had believed that he was a worthless opponent.  She had gotten careless.

......So just as she had announced, she had aimed for his chest, trying to pierce his heart.
Because she was arrogant, she hadn't even thought of aiming for somewhere other than the place she had announced.

...No, maybe she had thought about it a little.
...However, her pride would not allow her to aim for a different spot.

Because she was, .........Lucifer of Pride.
Kanon, withstanding the pain, grasped the demon stake sticking deep into his left hand strongly with his right hand, ...and pulled it out......

When she heard the sound of breaking bones and even more blood dripping down, Shannon looked away without thinking.

There was an air hole in the back of the pierced hand so big that you could clearly see through to the other side...
Kanon's face was filled with pain, ......but right now, he had won, without a doubt.

The demon stake he was gripping with his right hand turned back into Lucifer again...

...So that Kanon was now gripping exactly where her neck was.

".........Ga, ............gu, .....................""...It's my victory.  .........Beatrice."

Kanon didn't hold back at all with the hand gripping Lucifer's throat.

......She had challenged him again after their fight had already been decided.
Kanon had no obligation to be considerate.
But even so, Kanon released the witch's furniture.
......Was it his naive humanism, his pity for another furniture, or a final bit of respect to the witch?

In any case, when she was released, Lucifer fell face-down on the ground, acting like she was vomiting and moaning over the pain in her throat...
"Spectacular, Kanon.  ......Your great efforts have proved that some of Kinzo's research was correct."
Ronove was clapping his hands.

...To Kanon, who had a wound on his left hand that couldn't be closed after achieving a painful victory, Ronove's true intention seemed pretty obvious.

"......All possibilities are hidden in the human heart, was it?  .........My, my, this is why humans are frightening!  Well done, Kanon.  It is your victory.  Spectacular!"
"......Haah, ......haah, ......haah......"
"Are you okay?!  Kanon-kun......"

Shannon ran up to him and wrapped a handkerchief around his left hand, which was still spraying blood.
"That was spectacular, Kanon!  Truly spectacular.  I was also slightly expecting an upset.  How truly wonderful you are as furniture not to let me down.  *cackle*cackle*!  I think better of you now.  I honestly think better of you!"

"Y, ......you haven't forgotten our promise, right..., Beatrice..."

"Hmm.  Of course I haven't forgotten.  Witches and demons are unjust.  However, we are much more noble than humans when it comes to keeping promises.

I will not go back on my word.  I guaranteed that if you won, I would give you the right to decide the five people who will escape becoming the 13 sacrifices."
"......B, Beatrice-sama.  It's not like I've, lo.... higi!!"
When Beatrice waved her pipe, heaven and earth turned over just for Lucifer.
......So as a horribly natural result, she 'fell' onto the ceiling.
The ceiling doesn't seem that high to people standing on the floor.
...However, people who fall on it upside-down and head-first don't feel the same way...

"Milady.  Isn't this a little much?"
"*cackle*cackle*!  That may be so.  Shall I forgive you?"

Beatrice waved her pipe again.
When she did, the magic that had been effecting Lucifer was released.

......So as a horribly natural result, this time she properly 'fell' back onto the floor.
"............Ku, ............u, ...Beatrice-sama, ...f, ...forgive me.........."

"What are you afraid of?  I have already forgiven you, haven't I?  *cackle*!  So, Kanon.  Shall we continue?"
".........Continue what?  ...You aren't saying that you want me to finish her, are you...?!"

"Ah, no, no.  It isn't over yet, right?"
".........What isn't?  ...Stop dodging the question...!!"
"I did promise you, didn't I?  If you could defeat my furniture,


the Seven Stakes of Purgatory・・・・・・・・・・・, riiiiiiight?
Come, arise, Seven Stakes of Purgatory.  The six younger sisters of the worthless elder sister!"
""""""Kyahhahahahahahahahahahahaha!!""""""

With shrill laughing voices, the air split, and as a golden splash scattered around, the remaining six of the Seven Stakes of Purgatory showed themselves...

All of the Seven Sisters of Purgatory, only one of which Kanon had been able to defeat by sacrificing his left arm, were gathered...

By now, Kanon regretted his thoughtlessness in accepting the witch's challenge.
...He had been foolish to assume that a game with a witch would be on an even footing......!

"............Laaame.  Onee-sama, why are you crawling on the floor?"
"Y, ...you guys...............gu......"

"I told you, Onee-sama's useless.  Even though she acts like she's so great as the oldest sister, that's just on the outside."

"Yeah, seriously!  Lucifer onee-sama, your disgraceful behavior will damage others' opinions about all of us!  Know your shame!  You novice!"
"............Ku, .........gu......"

"Kanon-ku~n, awesome awesome.  But don't get cocky, okay?  Lucifer onee-sama just brags all the time, she's no big deal compared to the rest of us sisters."
"...That's why I'm always saying Lucifer-nee shouldn't do anything.  It's alright if she just brags all the time.  Because those of us who are superior always have to clean up the fighting scenes."

"What are you gonna do, Onee-sama?  We respect your pride, and we'd planned on letting you challenge him again in that beaten-up body without getting in the way...

......But Kanon-kun sure is strong, right?  Right now, no matter how much you struggle, there's no way you could win, right...?"
"......Y, .........you guys............"
"*cackle*cackle*!  My, my, you sisters are always so lively.  Is now really a time for discord?  Now that you are all gathered here, you are the Seven Stakes of Purgatory, right?  Be nice and execute the task I give you.  Swiftly, right?"
"Hey, Lucifer onee-sama.  If you want to borrow the power of your little sisters...  Say it, okay?  We want to hear you ask us for help from your own mouth."
"Ku, ............you plan to mock me even more.........?!"
"'Foolish.  Weak.  Ugly.  Shameful!  I, the eldest sister Lucifer, ask my younger sisters to save me'.  ......C'mon, let's hear it.  If you let us hear that, we'll save you.  Alright?  Everyone?!"

"......You........., .........b, ......bitch......"

The seven sisters of Purgatory unanimously closed in on their worthless sister.  Abusing her.

...Even Kanon, who had been fighting for his life until a second ago, couldn't bear to look straight at it...

"A, as i-, ......as if I, ......could say, ......something like that......"

"Quickly.  Obviously we won't get anywhere with you alone.  Quickly, let the seven sisters strike Kanon."
"Pu ku ku ku...  Oh, what could be wrong, Lucifer?  It is an order from Milady, correct?"
"............How cruel."
After grinding her teeth over and over, after hearing her sisters' curses, ............as she trembled all over, ......Lucifer answered her sisters' request...

"...F, ............foolish, ......weak, .........ugly......whaa...!"
"Shaaaameful!!"
"Sh, ...shameful, ......I, the eldest sister Lucifer, ......ask, .........whaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!  Uwaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa...!!"
She was finally unable to endure saying those words, ...and the girl called Pride broke down crying.

However, the six younger sisters kept giggling coldheartedly.

"Wait a sec!  Don't try to trick us by crying!  You haven't finished saying i-t!"
"That should be enough.  Come, sisters, let us display our power."

"I won't be satisfied until I hear the whole thing, okay?!  C'mon, c'mon, Onee-sama, keep going!"
"That's enough!  Come on, this shame effects all the sisters!  We won't let them return alive!"

"A-lright, how should we play with this pitiful furniture?  Any wonderful plans?"
"Ye-s, yes!  Beelze thi-nks, the seven of us sho-uld, get along and split Kanon up between us!"

"Good plan.  ......That way all of the sisters can get along."
"Then I'll take the head!  I'll leave the limbs and guts to you all!!"

"No no, noooooooooooo!!  I get the he-ad!!"
"There's no way that promise'll mean anything, right?!  First one there wins!"

"Kuhihihihi!!  Kanon-kun, if you have a plan for how we should kill you, just tell us, okay?  The seven sisters will kill you in an a-wesome way!"
"........................Damn......"
"......Aaarrrrrrgggh!!  You've shamed me so much!!  Slicing you into eight pieces won't be enough!!  I'll slice you into a hundred pieces!!  Here we go, you guys!!"

""""""Ye-s, Onee-sama!  Kyahhahahahahahaha!!""""""
The seven of them burst at once.
They had no desire to play or boast.
This time, they would genuinely follow their master's order.

...Hit Kanon.  Swiftly!
The seven sisters jumped around the room faster than the eye could see, deciding how they would kill Kanon.

They tortured Kanon with their cruel giggles, sometimes making a close pass at him.
...They kept scraping his arms, shoulders, and cheeks, carving a red character into his body...
At that time, Shannon dashed up behind him, holding on to him so that she blocked the way to his body at least a little.
At the same time, a red cylinder wrapped around the two of them, like a beam of light sent from heaven.
That cylinder repelled the evil ones who tormented Kanon...

"Whaaaat!!  You're me-an!  This has nothing to do with yo-u!"
"Ah, I see.  You must want to play with us."
"Kyahha!  Then I'll take i-t!  All mine!!"

"Beatrice-sama.  Is it alright for us to have Shannon as our prey...?"
"Hm?  Aah, I don't mind, do as you like.  It seems Kanon alone won't be enough to satisfy your gluttony."

"Wow, I'm so happy.  Come on, I'll make you regret coming out uninvited!"
"Which one, which one, I'll turn you to unrecognizable scraps of meat, mix you and mix you and mince you into hamburgers!"

"Idiot, breaking that barrier should come first, right!?  Do your job before you start worrying about food!"
""""Yees, Onee-sama!!""""
As a horribly natural first action, the Seven Sisters began to destroy the barrier Shannon had created.

...Shannon's barrier certainly was strong.
It was enough power to impress even Beatrice.

...It was strong enough that frail furniture would turn to dust just by touching it, and it was firm, like a tree with deep roots.
But no matter how big a tree gets, it will eventually surrender to a saw or an hatchet.
For the seven sisters, 'chopping down' Shannon's barrier, while it was a pain, was not impossible.
The sound like beetles jumping around grew even more fierce and filled the room.

The red barrier started to get cut up and eroded away as though with an hatchet, a saw, no, a chainsaw by now...

"............How foolish.  Even though you probably know that your barrier can't fully protect you from these girls.  Why...?"
".........Because I couldn't overlook it."

As Shannon covered Kanon, who was already at his limits, sprawled on the floor, she spoke back resolutely.

"If you hadn't barged in uninvited, I would have given you a death like sleep.  Why have you gone to all the trouble of exposing yourself before the seven sisters?  ......Isn't death the same?  An intense death would torture you even more than dying, right?  *cackle*cackle*cackle*!"

"............Go ahead, do as you like.  Just like you do as you want, I will do as I want."

"........................Hmmmm.  In any case, this part of you isn't amusing.  Whether or not you would achieve love was the most interesting part.

After achieving it, a woman is like salmon who has finished laying its eggs.  I have already tired of you."

"Thank you.  No words I could hear from a witch would make me happier."
"......Fufufufufuhihihahaha.  Then, at least in the end, show me a way of dying that will please me greatly.  Seven sisters, can you hear me?!  Show me the limits of brutality in the way you kill Shannon!!"

"...............Shannon..."
"......My apologies.  In the end, I wasn't able to match up to your greatness, Genji."

".........You're an idiot, Nee-san...  If you just leave me be, ...then you might not meet a horrible..."
"No, it's alright.  ...I received the ring from George-sama, and lived as a woman.  I have protected you, and lived as a sister.  With this, my life is settled with no regrets."

"......Nnnnnnnaaaaaaaaaaahhhh, you're pissing me off.  That philosophic view is really irritating!!  Like I said, you're furniture, you don't even smell like a humaaaaaan!!

Look at me, I am a human!!  Don't spout off philosophical stuff like you're more complete than I am, you furnituuuuuuuuuuure!!"

"............How ugly.  Is that regret your true form?"

"It's not a regreeeeeet, this is called living!!  What's this about receiving a ring, so it's alright if you die?!  Aaaaah, I can't understand it, not a clue, dejected, astonished, shocked, it's all useleeeeeeeesss!!"
"......Milady, aren't you acting a little undignified?"

"Shut up, furniture!!  Shannooooonn, do you think I'll let you die easilyyyyyyyyyyy?!  Now's the time to bite your tooooooongue!!"

"............How pitiful.  If you can see yourself reflected in my eyes, then shudder at your own ugliness."

"Don't worry, I'll crush you up so that you're much more ugly while you're still aliiiiiiiiiive!!!"

At that time, .........Genji softly entered the red barrier.
Maybe that barrier didn't block those without ill intent.

Then Genji, ...softly held her from behind, ......and covered her eyes with his right hand.

"............Genji-sama..."
"That is already enough............Go to sleep before me."
"............Yes.  .........Thank you very much, Genji-sama..."
".........Hmm."
After that, Genji softly pressed his left hand against the area around her collarbone...
......As he did, from the area where that left hand pressed, ......a crimson stain gently spread out.

When Genji removed his hand, .........bright-red fresh blood oozed out of there.
That only happened for the first instant, and it was shaped like a crimson rose...
And when he removed his left hand covering her face, .........There was a peaceful expression on Shannon's face, as though she was sleeping.

......And she fell softly, ...silently, .........and slept.
Her soul had already been sent to a world where the malicious witch and her furniture could not reach her, no matter how evilly they tortured her...
Beatrice and the seven sisters were shocked by this scene.
...Only Ronove had a mysterious expression along with his smile.

Then Genji leaned over Kanon, who was crouching on the floor.

".........You did well.  You should also sleep now."
"....................................Yes.  Thank you very much, Genji-sama."
Just as he had done with Shannon, after gently covering Kanon's eyes with his hand, Genji gently covered the area around Kanon's collarbone with his other hand.

......And when that was removed with the lightness of a feather, ...there was a crimson rose shape.
But that rose shape quickly turned into the stain of bright-red blood pouring out...

"Wh, ............what is, that......"
"......What a boring person.  ...Even though it's fun to poke the balloon of life with a needle so that it forcefully explodes."

"Spectacular, Genji.  ............You truly are furniture."
"......Thank you very much.  ...Well then, Beatrice-sama, Ronove-sama.  With this as my final task, allow me to rest."
"............Grr.  You took what I was playing with.  Why don't I take all of that thrashing and mashing I wanted to do to them, and give it to you instead??"

Beatrice faced him with an unsatisfied expression, but Ronove spoke quietly to Genji with a soothing smile.

"You have worked hard.  You are my greatest servant.  ......I shall bestow as a final gift to you a peaceful sleep worthy of all your labors until now."
"Wha?!  Wait, what are you...!"
When Ronove snapped his fingers, ......Genji looked like a puppet whose strings had been cut and which fell sprawled on the floor, ...suddenly, and yet gently.

He fell, sprawled on the floor, into a sleep that witches couldn't call him back from...

That was as filled with kindness as the sleep he had given Shannon and Kanon...

"......What was that, Ronove?  ......What a boring anticlimax."
"Are you not a powerful Great Witch, Milady?  Something such as this is not enough to pay attention to.  ......Having the blood rush to your head because of provocation from someone like Shannon, isn't like you."

"...........................Hmm."
Was there something that Beatrice didn't like?
...Was she still unable to remove the thorn of Shannon's words?
Ronove laughed lightly, as though lamenting the complexity of humans and a woman's heart, and ordered the seven sisters to go.

......After all, there were still two sacrifices left for the first twilight.

The seven sisters disappeared in ecstasy...

Madam Beatrice

Sun, Oct 5 1986 12:21AM
Gohda was doing the nighttime rounds.

There had never been anything on Rokkenjima outside the Ushiromiya family.
So checking that the doors and windows were all closed had no real purpose.
However, since Natsuhi had scolded that this was careless, the nighttime rounds had become part of the servants' daily routine.

......The reason that Natsuhi had ordered this was the occasional disturbances of the witch.
Everyone who came and left this island knew about the legend of Beatrice, the witch of the forest.
This had become established as this island's characteristic ghost story.

Because of that, it was only natural that some people would say that, when they thought they were alone in the mansion..., they would hear a strange sound or see the shadow of a person.
However, when that had created a little too big of a disturbance and reached Natsuhi's ears, she had made a fuss, thinking that some suspicious person might have been entering and leaving.

Anyways, it was said that she had roused all of the servants and had them check throughout the mansion.
Because all of this uproar over the witch had happened before Gohda had come, he had only heard about it from the more senior servants.

Ghost stories like that could be found in any workplace.
They hadn't even been lacking at the hotel or the restaurant Gohda had worked at.
So when he had heard that story on this island, he had smiled bitterly, thinking 'ah, so they have that kind of thing here after all'.

He had smiled bitterly, but he had thought when in Rome, do as the Romans do, and had not slighted that.
Gohda went along with it on the outside, but in his heart he had thought it was a childish trick.  ......At first.
"............This certainly is eerie.  I see, I understand why servants got in an uproar over this in the past."
He could understand how someone doing the rounds on an eerie night like this might believe they had seen a ghost if they saw a lace curtain waving in the breeze from a window which hadn't been closed.
"So, if you make fun of the witch of the portrait, there is a curse.  ......It seems that there was even a servant who received a serious injury and quit.  ...I'd hate to be injured.  I am already this old.  I probably wouldn't be granted a workplace this hospitable again...  Aaah.  Witch of the portrait.  I'm working sincerely, so please give me some peace."
Gohda prayed to the portrait, his hands together, as though he was at a Shinto shrine...
At that time, ...he thought he heard a sound.

The kitchen?  Was that the sound of something metal falling on the floor?
Maybe a rat or a cockroach had come out, and knocked over some of the dishes.  No, no, how could that be.  It was normally thoroughly cleaned!

Gohda thought he would check what that noise really had been and entered the kitchen.
He turned on the kitchen light.
When he did, he heard a strange sound.
*clank*clank*clank*clank*clank*clank*.

......To a cook like Gohda, that sound seemed like the lid on the pressure cooker or something was shaking.
Of course, it couldn't be in use when no one was in the kitchen.
If someone was using the gas, walking away from it would be quite dangerous.

...Just in case, Gohda decided to inspect the area around the gas range...
"............What is this...?"
When he did, in the corner by the gas range, ...the pressure cooker really had been set, just as he had thought.

But the flame wasn't on.
...And yet, the lid was clanking...
Was something fermenting and leaking gas?
...How could it be?  ......Then is there a rat or something inside?
...How could there be, ridiculous...
In front of people, Gohda acted as though he had a bold personality fitting for his build, ......but he actually had an unexpectedly timid side to him.

He was frightened that there might be something inside, and he couldn't check it carelessly...
In his cowardice, ...he grabbed a nearby wooden pestle, and with a *clunk!* he tapped it a little strongly against the side of the pressure cooker.
When he did, the clanking sound suddenly stopped.

...He should have been relieved now that it had stopped, ...but the fact that it had stopped when he had hit it was even more eerie, and made him even more suspicious about what was inside...
"............Hmm, ...*gulp*.  .........Strange phenomena do not exist in this world.  Yes, witches and magic, things like that couldn't exist.  All phenomena can be explained with science.  ......As though monsters and witches could exist...!"
He repeated that many times, trying to build up his own confidence.
...It was quite comical how he looked completely different from what he was saying.
"Who would believe in a witch, who would believe in magic or curses.........Come on, ......show me what you really are...!  Take that!"

...He removed the lid of the pressure cooker.
And lying exposed there, ...was the sparkling clean silver bottom of the pot.
......There was absolutely nothing frightening like he had imagined.
"............Whew.  ...Hahahaha, it's only natural.  ...There's no way there could have been anything inside."

By now, Gohda had realized that he had been a coward.
......So while he still had some doubts about what had caused the lid to make that sound, ...he thought it wasn't a big problem, and decided not to worry about it too much.
Then he took the lid he had grabbed, ......and softly set it back down where it had been.

......It's alright, there won't be a sound.  ......Obviously.
As if witches or magic could exist...!
*clank*.
*clank*clank*clank*clank*.
"............Huh...?"
*clank*clank*clank*clank*clank*clank*clank*clank*.

*clank*clank*clank*clank*clank*clank*clank*clank*clank*clank*clank*clank*clank*clank*clank*clank*!
"Hii, ......HIIIIIIIIIII!!"
All of the pots and utensils in the kitchen started clanking at once.

It grew even stronger, so that finally, the lid to one of the pots fell off...!
And, ......from inside that pot, .........a slender white arm reached out.

The lids fell off other pots one after another, and another, and another...
"Hiiiiiiiii!!!  As if, as if witches could exiiiist!!  As if I would believe iiiiiiiiiit!!"

When the number of arms grew to seven, a loud, shrill laughter split the air.

"What a letdown!  It's a real letdown that a person who can make such delicious food is such a lightweight!!"
"If you don't need him, I'll take him, he's all mine!!"
"Wait, I said nooooooooooo!!  I'll take him!!"


"Huh?!  Wha, whaa?!?!  HYAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHH!!"

""""Kyahahahahahahaha!!!""""
Come on, let's search, there's only one more.
That old hag!
Where is she?
She isn't in the mansion, what about the guesthouse?

Kuhihihihi, first one wins, first one wins, right?!
Come on, search search, find her find her...!

Don't be noticed by the relatives in the dining hall, right?

And don't get noticed by the kids in the guesthouse, right?
Search in silence, kill in silence!
After all, it's still just the first twilight!
She isn't in the guesthouse.
But she isn't in the mansion either?
Hey hey, I found her, I found her, she's in the rose garden.
Why's she standing around there without an umbrella?
I'm ready, all mine all mine all mi-ne!  You blockheads can just sit there and watch!

I told you, nooooooo, this one's miiiiiiiiiiiiine!!

Come on, if we take any longer we'll be scolded by Beatrice-sama!  Let's take care of it all at once!
"........................"
Come on, found her, surrounded her!  Come on, let's get along and do it all at once, okay?!  Diiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiie!!!

".........Eeeh...?  .........Huh?"
"Wh, ......what is, ...this..."
"............Hoh-hoh-hoh-ho.  What naughty girls.  ...Could you be friends of that child...?"

"...What is this, .........you old hag...!"
"There's got to be some mistake!!  One more time!!"

"......Why can she defend against us?!"
"Move aside!  One more time!!!"
"............No matter how often you try, it's useless.  This person, ...is good."

"............I am waiting for that child.  Would you mind calling for her?"
"D, do you think we'd be apprenticed to you like that?!"

"There's no need."
"Beatrice-sama...!"

"............It's enough to make me manifest myself.  ...I was sure that you had awakened."
"Ronove.  It has been a long time.  ......Yes, it truly has been a long time."

"This person's talking to Ronove-sama without using 'sama'......!"
"...............And.  It has been a long time for you too.  ...Beatrice."
"Sh, she's not even using 'sama' for Beatrice-sama..."

"Good.  Do you know who this person is?  ......Beatrice was originally this person's name.  I only inherited that name from her.  ......This person is my teacher.  The Predecessor, Lady Beatrice."
"The Predecessor, ......Lady Beatrice......"
Gold butterflies appeared in ones and twos from the garden of roses and began to gather around Kumasawa...

Then, after she was wrapped in a golden sparkle, she burst and disappeared, and Kumasawa's form was no longer there.
...Instead, there was another Golden Witch, .........the one who had, in the past, explained to Beatrice the path of an Endless Witch, the only person Beatrice had called Teacher in her entire life.
Her hair was long, beautiful, and vividly youthful, and her figure in that elegant dress was unrecognizable as an old lady...
No, this looked like a completely different person than Kumasawa.

".........Well, well, Teacher.  I never even dreamed the day would come that we would meet each other again."
"Yes, me too.  ...Certainly, I never even dreamed that my sleep would be disturbed."

"Such a troublesome time for you to awaken.  ......If you remained sleeping as usual, the first twilight could be finished without much trouble.  ...Or should I welcome you?  ............I was just a little bored."

"......Just as usual, it seems you are toying with sinless people in a vulgar game.  ......I believe I have taught you several times that the power of the Endless Witch must not be used to cause people trouble."
"Don't say that, Teacher.  Isn't boredom our natural enemy?  This is just a little spice to escape from that.
.........Chi.  The more the corrosion advances, the stronger my power becomes, and the easier it becomes to call my family.  ...But who would have thought it would release the seal on you, Teacher, at the same time..."
"It was because I predicted that, that I slept very close to you like this.  ......As I prayed in my sleep that I would not be woken again.
...Being reunited with you like this is a very sad thing for me."

"..................You're as cunning as always, Teacher...  *cackle*..."

"Ronove.  Have the furniture children step back.  Furniture only serves its master.  The master is responsible for all of her crimes."
".........Certainly.  Madam Beatrice."

"I have already surrendered that name to this child.  ......Come now, step back.  Furniture girls.  ......If you didn't listen the first time, I am saying it again.  However, I will not say it a third time, alright...?"
"......Step back, Seven Sisters of Purgatory.  If you get involved, you will be turned to dust..."
"B, ......back, everyone..."

Ronove and the Seven Sisters of Purgatory retreated.

After that, there was the Beatrice whose bold expression didn't falter, and the teacher Beatrice, who had given up that name, and wore a composed smile...

"Well then.  ......Teacher.  What tea shall I prepare for our long awaited reunion?"

"Let's see.  This reunion was longer in coming than the visit of a comet.  Shall I accept your hospitality?  .........It seems there has been a mistake, ......so will you give back my name and the title of Endless Witch?"

"*cackle*cackle*!  So there's even a license renewal policy for the title of Endless Witch?  ......As you say, Teacher.  See how splendid your disciple has become, and see how far she has surpassed what you were long ago...!"
It looked like the air between the two Beatrices exploded in fireworks.
Just by glaring at each other, they purged all spirits from that space.

...As they watched, the seven sisters shivered.
...Because if they had retreated just three steps less than they had, they would already have been turned to dust by now.
"So, come.  Beatrice.  ...Surrendering my name to you is the only regret I have in my life.  I will now correct that error with my own hands!"
"*cackle*cackle*cackle*......Chichichi.  ......That's wrong, Teacheer.  My only error, was becoming your disciple to learn this level of power, riiiiiiiiiiiiight?
What is magic?  What is the Endless Witch?  ......Isn't this just the power to notice?  You act as though you're so great.  Your turn is long over, Teacheeeeeeeeeeeeer!!"

".........I, ......I, I don't have a clue what's going on anymore......!  What in the world is happening right in front of my eyes...!"

"......Poor thing.  It seems my disciple is causing you trouble.  I apologize."

"Y, ...you..., who are you?  Why did Kumasawa baa-chan turn into a nee-chan like this?!  I mean, who are you?!  I don't get it?!  What kind of special effects are these?!  My head feels like it's gonna explode!!"

"I am the witch teacher of that child.  My old name was Beatrice.  When that child succeeded me, I gave her that name, so I do not have a name."

"You already said it, but your disciple's been a real pain to me!  Please, take responsibility and do something!  No, wait!!

I don't believe in stuff like this!!  As if witches and magic could exist!!  I won't accept this messed up battle!  You bastard, what should I believe!!"
"Hoh-hoh-ho...  Just like you, hospitality with a very quick temper."
In response to Beatrice's summons, a terrific earth tremor split the rose garden.

And on either side of her shoulders, two massive War Towers sprouted and stabbed into the heavens.
They stretched up to 100 merute tall, and each one had over 360 ports.
Merute

This word is probably related to a fictional unit of length measurement from 'Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind', which seems to be about one meter long.

They were War Towers of the gods' army corps, which hadn't allowed even groups of ancient heroes to invade their precincts.
As Beatrice elegantly floated in the gap between the massive two-headed towers, she looked down on her teacher, sneering with an absolute superiority.

With the two massive towers lined up behind her shoulders, the witch looked very small, like a butterfly dancing through a large tree.
"Hihhyahhyahhyaaaaaa!!  Don't think you can dodge it by turning into butterflies, alright?  The density of the twin towers' barrage wouldn't just make you a pinned bug collection, it'd make you a madly stabbed pincushion, right...?"

Over 720 ports opened on the towers, and godly soldiers readied their multi-shot ballistas.
"Is your turn over with this?"
"Heh, are those your last words?!!  Blast awaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay!!!"
The ballista shots that numbered a little over a thousand were all fired at once, drawing a beautiful geometric curtain of death.

The boorish sound as the bowstrings were played was probably even deeper than the sound of a death god swinging its sickle.
"Come, arise, Fallen Tower.  Split the single language, and make known the sin."
The sky was stained an incandescent red, and from between the clouds, a blazing, massive tower fell upside down.

That massive falling tower and its rubble, sucked in the thousands of ballista shots, so that not one of them approached the body of the witch who had summoned it.

That's right, no one could approach the mysteries of heaven.  That was the reality of the fallen tower.
"As I would expect from you, Teacher!  If you do something, you always do it big!!  Kuhhuhuhuhuhyahyahya!!"
"My turn isn't over.  Come, arise, Sons of Ivaldi.  Bestow upon me a worthy spear."
As the massive crimson tower that had fallen made a terrible gold-colored explosion, from inside those flames, a massive spear showed itself, so tall, like a tower, that you had to look up to see all of it.
...It was even too large for a giant's hand.

It was a divinely beautiful Spear of the Gods, so massive that it gave the illusion that the tower which had fallen had turned into a spear of the same size.  A spear of certain victory that no one could escape.
"Looks like your twin towers are useless.  How foolish that you blocked off your means of escape on both sides.  You can't defend against even a single spear!"
When she snapped her fingers in command, the massive tower-like spear shot at Beatrice like a lightning bolt.

It aimed right for the middle of the center of the Golden Witch's heart with extreme precision, as she danced in the gap between the towers like a butterfly, slicing straight through the air like a flash of lightning.
"Hah!!  So, you use Gungnir in a place like this!!  You really are incredible, Teacheeeeeer!!
Explode, useless towers!  Arise, Giant Soldier Battle Line.  Fully block that divine spear with your shields and chests!!"
The Shoulder War Towers exploded in gold.
They became several billion gold butterflies.
Those butterflies took the shape of seven massive armored soldiers.

Each stretched a full 50 merute into the sky, and they lined up in front of Beatrice, protecting their master and holding massive shields which towered like windmills.
They were as massive as a mountain range.
The witch hiding behind them was like a small moon hiding behind the mountains.
Once in the past, when the massive shields these giants held had been readied by the whole giants regiment, they had protected King Whilhelm's castle not only from arrows, but from the wind and the rain, and when they had faced upwards and held their shields to the heavens, not a single raindrop had gotten through.
"Foolish.  The misery of a witch who has forgotten to respect things sacred.  Did you think that giants could defend against a Spear of the Gods?!"

"......Indeed.  No matter how much human metal you are armed with, you cannot block a Spear of the Gods.  A wonderful Epaulette Mate by Madam."
"No way?!  Beatrice-sama!!"
"Of course I haven't forgotten, Teacher!  Come arise, disciples of Hephaestus.  Bestow upon me a worthy shield!!"
A golden whirlwind arose at the feet of the Giant Soldiers.  It was a group of countless butterflies.

...They attached themselves to the massive shields like gold leaf, sparkling like they were a gold mirror.
That was the absolute defensive wall given to the chief god by the goddess.
The Aegis Shield.
When the holy spear, which left a dignified tail behind it like a comet, crashed into the mountain range of that gold shield, there was a terrible thunderous roar.  It was the creaking of the pillars that held up the heavens.
The Divine Spear spun around and around, and was sent flying in the direction of the sinking sun.

"Impossible...    She defended against the Divine Spear...!!"
"No, that is not correct.  She avoided the holy spear.  It is the law of the gods that an absolute spear and an absolute shield must not fight each other.  Although in the end, it means the same thing as defending against it."
"..................Your skills have improved from engaging in these fights all the time."
"Or rather, it seems that you are still as bad as ever at this kind of game, Teacher.  It's my turn to strike back.  I shall follow the code and counter a spear with a spear."
The Giant Soldier Battle Line, which had fully blocked the Divine Spear, released their holy gold shields.
The shields fell to the earth, making the ground shake.
When they did, another gold whirlwind arose, and the seven gold shields changed their form into seven massive spears of lightning lying on the ground.
At once, each of the giants lifted one of their legs high, and firmly stomped on the tips of the handles.
As the earth shook with a thunderous sound, the seven lightning spears spun beautifully and flew up above the Giant Soldiers' heads.

...They scattered into a golden splash and began to fall before the giants.
Each of the giants squared off, and with the force of their whole body, they kicked and smashed them.
The broken pieces numbered exactly 30, and became lightning spears of exactly the same size as the original,

which made 210 for all 7 of them, and all of those burst at once, and each of those split into 30 thorns, so that there were 6300.

They became a barrage of thunderclouds drawing a beautiful geometric pattern, and then each of those changed into three bolts of lightning, so that 18,900 thunderbolts shot at Beatrice the Predecessor.

"It's oveeeeer!!  Beatrice-samaaa!!"

"I would expect nothing less.  ......From Madam."
Certainly, a bundle of almost 20,000 thunderbolts should have reduced the teacher's body to dust.
But there was no impact.

Beatrice knew immediately that she had been fooled.
At that time, from the direction that the sun had supposedly sunk, she felt the impossible rays of sunlight.
A brilliant ray of light shone on her profile.

It was the figure of the teacher, holding aloft the Spear of the Gods that had supposedly been repelled a short while ago.
...She bore a sparkle like the sun on her back, and made it shine on the incarnation of darkness.
...As Beatrice watched, she was trapped like a mouse in a cage, cornered in a dead-end formed by the Giant Soldier Battle Line.
By now, the Predecessor Beatrice had seized a position directly alongside the Giant Soldier Battle Line.
"Now we are done playing, Beatrice...!"
".........Have I, ...exposed my flaaaaank......?!"

Her bold expression hadn't faltered once before now, but now it twisted for the first time.
And faster than Beatrice could click her tongue, the Predecessor Beatrice released the holy spear.

As it jumped through the air, it changed its form once more.

"Come, arise, Dvergar brothers.
Bestow upon me the giant-smashing Iron Hammer of heaven!"
"Giant soldiers, protect me!!!
What are you doing, you blockheads!!!"

By now it was no longer a spear, but the whirlwind of a massive hammer that raised a sound like a windstorm as it flew through the air.
It was the legendary hammer that had shaken the King of the Frost Giants.
So the Giant Soldiers couldn't escape from that fear.

So no matter how much their master ordered them, they couldn't block the path of that hammer.
"Back Rank Mate!  Sleep in peace."
"...Damn iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit......!!!"
Before the whirlwind of this massive chunk of metal, Beatrice was nothing more than a mere speck.

The instant the whirlwind started to suck Beatrice in, Beatrice's form turned into a massive War Tower.
The Iron Hammer smashed the War Tower, scattered tremendous amounts of rubble, but it did not reach she who had escaped behind it.
Furthermore, when the smoke started to settle, the War Tower had sucked in the massive Iron Hammer without crumbling, and blocked the way.
Even the giant-smashing Iron Hammer couldn't break through the final tower protecting the witch.
However, this War Tower truly was the witch's last trump card.
It was a War Tower for dodging that could only save her from danger once.

But this tower was impregnable.  No weapon could break through it.
At that time, the moon disappeared.
As Beatrice hid in the shadows of the Giant Soldier Battle Line and the War Tower, she looked up at the sky.
When she did, inside the moon was the figure of a massive horse ridden by the god of war and death.
The Predecessor Beatrice rode the horse with him.
His cloak had blocked the moon and swallowed it in an eerie shadow.
And the Spear of the Gods was in his hand once more...

In other words, it was a godly knight who had jumped over the ramparts formed by the Giant Soldiers and the War Tower, attacking from the heavens.
"......*cackle*...  You got meee..."

"Smothered Mate.  It was fun, Beatrice!"
"Uuuooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!"

The struggle to the death between the two witches with the same name, was resolved.
The spear that had been launched from the heavens pierced the ground.

The Giant Soldier Battle Line and the War Tower split up into countless gold butterflies, wrapping the area in a gold-colored storm.
Then, the sound of thunder.
And the sound of the falling rain and wind.
If you looked around, there was nothing in the rose garden.
...The butler and the rest were watching the two witches confronting each other.

.........But only Beatrice was different.
She had been pierced straight through by the spear, from the base of her neck and her right shoulder, to her left buttocks, unable to even reach the ground with her feet, ...horribly exposed like a pitiful pinned butterfly, tormented by the wind and rain...

".........B, Beatrice-sama..."
"...............As expected, ...a fearsome person."
"It is decided.  Beatrice."
"......Ku, ......hihihihi, ......ouch...h..."
Beatrice wore a bitter smile of false courage, but a strand of blood dangled from her mouth, making her look even more pitiful.
"The title and power of the Endless Witch.  Will you now return that to me as well as the name Beatrice.  ...You are too immature to be called the Endless Witch."
"............Stop...  Forgive me, Teacher...  I was just fooling around, right......?"
"I will take my name back from you.  You should return to your original form.  Perhaps you should relinquish this power which is beyond you, and live a life suitable for yourself.
.........Come, try to remember.  What form did you have?"
The Predecessor Beatrice began to recite the words of power.
When she did, small gold butterflies gathered around the skewered Beatrice, and began to swarm about her.
Like butterflies sucking the nectar out of flowers...
...They began to suck the magical power out of Beatrice.

And it seemed that it caused her intense pain.
A cry of pain issued from Beatrice's mouth.

She no longer had any power to resist it...

"Come, try closing your eyes.  Try to remember.  What form did you have?

.........Come, Beatrice?  Repeat it with me.  Let us sing a song together.  Then it will be over soon.  Let us end your pain as fast as possible."
"...Kuhihihi, ......ha, ...haha.........You're right...  How long has it been, .........since I have sung a song with you, Teacher......?"

"Come, together.  .........Come, try to remember.  What form did you have?"
"......Come, try to remember.  What form did you have...?"
When the two of them began to recite the same song, more and more gold butterflies danced around, swarming around Beatrice...
".........It's alright, Milady.  You will lose the fact that you are my disciple, but that will not change the fact that you are the lady I serve.
...After that, I shall read a book for you again.  I shall bake you apple pies again.  Just like it was long ago.  ......Come, try to remember."

"......Hahahahahaha...  Yes, try to remember.  ...Are you finally starting to remember...?  .........Hey, Teacher.

Did you remember, ......that thing behind yooou...?"
"...What is this...?  ..............................This is..."
When the Predecessor Beatrice looked behind her, ............there was a creepy hedgehog crouching there.
That's not it.  ...It was, ......herself.

There was another Predecessor Beatrice, whose whole body was packed with ballista shots, ......lying there like a pincushion doll...

"......Come, try to remember.  What form did you have?  ......Is that wrong?

......Come, try to remember.  How were you killed?  ......Kuhihihii, kuhyahhyahhyahhaaaaaaahh!!"

The Predecessor Beatrice was shocked.

...Instantly, her form began to grow faint...

"This......, ......when...did you............"

"In the beginning, I did not summon Shoulder Towers.  It was four towers.  Teacher, you nonchalantly stepped across the Seventh Rank Rook boundary of death created by the two hidden towers, which were lurking in the distance on either side of you.

......It was bad manners for me to say check so late.  Let me openly apologize.  ...*cackle*cackle*cackle*!"
The battle had been decided at the very beginning.
It had been over since the time the Predecessor had leaned forward, readying her holy spear to attack Beatrice, who had been wedged between her Shoulder Towers.

...The hidden towers lurking on either side had bathed her in a windstorm of ballista shots from 720 ports on both sides, pinning and killing her.
However, Beatrice hadn't wanted it to be resolved with that.
She had wanted to make her teacher take her next move, and had continued acting as though the game was still on.

She had immediately revived her with the Endless power, ...and had made her continue the game as though nothing had happened...
Then the Predecessor had slowly remembered that she had already been killed, ......and had begun to completely erase her form.

When she did, the spear which had pierced Beatrice also erased itself.
Beatrice finally fell and landed on her feet.
...There wasn't even a trace of a scar.
".........It was fun, Teacher.  If you want to play again, I'll revive you any time.  Because once we've had some fun, I'll make you remember that you were a corpse again.
Okay?  I fully obeyed your instructions, right...?  Didn't you say to always put a toy back in its box when you are done playing with it?  *cackle*cackle*, hahhahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!"

"......Was it, an easy victory?"
"You fool, it was a difficult victory!!  ............If I hadn't tricked her with the four towers, I would have been the one to die!  ......As I would expect from Teacher.  .........But this is heartrending.

...Now, I have completely surpassed Teacher.  Ronove.  Make Teacher's remains a little better.  ......I haven't lost my respect for her that much."
"Certainly.  Tonight's first twilight became a little too riotous.  It will require some cleaning up.  It shall be handled immediately.
Goats, it is time to clean up."
When Ronove snapped his fingers, blazing, sparkling eyes began to blink open in the shadows and darkness, becoming goat-headed attendants, which appeared one after another.

One by one, they wordlessly stood at attention in a line behind Ronove's back.

"This time, what shall be done about the six corpses?  Another closed room pattern?"

"......I am not in a mood to think now.  I will leave it to you Ronove.  ...An extraordinary closed room to torment Battler, if you would."
"Certainly.  It shall be extraordinary."
"*cackle*cackle*cackle*, hahhhahahahahahahahaha...!!  A-lright, where is Battler?  Battleeeeer, did you watch my big momeeeeeeeeent??"

".........Damn iiiiiiiiit...  After being shown that screwed up magical storm, what can I deny?!

Witches existing and everything!  After being shown that tremendous fantasy, what can I deny now?!!  I don't get it anymore!   It was like that last time too, but how can I deny that awesome, wonderful magical battle?!"

"I~sn't that ri~ght?!  After watching this, you can't talk your way out of it, riiiiiiiight???  Alright, Battler, let me hear some ridiculous reasoning, kuhhihhyahhyahhya!  Uhhiehhiehhyaaahhh!!"

"Milady, your laugh is undignified."
"Oh, my apologies.  But that isn't my fault.  After all, if Battler tightly closes his eyes, grinds his teeth and shows me that ever so bitter expression, it just automatically slips out of my mouth, you seeee...  Kuhhihihhyahhyahaah!!"

"So, Battler-sama.  Why don't you return to the table without losing heart?  Milady is expecting your counterattack, you see...?"
"Quit messing with me!!  How the hell can I make a counterargument?!
In the first place, since about the time that the tower sprouted up out of the earth, everything was already screwed up!!  Should I say that, actually, underground on Rokkenjima, there's a secret laboratory for super-alloy combining robots or something, and that by pushing a button, a strange tower sprouts up?!  Right, and then those huge giants must be the robots, or maybe an evil secret association's mecha-monsters?!
I don't get it!!  Don't talk to meeeeeeeeeee, uuoooooooooooooooooohhh!!!"

"Look look look look, don't cry, alright??  Bang bang, it's magic!!  If you want, I'll crush the moon and make comets fall like rain!  I can even bury the whole island in those massive-breasted nee-chans you like so much, seeeeeeeeee??  Hihhihhihhihhi!!
Come come, look look look, my turn is over, seeeeeeeeee?!  Show me your response, counterattack!!  You can't, can yoooooouuu?  Accept that there's a quadrillion things you can't do!!  You're useless against this, riiiiiiiiiight?  You actually like this kind of fantasy, don't yooooouuu??
I get it, that's been going around on the streets lately hasn't it?!  In manga and light novels, in anime and movies!  Some teenage brat gets a whole bunch of some strange special ability, and they go all out with the fate of the world at risk!
You love that too, don't you?!  I know, don't hide it, you love it, right, hi-hyahhyahhyah!!  Hasn't that thing that you love just displayed itself before your eyes?
Why do you believe it in manga and anime, but you won't believe in meeeeeeeeee??  Believe, believe, believe it!  You can't argue back, not after you've been shown something like this, riiiiiiiiiiiiight?
Look look look look, answer, you don't need to think, you can just obediently say 'sorry, Beatrice-sama'!  Look look, try saying it, 'sorry, Beatrice-sama', try saying it, say it say it, don't be embarrassed, kukikikikakkakakahhyahhyaaaah hahhahhahahhhahahhyaaahh!!"

Virgilia

Sun, Oct 5 1986 6:00AM
There was no way to notice the coming of morning without opening a window and looking at the cloudy sky, which had become a tiny bit lighter.

It wasn't a refreshing morning.  All that could be heard was the sound of the rain, which had kept falling since last night, and the howl of the wind...

"......It's hard to imagine that it's morning.  This horrible weather reflects our hearts."
"Then isn't that pretty gentle?  At least falling rain is better than falling spears."
"Wah-hah-ha.  Whether 's rain or spears, 's comin' down with a bang.  .........Is it already 6:00?  Fuaaaaaa...  Isn't this enough.  After this, there ain't no measures we can take until the mystery 19th person, Beatrice, takes action."

"That is correct.  ......However, I believe we have thought of every trick they could use against us."
"That's right.  As long as a traitor doesn't appear amid the siblings, we should be able to deal with most situations."

"......Haven't we talked about this enough?  We've stayed up all night.  ...I'm tired."

"You're right.  How about taking a little rest after eating breakfast?"
"...A good plan.  Staying up all night is trying at our age."

As they all stretched, they enjoyed this unrefreshing morning as best they could.

"I'll go wash my face or something.  We probably look horrible."
"...............?  What is that horrible stench?"

As soon as they exited into the corridor, Kyrie openly made a disgusted expression.

"...What happened?"
"Hey, don't you smell something awful...?"
".........Hm.  ...What is this stench?  I can't stand it..."
Because of that disturbance, everyone stuck their heads out into the corridor.
...It was a faint stench, but after Kyrie had started complaining about the stink, they clearly noticed it.

Each of them went into the corridor, relying on their own sense of smell to tell them where this strange odor was coming from...

"What in the world could it be?  Let us have Genji deal with it.  I believe he should already have arrived in the servants' room to begin the morning preparations."
"Hmm, please.  It is at least difficult to imagine that Gohda would make a breakfast that would cause this kind of stench..."
Rudolf and the others searched for the source of the smell, and determined that it was coming from underground, from the boiler room.

But the door was locked, and they couldn't check inside.
On the other side of things, as Natsuhi and the rest were on their way to search for someone in the servants' room, they noticed something strange about the parlor.

"......What is this...?!"
"I, it's a horrible prank...  Who would do something like..."
On the door to the parlor, in a paint that reminded one of blood, there was a strange..., thing like a magic circle drawn.
"No one has come to the kitchen yet.  ......Wh, what is, that?"

Eva's group, who had thought the smell had been coming from the kitchen, had returned after checking that no one was there and that preparations for breakfast had not yet begun.

......And they had noticed something unusual about the parlor.

"It's useless, the boiler room is locked.  Wouldn't it be bad if something's broken down in the boiler room?  Was anyone in the servants' room?"
".........!  Is that vulgar scribble here too?  There was also one on the door to the boiler room."
"What's that?!  This creepy scribble isn't just here, but it's in other places as well?!  Haha, ya don't think that this is the witch of the forest Beatrice's declaration of war, right?"
Hideyoshi tried to make fun of it, but staring at this creepy magic circle while listening to the wind and rain really made it seem like it was a message from a witch.

...The dripping bright-red paint made one think of blood, and it made things even more creepy.
Hideyoshi tried to open the door, but it had been locked.

...As a general rule, the parlor wasn't locked.
Someone had gone out of their way to lock it.
"......What does this mean...?  Could it be that, while we were talking in the dining hall, someone secretly left this scribble?  On the doors to the parlor and the boiler room?"

"...I'm sure the servants are behind this.  We were together the whole time.  We all have alibis.  ......They probably received some strange order from Father, and did this prank."
".........Including the case yesterday with Maria-chan's letter.  It is very easy to suspect that the servants are acting on Father's orders and planning something.  ......Anyways, where is everyone?  They can't be playing hide and seek.  Let's look for them."

"B, ...before that, I'm worried about the children.  They're alright, aren't they?  I'll go and check, and while I'm there, I'll see if there aren't any servants there."

"Then let's split up.  While you go to the guesthouse to see how the brats are doing, we'll investigate inside the mansion.

.........I don't want to think about it, but maybe these creepy magic circles aren't just where we've found them."

"......We might be wrapped up in Father's bizarre game.  ...I will go to him and hear the situation.  ......Well, I don't think he will obediently listen to me though."
The adults split up.

As a result, they made sure that four children were safe in what they were calling the cousins room, on the second floor of the guesthouse.
It appeared that they had stayed up late last night playing.
All of them were snoring loudly, so Rosa decided not to wake them.
Furthermore, Nanjo, who had returned early the previous night to rest, was also alright.
It seemed he believed in the phrase 'early to bed, early to rise', and had awoken refreshed.
During that time, Kyrie and Hideyoshi searched for the servants.
But they didn't find them.

...The servants' room in the guesthouse was also empty.
"......The children are alright.  All of them stayed up too late last night."

"The servants' room is empty.  I looked at the shift chart, and the mornin' shift begins at 6:00.  They should have started workin' by now..."
"The nap room is also empty.  There were signs that a futon had been taken out, but it wasn't warm."

"Hey, ...isn't yer reasonin' right on this?  ......This is probably a game planned on Father's orders.  Surely, he left those creepy scribbles and hid himself somewhere, trying to make us do somethin'."

"......Are you saying that he's trying to see who is fit to succeed his wealth and inheritance?  ...Isn't that a bit..."

"No......It might not be strange if Father was behind something like that."
"Afta 'll, Father loves big tricks.  ......This might have been a polished plan since that epitaph was hung in the hall."

"...In that case, I wonder whether they will make an announcement of the game or an explanation for it.  ......Although it would be nice if an envelope with the crest, like the one handed to Maria-chan, were to appear."

"............That's right.  Maybe Nii-san and the rest have found that in the mansion."

"Doctor Nanjo.  Have ya heard anythin'?"
"......M, my apologies, I do not have any idea what is going on.  And yet, ......yes, I see, I could easily imagine that Kinzo-san is planning something big."

"...Shouldn't we go back to the mansion for now?  Maybe they found somethin' over there."
"If I will not be in the way, I will go too."
"I, I'll stay here.  ...The children are sleeping upstairs.  We don't know what is happening.  We cannot leave them alone."

"......That's right.  I'll stay with Rosa-san and watch over the place.  Would you tell that to my husband?"
Rosa and Kyrie remained in the guesthouse.
Hideyoshi went with Nanjo, and returned again to the mansion.
On the other side, in the mansion...
In a way that was hard to believe, ...or maybe we should say in a way that gave him a bad feeling...
Rudolf's prediction was right on.

...Because the same magic circle scribble that had been drawn on the doors to the boiler room and the parlor had been found in multiple places throughout the mansion.
"Aniki...!  How's Father?"
"No, it was useless.  There was no response.  I tried putting my ear against the door, but I couldn't sense anyone."

"...I cannot find the servants anywhere.  ...Where in the world did they disappear off to..."
"This isn't funny.  Father and the servants are hiding, and there are strange magic circles all over the mansion.  ......What in the world is happening...?!"
There weren't only magic circles on the door to the boiler room and the door to the parlor.
There were two on the second floor, and one on the third floor, for a total of five.

They were all the same magic circle, and all of the doors were locked, so they couldn't check inside.

"...Anyways, let's do something about the boiler room first.  It would be bad if something broke down and caught fire or exploded.  ...So we need the key."
"It should be in the key box in the servants' room."
They fished through the key box in the servants' room.

Because each of the servants carried their master keys around, those weren't kept here.
However, all of the individual keys should have been kept here.

"............It's so packed with keys."
"...It isn't here.  No matter how much we look, we won't find the key to the boiler room."

"Look, Aneki.  ......Only the keys to the rooms with those magic circles drawn on them, aren't here at all."
"......It's true.  ...How troublesome......"

"It's as though someone didn't want us to go in the rooms with the magic circles.  ......No, they went to all the trouble of making those magic circles obvious, so they wanted us to enter...?"

"I think it's the latter.  ...This isn't a movie, so breaking down the door is probably impossible.  It might work if we smash a window."

Krauss had a little trouble deciding whether this was a situation that called for smashing a window.

At that time, Hideyoshi and Nanjo returned.
There was nothing strange in the guesthouse, and the children were safe.
They told the others that Rosa and Kyrie had stayed to watch over the place.

"Good morning.  ...I heard that something strange has happened."
"Good morning, Doctor Nanjo.  ...I apologize for waking you so early in the morning."
"What is it?  Didya find a letter or somethin'?  I was sure ya would have found somethin' like that by now..."

"......You're right.  I also believe that this is a massive joke or game of Father's...  But if that was the case, there should be some letter telling us about that.  Like the letter that was given to Maria-chan."
"What if the announcement of the game actually was Maria-chan's letter?  The details of the game, 'try solving the riddle of the epitaph', have already been shown."
"Then, what could the five magic circles we found in the mansion mean?  ...And the missing servants."

"......Natsuhi nee-san.  How many servants were there total today...?"
"Huh?  .........Genji, Gohda, ......five of them, but why?"

"......So, there are five servants.  There are also five magic circles.  ......It may be a coincidence, but it worries me."
"...Nii-san.  Let's break a window.  We should check and see what's inside."

"............We have no choice.  Do it neatly."

Krauss made his decision, and gave permission to smash a window.
And he decided that the first room they would break into would be the parlor on the first floor, where the windows would be easiest to reach.
They had hoped to peek in through the window, but the curtains were down, so they couldn't see inside.
Rudolf wandered around the garden, trying to find something that would be good for smashing the window.

Eventually, he found a rock bigger than a fist, and came back.

"You don't have to smash the whole thing.  Just open it enough so that you can reach the lock."
"Don't get your hopes up, alright?"

Rudolf raised the rock, and hit the glass with it several times.
Eventually, he succeeded in opening a hole big enough that he could unlock it from the outside.

...Covering his hand with a handkerchief, he stuck his hand through that hole, and cautiously unlocked it.
"We should probably cover it with packing tape later.  The rain'll get blown in."

When he suddenly opened the window, the wind and rain made the curtain dance around violently.
The curtain was blown to the side.

...They could see the parlor they knew well.
They were a little relieved.
......Because they had thought that maybe, there would be another bizarre magic circle inside the room, or possibly the traces of some creepy ceremony.

In any event, they didn't want to hang around out in the rain, so six people: Krauss, Natsuhi, Eva, Hideyoshi, Rudolf, and Nanjo, entered the parlor as a group.
"......It seems, ...that nothing in particular has changed..."

".........Mu-"
"Wh, what has happened, Shannon...?!"
"Wait, wait, are you alright?!  What happened to you?!"
"Blood, blood!!  D, D, Doctor Nanjo, take a look at this!!"
"Hey, Shannon-chan!  Are you okay?!  Answer me!"
"Y, you mustn't shake her...  I will examine her condition now..."
She had been in the shadow of the sofa, so they hadn't noticed her until they had entered the room.
Shannon was lying on the floor, her chest stained bright-red with blood......
"He~~y, Battleeer, where are yoooou?  Look, look, Shannon's corpse has turned up, see~~~?  I won't bully you anymore, so come out.
......Hmmmm?  Oh, there you are.  What are you doing, holding your head in a place like that?"
"........................"

Battler was crouching under the table, holding his head...  His pitiful figure made it plainly clear that he didn't want to see anything, didn't want to hear anything...
Had he heard Beatrice's sneering voice?

...Could he not hear, or was he pretending that he couldn't hear?
In any event, it was clear that he had closed up his heart like a shell...
"Pu ku ku ku.........I wonder if you have tormented him too much, Milady.  After showing him that much and demanding a counter-argument, I can understand why he wants to mope around."

"Hey, Battleer.  If you can't argue back, resign, alright?  It's your turn.  If you don't make some move or pass, or else give up, we won't get anywhere."
"........................et."
"......Huh?  What's that?  I can't hear you?"

"I said be quiet!!  Aaaah, shut up shut uuuuuuuuuup!!  A witch?  Magic?!  Can't you just do what you want, I don't believe, I don't believe any of it, damn it damn it damn it damn it damn it!!

Don't talk to me, don't show me anything, disappear, disappear, just disappear!!  Don't get that annoying face near meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!"

"..................!"

Without thinking, Beatrice winced at Battler's sudden rage.

"......E, even if you say that... If you don't finish your turn, then my turn won't come.  I'm trying to say that I don't want you to bore me but..."
"Who cares, be quiet, shut uuup!!  Who cares about your game, I won't go along with iiiiit!!  If your turn won't come until mine is finished, then just wait for all eternity!!  Aaaah, I don't know I don't know I don't get it!!  I won't accept witches or magic, I won't accept something that screwed up!!  Uuooooooooooohhh, I said don't talk to meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!"
......I don't know what's what anymore.
After being shown something that screwed up, how could I resist...
I wandered aimlessly through the rose garden.

......It was raining and windy, but that didn't mean my body got wet.
...There was just a feeling of isolation as I wandered amidst the wind and rain without an umbrella.
"...............Maybe, ...I lost to that person's game a long time ago."
...Actually, in the last game, I wonder whether we hadn't reached a clear resolution.

After all, I had surrendered for a time.
So the world had been tinted with witches and magic.
......Right now, Rokkenjima is a different world, where witches stride around openly and fire off strange magic.

...It isn't a matter of accepting it or denying it.
Maybe I had mistakenly assumed that I was playing a game on an even footing with Beato.

I had already been defeated in the last game, ...and this may just be the signing ceremony of my surrender.
Just now, a terrible battle had unfolded in this rose garden.
I had seen it with my own eyes.
I kicked the ground.  ......Obviously, the ground was hard.
And a puddle splashed.
Several towers had split this ground, sprouting like high-rise buildings.
......The more I kicked this ground, .........the more it felt like that really couldn't be possible.

But, because of that, I couldn't explain it with anything other than magic anymore......
"......A closed room with the key shut up inside.  That one again.  I know that that's often used to prolong detective novels.
......But, ......still...  That big flashy thing.......  Damn it........."
"............It seems that my disciple has caused you much trouble."
"...Huh?  .........It's you..."
I was suddenly spoken to, so I turned around, ...and in the rose garden arbor, ......was the Predecessor Beatrice, who Beatrice had supposedly defeated a short while ago.

".........I was sure you'd died.  So, you were alive."
"No, I died.  ...Now, I am nothing more than a defeated chess piece loitering outside the chessboard."

"You're Beato's teacher, right?  So, in other words, you're a witch too."
"......Yes, that is correct."

"Heh.  So, in other words, ......that means witches really do exist?  And I'm not the one who can defeat her.  That'd be you, since you can use awesome magic, wouldn't it?  ...I'm just useless now.  There's nothing I can do anymore..."

"............Oh, my.  Have you surrendered completely?"

"What do you mean, surrender?!  How should I explain that?!  Towers sprouting and falling!!  Huge giants holding shields and throwing spears!

Aaah, just remembering it makes me feel weird, now even reasoning's useless, isn't it?!!  We've left the level of tricks and explanations with human culprits!!  Aaaaaaaaaaahh, damn it damn it damn it damn it!!"

"Calm yourself.  ......I am nothing more than a piece on that child's game board.  After being removed from that board, I am no longer a being who can do anything.  But you are that child's opponent.  Because as long as you do not give up by yourself, you will always have the power to strike back at that child."

"Shut up!  Weren't you also reciting strange spells and summoning towers and spears?!!  What do you mean, strike back?!  Are you saying you'll teach me magic too, and make me take part in that massive magic battle?!!"

"......If you wish, I could teach you a bit about magic."

"Oh, just what I wanted!  Please, give me some awesome magic to smash her chest in one blow...!!  Hah, don't screw with me!"
"I hear that in Japanese magic, there is a ceremony to pray for rain.  Do you know of it?"
"Rain ceremony?  That thing where you throw stuff into the fire and offer a dance?  ......That's not magic.  They say that the fire causes an updraft, and as a result, rain clouds gather.  That's supposed to be an accepted scientific phenomenon."

"Oh?  ...I had believed that it was a form of eastern magic, but it isn't magic?  I had believed that people offered sacred fire to the heavens, as well as a dance of respect, so that your entreaty for rain would reach the hearts of the gods."

"Maybe people did that long ago.  But most occult things like that have a scientific explanation."

"Why do things burn?  Isn't that because phlogiston is contained in the material?"
"......No, things burn because of a chemical reaction.  Lavoisier abolished the phlogiston theory."

"Why does heat transfer through objects?  Isn't that because caloric is contained in the material?"
"...I'm pretty sure that was abolished by Joule.  Heat is energy, not a substance."

"You have studied well.  Your knowledge is correct."
"...It's just some random facts."
"Phlogiston, caloric, and eventually ether and god's love.  ......All are powerless before a scientific explanation.  In the past, I was told that an apple falling from a tree was thanks to god's love, so that humans would be given food."
"The love of god instead of gravity?  ...Well, that's probably the remnants from the period when religion rather than science was used to explain everything."

"That is correct.  In the past, humans called the limits of their knowledge, ......no, ignorance itself, magic.  ...Just like the rain ceremony we were just talking about.

Did the people of ancient times realize that there was a scientific explanation, that fire gave rise to heat to cause updrafts which called clouds?  Even without understanding, they at least knew of the result."

"......That probably happened a lot.  That thing called knowledge of the ancestors.  Even without understanding the reason, through long experience, they knew that they would achieve a result.  ...Phenomena whose principles they didn't understand were probably the same as magic to them."

Just like this person had just said, ancient people who didn't understand the principles had probably believed that, through the rain ceremony, their wish would reach the heavens and make rain fall.

To them, that was certainly magic.  As long as they didn't understand updrafts...
"If you push an electrical switch, a light turns on.  ......Children do not know the scientific principles behind why a lightbulb lights up, they only know the result when they push the switch.  If they obtain a result without knowing the principles, isn't that magic to them?"
"............That's pretty interesting.  ...Well, logically, that's true.  ...For example, I don't have a clue why the Braun tubes in a TV show a picture.  However, I think it's completely normal to see things shown on a TV.  Even if I don't understand the principles behind Braun tubes, I at least know that 'if I push the switch I can watch TV'.  ...It's exactly the same as having a rain ceremony without understanding updrafts.  ......In other words, if I don't know the principles, even TV is the same as magic, no, could you say it is magic?"
"Do you know how Braun tubes are constructed?  Have you ever taken one apart and looked inside?"

"......Nope.  I think I read about it in a book or something once, but it was complicated and I didn't have a clue.  I think that when electrons hit a fluorescent material, it creates luminescence or something like that..."

"That book was a fake.  Actually, there are small people called gremlins shut up inside the Braun tubes, and they do their job with magic."
"Huh?!  That's stupid, there's no way...!"

"How can you deny it if you have never looked inside a Braun tube?"
"......I've never looked inside, but I can state that small people like that definitely don't exist!"

"Since there is no Braun tube here, that is impossible to prove."
"Y, yeah, it is impossible to prove right now, ...but later I can take apart a TV somewhere and show you, and instantly win the argument!"
"So, in other words, my 'magic theory', that gremlins are shut up inside the Braun tubes and display the picture with magic, is impossible to disprove until we can verify the contents of a Braun tube, right?"
".........Erk, .........what the hell, one of those?  Are you trying to say it's a 'Devil's Proof'?  That's your favorite trick, you witches."

"A 'Devil's Proof' is a form of underhanded sophistry formed by claiming that it is impossible to prove a negative fact.  However, it is different from what I am talking about with Braun tubes.  That could be resolved just by taking apart a single television."
"......You're right.  It really isn't a 'Devil's Proof'."

"The scientific theory you propose, and the magical theory I propose.  ...One of those is the truth.  And which one it is can be ascertained as soon as you look inside the Braun tube.  However, until the instant that happens, we cannot deny each other's theories.

So while there is only one truth, until you look into the Braun tube, you can make two conflicting truths exist at the same time.  ......A different universe where, in a case that only one truth must exist, two can exist at the same time."
Is the cat in the box alive or dead?
If you open the box, you will know the answer.  You will know the truth.

However, until you open the box, you can claim that the cat is alive, and you can also claim it is dead.
Each of the two parties make a claim that is the 'correct' truth, and even though the two sides are conflicting, neither can win the argument as long as the box remains unopened.

In other words, two truths exist at the same time.

Even though there can only be one cat in the box, it is packed with a living cat and a dead cat, in a strange parallel world.
That is what Rokkenjima is now.

......This island is now a different world where a science theory and a magic theory exist at the same time.
...To a resident of the world of science such as yourself, at a glance, it may feel as though this island had been sucked into a world of magic.
While that may be correct, it is not accurate.

Strictly speaking, it has been moved from the world of science to the gap between that world and the world of magic.
So at a glance, it appears to you as though the world is tilted towards the magic side.

......But actually, this island is now in a perfectly impartial position with relation to the two opposing worlds.
"......I don't really get it...  The gap between reality and magic?  A perfectly impartial world?  How's that?  Hasn't everything been going really bad for me the whole time...?!"
"Then perhaps you could think of it this way.  This is a trial.  Think of it as a court where you and Beatrice are laying out opposing claims.  It's like a Braun tube trial.
That child claims that there are tiny people inside the Braun tubes.  And she explains one thing after another, talking about the lives of the tiny people, what they look like, what type of magical power they have.  ......And you?"

"......Well, I study in a library, and argue back by explaining how Braun tubes are constructed."

"At that moment, both your claim and that child's claim exist in the court at the same time.  ......If you listen to that child's claim, you may hear it as though it were the truth.  See it as though it were the truth.

You truly were shown that・・・・・・・・・・・."

"........................"
"At this moment, on Rokkenjima, witches and magic certainly might exist as truth.  ...However, until the moment that the cat's box is opened, that world is an uncertain wave function.  The entire situation can be explained by both sides at the same time.  However, there is one truth.
That truth is contracted by observation, and countless truths are weeded out to become one truth.  It is like when, in court, the judge makes his judgement.  The two truths from the prosecutor's and the defense's claims, are contracted by the judgement, and become one."
".........To say it in your words, ......this island right now is the world right before looking into the Braun tube, right...?  Therefore, the science theory and the magic theory cannot be denied.  And since they cannot be denied, "

"Both can exist as truth.  Therefore, both witches and magic can exist.  ...However, at the same time, your opinion which denies that also exists as truth.

.........It is a world where two conflicting things can exist at the same time.  And, it is a world where the conflicting truths cannot disprove each other.  .........Have you been able to understand...?"

"..................In other words, ......no matter how much awesome magic Beato shows me, ...that is only a claim from the 'magic theory', and it doesn't disprove mine.

So, 'no matter what kind of magic Beato shows me, in this world, that cannot become proof that magic exists'."

"That's right.  That child will probably even try to explain an apple falling from a tree with magic.  That child might shake her staff and pluck the apple with magic, and claim that she dropped it to the earth.

However, that would be nothing more than another one of her claims.  None of her claims can block your opportunity to make a claim.  ......In that sense, this world is quite 'impartial' to both sides."

".........I, get it.........Still.  By that argument, if I show a sound argument with my 'science theory', and it collides head on with her 'magic theory', I also cannot win against her.  Furthermore, the final judgement won't come until we peek into the Braun tube.

.........Where is the Braun tube in this world?  ...It means there's no reason for us to argue.  ......Wouldn't it be alright if we just got along and peeked into the Braun tube?

If there really is a tiny person in there, it's my complete loss.  Otherwise, it's my victory.  ......Why do we have to hold this debate without looking into the Braun tube?"

"That itself is the 'game' which that child has challenged you to.  Maybe, instead of a court, I should use chess as an example.  Victory and loss is not determined by a judge.  You who are fighting will decide it yourselves."

"......Can you win an argument with an opponent in a screwed up world where multiple truths can exist at the same time?"
"In actuality, did you lose the argument, and surrender like this...?"
"...............Heh.  ...Heheheh."
"That is all the advice I can give you now.  If you wish, I can occasionally give you advice."

"......Sure.  Thanks, that really helps.  ......I'll avenge you."
"Hoh-hoh-ho, thank you.  I am looking forward to it."

"What's your name?"
"...Beatrice used to be my name, but now that I have surrendered it, I do not have a name.  .........So, I shall take a temporary name.  ......Virgilius.  ...No, what about Virgilia?"

"Virgilia.  Valkyria?  Wasn't that the name of a legendary goddess?"
Valkyria

The Japanese pronunciations for Virgilia (Warugiria) and Valkyria (Warukyuria) are almost the same, which is why Battler mentions it.
"No.  It means the one who is a guide to Beatrice.  ......I will guide you to that child who waits at the summit of the Mount Purgatory.  It should be a fitting name for that kind of guide."

"To think that I'd accept help from a witch when I'm trying to deny witches.  ......I see.  If this is a contradictory world where different claims can exist at the same time, that also works.  ...Ihihi, it's almost funny."

"I am borrowing that child's words, but you truly are like a phoenix.  ......Your will to fight has already been revived.  ...Come, if your heart is prepared, return to that child, ......return to the chessboard that child is sitting at.  ......I look forward to seeing how far you can fight my disciple."

"Yeah, watch it.  ............I won't listen to her babbling anymore.  I'll cooly fight to the end.  I definitely won't get provoked by her anymore."
"Then let us return.  To the seat of the battle."
"...Oh, ......oooh, Battler...!  Where did you hide yourself?  *cackle*!  I thought the sore loser wouldn't show himself again, you see?"
"......Sorry to keep you waiting.  I've cooled my head a little."

"And?  Did you think of a response to that pleasant, thrilling, refreshing, highly acclaimed, wonderful fantasy battle between Teacher and meeeeeeee?  Isn't that impossible to explain without fantasy?  Hihhyahhahahahahahahahahahahahaah?!"

"...Milady.  Didn't you just promise to be kind and act refined?"

"Ahhyahahahahaha, oh no, oh no.  I just got in such a good mood when I saw Battler's face, you see?  Look look look, so Battler, that battle just now, how will you respond to it?  Hmmmmmm?"
"............................Battle?  Did something happen?"

"......Whaat?"
"Where in this rose garden?  Where did those spears and towers that you grew fall to?  ............Nowhere, right?  ......In other words, it's just like the insides of a Braun tube."

"......The insides of a Braun tube, you say??  *cackle*, what in the world are you talking about now...?"
"In this very moment, there is nothing at all in the rose garden.  Towers may have sprouted with magic until a short while ago.  However, that's just because we don't know what's inside the Braun tube.  ......It is your interpretation that it was a magical battle, and that's nothing more than a claim.  Right here, right now, there is nothing at all to prove that.
This is how I argue back about that witch's battle just now.  Right now, there isn't anything here, which proves that nothing happened...!"

"........................Hahaha, hah-hah-hah-hah-ha!  You know, obviously I can't make a huge mess when it's only the second twilight, and I do like that rose garden, you see?  To prevent any damage, I fought inside a barrier.  So it's only natural that it wouldn't have any influence on reality."

"......That is your claim?  Well, I guess that works.
However!  At this point in time, there is nothing in the rose garden.  So my claim that there was no magic hasn't been blocked!!"
"W, wait, wait, can you deny my magic with that mess?!  It is impossible to prove that magic 'does not exist'!  It's a 'Devil's Proof'!!"

"At this point in time, this garden is the truth!  The instant you look inside, the tiny people inside the Braun tube will vanish.  And there are no traces of magic here at all!  So that battle between you witches 'did not take place'!!"

"Wh, ......what the, th, that counter......?!  That power, ...c, could it be...?!"

"...Have you forgotten, Milady?  It is the Multi-layered Worlds Contraction Technique.  The power of a finite witch in contrast with the power of an Endless Witch.  Only an Endless Witch would be able to understand it, and it causes the strongest effect for an Endless Witch."

"Sch, 'Schrodinger's cat box'?!  .........Th, ......that old hag of a witch..., what an uncalled for hint!!"
"We've lost time.  With the five servants and Grandfather, there are six corpses!  Let me check the scene.  I've been trudging along wasting time.  From now on, I'll speed things up, okay?
Take a seat, Beatrice!!  It's finally the first twilight, isn't it, let's start the real thing.  Show me what you've got!!!"

Skirmish

Sun, Oct 5 1986 7:00AM
......Forget what the adults expected.
At least for us kids, these were supposed to be a fun couple of days where the cousins deepened their friendship.

However, when we woke up, there was an unbelievably cruel reality waiting for us...
"............hic, ......hic......!"
"........................"

George-aniki and Jessica were crying over Shannon-chan and Kanon-kun's deaths.
......Right now, everyone who was alive was gathered in the lobby on the first floor of the guesthouse.
And there were 12 of us.

...Unbelievable, right?
There were 18 until yesterday.
...And in one night, a third of that number had lost their lives...
I eventually sobered up from my agitation, and, along with my lack of sleep because of what had happened so early in the morning, I was beginning to feel like this was a little unreal.

......I want to think this is some kind of bad dream...
My cheap escapism keeps telling me that over and over.
Maria had gone back to sleep in the sofa Rosa was sitting in.
...Rather than her having nerves of steel, she probably genuinely hadn't had enough sleep.
The adults were grasping members of Grandfather's collection, short-barrel Winchester rifles.

...Apparently a remnant from a western-obsessed time, there were four guns altogether.
Those had been split up between the four siblings: Krauss oji-san, Eva oba-san, my dad, and Rosa oba-san.

Paper boxes filled with bullets lay on the table, and the siblings were silently loading them.

".........It's a little scary.  Even now, if I touched one of these, I get the feeling that Father would yell 'Don't touch that!' and hit me."
"Well, isn't that great.  ...No matter how much you touch them, you won't be hit again."

"............I can't believe it.  ...That Father, ............would meet this kind of end..."
"I did think that when it came to Kinzo-san, he would probably not die normally in his bed, ......but even so, ......it is too horrible..."

"Hey.  I wonder if that really is Father...?  I think it might be a different person's corpse as a substitute to trick us..."
"......No, without a doubt, that is Father.  You saw his toes, right?  In general society, there aren't many humans with six toes on both feet."

"But, ............we can't say that there are none.  I've heard that polydactyly isn't a rare disease.  He was a man who liked big tricks, right?  ......He might have prepared a corpse from somewhere that had the same number of toes on both feet."

"Ridiculous.  Why would he do something like that...?!"
"......I'd agree if it was a normal person.  ...But this is Father we're talkin' about.  You can't say for sure that what Kyrie-san says is nonsense."
"............Because it's hard to tell whose body it is when the corpse is burnt.  However, there should be various ways to examine him from his teeth and his bone structure.  If the police investigated, of course they'd be able to know whose body it was all at once."

"The problem is that we need a telephone engineer more than the police right now."
"......The boats probably won't come in this typhoon.  ...So, will they come tomorrow?"
"Most likely, the boat will come again at 9:00 tomorrow.  Then, I believe we will be able to contact the police."
"......Both us, and the culprit.  ...So until the typhoon passes, this island is closed off."
.........Just from the parents' conversation, you could probably figure out the general gist, but let's explain the situation anyways.
First, early that morning.

In various places throughout the mansion, a total of six corpses, of Grandfather and all the servants, had been found one after another.
First, Grandfather had been in the boiler room, completely burnt.
The servants had died, shut up in the various rooms throughout the mansion which had had magic circles drawn on them.

The cause of death for the servants was uncertain, but according to Doctor Nanjo's diagnosis, there was a high likelihood that they had been stabbed by something like a spear, ......or possibly shot by a gun.

That was why the adults had started arming themselves with the Winchesters.
And what made the situation even more chaotic was that the telephones had become unusable.
It was unknown whether lightning had caused them to break down or whether the culprit had destroyed it.

Anyways, since contact with the outside was broken off, we couldn't contact the police.
So until the typhoon passes and a boat comes tomorrow morning, we will have to protect ourselves.

After all, Rokkenjima is now isolated by the typhoon.
And just like how we are stuck on the island, so is the culprit.
It seemed that the adults had stayed up the whole night, spending the whole time holding the family conference in the mansion's dining hall.
And even so, this crime had occurred in the mansion.

......So right when the adults had been in an uproar over money, the murderer had been killing under the same roof...
They say that Natsuhi oba-san has been strict on locking the doors and windows for the night.
And yet, some suspicious person had entered the mansion.

...The adults had decided that the inside of the mansion was too large, so they had pulled out the guns and moved to the guesthouse, where we had been.

.........Which brings us to the present.
George-aniki begged that he wanted to see Shannon-chan's corpse, but the adults had refused, saying that he must not until the police arrived.

That wasn't just because they wanted to seal all the rooms to preserve the scene.
...After all, the culprit who had killed six people was wandering about the mansion.

To the Ushiromiya family right now, the mansion which should have been their home, was like a danger zone that an unknown murderer had entered...

After all, the mansion is vast.
There are plenty of blind spots and dark places, and it is too vast to guarantee absolute safety with this number of people.
In that sense, the guesthouse was a much smaller building than the mansion.

It was two stories above ground.  Were there about 10 rooms?
......Apparently, it had originally been constructed to serve as a boardinghouse when the island was to be turned into a resort.

So it was easy to control, and easy to guarantee safety.  It was a good place to hole up in.
......And.
There was an extremely high likelihood that this mass murder of six people was a 'game'.

Because the culprit had proclaimed that in a letter.
I heard that a western-style envelope with the family crest, just like the one Maria claimed to have received from Beatrice yesterday, had been found in the boiler room where Grandfather's corpse had been discovered.

This was what the letter said.
So that there will be no misunderstandings.
The game I seek is for everyone to try and solve the riddle of the epitaph, not for you to try and catch me.

If you don't solve the riddle of the epitaph, the pitiful sacrifices will further increase in number.
It would be more wise to spend your time solving the epitaph than searching for me.

If no one can solve the riddle of the epitaph, no one will survive.
If a person appears who can miraculously solve the riddle of the epitaph, I will give them all the gold of the Golden Land, the Ushiromiya family inheritance, and all of my power.

I was the one who succeeded the Ushiromiya family inheritance from Kinzo-sama.
And, I look forward to seeing who will receive the inheritance from me.

――The Golden Witch, Beatrice.
...This riddle of the epitaph was, that thing.
That strange epitaph written on the portrait of the witch that was displayed in the hall of the mansion.

That thing which Grandfather had had written, and the person who solved it would be given the inheritance or the hidden gold or something like that.
After it had been displayed there several years ago, even though the relatives had said it was stupid, they had secretly challenged that riddle in the shadows.

However, up until today, no one had solved it.
We had once again been told to solve that unintelligible riddle, and this time, we had been threatened that if we didn't solve it, we would all be killed.

......If this wasn't a game, what would you call it...
The bold opinion that we should search the premises for the culprit did come up once.

However, there was a good chance they were armed, and there wasn't necessarily only one of them.

And, ...while they might have been able to kill more than six people, they had

stopped at 6・・・・・・.
In the end, the opinion that we should avoid carelessly antagonizing the culprit, and hole up in a safe place while we waited for the police to arrive won out...
After the adults had carefully checked that the doors and windows in the guesthouse were locked, they had set up camp in the lobby.

And as they fingered their guns to distract themselves from the tension, their expressions showed that they were already fatigued from this long day, which had still barely begun...
There was nothing that I could do.
Now, all I could do was be taught how to use a gun, to prepare for the off-chance that something would happen which

led to an excess of guns・・・・・・・・・・......
......That's alright.
Just obediently stay there,

me and the rest of you・・・・・・・・.

"............6 people in the beginning again.  And this time it's Grandfather and all of the servants put together."
"Most likely, that child has carefully studied your moves from the last game.  And she surely made the best move by first taking the pieces she guessed that you were most likely to suspect."

"......That makes sense.  ...Both this time and the time before that.  The servants who know everything about the mansion and who walk around with keys are all the most suspicious people.

......A good example in the last game is Jessica's closed room.  If I had only accepted that a servant was the culprit, that wouldn't even have been a closed room."

"Therefore, ......that child went straight for them.  She probably blocked the only way of escape that you are finally running towards."

"Beato already proclaimed in red that there are no more than 18 people on this island.

...Like,

...she's saying 'Give up'・・・・・・・・・・.

......Now I have to suspect one of the 18."

"......That child will probably come at you by stealing the pieces for the 18, and descending as a 19th person who shouldn't exist, thereby making you accept that she is a witch.  ......That is because now that her intimidation strategy of trying to force you to surrender by showing you magic has failed, she can only make a frontal attack."

"......Perfect.  Bluffing won't work anymore."

"Be careful.  Deception is a witch's strongest point.  ...No matter what that child says or shows you, it definitely won't threaten the truth that you believe in.  Don't forget that."

".........Sure.  I'd hate it if the same moves worked over and over.  .........Come out, Beatrice.  Let's get started!!!"

"I am already seated at the table of the contest.  My turn is already complete."
"......Imagine that Madam would turn out to be our enemy.  How unfortunate, Milady.  ...Our moves will be read thoroughly."

"That is no problem.  Teacher's moves are all old-fashioned classics.  There is nothing to fear."
"...What moves can you make beyond the classics I taught you?  I am looking forward to seeing, Beatrice."

"......*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*.  Is that alright, Battleer?  If a person who denies witches such as yourself accepts a witch as a strategist..."
"That stupid provocation is useless.  This person is my advisor, no, my second.  That doesn't change one bit that this is a fistfight between you and me."
"I understand.  ......You're so wobbly that you probably need training wheels on your bicycle.  Do as you like.  Come, begin!!  It is your turn!"
"Let's begin with the reconstruction of the crime scene.  ......Virgilia, quickly please!"
"The first corpse discovered was Shannon.  She was found in the parlor on the first floor of the mansion.  The door and windows were locked, and a closed room was established."
"......Beatrice, give me an explanation.  Reconfirm the definition of a closed room."

"Hmm.  The term closed room refers to a room where the inside and the outside of the room are completely separated.  Obviously, for any form of intrusion or escape, no intervention is possible.  That comprehensively includes a denial of hidden doors, as well as all margin for intervention from the outside.

......Henceforth, this definition will be referred to as 'Beatrice's closed room definition!"

"Let me check the details.  ......What is your definition of 'margin for intervention from the outside'?"
"It refers to all types of direct intervention from the outside, such as using a fishing line or a long, thin rod.  In conclusion, there is no gap in the doors and windows where those tricks will work."

"I wonder.  Even if there wasn't a gap, you should be able to interfere with radio waves, like with a remote control, right?"
"Very well.  I add to this definition that it is impossible for radio waves and related methods of remote control to interfere."

"There's also an extension telephone in the parlor.  A device linked with that wouldn't count as remote control, right?!"
"Although the phones are already unusable.  ...Oh, that's a pain.  I'll include that too.  All direct and indirect methods of interfering from the outside of the room to the inside of the closed room are impossible."
"What about a voice or a knock?  Those should be able to interfere from the outside without entering the room, right?"
".........Even though it is a closed room, it probably isn't impossible for someone to knock or call out.  Whether the room allows for a mutual understanding with the outside or not, it does not go against the definition of a closed room."

"In other words, you can't define it so that even methods of communication are interrupted?"
"That is the case."

"Understood.  .........So, Shannon-chan's parlor satisfies 'Beatrice's closed room definition'?"
"That is correct."

".........Closed room definition, understood.  Continue, Virgilia."
"Yes.  .........Shannon's corpse was in possession of one master key.  The relatives who discovered her collected this."

"Beato, repeat it.  How many master keys this time?"
"...Hmph.  The same as last time.  There are five, one for each servant."

"Which means this still isn't a closed room.  There are still four master keys left.  It just means that after Shannon-chan was murdered, one of the other four keys locked it."
"That is correct.  .........And, it wasn't only a master key that was found."

"Yes.  ......Alongside the corpse, there was a western envelope with the family crest.  Instead of a letter, the key to the guest room on the second floor was inside it."
"......The key to the second floor guest room...  The only key other than the master key that can open the door to the second floor guest room.  Is that definition alright?"

"Hmm.  There is no problem.  And, unlike the master keys, there is only one."
"In other words, in order to unlock that specific room, in addition to the five master keys, this is the only one."
"......In other words, this is a message telling them to go to the second floor guest room next?  So the adults moved to the second floor guest room?"
"Yes.  The door to the second floor guest room was locked, and a magic circle was drawn on it.  ......The relatives unlocked it with the key they had found near Shannon's corpse.  Inside the room, Kumasawa's corpse was discovered.  The room was a closed room.  That definition is based upon 'Beatrice's closed room definition'.
.........Kumasawa was in possession of one master key.  The relatives collected this.  And like Shannon, there was a western envelope discovered alongside her.  Inside was the key to the third floor waiting room.  The relatives moved to the third floor waiting room."

"So there was a magic circle on the door to the third floor waiting room, and that door was locked?"
"Yes.  Inside the room, Gohda's corpse was discovered.  The room was a closed room.  Based on 'Beatrice's closed room definition'.
.........Gohda was in possession of one master key.  The relatives collected this.  And like up until now, a western envelope with a family seal was discovered.  Inside was the key to the second floor honored guest room.  The relatives moved to the second floor honored guest room."

".........What is all of this...?  What are you planning...?"
"*cackle*cackle*.  It isn't something worth glaring at me over, is it?  It is a closed room, but there are still several master keys that can open it, correct?  And in addition to the master keys, keys particular to each room have been presented."

"......I don't like how this is going.  ......But I'm starting to see how things will turn out.  So it continues like this for all six people?"
"Yes, that is correct.  Inside the second floor honored guest room, Genji's corpse was discovered.  One master key was collected.  The key to the underground boiler room was discovered.  They moved to the underground boiler room.  Inside the underground boiler room, Kinzo's corpse was discovered.  The key to the chapel was discovered.  They moved to the chapel.  Inside the chapel, Kanon's corpse was discovered.  One master key was collected.  The key to the first floor parlor was discovered.  ......With this, our reconstruction of how all six corpses were discovered is complete."
"A supplement.  Along with the key to the chapel, a letter was enclosed in the western envelope found near Kinzo's corpse.  The contents of the letter were as you saw.  It further urged the relatives to solve the riddle of the epitaph."
".........In that case......what's going on?  If the last place, where Kanon was, had the key to the very first room, the parlor, where Shannon was...  That makes six closed rooms, all tied together, right?"
"That is correct!  The six closed rooms are all tied together.  The keys to unlock each are all shut up inside the next room.
In other words, the six closed rooms form one massive closed room, and all of the master keys as well as the individual room keys are shut up inside it...!
Furthermore, all of the doors and windows in the six rooms are normal.  No device exists which can lock them without a key, such as an auto-lock.  *cackle*cackle*, what do you think, it's beautiful, isn't iiiiiiiiiiiit???  Uhhyahhyahhyaaahh!"

"As I said, Milady, that is not dignified."

When Ronove rebuked her, Beato stuck her tongue at him shamelessly.

"Uhihihi, sorry, sorry.  I just got in such a good mood playing with Battler.  *cackle*, so, Battleer?  What do you think of my move?  If you can't think of anything in particular, I can show you how I made the goats carry the corpses, and seal all of the rooms with magiiic?"
"Do what you want.  I'll listen respectfully to this 'magic theory' that you assert.  However, I can assert my 'human theory', which is completely different from your claim, without any interference from your claim.
So, in other words!  There's no need for me to listen to your bullshit!!  Act out how you lock the door with your seven-colored magic by waving your magic staff or something as much as you like.  And while you're doing that, you can act out your toad oil and all-purpose kitchen knife!
Virgilia, let's reconstruct the crime scene!  Search for a weakness!!  Were they all definitely dead?  If one of them is just playing dead, this isn't a closed room at all!"

"Nanjo checked that all of them were dead.  However, due to the 'Devil's Proof', it is impossible to deny the possibility of a wrong diagnosis.  ......In other words, she cannot make the likelihood that Nanjo overlooked the fact that they were alive equal to zero."
"Here it is, that 'Devil's Proof'.  But there exists a sword which can carve that up...!"
"Wh, what are those people doing?  ......Looks like they're having a good time leaving me out of the discussion.  I am their opponent, right...?  Even though I told him to prepare himself..."

"Originally, as when competing in chess, communication with the opponent is not necessary.  .....You spoke in riddles when you communicated and weren't making your moves, Milady.  ...Perhaps it has come to this because he does not want to be led astray."

"............Muu.  ......For some reason, I can't accept it."
"You are challenging him to a chess match, are you not, Milady?"

"That's true, but......muu!"

Beatrice puffed out her cheeks, as though saying 'I don't know why, but I don't like it!'
"Because the police have not yet arrived at the scene, the human side's ability to prove things is limited.  For a strict confirmation of death, I recommend that you have her repeat it."

"Alright, that's where I'll strike, repeat it!!  'The six victims are all dead'!!"

"......Milady, he has told you to repeat something, has he not?"
"Hey, enough lazing around!!  Do you refuse to repeat it?!  This is where our battle starts!!"

"Wha?!  Owowowowoow!!  *cackle*cackle*, sorry, sorry, that's fine, I'll answer.

6 people: Kinzo, Genji, Shannon, Kanon, Gohda, and Kumasawa are dead!"

"Why are you so out of it?  ...Alright.  So the first one has been removed.  That shortcut that they're pretending to be dead has been denied from the beginning."
"*cackle*!  I won't go easy on you anymore, come at me how you like.  I'll slice them slantwise one after another!"
"Then repeat this!  No one is hiding in any of the six rooms!  Show me that you can deny the existence of people we aren't aware of!"
"I'll answer.  There is no one hiding in the six rooms!"

"Alright.  Now I'm sure that it's only the six of them in the can.  And they aren't pretending to be dead."
"......What will you do, what will you dooo?  Even though there's already nothing a human could do.  Obediently kneel to the fact that I can control locks at will with my wonderful magic, alriiiiiiight?"

"Quit babbling.  Repeat this too.  'The six deaths were instant deaths'!"
"Instant death?  Hoh, what do you mean by that?"
"......It means there is a possibility that a single victim on the verge of death managed to escape into the room, and after locking it from the inside to create a closed room, they passed away."

"...Hmph.  A classic closed room murder.  In the case where it is determined that the victim received the wound, and then died sometime after that.  It is possible that a closed room could be constructed unexpectedly if the victim holed up inside the room to escape the murderer, and then died after locking it."

"In order to deny that possibility, you will need to proclaim that 'the six people died instantly' with the red truth."
"*cackle*cackle*!  Very well, very well, I'll slay you with my red treasured sword!  The six people died instantly!  By instant death, I mean that as soon as they were attacked, they became incapable of action.
Well, in its full meaning, it could take several seconds or even minutes for them to die.  But no matter what, it would be completely impossible for them to take any action of their own will.  In that sense, I can state that they died instantly!"

"...Everything up until now has just been checking for a classic closed room.  My showdown with you over the closed rooms starts now, alright...?  If the culprit isn't on the inside, they are on the outside.  So they somehow killed them from outside the rooms."
"*cackle*cackle*!  Have you lost your mind?  Doesn't 'a closed room=murder is impossible from the outside'?!  Therefore, it's impossible for it to be anything other than a magical murder!"

"No, that's wrong.  The right thing to say is 'a murder really happened=it isn't a closed room'!  No matter how much you speak in riddles, this definitely isn't a closed room!  It's a sham that only looks like a closed room!"
"However, Battler-sama.  Only the victims are inside the rooms, and no other people exist inside the rooms.  And by Milady's closed room definition, remote murders from outside the room have been clearly denied, have they not?"

"Wait.  The definition of remote murders is vast, right?  It's not just about pulling a fishing line from outside the room and strangling the victim inside the room.  For example, ......a trap would make for an excellent remote murder!"

"A traap?  Hoh, what is that?!"
"Just as an example, let's say they were instructed to enter previously decided rooms, and lock the doors from the inside to create a closed room themselves.  A trap is set up in those rooms that they don't know about, and they are killed by that.  ......How's that?!  Now your contradiction doesn't work!"

"......There is no problem.  It corresponds to the existing state."
"...There is no problem on our side either.  It does not conflict with Milady's closed room definition."
"Kuhhahhahahahahahahahaha?!  What's with that stupid reasoning?!  Nothing suspicious was found in any of the rooms, right?  What form did that trap have?!  Where was it hidden and how did it operate?!  Explain that for all six people, in the parlor, the guest room, the waiting room, the honored guest room, the boiler room, and the chapel.  Well?  You can't, can you?!?!"
"I refuse to counter that!!  There is no need for me to explain that!!  And even so, it doesn't damage my claim!!"

"Wh, what did you saaaaaaaaayy...?!?!"
"Beatrice, it is a 'Devil's Proof'.  The fact that he cannot explain the form of the trap, does not in itself deny that there was a trap!"

"............Well done.  While overbearing, a wonderful move."
"...Ku!!!  This guy is getting completely used to this......!!"

"Check.  Due to murder trap X that they couldn't find, it is possible to establish this closed room murder."
"......Ah, I'll kill that check with the red truth!!  The six people were not killed by traps!"

"The definition of trap?!"

"Oh, ...umm, ...that's it!  Something invoked when a victim gets caught in it by their own actions.  Aaah..., that's not all!  Things invoked by remote control or by a timer, ......everything like that is also included!"

"Pu ku ku...  All devices that can succeed in murder without the direct participation of the person who set it up.  I believe that definition may be appropriate."
"H, how's that?!  I've struck back!!  As though I could let a human defeat this closed room!!"

"........................You are also frantic, trying to win."
"...Whaat...?!  What do you mean...?"

"......You are also frantically fighting to make me accept that you exist.  Until now, I've thought that I was just being toyed around with by you one-sidedly.

...But that was actually wrong.  You are also frantically resisting my comeback, fighting to show that you exist...!  Now, ...I finally really feel that's true."

This isn't torture inflicted on me about whether I'll surrender or not.
"This is a fight between you and me on an even footing!!  ......Alright, it's starting to get interesting, isn't it?  Six people died in closed rooms, and no outsiders were inside.  And there was no meddling from the outside, and also no traps.  If I were to continue in the same way I have been up until now, I would probably think this had to be the work of magic.
......And if you had acted out some strange magic, I'd probably even surrender.  .........It's that favorite strategy of yours.  ...You completely intercept all of my moves, and in the moment that I've tried everything and fallen to my knees, when my heart's defensive power is at its weakest, you show off some strange magic and take the game all at once!!"

".........She has always had a short temper.  She still has that bad habit of rushing things when victory is in sight."
"Pu ku ku.  Because Milady cannot stand putting off a match."
"Heeey, shut up, shut up!!  It's Battler's turn, right?!  I have finished off the 'trap piece' that you have advanced!  What should I repeat next?  Show me what you've got!!"

"Right!!  Now that even a trap has been defeated, at a glance, this looks like a perfect closed room murder.  ......And that's why this is where I'll turn the chessboard over!!"
"...Here it is, your special technique!  What and how are you going to turn things over?!  Try showing meeeeeeeeeeee!!"

"Yeah, I'll show you!!  It's not about thinking how to kill six people inside closed rooms from the outside!  Aaah, it's useless, it's useless, it's all useless!  That's right, it's not about how to kill from the outside.  It's about how they died inside the room and created a closed room!
......That's it, this is the answer!!  If you assume that one of the six victims was the culprit, this closed room can be explained extremely easily!"

"Wh, whaaaaaaat?!  No way!  I believe I clearly said in red that the six people were dead......!!"
"6 people did die.  five were victims who were killed.  If you assume that the other person committed suicide, you can destroy this closed room!!"

"The culprit's suicide.  ...Normally, it is an unthinkable move, but the argument that it doesn't exist because it is unthinkable, doesn't exist.  ......And he has no responsibility to demonstrate a motive.  A truly powerful move, which can only be used in a chess match against a witch...!"

"......Well, you cannot say for certain that there is no motive.  ...For example, it has been announced that Kinzo only had a short time left to live.  He did not regret losing his short remaining life, and he used his own death as a message.  ...It may not be impossible to attach that motive.  .........Milady.  It is our turn."
"U, ...urg!  Imagine that you would even trample on the dignity of the dead to create a culprit...!  What a heartless, cold-blooded man...!"

"Setting up the dead as the culprit.  ...This move is worse than inhuman, and it's one you used to attack Kanon-kun in the last game.  ......Even though the games are different, I'm taking a shot back at you with this move, as a tribute to Kanon-kun for that time.

Just now, I have freed that Kanon-kun from his regrets!!"
"Ku......, kuuuuuuu......!!"
"You have no duty to hold back here.  You should check whether suicide was not the cause of death for any of them.  I recommend that you have her repeat it."

"Right!!  But suicide is a naive word that won't corner her!!  Beato, this is the end!!  Repeat it!!  'The six were all killed by other people'!!"

"...............That is painful."
"Uguu...!!  .....................Ku, ooohh...!"

"Hmmmm?  What's wrong, six people were killed, right?!  I'm just checking the simplest premise from the very beginning, right?  Can't you repeat it?!"

"Fu, ......I refuse to repeat it.  ...Th, there's no reason in particular."

"Refusing to repeat this part is the same as resigning, right?!
Checkmate!!  One of the six was the culprit, and they decided on suicide after constructing the closed room!  That's all!!"

"...W, wait!  No, umm, ......I'll say it, I'll say it!  I'll use the red like you want!  None of the six people committed suicide!  How's that?!  Are you satisfied...?!  *cackle*cackle*, kakkakakakaka!  I've struck back, I've struck back!!!"

"Heh, ......what the hell, so you can say it......But isn't that weird?  Why are you so panicked...?"
"......I, i, it's your imagination.  I am also frantic this time, right?  That's right, I don't have any leeway.  Don't pay it any mind..."

"......That which you demanded she repeat has been falsified.  Do not be fooled."

"..................Kuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu..."
"Pu ku ku ku...  It seems it was useless, Milady."
"Th, that's right!  She didn't say 'the six were all killed by other people'.  She changed it to 'none of the six committed suicide'!  Which means that one of the people was not killed by someone else and didn't commit suicide.  .........Aaaaaaaahhh, I've got it, I've got it!!  This is the truth!"
"After culprit X, who was hiding among the 6, committed murder, they constructed a closed room.  ......Then they planned to escape from or hide in that room by some method.

However, there was an accident・・・・・・・・!!  The culprit died from an accident that even they hadn't expected, and constructed a closed room that even they hadn't desired!!  Now it's over, Beatrice!!  Checkmate!!!"
"D, ......damn iiiit!!  Did you think I would be cornered by something like that!!  I would never scream my resignation over something like that!!  I'll slice up that foolish checkmate with my red treasured sword over and over again!!  An accidental death among the six people was,

Muga?!  Fugagaga, what are you doing, fugafuga!"

"My apologies.  Our side requests some time to strategize.  Please allow us a brief postponement."

"......It is a just request.  Is there any problem?"
"Nope!!  I approve!  I've been given those a lot lately.  This time it's your turn to use it...!!"
"Thank you very much.  Come, Milady, ......this way.  And let us quietly count to one hundred inside our heads."
"Fugafugafuga!!  Funohehe, funofe-!!  Fuga-!"
Ronove quickly covered Beato's mouth with his hand as she grew thoroughly panicked and agitated, and suspended the game.
He then called for a strategy conference and pulled Beato away...
"......Damn.  That demon butler.  When Beato got all hot, that was an ideal chance to corner her..."

Beato normally behaved elegantly, but she actually had a really short temper and got mad easily.
......Common sense is hidden once a person becomes agitated.

"Ronove is composed.  ...He probably gave that child some time to cool her head.  ......That child was stubbornly trying to remove your check, and was going to easily let several large pieces go.  ...After all, the first twilight is only a skirmish.  ......That child mistook her timing."

"......So, what does it mean?  Did I create a checkmate, or didn't I?"
"That child was going to proclaim it in red.  It probably wouldn't have become checkmate yet.  ......But, probably, that child will proclaim her resignation once she has cooled her head."

"...Imagine that.  Even though she hates losing...?"
"Yes.  In a losing battle, it is essential to withdraw your troops as soon as possible to try and minimize your losses.  ......The difficult part is measuring whether it is a losing battle or not.  ...It seems that that child's butler calmly made that decision."

"......Oh well.  In other words, in another second, she would have gotten away.  ......It's not like I can get checkmate and deliver the final blow so easily."

"However, you should measure this as your victory.  It seems that they barely prevented a large loss, but without a doubt, they received a large amount of damage.  ......You should be able to understand well the depths of that wound by watching her panic."

"Seriously.  Ihihihi, it feels like she'd start crying if I bullied her any more than this."

As we talked, Ronove returned with Beato, who wore a mysterious expression.

...She didn't have the same bold smile as usual, but it looked like the blood wasn't rushing to her head anymore.

".........Hey.  It's your turn.  Did you decide your next move?"
"I resign.  ......For now, I will let you have your victory."

Beato told me that frankly.
It seemed as though she had taken a far-sighted view, as though saying 'if you want to laugh, then laugh'.

......It was a bit of a kill-joy, and I lost my desire to deliver the final blow.

"Well, now that you've resigned, in the end, all that means is that we're even, since my theory and yours can't deny each other.  You should treat it more like a tie than a loss."

"......I don't need your disgusting compassion.  I say that this time, it is my loss.  ...When you find a dog drenched with rain, do you have the habit of whacking it with a stick or something?"
"Nope.  Unlike you."
"........................"

Even though she ridiculed me horribly when I showed signs of defeat, she was so pathetic when it was her turn.

I think she's a pretty unfair person, but I decided to act with dignity as a winner and accepted it.
......Beato had resigned.
That was the only result of the first twilight.
Beatrice couldn't counter my move of 'one of the six was the culprit, and that person died in an accident'.
...No, she probably could have countered it, but because of some strategic decision, she had given up.

Stronger than my feelings of victory was the sense that I had just escaped for one more step...
In my chess match with the witch, I had only been able to fight by advancing a piece X which didn't require explanation.

Thanks to the 'Devil's Proof', I could create as many strange fictions as I wanted, and use them to fight in the argument.
...But that only mattered for the chess match with the witch.
......In our human world, such an abstract story can't explain anything.
The first twilight today was a chain of six closed rooms.
...It certainly may be possible for a human.

Beato hadn't been able to completely deny everything.
However, I don't have a clue who committed the crime, why, and how they actually did it...

Even if I won...
......I get the feeling that things would have been clearer if Beatrice had been able to state that it was completely impossible for a human.
I had fooled her with an abstract piece called X.
............But I couldn't deny that some kind of unthinkable, creepy intention was filling up this mansion...

The Key to the Golden Land

Sun, Oct 5 1986 9:00AM
The true enemy of a siege isn't the fear of unseen enemies.  It's probably about whether you can keep that going over a long period of time.
Maria had gotten bored and had started making a ruckus because she wanted to watch TV.
Since there was no TV in the lobby, we decided to return to the cousins' room on the second floor.
They probably expected that we wouldn't want to leave Maria all alone.
The adults told all the children to go to the second floor cousins' room.
George, whose heart was wounded by the loss of the person he was engaged to, led the cousins up to the second floor without any resistance.
At first, Nanjo had been reading a book in the lobby, but when he noticed that the relatives looked like they wanted to talk about something suspicious, he said 'It seems I am in the way', and returned to his room on the second floor.

"............I'm starving.  If we just sit around, we'll get even sleepier."
"It's only natural.  Because we didn't sleep last night."

"...We will probably end up barricaded here for a full 24 hours.  It may be wiser to take naps in turn instead of over-stressing ourselves."
"That's right.  My husband and I will be here, so anyone who finds this difficult should rest without overdoing it."

"Our opponent might be expecting that, right?  While they couldn't defeat this many people, if that number was reduced by a certain amount, they may plan to use it to their advantage."
"There are seven of us here.  We could take three hour shifts in pairs.  ......It's a long time until tomorrow.  We still have some energy now, but tonight's going to be tough."
"Sure will.  Anyone sleepy?  Don't overdo it, and rest."

Hideyoshi looked around at everyone to see who wanted to sleep first, but no one volunteered.
...Everyone was just as tired, but no one was bold enough to be able to sleep now.
......Their fear of the unknown culprit was just as strong as their sleepiness.

"......Nobody?  Well, don't overdo it, everyone."
"If we get tired, then we can think about it.  ......I certainly am tired, but I'm not in the mood now."

As Eva spoke sharply, she reminded everyone of the second letter from Beatrice, which had been found in the boiler room.
Beatrice had sent them two letters, and had repeatedly told them to solve the riddle of the epitaph.

And she had even provoked them by saying she would give up her assets and the inheritance if it could be solved...

Eva took out a notebook and opened it to a page with the epitaph copied onto it.

"............Is that the epitaph?"
"Yes.  ......Although it's annoying to do as the culprit says.  After all, we do have time to waste.  I think it's the perfect way to stave off boredom."
"...Not a bad way to kill time.  Why don't we challenge it together as siblings?"

"......Can I borrow that?  I'll rewrite it just a little larger.  Natsuhi-san, do you have a slightly larger piece of paper?"
"There should be paper in the servants' room.  I will bring some."
Natsuhi immediately brought a B4 blank sheet of paper from the servants' room.
Kyrie borrowed Eva's notebook, wrote out the epitaph on the paper, and laid it out on the table.

Then, everyone quickly peered down at it.
...They automatically crowded around.

"I've heard about it, but......really, this is a tough riddle.  I don't have a clue what it's talking about."
"At one point, I also did my best to challenge it, but I was just as clueless."

"If you did know, you wouldn't have come all the way out here with a plan to make money.  After all, it's 10 tons of gold."
"............This is the first time I've read it seriously, but......roughly speaking, couldn't it be split into three parts?"

"...I've been thinking this since last night, but you really are a good thinker, Kyrie-san.  It's possible that you could easily solve this riddle that we couldn't."
"Yeah.  Kyrie's sharp.  ......She might be able to tackle it in an interesting way without any strange preconceptions."

".........That's right.  Kyrie-san.  Will you openly tell us about your thoughts after reading the epitaph?"
"I think it probably won't be very useful to all of you.  You all give me too much credit."

"No way, anything that comes to mind would be helpful.  Let us hear what you have to say.  ......Because your hints always help me when I'm worried."
"Oh, so they were helpful?  It's nice to finally hear about this now."

"Come ooon, don't I always thank you?"
"You two sure are close.  I'm jealous."
"And the rest of us would also love to accept your hints.  It's alright, we're just killing time anyways, so why not relax?"
Kyrie was disturbed at being praised for something so strange.

...But they had plenty of time.
She realized that this was just a way to waste time, and she decided to accept that role...
"......I'm sure I'll say something off the mark, but...well, I'll put forward my ideas."
"Hmm.  ......What did you mean in the beginning, about how, speaking roughly, it could be divided into three parts?"
Well, ...I just mean what I said.
I think that overall, the epitaph can be divided into three parts.
First, there are the five lines up until 'There sleeps the key to the gold'.
Up until this point is the first part, which points to the location of the key.
And then there's the part formed by the 11 lines up until the tenth twilight, which refer to the location of the Golden Land itself.
And the remaining six lines make up the part after the Golden Land has been reached.

"I see.  It can be divided into three parts about the key, the Golden Land, and the Golden Land's treasure."
"Even we have been able to grasp that much.  The three sections that refer to the key, the door, and the treasure."

"...Nii-san, don't butt in any more than you have to!  Let Kyrie-san speak her ideas freely."
"Kyrie.  Please continue.  ......We recognize the same thing regarding what you said.  So then?"
"......I wonder what that thing in the beginning, the 'beloved hometown', means.  Thinking about it normally, would it refer to Grandfather's hometown?  Since he went to all the trouble of telling us that it's beloved, I can imagine that it's a hometown he thought about very deeply.  ......Didn't Father come from Odawara?"
"............Odawara is definitely where he was born, but I don't think this hometown Father loved was Odawara.  I believe all of us siblings are thinking of the same place."
"...Right.  This probably isn't Odawara.  From what I've heard, he had a very fun time as a youth."
"Hahhaha.  ...Father's greatest misfortune in his life was probably being made the Ushiromiya family head."
"......Probably.  Father really hadn't wanted to become the Ushiromiya family head."

"So where is it?  And is there a river where sweetfish swim?"
"......Maybe they were there at the time.  By now, there has been a lot of development there, and the sweetfish might have disappeared.  It would be extremely difficult to investigate whether there were sweetfish there during the time Grandfather was a boy."
"There is no single river, right?  I believe we all investigated thoroughly in a geographical sense.  ......You even went to the actual place to investigate directly, right Eva?"

"That was only as a vacation.  ......But the townscape had changed completely from Father's time.  After all, it was caught up in the war, wasn't it?  It was impossible to even figure out where Father actually lived.  ...Probably, even if Father dragged himself to the actual location, by now, even he wouldn't be able to determine where it was that he lived."

"Because that place has had a remarkable revival..."
"............After hearing about a sweetfish river, does any place name come clearly to mind?"

"Well, I wonder.  After all, they're sweetfish, right?  People say they live in rivers with clean water, so there are countless rivers we could guess at.  Any stream that Father innocently went sweetfish-fishing in was probably buried by the development later.  It would be different if we had a map from before the war, or a person who knew a lot about how the area was before the war, but..."

"......It probably isn't something like that."
"What do you mean...?"
".........My beloved hometown, the sweetfish river running through it.  You who seek the Golden Land, follow its path downstream and seek the key.  ...After these two lines, there is a single blank line.  ...Something is being presented with just these two lines.  What if the next three lines continue based upon that something?"
"What do you mean, something is being presented...?"
"......I don't know.  Anyways, these two lines aren't vague about the river, like they don't know which river it is.  It clearly specifies this 'river'.
......It may be that this isn't a 'river' with water flowing down it.  ...The 'sweetfish river' might be some kind of metaphor.  ......What kind of image does the word sweetfish have?"
".........Sweetfish are like salmon.  They're freshwater fish, but they go out into the ocean right after they're born.  And when they get big, they return to the river to live there, and then they spawn there and end their lives there.  Well, they leave their home at one point, but when they get big and return to lay eggs, that might have a family prosperity type of image."

"Hmm.  They're freshwater fish, but they can live in the ocean?  I didn't know that.  I thought they were river fish, so they couldn't go out into the sea."
"And they are called sweetfish because they have a pleasant aroma.  I have never eaten one, but I have heard that they are very delicious when grilled with salt."

"Whoa, Natsuhi-san!  You've never eaten salt-grilled sweetfish?!  They're delicious!  You should try it sometime soon!"
"It is a food for commoners.  It isn't appropriate for your mouth."
"......This is just my wild idea, ...but the image I get from a sweetfish river makes me suspect a family tree.  The sweetfish go out into the ocean for a time, but they return to the river where they were born to spawn, right?  .........It makes me think about myself."

"You're right.  By this point, I can confess that I have sometimes suspected that it refers to you and Maria-chan."
"I see.  ......If you follow the river downstream, you will find a village.  If you go down the family tree looking for a village, all you find is Maria's name [真里亞], which has a '里' [village] character in it."

"Isn't that right?!  ......But as you all know, Father doesn't like Maria, and he has almost never spoken with her.  And, in the past, Father told me to give Maria a completely different name.  I just made it into Maria on my own.  Father was very mad about that.  ......If you think about the details there, it's very hard to imagine that he would reference Maria's name in his precious epitaph about who would succeed his wealth and inheritance."

"Have you ever let Maria-chan read the epitaph?"
"Uh, yes, of course.  But it looked as though she didn't have a clue.  ......She didn't have a clue, and she kept going on about that same occult stuff, about how it was a resurrection ceremony for the witch."

"............A connection between Father and Maria.  ...Certainly, they do share that occult hobby, but they never interacted.  ...I can't imagine it refers to Maria either."
"......What worries me is the fact that he went to all the trouble of adding the word beloved at the beginning.  ......Like you all said just now, if Father was reluctant about becoming the Ushiromiya family head, would he yearn for that?  ...I don't think it is Odawara, which points back to the Ushiromiya head family.
......I believe that this word 'beloved' here at the beginning refers to a place full of very important memories to Father."

"............Hmmmmmm.  ...Well, that's fine.  It would be hard to pinpoint since we don't have a clue about a map from that time, but anyways, there were probably several rivers with sweetfish swimming in them near Father's hometown during his youth."
"That's if it's a river with water flowing down it, right?  And then?  Go on, Kyrie-san."
"......I don't really understand the three lines starting with 'If you follow the river downstream, you will find a village'.  ...That is probably coupled with the two lines about the sweetfish river.  It's probably something that we would automatically understand if we knew what the sweetfish river really was.  ...As long as we don't understand that, it's probably useless to try and solve those three lines any further."
"So we give up unless we know what the 'sweetfish river' really is...  And there's no guarantee that it even means a literal river.  ...Seriously.  What does it mean, sweetfish?  Did Father like to eat them?  Or is there some special meaning?  Is it pointless to read too deeply into it?"

"...If you don't have both a micro and a macro perspective, your field of vision grows narrow.  ......It might be better if you don't think too deeply and be flexible, holding an abstract image of a river where fish swim, or something flowing, ...up or down."

"And the answer for the 'sweetfish river' passes through the next three lines and makes its way to the 'key to the Golden Land'..."
"If you think about it this way, I wonder if it was a mistake to split it into three parts.  There's actually four parts.  ......'Go down the sweetfish river', 'find the key to the Golden Land', 'journey to the Golden Land', 'and the treasure of the Golden Land'."

"Hmmm.........Truly interesting.  Good work.  After that, would you tell us your opinion about the most central portion of the epitaph, getting to the Golden Land, up until the tenth twilight?"
"......That's the most symbolic, ...and also the most disturbing part."

"Since it keeps mentioning the word sacrifices, I can't help but think it has something to do with Father's occult ceremonies............How do you see it, Kyrie-san?"
Kyrie recrossed her arms several times, peering into the paper with the epitaph copied onto it as though she was looking through it...
"..........................This is...very difficult.  ...By starting with 'He who lays hand upon the key', it probably means that you won't be able to continue without understanding the key.  ...I'll have to give up, but I'll take a shot at trying to solve it anyways."
"......Just like how the 'sweetfish river' isn't necessarily a river with water flowing down it, it is also doubtful that this 'key' is actually something shaped like a key."
"Right.  There's also the possibility that it's a code or a keyword.  ......After all, this key isn't something to be stuck into a keyhole.  It's something that selects the six people to be sacrifices for the first twilight.  In that sense, we can state that this key isn't something to open the door to the Golden Land."

"......But it is a disturbing key.  A key that can select six people to be sacrifices..."
"How would a key select anything?  ...Does it spin around like a roulette...?"
"This key points towards a certain group of six people.  ......No, we should say it points to a certain group of six things, ......if this doesn't mean a literal command to offer sacrifices.  For example, it could be an anagram."

"An anagram?  Do you mean playing with letters...?"

"Yes.  I've kept thinking about it since Rosa started talking about the family tree, and about how village was a part of Maria-chan's name.

......It seems as though Rudolf-san, for example, has assumed that this has been talking about something related to geography or coordinates since the words 'beloved hometown', but that might not be true.  This could be some kind of puzzle, ...or maybe playing with letters."

"......I'm sorry.  What is playing with letters?"
"Oh yeah, it's like 'sucker merry barrels'.  Wha-t do you get when you take out the e's and r's?  Like that.  Well, you were raised well, Natsuhi-san, so you probably don't know."

"...Merry??  Take out the e's and r's, huh?  ???"
"Stop it.  It is an undignified game, inappropriate for you."

Only Natsuhi didn't get it and had a blank look on her face.

It seemed that she had only guessed the answer had to be something undignified, after hearing Rudolf and Eva's sniggers.

"Ah, ...Natsuhi nee-san, it's something like this.  This is just something from Maria's book of riddles, okay?  There's this thing called the Tanuki Notebook.

It's a notebook written like a code, with a lot of 'ta's mixed in, and if you 'remove' all of the 'ta's, then the true paragraph pops up.  It's a game like that."

"Ah, ......oh, I see.  .........??"

Natsuhi finally realized the answer to the undignified riddle Rudolf had posed, and her face grew red as she hung her head in embarrassment.
"............So maybe that 'remove' part is actually represented by 'kill'...?"
"Yes.  I also thought that.  It's possible that the key to the Golden Land is a word with six characters."
"In other words, ...the 'ta' from the Tanuki Notebook...is actually six characters here...?  Hmmm, ...this is getting complicated..."
"Playing with letters, is it.........hmmm.  In Japan, it really feels like a child's game, but it seems that it a stylish form of humor among intellectuals in English speaking circles.  ...It is easy to imagine that Father showed interest in it."
"......But by this point, I quickly lose my ability to understand it.  Until this part, while it did flow like a riddle, it was extremely sequential.
'Sweetfish river', 'go down it', 'then find the key', is all extremely sequential.  And as a result, we can guess that we gain a six character key, ......but in that case, we now don't know 'what' we kill the six characters from."
"That's right.  Where do we pull the six characters from?  It doesn't tell us."
"...At the second twilight, there are 'those who remain'.  ......Which means that, at the very least, that 'something' has a limited number of characters.  You could read it like it's telling you to continue with the remaining characters after the six characters are removed.
.........And yet, we don't know what this 'something' is, even though it should have been shown to us at the beginning.  ...Were we wrong even to assume that this is playing with letters...?"
"..................Hmmmmm..."
Everyone crossed their arms and fell into silence.

It felt like they were about to reach a novel understanding that they hadn't been able to before..., but they stumbled just one step before it.
At that time, Hideyoshi's stomach rumbled heartily.

The silence up until then was broken by laughter.
"Sorry, sorry.  Strangely enough, by spinnin' my rarely used head around, my stomach's gone completely empty.  Looks like I can't stand missin' breakfast..., wahahahahaha."

"Natsuhi.  Isn't there anything here?"
"There should at least be enough set aside for breakfast.  I will prepare it."

"I'm also starving.  I'll bet those brats above us are starving too.  ...But I doubt that there's enough for 18 people here, and for three meals, right?"
"That's right.  It'll be a long journey until tomorrow.  It might be better if we took a trip back to the mansion and fished around for some canned food or something in the kitchen."

"There's nothing more than crackers and snacks, but if that is alright, I can prepare them.  But with this many people, there might not be any left for lunch..."
"That will be fine for now.  Would you prepare it for us?"
It looked like the men had been taken over with an appetite that stopped all thought.
The atmosphere grew more peaceful, and the epitaph investigation team split up for the time being.

But Eva kept staring at the paper the epitaph was written on like she was going to burn a hole through it...

"............Playing around with letters was nothing more than my theory.  There is a chance that it's mistaken.  Eva-san, don't take it too seriously, okay...?"
".........Thank you.  This is something I've decided to do.  Would you mind leaving me alone?"

Eva spoke coldly.
...Kyrie didn't bother her any more, and went to help Natsuhi prepare breakfast.

"Nee-san.  Shouldn't we also help prepare breakfast?"
"Then you go help.  I'm busy solving this!"

"S, sorry...  Th, then I'll help..."
".........Come on.  Why are you like that?"
"......Huh?"

"The Ushiromiya family inheritance will be given to the person who solves this epitaph.  It seems as though you've given up from the beginning, as though it has nothing to do with you, but if you could solve it, there's a chance even you could receive the inheritance.

"......This is a chance to steal everything from Nii-san.  Why aren't you seriously trying to solve it it for that once-in-a-lifetime chance?"

"...Um, .........umm, ......I......"

Rosa hung her head, troubled over how she should answer.
...Too late, she regretted that she had carelessly spoken to her sister when she was in a bad mood.

"If you've noticed anything, say so.  Even though Kyrie-san and I were seriously reasoning, you just kept nodding your head, didn't you?  Come on.  Isn't there anything you've noticed?  Come on!"
"............Uh, .........umm, ...............Isn't, ...this strange?"
"...Strange?  What is?"
"Umm, ......this word, Golden Land.  The word Golden Land comes up several times."
"So what?  Do you get some keywords by splitting up the characters in 'Golden Land'?"
"Um, umm, that's not it.  ......Look, isn't just the tenth twilight strange?"
"............Huh?  ......ah."
"Even though they're all written the 'Golden Land' (黄金郷), for some reason, only this place has the 'village of gold' (黄金の郷).
Village of Gold

One of the puzzles of the epitaph the meaning of the word 'Golden Land':
黄金(gold)+郷(land/country)=黄金郷(Golden Land).

In the line about the tenth twilight, it is written slightly differently:黄金の郷.
In this sense, の, (pronounced no) particle is similar to the English word 'of', in that the first word describes the second.
The difference between 黄金郷 and 黄金の郷 could be as simple as 'golden land' and 'land of gold' ...in other words, no real difference.

But when the 郷 character by itself, it is often pronounced differently and may refer to a village or hometown.
 He went to all the trouble of mixing in the character 'の'.  It vaguely bugged me that it's only said differently here... .........ah, umm, ...it's not like it means anything.  This is Father we're talking about.  It could just be a coincidental change in how he said the word."
"........................"

".........Boring."
"Oh, what is boring...?"
".........Boring, boring."
"My, my.  I don't have a clue what this child is grumbling about."

"She is probably dissatisfied that you gave Battler-sama various hints, Madam."
"......No-t really.  That's not unsatisfying.  I'm actually more satisfied now that that worthless Battler has finally reached the level where he can go along with me."

"Hoh-hoh-ho...  Were you a little too friendly with Battler-kun?  Maybe it would be better if the old people went away and left everything to the young kids."
"Pu ku ku ku ku..."

When Virgilia and Ronove giggled and cackled, Beatrice's irritation meter finally reached its limit.

"Heeey, you're all laughing at me!  Ronove, hide yourself for a while!  Disappear, disappe-ar!"
"Certainly.  Then, I will rest for a while.  Pu kukukuku..."
Ronove bowed his head, still laughing, and hid himself.

After that, all that remained was the figure of Beatrice, who was grumpy and irritated, and Virgilia, who was cooly enjoying her tea.

"............When you said 'There are no more than 18 people on this island', you actually cornered yourself."
".........I thought so............I thought it might have been a little too early, but.........was it really too early after all......?"

"If you had led him further astray beforehand, things might have been different, but it really was a futile trump card.  You stirred him up instead."
In addition to his victory condition of denying the witch, Battler had held onto a different victory condition, since he had wanted to explain things without suspecting someone of the 18.

Hadn't he been weakest when he had been tossed about by two opposing goals?
However, Beatrice had used the red carelessly, and had proclaimed that there were no more than 18 people.
...Because of that, Battler had been forced to suspect one of the 18, .........and he had finally begun to build up the readiness that he needed to accept that.
Battler was stubborn, but because of that, when he was struck where he was fragile, fissures would crack all over him, like breaking china.

That itself should have been his greatest weak point, but...

".........Kuuuuuu.  ......Did I get a little too careless after my complete victory last time......?"
"Yes, you were too careless.  ...The last game was a difficult one for Battler-kun, but it seems that this game will become

a difficult one for you・・・・."

"......A broken vase will definitely never return to its original form.  ...So it would be more constructive to think of the next move, rather than regretfully picking up the pieces.

.........However, now that Battler has been instigated this much, how should I plot against him...?"

"Hoh-hoh-ho.  Your troubled face is an even better snack than Ronove's cookies."
"......Uu-.  You and Battler and even Ronove are making fun of me.  ...Even though I'm not naive at a-ll."
With a shameful, childlike face that she would never have shown in front of Battler, Beatrice rolled her head around on top of the table.

"............Teacheeer.  .........At least a hi-nt."
"Oh.  What kind of hint?"

"If you know a skillful move that will make Battler speechless, and make him accept me, I won't ask you to say it outright, so, umm, ...even if it's just a hint."

"Hoh-hoh-ho, I can't.  I am acting as Battler-kun's ally, so I cannot teach you something that would give you an advantage."

"...You don't have to say it so stiffly...  Even though your disciple's in trouble..."
"I believe you harshly boasted that you had surpassed your teacher, correct?"

".........Uu-...  Please act like an old person and give me just a bit of your cunning wisdom...  Pleease...  It's mean if you only help Battleeer..."
"My, my.  You're still a spoiled child.

......But, it's true that I may have given Battler-kun a few too many hints.  It did serve as a scolding to you, but perhaps it was a little too much support for a fair game."

"Isn't that right, isn't that right...?  Please, Teacheeer, at least just a hint now..."
"...............This is just a hint.  Think about what it means by yourself, alright?"

"Yeah, yeah!  I'll think about it myself, so please!  Please, give me one that'll leave Battler down in the dumps."
It was truly shameful how she behaved when Battler wasn't around, even though she acted utterly like a Great Witch in front of him.

Virgilia took a deep breath at how Beato was still a child no matter how much time passed.

"Then just a hint.  ......Do you know of Aesop's fable, The North Wind and the Sun?"
"Of course.  It's a story about how the north wind and the sun challenge each other to steal the cloak of a traveler, right?"

"That's right.  Violent or impatient methods aren't always necessarily the best decisions."
"......You don't have to tell me that.  I have already reflected on the fact that I rushed too fast towards victory."

"............Think well about what this means.  And furthermore, ......it seems Battler-kun had a slight misunderstanding, but it also seems that you are misunderstanding something.

Do you understand the victory conditions of this game?"

"...What else is there, other than making Battler surrender?"
".........See?  At that point, you are already mistaken."

"How am I mistaken?"
"Your victory isn't making Battler-kun surrender.  ......Isn't it making Battler-kun accept your existence?"

"......What's this?  You want me to butter up Battler, asking 'Accept me as a witch, pleease?'!  How foolish!  I will not sink so low!"

Grrrrrrrrrrr..., Beato growled like a dog in a bad mood.
Virgilia shrugged her shoulders, snickering at her disciple, who was as short-tempered as always...
"That is my hint.  Now you should think deeply.  .........In any event, your moves up until now will not work on Battler-kun.  A significant tactical conversion will probably be required."
"...I'd understand even without you telling me.  ......I don't have a clue what you mean by the North Wind and the Sun, but anyways, I understand that I will have to change my objective.  ......I'll introduce a clever scheme that will surprise even you, Teacher...!"

"Hoh-ho-ho...  I look forward to it.  I wonder how Battler-kun will tackle that.  ......I am wishing you good luck as well."
"And Battler too, right?  Hmm..."
".........Are you going to give up and resign already?  If you're that tired, why not just go into a futon and sleep...?"

...As my consciousness grew vague and I pretended to fight my drowsiness, sinking deeper and deeper into the sofa, 'I' scolded myself.
"......You also dreamed about stealing the position of family head from Krauss, right...?  Even though I gave you that chance with my magic, you're already throwing it away...?"
You could say that, but...
............This riddle is really difficult.
Even a wire puzzle would be better.
...At least in that case, you are assured that it definitely is solvable.

But I don't know if there's any assurance whether this riddle of the epitaph is solvable.
......I might just be fighting a useless battle.
...Still hazy, I looked at the notebook which I had been holding the whole time.

It was opened to the page with the epitaph, which I had looked at so many nights that I might have burned a hole through it.
......That, is truly a door.

On the other side, there is the 'Golden Land', which I had wished I could drag myself to since I was a child no matter what the effort, ...and which I hadn't been able to drag myself to.
Am I touching the door with both hands, ...and even though the book, no, the door is open, can I still not reach the other side?
"...That's right.  You have already touched the door with your hands.  Come, open it with all of your strength.  And read the characters written on the door."
".........Open it, with all my strength.  ...Read, the characters written on the door..."
Strain your eyes.
......See through to the thing beyond the epitaph written in the notebook...
"...The 'beloved hometown' definitely won't betray our expectations.  ......The only past that Father held dear was his years as a boy."
That's right......  Then what about the 'sweetfish river'?
There are several rivers where they swim, but it is suspicious whether there was one very near the place that Father lived.

...If we start wondering whether there was a nearby river on a map where sweetfish lived..., things will quickly get vague and we won't be able to get specific...
"Didn't you say it yourself?  You said it didn't have to be a river with water flowing down it.  ......If the word sweetfish is too complicated, why not forget it...?
Think of a river.  A river.  Linking it with a 'family tree' wasn't a bad idea.  Try thinking about how to link a river with something else along those lines......"
......Not a river?  Even though the sweetfish can't swim in it if it isn't a river?

Oh, but maybe if sweetfish could swim, that means it's tied to the ocean......

Didn't my husband even say that, while they are river fish, they can go out into the ocean............
....................................
............To the ocean.
.....................No, ...but, .........
......Huh...?
"......Did you notice?  But that's just a faint memory.  There should be a library somewhere around here.  If you investigate, you can make sure."

......If that was the 'sweetfish river', .........
.........And if the key might be a six character word...

..................Was the key really resting in that river?
I, I don't know, I don't know.
...Anyways, I have to search in an atlas...
But, even if I know that, I don't know 'from what' I should take the six characters...
"......You really don't know?  Think deeply.  .........We're pretty smart, so our ideas are solid.
Don't think of it like it's something as massive as the riddle of the epitaph, but like it's a child's riddle.  ......Men are always children, no matter how old they get.  Even if Father has advanced into old age, that doesn't change the fact that he is essentially a child inside his heart.
.........Throw away your awe of Father.  ...Think of this like it's a worthless, infantile game with riddles, like the one Maria suddenly brought up on the boat."

......Riddles.  ......Worthless, infantile.
........................
..................Huh, .........ah.

.......I'm sure that was, ...what was it, ......umm, umm......
...I'm sure, if my memory isn't wrong, ......that's probably, umm...

No, I don't have to rely on my vague memory.
I should be able to figure that out immediately by searching in a library.
".........We've probably already noticed the answer.  ...All that's left is to research whether that's correct or not.
Come, Eva.  To the library, so that no one notices.  ......There, we should find a mountain of thick books that didn't fit in Father's study.  ...I'm sure that we'll find a book that answers our question.  .........Quickly.  This is our first and last chance in our life to have our dreams made true."
When Natsuhi tried to lay a blanket over her, Eva suddenly jumped up.

"...I'm sorry.  It looks like I woke you."
"......Eva.  If you're sleepy, don't overdo it.  You rest first."
"Th, ......thank you.  I'm just going to the lavatory for a bit to wash my face."

"If yer not going to overdo it, ya should rest.  ...Is yer body affected again?"
"I said I'm really fine!  I'll be right back."

After leaving only those words behind, I rapidly left the lobby.

The lobby was partitioned off by a door, so as soon as I went into the corridor, they could no longer see me.
......The library was next to the servants' room.

Since the beginning, Father had owned a vast book collection, but since he had started admiring the occult as his hobby, that collection had grown even larger, so that the proper books suitable for a normal study had been forced out as his study overflowed.
This library was where those proper books were stored.

They were all thick, like complete encyclopedias for intellectuals, but that was very convenient for me now that I was investigating something.
I entered softly, ......and just in case, I checked the room with my gun readied, making sure that there were no suspicious people there.
Then I locked it from the inside.

I actually wasn't thinking that the murderer might be hiding somewhere.

...What scared me was my fear that one of the siblings might hear what I was investigating.
My heart had started jumping......
...I had been half-asleep until a short time ago, so I hadn't been able to realize how significant this thing I had noticed was.

But as I had become aware, ......my heart had started to feel like it was about to explode.
".........I, ...wonder if any of the other siblings have noticed this......"

I don't think Krauss and Rudolf will notice.
......But I don't know about Kyrie.
She has extraordinarily good intuition.

.........And I don't know about Rosa either.

"Rosa is also stupid.  She always has been, and surprisingly so."

Really...?  I think she was wise enough to make you think she was stupid, so that she didn't earn herself unnecessary malice.
".........Here it is.  ...Is it written here?"

I pulled the book out, and flipped through the pages......
"............Uu.  .........This is, .........a 'sweetfish river'...?"

I see...
This is what the sweetfish river means.

......Don't dawdle around, research further.
"Y, yes, I understand...  If you follow the river downstream, you will find a village...  By village, does it mean a town or something?  That's an area of dense population, so there could be many of those..."
Why have you stopped thinking?!If you don't like it, why not quit...?
Why not just hand over the Ushiromiya headship to Kyrie?!
"I, ...I don't want to...  I will become the head.  ...This is, umm, my first and last chance.........What is '里' (village)?  What does it mean?!  If you go down the 'river', there's a 里......?!  ............ah, .........aaaaaaaahhh......!!"
......In the village, look for the shore the two will tell you of.
......It's 'shore' (岸).  Understand?
"Uu, ...*gulp*...  I, I, I understand...!  'Shore', ......'shore'.........!"

Right before my eyes, ......the pieces that I hadn't been able to understand at all, ......began to *snap*, ......*snap*, into place, all by themselves......
I couldn't even remember to close my open mouth.
...My throat grew completely dry...

Is it, ......really alright for this to be the answer?
R, really?  Really...?!
"...But this isn't six characters at all.  ...I can state that this is the answer without a doubt, but this doesn't reach six characters at all...!"

Did you stop thinking again?  Then, think of a way you could read it with six characters.
If you can't think of one, then research it.
......There has to be an answer.  You must not doubt that.

If you can't believe that, why don't you cry yourself to sleep, and just give up and die...?
"............1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.........Oooh, ...s, ......six characters.........I, ......I found it.  ...This, .........is, th, ......the key to the Golden Land.........!!"
Yes.  This is, the key to the Golden Land.  ......The key, to our childhood dreams.
......The only keyhole to stick that key in, is that place.
That, is definitely what offers the sacrifices.
Now, do you understand............?
"Whaa, ..........whaaaaaaaaaaaaaa...!!!"

Coronation

Sun, Oct 5 1986 10:00AM
".........This way?  ......Go this way............?  They are, ......inviting me to go this way........."
......!!!

My heart leapt.
...Because there, ............gaping wide, ...was an opened mouth in the eerie darkness.
"Wh, .........what's this...  What is this......?!"
When I strained my eyes, peering into the darkness, I saw something that looked like a light switch.
......In addition, there was a switch with open and close written on it.
When I resolutely pushed the switch, rough lights, like you'd find in a coal mine, turned on sporadically, making a staircase that stretched underground come hazily into vision...

It was creepy how it now looked even more gloomy with the lights turned on.
Other than the light switch, there was also a switch with open and close written on it.

...It would probably open or close this, but on the slight chance that the open part might be broken, I might be closed up in this creepy underground area for all eternity...
So for the time being, I didn't touch the open/close switch, .....and as I readied my gun again, I slowly went down the stairs.
Because the ceiling was very high, it didn't feel cramped.
On the contrary, it felt as though a cool breeze was blowing upwards, and that creepiness even felt like an aura...

As I readied my gun, and carefully stared forwards, ......I went down the stairs......
The walls, the stairs, the lights, ...all of them were very old-fashioned.
...It's easy to suspect that this had been made at the same time that the mansion had been constructed on this island.

There were cracks in the ceiling, and water clung to the walls, constantly dripping down.
That water fell into a gutter that had been set up alongside the stairs, then quickly and silently flowed into the underground darkness.
As though it was telling me to go faster...
The staircase kept turning back on itself.
I don't know how far down I've gone, but I think it's much deeper than one floor.
And eventually, ............a rough, metal door showed itself.

And there, characters had been written in a dark red paint.  ...They had probably been written a long time ago.

'At the tenth twilight, the journey shall end, and you should reach the village of gold.'
My heart, which was already about to explode, jumped about even more as soon as I recognized those deep-red characters...
There's no mistake...  This is the last stop.
.........Father's, ......Golden Land...!!
I calmed my throbbing heart, somehow regained my composure, and readied the gun again.

...But since, in the end, I couldn't open the door with my gun held in both hands...
......I lowered the gun, carefully erased my breath, and opened the door......
"..................Th, ......this place, ......is......?!"

My first impression when I saw the room, ......was that it might be related to one of the rooms in the mansion.
That's right, it had exactly the same atmosphere about it as the forbidden honored guest room on the second floor.
But this was underground, so there were no windows.
There was only the solemn light of a grand chandelier.

But even though it was dimly lit by the faint light, the quality of the interior was more than enough to take your breath away.
A bed with a canopy, and a rocking chair that looked like it would be comfortable to sit in.  An extravagant sofa and carpet.
The room was like a dream every girl yearns for at least once...
And yet, since it was an underground hidden room with no windows, how could you say it, it felt like it could be the hidden house of a witch.
I had never swallowed the legend of Beatrice, witch of the forest.

However, ......after being shown this room, ......it certainly became hard to doubt that she actually had existed, and had lived in this room.
".........Is someone, ..................there...?"

Even though I was completely shocked by this room, I carefully, ...no, timidly searched the interior with my gun raised.
And, ......in the center of the room, I found it.
"............Eeek, ............"

My gasp came out strangely, as though a bunny was being choked.

...Because, ......after finding something like this, ...no one would be able to stop that kind of stupid voice from leaking out...
"It's here............I, it's really here...............Father's, ......gold......!!"

On the opposite side of the canopy bed, it was piled up in a massive heap...
It was a mountain, a mountain of gold ingots!!
Of course, they weren't piled up carelessly in a way that would damage the dignity of this room.

A beautiful scarlet satin weave was laid on the mountain of gold, creating a beautiful three-colored mix between the red, the gold and the black of the deep darkness...
It was as though, when the witch slept on this bed, the gold would be a respectful chamberlain waiting on her.

Nobly, refinedly, gracefully, beautifully.
It was attentively piled there with an imposing air...
When I tried to grab a single gold ingot, I was surprised at its weight.
......It was probably about 10 kilograms.
......Just this ingot would probably be worth more than 10 million.
The Ushiromiya family crest, the One-winged Eagle, was lightly imprinted on it.
It was hard to tell whether it had worn away, or whether the impression had been made carelessly in the first place, but it was certainly the crest of the One-winged Eagle.
Just how many ingots were piled up here?
By just going from one part to another randomly and judging by the height, there was surely more than several hundred.

My mind is already blank, so I can't do a good calculation.
......Even a moderate guess would put it above several billion yen.
"That's right..., of course......After all, there's 10 tons of gold, right...?  At the current value, that's more than 20 billion yen of gold, right...?  I, ...I found it, .....before anyone else, .........I found it!!  Ahaha, wahahahahahahaha, ahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!"
In front of the mountain of gold, I spread my arms and looked up at the ceiling.
A laugh without a trace of dignity flowed out from my entire body.

I had no intention of laughing in a weird way, ...but, but, I couldn't hold back the happy feeling that flowed throughout my entire body.
......My older brother probably wouldn't accept his loss just because I had found this gold.
...But from now on, there would be no changing the fact that I had been the one to find the gold...!
To steal the headship of the family, I would still probably need some subtle tactics.
But after everything I've gone through until now, that's a completely trivial problem.

Even if I lost out on the inheritance of the Ushiromiya family and everything...
...I already have 20 billion yen worth of gold!!
"Hahahaha, a-hah-hah-hah-hah-ha!!  I did think that money was such a worthless thing.  I'd thought that there are many things in this world that you can't buy with money.  ...But now I understand that that's just a lie!  That's just an excuse that those who don't have it make for themselves!!
In front of this mountain of gold, I've finally realized something so obvious...!!  By using this money, I can give birth to all the happiness in this world!  With this money, my husband's company is already fine.  We will always be happy as a family.  And I can even leave a vast amount of money to George...!!
The rest of the relatives will eventually be ruined and disappear.  At that time, George will use this gold, and just like Grandfather did, he will revive the Ushiromiya family's lost honor.  ......George is the true successor of the Ushiromiya family!!"
It happened!!!  My wish was granted!!

That dream I have wished for ever since I was born into this world as Ushiromiya Eva, has been granted completely in this very moment...!!

My husband and I will be happy for all eternity.
And I can also give my only son, George, eternal happiness!!
There's no way I'll waste it on foolish pleasures!!
My older brother has chewed up the Ushiromiya family, but George and I will revive it!

And that means that I truly have succeeded the headship of the Ushiromiya family!!
"I was successful...  I did it, ...dear..., George.........I, ......finally succeeded, ......as a mother.........After this, we won't be threatened by anyone...  Whaaaaaa, whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!"

That's right, after this, never again will we be smothered by sad nights.
Congratulations, me.
Congratulations, Ushiromiya Eva.

......Right here, right now, the sad half of our life will have its heart's desire granted.
"It's all thanks to you...  I was given this chance because of your magic.  Because of that chance, I was able to make it here...!"
...Thank you.
But my magic couldn't have been granted if we both didn't believe in each other.
So it isn't just the power of my magic.
This is our victory.

Because of that, congratulations, 'us'.
"Thank you, me...  Thank you, Ushiromiya Eva.........I'm glad I didn't give in before now.  I'm glad that I didn't drown in sorrow and forget to keep struggling............No, this is my magic.  Our magic!  Your magic was the real thing.  Beatrice, the witch of the forest, is nothing more than an illusion.  You are the real witch, who can use real magic.  ......That's right.  Right now, you are the Golden Witch, Beatrice!!"
Eva decided to leave that place for the time being.
When she climbed the stairs again, trying to leave this secret place...

......She saw a creepy, swaying human shadow blocking her path, and her dreamlike state was blown away.
"..................Who is it?!"
For an instant, ...she believed that the true master of this room, the real Beatrice, had appeared.
It seemed that the other person was also holding a gun.
The two of them were pointing guns at each other.

And eventually, they each realized who the other was...

".........Rosa.........?"
"...Nee-san............What are you doing in a place like this...?"
"That's my line.  What business do you have in a place such as this?"

"......I shouldn't have given you that hint, Nee-san.  If I hadn't, I definitely would have been the first to reach this place.  .........Too bad."

It seemed that Rosa knew where this staircase went, and what was waiting ahead of her.

"So you say.  .........Even though I reached this place before you."
".........I worried too much about the sweetfish river.  The sweetfish part didn't really matter that much at all, did it?"

"That isn't true.  It was an excellent hint, wasn't it?  Well, of course, maybe there was no need for it to be sweetfish.  ...But when I heard that sweetfish are fish that go out into the sea, I was able to figure it out."

"......What is inside?"
"Why not see with your own eyes?  It definitely won't betray your expectations."
"..................Don't be afraid, Nee-san.  I never had any interest in who became the head.  I don't even care about the Ushiromiya family name.  ......Honestly, I actually feel good about you stealing the position of head from Krauss, who was always swaggering around because of it."
"............Are you serious?"
"Of course.  I am the outsider of the Ushiromiya siblings.  ......Even if Father had named me as the next head, there's no way Nii-san would accept that.  I try not to have such naive dreams."
"........................"
"Let me see too.  The proof of your victory, Nee-san.  ......As long as I receive the proper portion that the siblings agreed upon, I plan to actively accept you as the true victor in this 'game'."

"............If you shoot me, then you would have this gold all to yourself, right?"

"It's the same for you.  If you shoot me, this gold would all be yours."
"........................"
For a tense moment, the sisters pointed their guns at each other.
Eventually, after they sized up the glint in the other's eyes, they lowered their guns.
...Eva removed her finger from the trigger, and held the gun upside-down.

It was a position that she couldn't quickly shoot from.
When she saw that, Rosa held hers the same way.
"......That's right.  That plan of shooting the other and having all the gold to ourselves is fascinating for both of us.  ...But if one of us suddenly disappeared on this island while it's isolated by the typhoon, there would be a huge uproar.  ......If we hid the corpse here, it probably wouldn't be found easily, but that isn't for certain."

".........No matter how many billion yen worth of gold is on the line, it isn't worth the risk of committing murder.  In the end, that would become an excuse for Krauss nii-san and the others to take advantage of us."

"I agree.  ......It may have been a blessing in disguise that you were the one to show up, ......instead of Nii-san or Rudolf.  ...I trust you the most of all the siblings."

"............Thank you.  I also trust you the most of the siblings, Nee-san."
"........................"

"............I want to see the gold too."
"Do you?  Now I also want to see it again.  Even though I saw it with my own eyes, it still doesn't feel real.  ...Unless I see it together with you and check once more that it actually exists, it feels like the gold will turn to fog and disappear."
Eva started descending the staircase once more.
......However, she didn't carelessly expose her back to Rosa.

Even though, at a glance, it looked like Rosa had lowered her guard, she definitely didn't show any signs of carelessness.
......And they reached that room of the witch once again.
Rosa also gasped, made speechless by the vast amount of gold...
......Rosa and Eva walked absentmindedly through the rose garden.

They had left the guesthouse secretly, so they had to be careful when they returned.
They had to regain their sense of tension soon.

"......Congratulations, Nee-san."
"Thank you."

"You decided it, didn't you Nee-san?  50% goes to the title of the successor to the head.  ......It sure did work out well for you.  Now, that portion isn't Krauss nii-san's.  ...So your share is now 50% along with a quarter of the rest, for a total of 12.5 billion yen.

Isn't that an incredible share?  ...I'm satisfied with 2.5 billion.  Rudolf nii-san won't complain either.  Krauss nii-san will probably be the only one to complain."

"......Yeah, you're right.  ...After all, Nii-san is the practical manager of Rokkenjima.  And since the gold was on these premises, even though I was the first to discover it, things might get complicated if I don't handle it skillfully."
"It won't get complicated.  Didn't we give it our all in that discussion last night with that in mind?"

"............I wonder if it will really go that smoothly.  I've already completely gotten over my excitement.  How we regulate everything from here on is the real problem."
"...That is a problem for the new head of the Ushiromiya family.  You should enjoy that problem, Nee-san.  It has nothing to do with me."

"Hmm, so you say..."
"......I'll support you as the second person to find it.  If you would at least give me the early payment we decided on.  My 150 million yen within three months."

"Yes, that's fine.  ......If you support me, I can graciously pay you that much.  I am not Nii-san."
"Anyways, why don't we go and shock Nii-san and the others?  Even if we cover up the actual location, I want to see Krauss nii-san's shocked face as soon as I can."
"........................Wait a second, Rosa.  Wait a while before telling everyone about it."
"...............HuhHuh?  ...Why?"
"...You idiot, isn't it obvious?  ...This is that haughty Krauss nii-san and that sly Rudolf we're talking about.  Even if we announce it eventually, it's still too early now.
Unless we carefully investigate how we should move things along first, it's possible that all of the gold we've finally found will be snatched away by Nii-san."

Eva had tried to say it as though it was completely obvious.
...So when she saw Rosa's expression suddenly cloud over, she was a little surprised.

"......What are you unsatisfied about?  You should also know what kind of a person Krauss nii-san is."

"............Nee-san, that's against the rules."
"What do you mean?"

"......Didn't we make a rule that whoever found the gold would announce it immediately?  If you hesitate, the foundation of the rules will be destroyed, and that could lead to something worse in the future.  ...With Krauss nii-san as crafty as he is, that violation of the rules will grow worse with time."

"That's stupid.  This is Nii-san's island.  And that gold just now wasn't cash.  We're talking about the liquidation of a vast 10 ton mountain, right?

It will take a significant amount of time to carry it off and turn it into cash.  And that will only work in Nii-san's favor, since he has practical control over this island.  Don't you even realize that?!"

"..................I don't like it when you search each other for weaknesses like that.  I just want to clearly specify my 2.5 billion portion.

Of course, if you were to give me 2.5 billion in cash right now, whatever you did next would be up to you.  But until I have my share in my own pocket, I will follow the siblings' rules."

"You're so naive...  You don't understand Nii-san's craftiness at all!"
......It wasn't that Rosa didn't understand the craftiness of her older siblings.

In that sense, Rosa more or less understood Eva's caution.
But in her heart, she couldn't clear away her suspicion that Eva wanted to keep all of the gold to herself.

......Because she knew that Eva was at least as crafty as her other siblings.

In other words, Rosa wanted to put a stop to any chance Eva had to keep the gold all to herself, by quickly informing the siblings of the gold's discovery...

"..................Rosa.  Sorry, but at least listen to me this once."
".........Are you saying that if I don't listen to what you say, you won't be able to prepare the 150 million?"

"...............That isn't the way I wanted to say it.  ...But if you really need that money, it's more realistic to support me.  ......If you talk to Nii-san and Rudolf, even that natural portion of yours might disappear.  You don't want that, do you?"

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

For a while, a severe expression that she had never shown to her sister before rose to Rosa's face.

There wasn't even a trace of her restraint as a younger sister.
......There was just the ruthlessness, no, the seriousness of a single human arguing about a vast sum of wealth.

Eva made light of it, chuckling.

"......My, my.  How careless we must be to stand around here talking like this, even though a frightful murder case has just taken place, and the culprit still may be on this island."

"I'm sure it's just the servants' farce.  No murder case ever occurred on this island."
"......Oh.  So you really do think that?"

"It can be clearly explained by the manner of the six deaths.  The closed room with those six people definitely couldn't be created by a crime from the outside.

......Doctor Nanjo said that they were all dead, but that was also a lie.  This is all a complicated act that Father plotted.  All of the servants are just pretending to be dead.  ...A murder never occurred in the first place.  There's no way that there's a murderer prowling around."

"...Aha.  I'm surprised that you would notice that.  You looked fairly frightened, so I hadn't thought that you realized that much."
"......I'm a person who can read between the lines in that kind of situation.  Thanks to that, I've been well trained."
That's right.  Come to think of it, now that the servants are 'dead', everyone on this island is a member of the Ushiromiya family.

And after Nanjo had proclaimed the 'deaths' of the servants, when the relatives had begun to discuss the riddle of the epitaph, he had disappeared off to the second floor as though he was in the way...
"Everything, is an act to get us to challenge that epitaph.  ......Therefore, you need to proclaim that you are the victor, Nee-san.
There's no way that burnt corpse is really Father.  ......He prepared a corpse with the right number of toes from somewhere, and went to all the trouble of burning it for his nasty hobby."
"......I'm sure he's hiding somewhere, watching to see how we'll behave.  ...I'm sure he already knows that you have reached the Golden Land, Nee-san.
......Therefore, you should proclaim that you are the winner soon.  I'm sure Father will appear out of nowhere and proclaim that you are his successor while clapping his hands."

"............................................."
"...Well, still.  ......I have to pester you for 150 million, so I can't work against you in anything."

".........So you'll listen to what I say, and be quiet about this to Nii-san and the rest...?"
"........................"

"......Make your position clear.  ...Rosa."

"............I want to tell them.  We just made that rule last night.  We shouldn't just throw that away."

"Of course, I will announce it in front of the siblings.  ...However, I want to closely inspect the situation first.  Carrying out 10 tons of gold, converting it into money, and a fair distribution.

......Until I have proof that I can carry that out without Nii-san getting in the way, I want some time to think.  I only want to hold off my announcement until then.  .........I'm definitely not keeping it secret because I want it all for myself."

"...............You'll definitely announce it to everyone sooner or later, right?"
"...Yes, of course.  I also want to rub it in Nii-san's face as soon as I can."

".........About how much time will you need to think?"
"I won't know that until I've thought about it."

"............Would one night be enough?"
"I can't promise you that it will take only one night...!"
"Out of respect for the next head, I will support you for one night.  ......This year's family conference will end tomorrow morning, when the typhoon passes and a boat comes to get us. ...That's right, when the seagulls cry.  ......I will remain silent until then.
If you think that you need more time to think after that, ...let's talk about it again at that time, alright?

.........I will support your position

as much as possible・・・・・・・・."

"...........................You, ......really are cunning, aren't you?  ...I'm surprised.  Were you always this sturdy?"
"......It's true that women become stronger when they have a child.  I realized that in myself when I had Maria."

"............Understood.  I thank you for your cooperation for the time being.  ...We can talk about tomorrow when it comes."

"Yes, that's right.  ......I believe that you will be a fair-minded successor to the head, who wouldn't even think of taking all of the gold for herself."

"...Isn't that obvious!  ......I will split the gold evenly among the siblings."
No way.  I found this.
Because I, we solved the riddle of the epitaph!

So this gold is all mine...!!
"I won't give it up to anyone!  I am the head of the Ushiromiya family!  I am, "I" am!!"

The witch inside Eva claimed exclusive possession in a loud voice.
...Of course, that didn't reach even close to Rosa's ears, and it probably didn't reach Eva's either.
"......Hmm.  I shall acknowledge that.  You are the true head of the Ushiromiya family, chosen by the witch's epitaph.  Now, I shall acknowledge that upon my name."

"...Y, .........you are.........?  That outfit, you couldn't be, ......really, ...Beatrice......?"

Maybe Beatrice was happy that Eva had called her by her own name.
She cackled pleasantly.

In concert with that laugh, gold butterflies crept up as though a storm of gold dust was spinning around the room, and the room shone the color of gold...

"Indeed.  I am the Golden Witch, Beatrice.  ......*cackle*cackle*, there is nothing that should frighten you so.  I am praising your exploits.  ...Truly excellent.  Imagine that you would spectacularly solve that riddle of the epitaph...  It is worthy of my admiration...!"

"...You were the one who sent that letter?  So I'll succeed all of the gold and the Ushiromiya family inheritance, right...?  You wrote that in your letter.  And I overcame that challenge...!"

"Hmmm.  I shall acknowledge it.  Now, all of this piled up gold, everything of the Ushiromiya family, is for you to do with as you please.  After all, from this moment on, you are already the Ushiromiya family head."

"R, ......really?  It's true, right?  Right?!"
"Do not be agitated.  I am openly praising you.  As proof, I shall grant you this."
Beatrice took a ring off of her own finger, and held it out to Eva.

She fearfully accepted it, ......and realized that it was a ring.
"......C, ......could........., this be............"
"Hmm.  It is the proof of the Ushiromiya family headship, returned to me from Kinzo, the Golden Ring.  From now on, it is yours.  You may put it on your finger and display it high before your siblings.  No one should doubt that you have now succeeded the Ushiromiya family inheritance."
Eva stared closely at the ring.

...It certainly wasn't a fake.
...Without a doubt, it was the real thing.

She had dreamed of receiving this ring someday, focused on this day over and over again, and it was now finally a certainty.
This ring, had now designated her as the head, ......and had been handed over to her......
And timidly, ...she put it on the middle finger of her left hand...
In that instant, ......she felt a deep emotion piling up inside her that she had never felt before.

Her mind grew blank.
Both eyes were opened.
That ring, ...was on her own finger.
Not in a dream, in reality............!
"That ring is also pleased.  Because it was able to come to you and fit itself on your finger as it dreamed of doing."
"......The ring.........Father's......ring............!"
"How many nights have you dreamed of putting that on your own finger as you have done now?  ......The strength of those feelings became your magic and materialized itself.  Now, you are worthy of calling yourself a great witch."
"............W, ...who are you?  ...Are you really, ......Beatrice......"
"*cackle*cackle*.  I am the Golden Witch Beatrice!  Alchemist to the Ushiromiya family!  Following my contract with Kinzo, I will now pass everything on to you.  ...All of the gold I entrusted Kinzo with.  And all of the wealth he built up through that.  And the honor and inheritance of the Ushiromiya family.  And, I will pass on my power and the title of the Endless Witch."
"......The title, ......of the witch......"
"I will pass on all of my magical power, and the title of the Golden Witch, the Endless Witch.  ......Following my Predecessor, I will hand over my name, Beatrice, along with that title.  ......You may now call yourself by that name!"

Eva gulped.
The chandelier light, which had seemed dim, now felt too bright.
"By my name, I shall now carry out the succession of the Golden Witch...!"
The instant that Beatrice made that proclamation, everything was buried by a golden sparkle, ......and changed into a majestic place that looked like an audience hall.

In the audience hall, there was a crowd of Beatrice's family and brethren, as well as countless gold butterflies celebrating this first succession ceremony in a thousand years.
When she looked, she saw Beatrice in the throne that only the Endless Witch was permitted to sit in, holding a golden staff, reigning with a dazzling dignity.

Without being ordered by anyone, Eva automatically kneeled, hanging her head...
A goat attendant respectfully handed Beatrice a golden staff in the shape of the One-winged Eagle.

After Beatrice stood up and received that staff, she lay the tip of it on Eva's shoulder and spoke.  It was a proclamation one thousand years in coming.
"Ushiromiya Eva.  You have spectacularly solved the riddle of the witch's epitaph, and reached the Golden Land.  ......I praise that accomplishment, and hand over all of the Endless Magic as well as the titles of the Golden and Endless Witch.
From this point on, you may take my name, Beatrice...!  Come, raise your face.  Then stand and accept this staff...!"
"I, ......I am most grateful..."

Eva stood up dizzily and took the magic staff from Beatrice's hand.  Her hand was trembling slightly.
As soon as she grasped that staff.
......She was wrapped up in the brilliant sparkle of gold.
As though gold butterflies were flowing out from inside of her.
In the instant she succeeded the Golden Witch, Eva felt something in the depths of her soul be reborn.

To describe it in a word, it was energy.
Energy with a gold color.
It felt like she was waking up, ......as though she had been half asleep since she had been born and was opening her eyes for the first time.

It felt as though her true eyes inside her eyes were opened for the first time in her life.

".........Hmm.  A fitting and beautiful outfit for the Golden Witch.  Come, you may show yourself to all of these people.  You may show them that you are now the new witch...!"
Eva, ......no, the new Beatrice turned around timidly.

When she did, the witch's family, which filled the vast audience hall, honored her with an applause that sounded like the roaring of the sea......
"Come, everyone.  Replace all of the portraits of Beatrice with the new Beatrice!  Lift up words of celebration for the new Beatrice...!!"
"New Beatrice.  Congratulations on the succession of the Golden Witch.  ...I hope that you will become able to stand on your own as a proud Golden Witch, and as the Endless Witch."

"Y, .........yes, ...I will do my best..."

"I expect a composure fitting for the Endless Witch from you, unlike your naughty predecessor.  Hoh-hohohohoho."
"Teacheer, we're in the middle of a serious ceremony, so please, enough of that."

"Congratulations on the succession of the Golden Witch.  New Beatrice-sama.  ......I am called Ronove.  I am one of the 72 demons permitted to serve the Golden Witch.

From now on, I will always be waiting at your side.  If there is ever any inconvenience, please say so at any time."

"......Th, ......thank you......"

"Ronove is rude but reliable.  If you speak to this man of anything that confuses you in your new days as a witch, he should be able to help you."

".........And, predecessor Beatrice-sama, it is a shame that I was not permitted to serve you further, even though we have finally been reunited like this.  ......These last thousand years have been very entertaining for me.  I deeply thank you."

"Hmm.  ......One thousand years with you wasn't boring.  ...Please, take care of the new witch."
"Yes.  I, Ronove, ...will certainly listen to the predecessor Beatrice's final order."
"Thank me, alright?  I signed to recommend you for the succession of the witch, alright?  In other words, if I hadn't signed, you wouldn't have been able to become the witch.  So thank me a little, alright?!"

"This is the Witch of Certainty, Lady Lambdadelta.  The recommendation of a witch from the senate was required for your succession as an Endless Witch.  Lady Lambdadelta recommended you, and became your guardian."
"Th, ......thank you......"

"......He-y, Beato-!  This kid isn't grateful enough!  I'll stop recommending her!"
"The person who recommended her shouldn't act like a child, right?  If you've signed, then just take responsibility."

"Lady Lambdadelta is also the Witch of Certainty.  ......The Witch of Certainty prefers to make fate firm, to create a fate of Certainty.  She really liked and highly valued your efforts until today."

"Well, a misfortunate childhood, unrewarded effort...I can sympathize ju-st a bit with that.  It's not like I felt sorry for you or anything, don't be so full of yourself!  Tsu-n!"

"......From my point of view, your succession, well, it's more of a coincidence than a miracle.  It isn't worthy of my recommendation."

"*cackle*.  This is Lady Bernkastel.  She's a very hard-to-please person.  Still, you could say that just having her participate and celebrate is very fortunate."
".........I only came because this is a rare event after one thousand years.  And I heard that there would be some delicious sake."

"New Beatrice-sama.  Please, greet us as well."
"Huh, ...ah, ...I'm pleased to meet you..."

The Seven Sisters of Purgatory were gathered in a line.
The eldest sister, Lucifer, took a step forward and kneeled.
"These are furniture who serve me.  As a gift in celebration of your inheritance, I will send them to you.  ......After you succeed the Golden Witch, you will also need to perform the resurrection ceremony for yourself.  The Seven Sisters of Purgatory perform an essential role in that ceremony.  ......They're a villainous group, but they serve their purpose.  Have them do whatever you wish."

"We will always be by Beatrice-sama's side.  Please order us to do anything you wish.  We will certainly show that we can accomplish our task...!"
Even after that, various nobles and relatives visited and offered words of congratulation for the new witch.

As she responded to them confusedly, she felt as though she was getting light-headed due to lack of oxygen.
......She couldn't tell if this was something real or unreal.

But there was just one thing she could understand.
A feeling of achievement at being permitted to call herself the Golden Witch.
...That alone was a truth she could definitely understand...
"............What, ......is all this?  Of course, I'm not going to swallow this story, ...but what in the world does it mean?!  Eva oba-san is the new Beatrice?  Are you saying she's become a witch?  ......What the hell...!!"

"I was also surprised.  Imagine that someone would be able to solve that riddle.  ......However, that is the rule.  I must follow it, and pass on the position of Golden Witch and my name."

"It is hardly something to be surprised about.  From the beginning, Milady wrote that rule in a letter and announced it.  ......Eva-sama was the first to be successful.  That is all there is to say."

"......Virgilia, are you there?!"
"Yes, here I am..."

"What does this farce mean?!  Even if this depiction of strange witches showing up one after another is some of her bullshit...!  ......Isn't this like Eva oba-san has become a witch?!"

"Calm yourself.  She has simply received the title of 'Endless Witch', and might call herself that in the future.  ......This succession ceremony is certainly nothing more than an act to promote that child's 'explanation'.  Don't fall for the same move again."

"Th, ...that's right...  That whole grand ceremony was all phony.  But it's at least a fact that Eva oba-san solved the riddle of the epitaph.  ......And at the same time, that means that she succeeded the Ushiromiya family inheritance.

......And by obtaining 10 tons of gold, ......it means that Eva oba-san might as well call herself the 'Golden Witch'..., is that it...?  Damn, it's as complicated as ever...!!"
"...My, my.  Is a boorish human unable to comprehend the grandeur of this ceremony?  ......Oh, well.  Being unable to read between the lines is what makes you human.  I pity you, but I do not blame you."

"Damn it...  Don't look at me like you feel sorry for me............Still, for the time being, there's something I need to check.

And that's regarding this younger version of Eva oba-san, ...in other words, the definition of this new Beatrice.  ......What is that?!"

"Even if I tell of it, you will just persist in your disbelief in magic and witches, right?  So there's nothing in particular for me to explain.  You may believe that things are as you think they are."

"......The way I think things are...?!  Then, then how should I interpret this...?!"

"For now, grasping it as a visualization of a different being inside Ushiromiya Eva may not be a hinderance, I believe."
"...Of course, you cannot blindly accept it, but it is probably appropriate for you to think that way now."
"............I, in other words, I should think that Eva oba-san and her are the same person?  ......Damn, ...this is starting to feel bad..."

"In that case, from now on, my name is not Beatrice.  Because I have passed it on to Ushiromiya Eva.  ......Which means that I am nameless!  Battleer, isn't there some name that is fitting for me?  I shall take your recommendation!  Isn't there a name that's refined, full of elegance, and make it a little cute if you can...!"

"...It's fine if you stay as Beato.  There's probably enough of a difference between Beato and Beatrice."
"M, ...muu.  Stay as Beato, is it...  It doesn't feel odd, but it's boring for some reason.  Muu."

"Pu ku ku ku ku...  They say the temperature of black tea and a woman's heart are difficult in any time period."

".........Battler-kun.  Anyways, be calm after this.  Compared to when this child was Beatrice, now that we can tell her apart from Ushiromiya Eva, the situation is advantageous to us."
"......And it's exactly because of that, ...that I like it even less. ......What is she thinking of?  That Beato........."
Over there, the witches formed a long line to bless Eva oba-san, who had the figure of her younger days and who now possessed the name Beatrice.
It was like a witch's coronation.

The countless gold butterflies flapped their wings, directing this fantastical, gold-sparkling space.
They were all praising her.
As I stared from the distance, I looked at the reborn Beatrice, who had a slightly embarrassed smile on her face.

......Her expression, which had been confused at first, seemed to be full of a happiness that she had finally become aware of.
In that expression, there wasn't a trace of the insane laugh from standing before the gold.
There was just an innocence which reflected upon her own joy.
Since I denied witches, I couldn't put on a joyful expression at this witch succession ceremony and accept her...

......However, when I looked at that innocent smile, it made me feel like I wanted to bless that, just for now.
The moment when a strong effort is successful and rewarded is always beautiful.

Eva oba-san, who had always yearned to succeed the head, and had worked hard since she was young without being rewarded, ......had spectacularly taken hold of the chance given to her by the riddle of the epitaph, ...and had finally gained that position.
How divine is the smile of a person whose childhood dreams have been granted?
I definitely won't accept witches.
But, ......Battler put his hands together, making a small sound.
*clap*.  *clap*.

......It didn't reach her ears, ...but it did bless her.

".........Congratulations, Eva oba-san."

You spectacularly solved the riddle of the epitaph before anyone else.  It's your victory without any complaints.

.........I won't accept all that about the Golden Witch and so on, but I will accept you as the new head of the Ushiromiya family and I will celebrate honestly.

"............Hmph."

As though dragged along by Battler's applause, Beato also clapped.

...It was a slightly odd scene.
Because Battler and Beato, who opposed each other, were standing next to each other, applauding for the same person.

"I'm not applauding for a witch.  ...I'm applauding for all of Eva oba-san's efforts up until now."
"I am too.  I am honestly applauding as a blessing to Eva, who spectacularly solved that epitaph."

".........Hmm.  ...I don't like applauding with you.  ...But, well, I've decided that I won't worry about it now.  ...Divine punishment won't fall on me just because I applaud with you every once in a while."

"Hmm.  It isn't bad once in a while.  ......Still, it is fun to applaud.  Even though it was Eva who was successful and not me, for some reason, I'm starting to feel happy too."

"That's because blessing someone means the same thing as sympathizing and sharing with them."
"I see.  Then, I have even shared this irrational happy feeling with you.  ......Since we are a pair of enemies trying to make each other surrender, it is an odd experience."

"Well, ......just for now, let's have a truce and clap, alright?"

Beato laughed impishly, playing around and applauding even louder, as though eagerly trying not to lose to Battler as she clapped.

Battler went along with her, and clapped even louder.
When he did, as though some ceremony had ended, everyone applauded and highly praised the reborn Beatrice.

It was just as though Battler's and Beato's applause had been the final thing needed for her succession......

The New Witch

Sun, Oct 5 1986 10:30AM
Rosa returned to the lobby.

It was still her time to rest, but her expression made it look as though she couldn't sleep deeply with all this tension.

"......Take it easy and lie down.  It'll get tough later on at this rate."
"Thanks for your concern.  I just can't sleep.  ......If you just let me take a shower, that will be enough.  The next person can rest."

"What about you two, Kyrie-san?  Rudolf-san?"
"......What will we do, Rudolf-san?  Will we rest?"

"You can rest.  I'll stay awake.  That's the only manly thing I can do right now."
"Then I'll stay awake.  Staying awake with my husband is the only womanly thing I can do right now."

"......*giggle*.  You two truly are close."
"You should talk.  *giggle*."
"It seems that Eva and Hideyoshi-san are out cold.  It appears as though unlike Rosa, they can't fight against their age."

As though in response to those words, the door to the hall clunked open.
Eva and Hideyoshi returned from the guest room.

"That's none of your business.  ...Oh, Rosa, are you still alright without sleeping?"
"You should talk, Nee-san.  Why not take it easy and rest?"

"............I just can't get to sleep.  After taking a shower, my drowsiness faded away.  Rudolf, Kyrie-san, you can rest if you want."
"Sure, thanks.  Well, I appreciate the sentiment.  Why don't you go first, Aniki?"

"How kind of you.  But I cannot rest first.  That is the most I can do as the oldest brother."
"Do not worry, the two of us will be awake until the very end."

"......*giggle*.  .........More importantly, Eva nee-san, are you alright?  You look a little pale."
"......Come to think of it, yer right.  ......Hmmm?  Could it be a bit of a fever?"

Hideyoshi put his hand up against Eva's forehead.
...It seemed that Eva wasn't feeling her best.

"That goes without saying.  ...It's because you broke your daily cycle at your age.  ......Is it a cold?"
"...Natsuhi.  Could you call Doctor Nanjo down?"
"Y, yes."

"...I'm fine, you don't have to make such a big deal out of it.  I have some medicine, so I'll be fine.  ......I tend to get a fever when I'm tired.  Don't worry."
"......Nee-san, take it easy, okay?"

".........Thank you.  ...If the siblings were gathered without me around, I get the feeling everyone would start talking behind my back.  ...It's a persecution complex from long ago.  Sorry, okay?"

"............I won't say anything.  To think that I would say something bad about you when you're away, Nee-san."
"........................"

"......What is it?  Nee-san, you've been acting strange for a while?  Shouldn't you get a little rest now?"

"............You're right.  Just thinking

about raising money by March・・・・・・・・・・ makes my headache hurt even worse."

"That isn't good.  Rest.  ...I'll restrain myself so that your headache doesn't get worse.  I've had a bad headache myself for a while now."

".........Thank you.  ......Well then, I'll count on what you've said and rest for a while."

"What is it, Eva?  Why so angry all of a sudden?  ......Sorry, please let us rest a lil' longer.  Sorry, sorry..."

After apologizing several times as though praying, Hideyoshi went after Eva, and left the lobby.

"............I don't like this atmosphere.  Everything's so strained."
"That's no surprise.  ......There was a murder early this morning.  And since then, we've been eating canned food and holding guns.  ...It's natural that we would start to build up stress."

"I wonder if the kids up there are also building up stress.  ......I'm worried about Maria.  She tends to get irritable in times like this."
At that time, they heard the sound of wild footsteps from the second floor.
The guesthouse wasn't a cheap building, so they wouldn't normally have heard the sound of footsteps.
It was like the sound of someone stamping their feet in frustration.

And in a flash, in addition to the sound which seemed to be caused by her running around the second floor, they could hear Maria calling uu-uu-uu- over and over again, sounding displeased.
Rosa grabbed her head, her hair flying, and she voicelessly moaned in anguish...

The adults conscientiously turned their backs to her, pretending not to notice.
The noisy clamor came down from the second floor and flew into the lobby.

It was Maria, who was sobbing, along with the other children and Nanjo.
...In other words, they had all come downstairs because of Maria's tantrum.

Rosa couldn't hide her dizziness at this new annoyance her daughter was bringing to everyone...

"S, sorry, Rosa oba-san...  We tried to calm her, but she just wouldn't listen..."

"Uu-uu-uu-!!  Uu-uu-uu-!!  Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhh!!""...What is it, Maria?  Could you be a little more quiet?  Everyone's looking."

"It's that rose of hers from the rose garden...  She suddenly started saying that she was worried about it."
"......It looks like she's half asleep.  She suddenly woke up, and started going on about how worried she was for that rose.  .........Maria-chan, calm down.  That was just a dream..."
"Uu-uu-uu-uu-!!  That was Beatrice's and Maria's ro-se!!  So if Maria doesn't take care of it, Beatrice will get ma-d!!  It might be broken again!  Uu-uu-uu-!  Uu-uu-uu-uu-!!"
"......Aaah, ...I'm telling you to quiet down a bit, alright?!?!"
The sudden rise in the tone of Rosa's voice surprised the children.
But Maria's crying just grew louder, and her tantrum just grew fiercer.
"R, ...Rosa-san.  You mustn't scold a child unsparingly......In times like this, it is good to give them some warm milk or something."

"......Is there any here?"
"After taking the milk out for breakfast earlier, it is now empty..."

"Doesn't anyone have a sedative to use on kids...?  You know, those silver pill things?"
"I have them!!  Yes, I'll search for them now and give them to her!!"

Without hiding her displeasure, Rosa grabbed the handbag that had been set on the sofa and fished around for some medicine.  ......It seemed that she had brought some child-use sedatives for Maria's tantrums.
She found it and opened the bottle, but it must have been empty.
Irritated, Rosa shook the bottle several times, but that didn't change the fact that nothing was in there.

...As she did that, Maria's crying grew even more intense...
At that time, Eva was lying on the bed, covered by the bedding.

Hideyoshi returned from the washroom, folding a handkerchief soaked in water.
"......My, this is one nasty fever.........I'm sure it's the poisonous air at this family conference that got ya.........For now, ya can forget all 'bout the other relatives.  ...Alright?"
As Hideyoshi spoke to her kindly, he set the soaked handkerchief on Eva's burning forehead.

Eva rested her own hand on top of his.
".........Your hand, ...feels pleasantly cool."
"If my hand feels pleasant, yer fever must be pretty bad.  Dun' worry, the medicine will start workin' soon.  'n, my hand is a magic hand.  If I just put my hand up against yer forehead like this, any fever will melt right away."
"You're right.  ......Your hand always makes my fevers fade..."
"Yep.  No need for a doctor when ya've got my hand.  Dun' worry 'n close yer eyes.  ......Because the fever will start fading away thanks to my magic..."
"Yes, I know.........I can feel your magic."

Hideyoshi was about to call that the placebo effect, but he stopped.
......If Eva said that she could feel magic from his hand, then that was alright for now...
"............I wonder if magic really exists."
"Yeah.  It does.  Only those who believe can understand, though.  ...There's actually a lot of magic like that out there in the world."
"...If magic actually exists, ......then I wonder if witches actually exist too."
"Oh?  Ya mean that witch of the forest, Beatrice?  She probably does exist for those who believe.  Just like God.  Won't show itself except in front of those who strongly believe."
"............It's the same with me.  ...Long ago, I was able to use magic."
"Oh.  Really?  Then ya were also a witch."
"......You know, I had a dream that I wanted to come true no matter what.  After wishing strongly and trying hard, it came true without fail.  ......With my magic, my grades were always the best, and I even became the student council president, and worked hard to get into the university I wanted.  ......Everything I wished for was granted."
"Thass right.  Yer magic was always a thing to be reckoned with...  Yer definitely a witch.  ...And ya work harder than anyone.  ......I know a-ll 'bout it."
"............You know, when I was a kid, the whole time, there was another me inside myself, who always supported me.  ...And that other self was a witch.
.........I didn't believe in Beatrice, the witch of the forest.  I always believed that if a witch of Rokkenjima did exist, it was the witch inside my heart.  .........I was so grateful to that witch inside myself.  ...I was always grateful, ......that she let me meet up with you..."
"............Yer always too timid when ya get sick.  ...Dun' say anythin' for now.  ......I'll stay like this the whole time, until yer fever has gone down."
"......Yes.  ......No matter what, ......don't take your hand away.  .........Somehow, ......I feel like I'm becoming something that isn't myself, .....and I've been scared for a while now.  ...I get the feeling that the witch inside of me, was provoked by Beatrice, and is growing stronger and stronger.  ...Somehow, it feels like she's going to swallow me up."
"'s alright.  As long as I'm with ya, there's nu-thing to be afraid of!  Remember the time we went to that dangerous country 'n the whole bus was robbed?  I repelled 'em!"
"...Didn't you just hand over your gold watch and beg them to go away?  ......It was pretty lame, ...but it was cool...
............No matter what, ...don't move your hand away.........Not even if I fall asleep.  ......And even if something creepy sneaks inside, ...protect me..."
"Yep, leave it to me.  ......That's why I'm tellin' ya to stop worryin' 'n get to sleep.  Because the medicine 'n my magic will start workin' real soon..."

Eva finally calmed her heart and closed her eyes.
......At that time, there was the sound of a door being opened violently from the direction of the lobby.

It seemed that Maria was having a tantrum, and screams of uu-uu- could be heard, along with Rosa's rebuking yells.
...That probably hurt Eva's ears.
Or maybe she was holding back a headache.
Eva moaned as though in pain, and buried herself in the covers.
It was easy to guess what was happening.
Maria had probably had a tantrum for some reason, gone down to the lobby, and started arguing with Rosa as she scolded her daughter.

...And then, perhaps, that was too pitiful to be shown in front of the other relatives, so Rosa had taken Maria out into the corridor.
......Hideyoshi had no desire to interfere with Rosa and Maria's problem.
...But just for now, since Eva's condition was so bad, he wanted them to take their ruckus somewhere else.
"...Wait just a second.  I'll ask 'em to keep it down."
".........C, come back quickly..."
"Dun' worry, I won't leave this room."
Hideyoshi removed the chain, opened the door, and stuck his face out into the corridor.  He immediately met Rosa's gaze.
"...Everythin' alright, Rosa-san?"
"I'm sorry, did all this noise wake you up...?"
"Uu-uu-!  Uu-uu-uu-uu-!!!"
"...Maria-chan, sorry.  Eva oba-san isn't feelin' well, 'n she's tryin' to sleep.  Could ya quiet down a bit...?"
Maria's tone didn't change after being asked by Hideyoshi.
She kept crying uu-uu- and repeating 'Maria's rose, Maria's rose'.

Rosa slapped Maria's cheek, lifted her up while covering her mouth, and dragged her towards the entrance, trying to at least put some distance between her and Hideyoshi's room.
...She would still probably be lively for a while, but he had warned Rosa for the time being.
Relying on Rosa's actions as a mother, Hideyoshi closed the door.

".........Is Maria-chan having a tantrum again?"
"Looks like it.  ...It's tough for Rosa-san too.  ......Come to think of it, our George is almost too good to be true.  We should be grateful."
"............You're right.  .........Nn, ......hand."
"Oh, sorry, sorry.  ......Look, it's the magic hand."

He put his hand on Eva's forehead again.
......Maybe there really was magical power in that hand.
A truly peaceful look rose to Eva's face, and bit by bit, she began to drift off into the land of sleep.

As he had promised, Hideyoshi kept his hand on her forehead......
By the entrance, with her hand still against Maria's mouth, Rosa was at a loss at what to do next.

She hadn't been able to withstand everyone's gazes in the lobby, and had yelled at the children to go upstairs, dashing out of the lobby.
Then she had gone out into the corridor, only to have Hideyoshi say that she was too noisy.

Where should I go now?
......Where should I take this child who's having a tantrum?
She felt as though tears of frustration were about to come out...

As Maria kept struggling in an attempt to scream, Rosa put her mouth up to Maria's ear, and tried to persuade Maria in a properly calm voice.

".........Maria, do you really want to see the rose that much...?"

Maria nodded her head several times, moaning uu-uu-.

"...Why do you want to see the rose that much?  I'll listen as your mother, so will you tell me quietly?  I'll hit you if you scream."
"............Maria's rose...  Beatrice revived it.  ......It might have broken again......Maria's worried about that...  Can't sleep until she makes sure..."

In any event, it seemed that she was still upset about that marked rose from yesterday.

Rosa felt her headache throbbing again, but she was at least a little relieved that Maria had now stopped her screaming.

"Anyways, everyone is having a hard time right now.  So don't bother Mama and everyone else.  ......You can worry about that rose all you want tomorrow, when it stops raining.  So for now, listen to me...!"
"No.  ...No no no no.  Maria's Beatrice's rose......uuuu..., uu-uu-.  Waaaaaaaaaaahh!!"
Rosa reflexively covered Maria's mouth.
She had spoken a little too harshly, and had gotten her agitated again...

Rosa realized that it was partly her own fault and clicked her tongue in self-hatred.

But Maria thought that was directed at her, and her crying grew even fiercer...
"...I'm begging you, be quiet...  What can I do to make you stop crying?  What should I do to make you listen to what your Mama says?"

"......"

Suddenly.  Maria stopped crying so fast that it seemed unnatural.
......Then she turned around, and muttered.

"............If Maria can see her rose, Maria will be quiet until tomorrow."
"Really?"

"Yes.  ...If we go to the rose garden and see Maria's rose, Maria will be obedient."
"..............."

"Really, Mama."
"........................"
If it would keep Maria quiet for the time being, Rosa thought that even going out into this wind and rain would be a small price to pay.
She thought it might be a bit reckless.
............But in the end, no murder or anything of the sort had actually occurred.
All of that clamor since this morning had been a farce set up by Kinzo.
If you carefully thought about that chain of closed rooms, it clearly had to all be an act...

"......Will you really listen if you get to see the rose?"
"Yes.  Really, Mama.  ......Kihihi."
"........................"
"Ouch."

Rosa didn't overlook that creepy laugh, and lightly hit Maria with her fist.
And she shrugged, as though giving up.

"......Understood.  If it's just one look, then I'll agree.  Is that alright?"
"Yes, Mama.  I promise.  ......Kihihihihihihihihihihihihihihi."
Once again, Rosa tested the weight of her gun.

......It's alright.  It's only a farce.
There was never a murderer on this island in the first place...
"Damn it, wait, Rosa oba-san...!!  Are Rosa oba-san and Maria......, the sacrifices for the second twilight?!  Damn it damn it damn it, someone, notice them, tell them to stop!!  What are those guys in the living room and us kids doing?!!"

"Hmm.  They are being considerate of Rosa's pitiful relationship with her daughter, and are forcibly changing the subject.  The group you are in went up to the second floor, and are talking about something else while watching TV."

"You bastards!!  Someone, notice them!  Who's the closest, is it Hideyoshi oji-san?!  Please, notice that those two are leaving through the front door, aaaaaaaaaaaaaahhh!!"

"It won't reach, it won't reach, *cackle*!  Don't disturb their precious time together.  Fuhahahahahahaha...!"
Hideyoshi kept talking kindly, his hand on Eva's forehead.
He didn't notice that Rosa and Maria were going outside through the front door at all.
In that case, there was no way that the others in the lobby, which was even further away, would notice.
And the cousins' room on the second story was even worse...!
"Why are you so panicked?  Didn't you defeat me with that bold move, saying that the culprit died in an accident at the first twilight?
...Doesn't that mean that there is no longer a culprit on this island...?  *cackle*cackle*cackle*, what is there to be so worried about...?"

"Shut up, I can see right through you!!  Someone stop them, those two'll be killed!!  Someone, stop theeeeeeeeeeeeeeem, aaaaaaaaaaaaaahhh!!"
......There was no way that Battler's voiceless scream would reach Rosa or Maria.

The two of them could be seen in the rose garden.
The rain was still awful, but fortunately, the wind had died down a little.

...No, maybe that wasn't fortunate.
Because maybe, if the wind had been a little fiercer, Rosa might have hesitated to go outside...
"......Uu-, uu-, uu-...............Here it is...!"
Maria found her own rose with the gold lace and stared at it lovingly.

Rosa had accepted with the promise that Maria would only have one look at it, but she didn't want Maria to complain that it hadn't been enough later on, so she decided to go along with Maria until she was satisfied.
......She believed that there wasn't a culprit, but on the offchance that she was mistaken, they were now in an extremely dangerous position.

Rosa realized that faintly herself.
If things got bad, she would throw away her umbrella and ready her gun.
...After glancing at Maria's innocent happiness, Rosa gazed warily in all directions.
.................................?
......Were her eyes just tired?

Even though no one should have been there, she thought she saw something glitter in the dark rose garden.
...Gold-colored......?
It had to be her imagination.

Because, to Rosa, it seemed as though gold butterflies were dancing through the rose bushes...
"......Are ya alright, Eva...?  ...Take it easy, should I call Doctor Nanjo afta all...?!"
"I......, ......I'm alright.........Don't take your hand away.........I'm begging you, ......don't take your hand away......"

Eva was breathing wildly.
Beads of sweat were appearing on her forehead.
It certainly was true that she had stayed up all night last night, and that things had been rough since early this morning.  It wasn't odd that her body wasn't keeping up.

......Even though he understood that, Hideyoshi suspected that this sudden fever was the sign of some serious illness.
Several times, Hideyoshi decided to call Doctor Nanjo, but Eva resisted firmly, ...pleading with him and saying that it was even more important that he didn't take his hand away...
"I understand...  But ya must have Doctor Nanjo look at ya by lunchtime.  If ya can promise me that, I'll stay here the whole time, grippin' yer hand.  Tightly, like this."
"......Thank you.........I'm fine...  The magic of your hand will definitely make this fever subside......"

Even as she said that, Eva's harsh breathing didn't improve in the slightest.
"......Haah, ......haah, ......haahh.........Don't let go, ...don't let go......, haah, ......haahh, ............aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhh!!"
"Wh, ............who is it...?!"
She saw an umbrella moving from beyond the rose bush.
Rosa threw away her umbrella and wildly lifted her gun...

When she did, the shadow of a person beyond the bush, ......showed itself.

".........Uu-?  ......Eva oba-san.....................?"
"...You scared me.  It's you, Nee-san?  ............Do you have some business?  ...Do you want to continue our earlier discussion?"
"...........................Yes, that's right.  Our discussion about Father's gold."

"......Please, restrain yourself in front of Maria.  I will keep my promise, alright?  I won't get in the way of your conspiracy."
"............Conspiracy?  What's that?"

".........Whatever you're thinking, that's up to you.  I have no desire to get in the way.  So please, not in front of Maria.  As long as I get my share, that will be enough."
"Your share?  Fufufufufufufu, ahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha."

Eva started laughing in a creepy voice...
Rosa was startled, but Maria stared blankly.
.........Then Maria said just one thing.
".........Uu-......?  ............Oba-san, ............who are you...?"
"Hahahahahaha, ahhahhahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!  Your share?!  Who would give that to you...?!  All of that is mine!  It all belongs to me, the Golden Witch, Beatrice...!!!"
"Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa-...!""Eva!  Are ya alright, Eva!  Eva!  Eva!!"
"Hold on...!!  Don't let go!!  It's like I'm being taken away by someone who isn't me...!!  Hold on to my hand...  Don't let goooooooooooooo...!!!"
"When did you ever work hard?!  You never worked hard for anything!  You were always hiding in our shadows!  You always escaped from shadow to shadow without fighting, and yet, you really think yourself qualified to ask me for the Ushiromiya family gold...?!
All of that is mine!  It's all only mine, as the head of the Ushiromiya family and the new Golden Witch, successor to the name of Beatrice!!"
".........Beatrice.  ............It's Beatrice!!  Mama, Beatrice!"

Maria jumped at her mother in ecstasy.
...Rosa treated Maria coldheartedly and raised her gun high.

"......Hey, you're Nee-san, right......?  ......You are Nee-san, right......?"
"That's wrong.  ...I am no longer the one who was your sister."

"Then who are you?!!  Are you going to say that you're Beatrice?!  That's impossible!  You died 19 years ago!!!

Yes, you were definitely dead, after all, I clearly saw that your head was smashed.  I can remember your insides flowing out like it was yesterday!  How could you be alive and right here noooooooooow?!?!"

"The concept of death does not exist to a Golden Witch.  The Golden Witch and the name of Beatrice will be handed down for all eternity.

Maybe the Beatrice you knew met with death, but that name is mine now...!  Because it is eternal!  The concept of death does not exist for Beatrice!!"

".........All I see is that you've gone mad because of that gold.  ......How pitiful, Nee-san...!"
"You know I'm not your sister anymore.  ......Well then, as the new Beatrice, I have been tasked with my own resurrection ceremony.
.........Ronove!  What should I do?!"

"That is up to you.  Beatrice-sama already has the power to make whatever she thinks reality.  You should grow used to it if you use it a little."

"......You worthless former sister.  You should consider it an honor to have been selected as the first sacrifice I offer as a witch.  At the second twilight, I'll tear the two who are close apart with my own hands...!!"
The first thing the new Beatrice wished, ......no, the first magic she tried to use, was to surpass the limitations given to humans.

...In particular, gravity.

She wanted to become fully aware of her transformation into a witch by being released from those shackles.

As the witch and Rosa stayed as they were...

......The ground retreated all by itself, into the distance below them.
By now, their feet were no longer attached to the ground.

Rosa finally realized that the ground wasn't retreating into the distance below them, but that she and the witch were being sucked up into the rainy sky.

"............huh...?  ...............Eeeek...?!"
"Wh, .........whoooooooooaaaa......  Awesome......!"

For a human shackled to the ground by gravity, there is nothing more unnerving that having their feet stop sticking to the ground.

......However, to Beatrice, who knew the joy of being released from gravity as the new witch, it was enough to cause her whole body to shake with delight.

"......Hey, Rosa.  Do you remember, long ago, when we were small, when we used to talk about what it'd be like to become witches and fly around the sky?  ......That dream has been granted, right?  I became a real witch and granted it for you."

"S, ............stop it, .........wake me from this dream......"
"You said it.  You said that you flew through the sky in your dream.  And you also said that you hadn't wanted to wake up.  You were even mad at me since I had woken you up, right?  ......Don't worry.  This time, you won't wake up, alright?  Fuffufufufufufufufufufufufufufu!!"
Come, dance with me in the vast, rainy sky.

Didn't we both wish we could fly like seagulls in the sky, and escape the narrow and boring island of Rokkenjima...?
Now, I'll make that dream a reality for you.

Because I only want to share this joy with you, and no one else...!
"Ahhahaha ahhahahahaha!!  It's so fun, Rosa, it's so fun!!  Take a look, below you!  Look at how small our mansion is.  I wonder how much time we spent in a place that small.  ...Now I'm especially shocked at how narrow and tiny it is.
So feel.  Enjoy.  Rejoice...!  That power we yearned for, the power to move through the sky at will!  Come on, let's dance, Rosa!  Through the rain, through the wind!  Let's fly around like we're dancing!  The lightning will shine on us and bless us!!  Ahhahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!"
The witch and Rosa were like leaves fluttering around in a whirlwind.
As the rain pounded upon every part of their bodies, as the lightning occasionally shone upon them, they shook with the joy of being released from the ground.

...However, it was only that way for the witch.
Rosa was holding onto her head, voicelessly screaming over and over.
"Stop iiiiiiiiiiiiiitt!!  Forgive meeeeee, let me doooooooown!!"
"......You're right, it's more fitting for humans to crawl on the ground.  Then why not go back there?"
A slightly displeased expression rose to the witch's face when she realized that her own joy was not being shared.
Then, she decided to listen to her former sister's request.
"............?!  .........Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhh!!"

The whirlwind that had been making Rosa dance around grew weaker, then stopped.
In other words, Rosa was once again bound by the restrictions of gravity, as a human.

......Following the laws that were originally correct, Rosa began to descend towards the ground upside-down.  No, she began to fall.
"Oops...  That's right, if I don't take her down the right way, this is what happens!"

The witch hadn't intended to send Rosa plummeting.
But she still wasn't used to using magic.
After plummeting about 100 meters into a rose bush, as a very, very natural result, Rosa died instantly.
But the witch hadn't intended to kill her.
So she wished that Rosa didn't die.

When she did, gold butterflies coiled about Rosa's body, reviving that life just as the witch had wished.
Rosa's body, which should have been spread out like a carpet of fresh blood, rapidly returned to normal.

The broken and crushed bones returned to normal.
The torn and smashed flesh returned to normal.
......How easy it is to break things in this world, and how difficult it is to fix them...

Anyone can take a life.
But no human can revive a lost life!  By surpassing the irreversable, one proves that they have surpassed humans.

......This surely gave her a much, much greater realization that she was a witch than flying through the sky had.
".........Awesome...  I can even revive, ......an ended life......!"

"Of course.  Beatrice-sama is the Endless Witch.  ......To live and to die.  To bring to life and to kill, all of it repeated endlessly.  Beatrice-sama, the Endless Witch, is the queen who controls the cycle of life and death."

"Ahaha, aha.  One time, I dropped a fishbowl.  The fragile and beautiful bowl broke, and I couldn't put it back together again.  I would never see that cute pop-eyed goldfish swim again after it landed on the floor.

.........No matter how much I cried, the servants shook their heads, saying that broken things and dead things could never be revived.

...At that time, I learned something.  You must not break things, you must not kill people.  After all, you can't fix them!!"
"So, if you can fix them, ......then you won't get in trouble for breaking them, right...?  Haha, ahahahaha, .........awesome...  Awesome, awesome, awesome...!!  Ahhahahahahahahaahahahahahahaahhahahhahhahhahhaha!!"
For a while, the witch became intoxicated with how terrible and wonderful the power she had succeeded was.

Her laugh was pure, innocent, and also cruel.
".........Uuuuuu, ......au......"

Even though Rosa had been revived, she let out a cry of anguish at the pain from her fall.
At that point, the witch landed and held out her hand.
"Hahahahahahaha, sorry about that, Rosa.  I didn't think flying in the sky would be so much fun.  Sorry, I'm really sorry.
And I didn't know that humans could die so easily.  But I've brought you back to life, so we're even.  So get up, okay?  Play with me some more, okay?  *giggle*giggle*, ufufuaahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!"
What were those dreams you told me about when you were a kid...?  Go ahead and tell me about all of them without holding back.

As I am now, I can make anything come true, no matter how absurd...!
Even making you fall into a sea of jelly!  Even having you get sucked into a mountain of cake!  I can even even make you sprout butterfly wings and let you walk around the garden, okay?!

I'll do them one after another.  Let's start with the ocean of jelly, okay...?!
"S, stop it, ............urgg!!"
Rosa was once again thrown high into the rainy sky.
However, the sky wasn't filled with raindrops, but with drops of orange juice.
When she looked down, Rosa had to doubt her eyes.
The rose garden had disappeared, and the ground spread out beneath her was like a pastel-colored jigsaw puzzle.
......It was from the dream she had talked about when she was young, an ocean of jelly.

The black part was coffee jelly.  The red was strawberry, the yellow was pineapple, the green was melon.
What was the white part, apple...?
.........Did Rosa even have the time to think something like that?

Rosa fell towards that multi-colored ocean.
......And sunk deep into the purple grape-flavored ocean.
It really was an ocean of jelly.  It had no bottom.

As Rosa sank, she was shocked to see a school of transparent fish swimming through the grape jelly ocean.
They were probably made of grape skin.
Then she sunk on and on, deeper and deeper, as deep as the Marianas Trench, ......crushed by the water pressure of the jelly ocean, as her ribs snapped, as her spine snapped.

...In the end, she had become a small, frail meatball.
"Ahhahahahahahahahaha!  What a truly wonderful experience, to drown to death in an ocean of jelly...!!  It's a dream no one else can imitate!!  I have made it come true for you, ahhyahyahyahya!!"
The instant I snapped my fingers, the meatball that had been Rosa was launched up into the sky.
And after being wrapped up in a golden sparkle, she returned to her original form.

It was as simple and easy as returning dried seaweed to its original form, and anyone could do it.  If they were a witch!
That absent-minded look on Rosa's face has to be because of the joy from having that dream she had given up on as a child made into reality.  Definitely.  Probably.
Next is the mountain of cake.
In an instant, the sky was covered, and became black and white in the shape of a chessboard.

That almost transparent white part was her favorite rare cheesecake.
The elegant black part was a slightly bitter Gateau au chocolat.
That became the ceiling, became a mountain, ......several billion cakes were thrown down towards Rosa.

If you piled those cakes up, they would surely be taller than Mount Everest.

So they probably weighed, .........I'm not too sure, but it was probably heavier than all the cakes across Japan put together.
It fell down like a ceiling and swallowed Rosa up, ......so as a very, very natural result, Rosa was crushed to death.

In less than a second, her bones broke throughout her body and her insides were all smashed and forced out, *squish*pop*slop*.
Even so, an even greater number of cakes piled up on top, ...and Rosa ended up as a layer of jam wedged between the cakes.

She became as thick as a single hair, and was probably smashed out into the area of a tennis court.
That world swallowed up by cake was once again absorbed by a gold flash.
Then, as though it had all been a dream, Rosa was revived once again.
......Of course, it definitely wasn't a dream.
She had been revived after dying.

By that point, death, which most humans only have to experience once after they are born, had already been experienced repeatedly by Rosa.

In other words, she gone through that which humans cannot, the precious experience of dying more than once.
"Ahhahahahahahahaha, kyahhahhahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!  Isn't this fun, Rosa, isn't this fun?!  Next is the butterflies, look...!!"
"P, please, have mercy......, .........aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhh!!"
"No wa-y!  Let's play more, let's play more...!!  Kyahihihihahahahahahahahahaha!!"
Laughing innocently, she pointed her gold staff at Rosa as she begged for mercy.
When she did, Rosa glittered gold and rapidly began to shrink.
She shrank down to the size of a real butterfly.
Then, gold wings sprouted from her back..., and she joined her fellow gold butterflies.
However, while a human body could withstand that wind, it was a different matter for a butterfly's body.

The gold butterfly Rosa was invited to dance by each gale of wind, and she spun in circles around the rose garden.
"No, ...nooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!  .........ah..."

As her dance wore her out, she was caught by a gentle bed.
It was the soft, knit hammock in the shadows beneath the roof of the arbor.
...The owner of that hammock lumbered into view, welcoming its rare guest who had wandered in on the night of the storm...

That owner, which should have been small enough to crush in the palm of your hand, now looked as big as the top of a canopy bed to Rosa.
"Gyaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!"
"Kyahhahahakyahhahahahahaha!  What a klutz, you got caught in a spider's web!  Ahhahaha, ahhahahahahaha!!
This time, it's a dance with a spider.  That takes me back.  Remember the times we'd find a spider's web and play around by throwing pebbles at it?  I've heard that spiders don't chew their prey, but insert their venom, and when the insides melt into a sticky soup, they suck it out.
......Hey, Rosa, remember?  Remember how we'd throw butterflies into the spider's web on purpose, and play around by seeing how the spider would attack?
Kyahhahahahahahaha, you don't remember, do you?  This happened before you got into grade school...!!  Make sure you watch closely this time, okay?  Very closely.  Kyahihihahahahahahakya-hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!"
"Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo, have mercy, Nee-san, help me, Nee-san!!  Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeekkgaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhherrrrrrrrrkkkbwaaghahgggggergorblahgehmolgeeaaarg ga, ga..., ga......, gyuuboh!!"
"This girl's not bad.  She truly can use magic at will!  Hiihyahhahahahahakkuhihiehiehyahyahya!!  Interesting interesting, interesting interesting!  You feel like laughing too, right, Battleeeeeeer?!"

"Don't fuck with me!!!  Stop it alreadyyyyyyyyyy!!  What's so fun, you're insane, you're insane!!!  What's so fun about doing something like this?!?!"
"Doesn't that just look so fun?  What do you expect, magic is fun!!  I remember, when I first became able to use magic, I played around a lot!  ...Aaah, I understand, I understand, I understand that play from the bottom of my heart!
......Looks like I won't be able to share this joy and passion with you, Battler.  Aah, what a shame, what a shame!!  If you accept me, I'll teach you magic anytime you want, see?!  It's hard to describe the joy you receive in the instant you are freed from the shackles of humanity!
I want to teach you about it, that joy, that passion!  I de-finitely would like to see the world of magic you would give birth to, just once!  Kihhihihihhihhi, hyahhyahhahahahahahahahahaha!!
Isn't this starting to get fun?  You've started wanting to use magic, haven't you?!  It's pretty fun to be a witch, isn't it?!  Just for you, I'll teach everything!  About the joy of flying together in the sky, about the joy of diving together through the sea!
I want to teach you of the passion that starts the instant you surpass the bounds of humans and see how wide your world stretches!  Wouldn't that be fun, wahhyahhyahahhahahahahahahahahahaha!!"
There was no malice in Beato's expression.

...It was hard to believe, but she was genuinely enjoying this cruel show.

And she wanted to share that appreciation with Battler.
......Battler was shocked by that hopelessly different measure of value.
"You're insane!!  Stop it already, damn iiiiiiiiit!!  Virgilia, let me stop this insane farce!!  What should I do!!"

".........We exist outside the board.  We cannot touch the board itself."

Virgilia shook her head apologetically.
...Her body had already been 'killed'.
Did that mean she couldn't interfere in any way...?
As Beatrice continued to look interested in an insane sort of way, Battler lifted her up by the collar and yelled at her.

"Stop it stop it stop iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit!!!  Quit messing around, you witch!!  Are you trying to tell me that's Eva oba-san?!  That's impossible!!  While the Eva oba-san I know may be a bit mean at times, it's completely impossible that she's the kind of person that would do something this cruel!!

This is all part of your deception!!  Don't toy with Rosa oba-san!!  Don't toy with Eva oba-san!!  Stop this farce right nooooooooooooooooow!!"

"I told you, I'm not the one playing with Rosa anymore.  I told you, that's the new Beatrice.

Is it really so cruel that you have to squeal like that?  You're also pretty fond of stuff like this, aren't you?!  You actually have just a bit of interest in magic and, .........ouch!  Wh, what are you doing..."

For the first time, Battler slapped Beato's cheek.

...Beatrice didn't know why he had done something like that to her, and a surprised expression rose to her face.

Battler especially couldn't forgive that expression, and he roared.
"Aaaaaaaaaaaaaahh?!  This is interesting?!  What's wrong with your head?!!  Die!  Try and slice your head up into pieces and look inside, you'll definitely find that the insides have been completely removed!!!  Stop it right now, stop this disgusting farce!!  I won't forgive you!!  How could you do something so cruel!!  I've sometimes thought that you were a bit of a funny person, but I'll never make that mistake again!  You're just a monster who's always cruel!!!  Don't show yourself in front of me!!  Never again!!  I won't accept you, I won't talk with you, I don't even want to look at your face!!  Did you hear me?!!  Don't show yourself in front of me.
DISAPPEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEAAARRR!!!"
The instant Battler screamed, the power that resisted the witch became a red wall and knocked Beato back onto her butt.
"......Owowowow......What are you talking about, isn't it an interesting show...?"
She spoke as though making an excuse, but the person those words were directed at, Battler, was no longer there.
His figure had suddenly disappeared into the darkness...

...But Beatrice looked displeased, and continued trying to explain herself.
"......I, it's not like I completely don't see where you're coming from, ...but this is nothing more than an innocent prank, right...?  No matter how she kills, that person will be brought back to life in the end, right?  ...Aren't humans creatures that are fine with anything as long as it ends well......?!
H, hey, Teacher.  It's nothing to get so angry about, is it...?!"
She was hoping for approval, but Virgilia simply faced her with an indifferent expression.
...To Beato, at that moment, even a surprised face would probably have seemed better.
"............I have nothing in particular to say.  If you think it is fun, you can keep watching as long as you want.  ...Call me when it's finished.  I will erase my form until then."
Following Battler's lead, Virgilia hid herself in the darkness...

Beato, who was now completely isolated, didn't have a clue what was going on, feeling that they were making her out to be the bad guy.
"...........................What's wro-ng?  Isn't it an interesting show...?!  I, it might be a little vulgar, ......but it's fairly interesting, isn't it...?!!  He-y, Ronove...?!  It's nothing to get so mad about, right...?!

"Pu ku ku ku.  ......Something interesting for you, Milady, is not necessarily interesting for Battler-sama."

"Does he really, ...hate me that much?  ......Well, certainly, we are enemies and opponents in this competition, ...but is our relationship really so bad that we can't laugh together at this entertainment...?!  .........Since I applauded together with Battler, I thought I could at least laugh together with him.........Does he really reject me so much that we can't even do that...?

...He doesn't have to accept that I'm a witch.  Because we're challenging each other in this game.  But still, saying he won't look at my face, that he won't talk to me, ......he'll probably do all he can to ignore me...  Am I really hated that muuuuuch......!"

"Up until this point, you have advanced several moves that would make you hated, Milady.  Even a demon such as myself can slightly understand Battler-sama's feelings.

......I wonder if you cannot understand that because you are especially thickheaded, Milady?  Pu kukukukuku."

"Sh, shut up shut up shut up shut up!!  Why don't you disappear too?!!"
"Yes, certainly.  ......Then, if you would excuse me."
Even Ronove hid himself in the darkness, and Beatrice was left alone.

The only one in the rainy rose garden.
A lonely witch who no one would play with.

Because no one would play with her, she was a lonely witch.
"..................What's going on?  ...Why won't anyone play with me...?  .........Am I really that weird, that cruel...?  ............Someone, answer meeeeeeeeee!!"
"Kyahhahahahahahaha, isn't this fun, Rosa, isn't this fun!  Hey, how should we play next?  Of course, we should play with Maria too, right?  Let's all have a friendly walk together, okay?  Let's swim in a pot of boiling chocolate, let's have a picnic in a cake-rising oven!  Ahahaha, akyakyakyakyakyakya!!"
".........H, hey, new Beatrice."

Behind the witch that was continuing her mad banquet, Beato showed herself.
...That expression was very rare for her.
It was kind of restrained, unreliable, miserable.

"Oh, it's the predecessor Beatrice-sama.  Were you watching?  The power of magic is truly wonderful!  Until now, I had never thought it would be so fun to be reborn as a witch.  It's like playtime that never ends...!  Come on, let's play together, Predecessor-sama...!!

But first, wait for a second, okay?!  The two of them were cooked to death in the oven, so I have to revive them again!  They're like bread rising because of yeast!  Like cookies expanding in an oven!  Kyakkyakkyakkya!!"

"L, listen to what I'm saying.........Umm, well, isn't that enough for the sacrifice of the second twilight?  ...Of course, it isn't specified how you kill them, but, umm, ......maybe you shouldn't toy with them any more than that..."

"What are you saying, Predecessor-sama?  I heard from Ronove a short while ago.  Wasn't your magic much, much more wonderful, cruel, and insane!

That Halloween party where candies poured out of six people's stomachs was truly wonderful!  So maybe I'll act out Alice's tea party...!  I'll invite everyone to a tea party in celebration of a completely pointless day, and entertain them one by one with my magic!

I wonder if I can do it as wonderfully as you?  I wonder if I can be cruel in my own pop, cute style?!  Now that I think about it, all fairy tales are cruel, aren't they?  Now that I'm a witch inside one of those fairy tales, I finally understand.  Kyahhahahahakukyahyafuhyahahahahaha!!"

"............I have also, umm, ...sometimes thought that, in the past, ...I might have gone a little too far.  ......Well, I think that as the Golden Witch, it's a good idea to have a little elegance..."

"............???  I don't get what you're saying, Predecessor-sama.  But there's one thing I do understand.  No matter how hard I try now, I'm no match for how cruel you are.  I've gotta try much, much harder.  I've gotta become more cruel, and become an excellent Golden Witch...!"

"L, like I said, you've already done enough here...!  A, anyways, this is my, your predecessor's order.  That's enough for the second twilight.  I'll show you how it's done.  Stand back and watch..."
"Yes, Predecessor-sama.  I can't wait to see what brutal, cruel, and disgusting method of killing you use."
The new witch grasped the sides of her skirt and gave a graceful bow, stepping back as an expectant gaze rose to her face.

......She was expecting an even more cruel magic that surpassed even herself.
"............Well, speaking of that...  You're only half a witch if you can only kill with methods like that.  ...I shall show you an elegant way to kill, worthy of the Golden Witch..."
When Beato waved her pipe, seven colors of smoke poured out, reviving Rosa and Maria.

......Compared to how the new Beatrice had done it a short while ago, it was slightly gentler.
...It was probably gentler that how Beato had done it herself up until now.
Rosa's consciousness had already grown dim from the pain of so many repeated deaths.
...But even so, she pleaded that her daughter be spared...
"......Please......have mercy.........Even, ......if it's just Maria......have mercy......"
"Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhh, Mama, Mamaaaaaa!!"

".........Sorry.  My disciple just, umm, ...acted without restraint for a bit.  ...Umm, .........forgive me."
"B, Beatriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiice!!  Waaaaaaaaaahh, waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahh!!"

When Maria realized it was the real Beatrice, she jumped onto her.

"...You promised, right, Beato?!  You promised that you would take Maria to the Golden Land, right?!  There, would be friendly with Mama, and everyone would laugh together...!  You promised that you would take us there, right?!"

".........A, ...about that.  ...I can no longer, ...keep that promise.  .........Because someone appeared who could solve the riddle, ......I am no longer the Golden Witch, Beatrice.  ......So, sorry.  ...I can no longer keep my promise with you......"

"Why...?  Why...?  Beato promised..."
"......I'm sorry.  ...I'm truly sorry............So at least, in apology for not being able to keep my promise..."
............It truly is quiet.
And I'll give you a sleep that will never be troubled again...

Maria was embraced by the loving expression on Beato's face...

Then, .........softly, a red bruise appeared on Maria's neck.
It was a very gentle bruise.
...It's redness grew bit by bit, ...and when it distinctly formed itself into the shape of a hand...

......Maria's neck tilted suddenly.
...Peacefully, as though she had fallen asleep.
"M, Maria.........Mariaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!"

"......Sorry.  ......I won't apologize that you were the sacrifices for the second twilight.  That is simply your fate.  However, I must apologize for the vulgar way in which you were offered as sacrifices......This is your final sleep.  ...Never again will it be disturbed..."

Beato softly, gently lifted her finger, as though touching the empty air in front of her nose.

...When she did, a light breeze lifted up, making Rosa's body dance lightly like a feather.
Then, Rosa's body floated lightly, ......and there was the garden fence, with its spear-shaped prongs.
The spear of the fence pierced Rosa's medulla oblongata.

......Benevolently, without toying with her, in a single blow.
Rosa's life was snapped out.
Compared to the earlier innocent yet cruel events, it seemed to be over much too fast in the end.

...It just looked like a doll shaped like Rosa was leaning against the fence.
...But, she had passed away.
".........W, ...well, something like that."

Beato acted proud, but the new witch wore a blank expression, almost as though this was an anticlimax.
Then, she said it out loud.

"It's kinda plain.........Very different from the Predecessor-sama Ronove told me about."
"...Well, ...you must use magic with dignity, right...?  If it's too, umm, ...undignified, that isn't very elegant..."

"..............................Even though you're lucky enough to have the magic to do wonderful things endlessly......Boring."
"Don't complain...!  The path of the Golden Witch cannot be completed in a day.  You are still incomplete until you finish the tenth twilight...  For now, stay quiet and follow my instructions.  ...Alright......?!"

"........................"
"W, what happened to your answer?  Your answer...!"
".................................Su-re."

"...That is good, that is.  ......Well, there is still much to do for the resurrection ceremony.  You still have to kill five people...  You should do it without toying with them too much, with beauty and dignity, ...and with at least a little restraint, right...?  What Ronove told you about how I did it, ......that was a bad example.  You mustn't use that as a model.  Engrave that into your heart."

"............Yes, Predecessor-sama."

"A good answer.  ......Ronove, the Seven Stakes of Purgatory, arise...!"
"......Yes, Milady.  I, Ronove, am here."
"Lucifer of Pride, right here."

"...Up until this point, umm, I've done things a little flashy, but, ......umm, ......well, the dignity of the Golden Witch is also important, well, about that..."

As Ronove laughed at Beato's uncharacteristically flustered speech, he summed it up for her.

"Certainly.  From now on, we will be careful to perform in a graceful manner, suitable for the name of the Golden Witch.  ......Even the Seven Sisters of Purgatory will reform their bad behavior up until now, and we shall espouse to perform our task in the quickest possible manner.  ......Would that be acceptable?  Milady?"

"H, hmm.  That's it, more or less.  Everyone, take it to heart!  Alright...?!"
"Yes.  Certainly."

"That is all I wish to say.  ......You may leave now."
"Certainly.  If you would excuse me."
"Excuse us."

"........................"
"Well, ...that's all I want to say.  So, take care as you continue, alright?  Go with dignity, and, ...umm, prudence, alright?  ......You should do your best.  I will be watching over you."
Acting unsure until the very end, Beato communicated only that, became a group of gold butterflies, and hid her form in the empty air.

She didn't have any business there, so it might be fitting to say that she disappeared in a hurry.
After that, all that remained was Maria's corpse, lying down and pounded by the rain, Rosa's corpse, propped up by the fence and staring up at the sky...
......And the figure of the witch.
"..................Have prudence......, ......you say..."

Her expression looked just a little bored.
There was a popping sound.
...That was probably her clicking her tongue.
".........................................................What a boring person."
Leaving that last sentence behind, she once again hid her form in the empty air......

Warning of Sacrifices

Sun, Oct 5 1986 11:00AM
"..................zzzzz..."
"...............Whew.  ...Looks like she's finally calmed down..."

Hideyoshi wiped his own forehead.
...For a time, Eva had seemed to be having a very painful nightmare, but it appeared that she had finally fallen asleep.
As promised, he still gripped Eva's hand.
...He had thought it might be alright to let go pretty soon, but he faithfully continued to hold her hand.

Every once in a while, his hand would get tired, and he would switch between his right and his left, but even so, as promised, he didn't let go of her hand...
At that time, there was a heavy knock.
Eva had finally been able to fall asleep, so Hideyoshi grimaced for just an instant.
"......Aneki, Hideyoshi-san, sorry.  Is Rosa there...?"

It was Rudolf's voice.  ...What could it be?
Hideyoshi headed for the door, hiding his footsteps so that he wouldn't wake Eva.

......It was definitely Rudolf's voice, but just in case, he opened the door without removing the chain.

"What is it?  Somethin' happen to Rosa?"
"We can't find Rosa or Maria-chan.  I thought they might be with you."
"...I heard her scolding Maria-chan in the corridor.  They got quiet afta that, so I thought they had returned to the lobby, ......but did they...?"
".........That idiot..."

Rudolf clicked his tongue.

Other people could be seen in the corridor.
Rosa hadn't returned for a while after going out into the corridor, so they had begun to worry.

Near the front door, Natsuhi pointed at the removed chain.

"......The chain isn't set.  They must have gone outside to see the rose after all."
"Going out and leaving the door unlocked, that's just too careless.  What a troublesome person."

"...More importantly, now I'm worried about Rosa-san and Maria-chan themselves."
"Right.  ......Hey, brats.  Where was this rose of Maria's?!"

"I'm pretty sure..., it was in the flower bed right in the middle of the rose garden..."
"If those two are there, we should be able to tell quickly if we go."

"......Dad, shouldn't we bring them back as soon as we can...?"
"Of course. We'll bring them back and spank them on the butt.  I'll dash out there and come back.  Lock the door as soon as I go out."

"...Dad, I'll go with you."
"Don't talk stupid.  It's obviously the brats' job to watch the house with Mama."

"............What is it...?  Did something happen......?"
"Sorry, did I wake ya up...?  ...It seems that Rosa-san took Maria-chan outside.  ...How reckless of her."

"Rosa and Maria-chan are, ......outside...?  In the rose garden......?!"
"Thass right.  ...Oh, did ya hear?  Maria-chan was causin' a ruckus 'cause she wanted to see a rose."
"......Th, ......they mustn't, ......they mustn't go to the rose garden...!  Tell Rosa to stop...!"
"Th, there's no tellin' her to stop now, it looks like they left a while ago.  ......Seriously, how reckless of them."
".........That's not it......Not the rose garden......There's a witch there..., ......and she's waiting for a sacrifice...!  Rosa, you mustn't go..., ......ooooooooooohhh..."

...Eva cowered again, holding her head.
......Her complexion looked very bad.
"What is it?  Did the fever make ya dream somethin' bad?"
"............It's a dream, ......yes...............In the rose garden, the witch, doing that to Rosa...... .........That's right.  ...It's a dream, ......yes..."
"Calm down.  I'm also in this room.  The chain is also set.  The shutter is closed on the window, 'n there's even a gun.  This room is just like a fort.  There's nu-thin' to be afraid of."
Hideyoshi beat his chest, trying to calm her, but Eva's insecure expression didn't change.

...Under the covers, Eva kept praying that the grotesque nightmare she had just had was only a dream...
"In the center of the rose garden, Rudolf confirmed the corpses of Rosa and Maria.  After that, he returned to the guesthouse, called for help, and carried both of them into the guesthouse.
If we can trust Nanjo's autopsy, the cause of Rosa's death was a stab to the medulla oblongata with the pointed gate of the fence.  It is thought that Maria's death was due to strangling with bare hands.  However, due to the 'Devil's Proof', we cannot discount a misdiagnosis."

"......I will say it in red.  Rosa and Maria died.  The cause of death was as Nanjo diagnosed.  ......She wasn't eaten by a spider, nor was she crushed by a mountain of cake.  Don't worry."

".........So you argue that even though you toyed with their death so much, it's all okay because the corpse is clean...  I definitely won't forgive you.

...I definitely won't forget all of that brutal treatment you gave Rosa oba-san, so I won't forgive you..."

"...L, like I said, that wasn't me.........I think I gave them a much more peaceful death than the way she treated them..."

"Shut the hell up.  I don't want to listen to you.

.........It was stated that there are no more than 18 people on this island, and now that eight people are already dead, there are 10 people to press as suspects.  One of them probably killed those two.

...Or could it also be an accidental death?  Like Maria was having a tantrum, and when Rosa oba-san tried to stop her crying, she misjudged how much power she was using and accidentally killed her.  Then she was so upset that she slipped and fell, landed on the fence, and unluckily, died.

......How's that?  That way there's no need for a witch or magic."

"......Well, that's not true.  Actually, Rosa and Maria..."
"Shut up.  Didn't I say that I didn't want to listen to you?  You're an eyesore, so disappear.  You monster."

Battler said that without rage, ...but with a horribly cold voice.

...Beato had also felt something out of place since the beginning.
In a fight, both of them could go at each other without restraint.

However, he wouldn't even step into the ring.  She could feel that coldness.

Beato didn't find that interesting.
...She thought about flaring up, but she held back.

Maybe even though she was innocent and childish, she had enough sense to realize that she shouldn't fight.

"........................Is that so?  Then I will hide myself.  ...Ronove, continue for me."
"Certainly.  ...Will that be satisfactory, Battler-sama?"

".........There are no problems with that proposal.  If Battler-kun says that he doesn't want to see Beato's face, that is alright."
"Do what you like.  ...If I can live without seeing that monstrous face, I don't care about anything else."
"......Hey, wait a second.  ...You keep saying monster, monster, but isn't that a mean way to speak of me?  ......Why do you instinctively hate me so much, Battler?  Even though none of that was me, even though it was all the work of my disciple..."

".........It's not like I'm only mad about what happened just now.  It's from the very beginning."
"Hey, Battleer.  Don't misunderstand, alright...?  Aren't we just a pair of players confronting each other through a game?  ...We look for moves to make things painful for each other, but..."

"Don't get the wrong idea.  I don't hate you because you're my rival in this strange game about whether I accept you as a witch or not.  ......No matter what happens, I won't forgive how senselessly cruel you are."

"That's because a serial murder is part of the game...  It's probably impossible to avoid a little cruelty..."

"I'm not just talking about what just happened.  The last time, and the time before that too.  ......Tearing everyone's stomachs and stuffing them with sweets, plowing their faces, what was the point of all that?"
"............That's, ...well..."

"All this stuff about closed room murders and tricks and alibis, I'm willing to give you a pass on all that.  You want to claim that this is a murder done by magic, so I'll grudgingly accept that those complicated crimes have to occur.

......But what exactly are all those grotesque murders supposed to mean?"
"............Well, umm, ............nothing much..."
"That's right.  They don't mean anything.  You're just fooling around by mangling the corpses for fun.  That has nothing to do with whether you're a witch, or whether it could or couldn't be done with magic.
You're just exploring the depths of cruelty for fun.  That's not because you're a witch, or anything like that.  There's just some things I cannot forgive as a human."
".........Wh, ......what do you mean, as a human...?"
"For example, ......the six people of the first twilight for this game.  ...Well, other than Grandfather being burned black, the other corpses were killed in a normal way, without any unnecessary shaming of the dead.  ...It wasn't clear whether the weapon was a spear or a gun, but anyways, as far as killing goes, that was permissibly better.  It was much better than the nonsensical grotesqueness and cruelty from the first twilight last time, or the time before that."
"And this time, there were six closed rooms tied together to make a closed room chain.  ......That was sort of interesting.
When we were going back and forth with each other that time, to be perfectly honest, I thought it was just a little fun.

...You were frantic to make me accept your existence, and I was frantic trying to deny it.  ...We were both frantically doing all we could."
"This may sound weird, but I've felt a faint sense of sportsmanship between the two of us.  ...We exist in conflict, but I faintly thought that we might not be completely unable to understand each other's existence.
.........But just now, that feeling has been blown away without a trace."

"Th, that's where you're misunderstanding...!  That wasn't me-"
"That's not it.  That's not what I'm talking about!  ......You watched Rosa oba-san being killed horribly over and over, and you sneered at it like it was an interesting show."
......When I saw that, I was deeply disappointed.

When I realized that your decision to kill them in a slightly better way this time was nothing more than a little whim, ...and that nothing had changed in your cruel character, I was deeply disappointed.
And that's not all, you were even genuinely enjoying a brutal death.
You weren't just acting as cruel as you could to bully me.

...You truly, genuinely enjoy cruelty.
Your character lets you enjoy it.
You said that I'd probably think Rosa oba-san being brutally killed over and over was fun.

That wasn't sarcasm.  You enjoyed it from the bottom of your heart, wanted me to sympathize, and said that I'd probably think it was fun.
......In that instant, I was disappointed, and I realized the truth.
"The problem isn't whether you're a witch or not.  ......I will not forgive that cruelty of yours.  And I can't understand it!  I can't forgive it, either!  Still, I'll continue this game of whether to accept or deny witches.  I won't step down and accept my own defeat."
"However, your pointless cruelty is absolutely not needed for that game.  So I've decided that I won't accept you as my opponent.  Ronove is a hundred times better.  He doesn't have the same cruel hobby you do.  Even if he does, he doesn't have the awful taste to show it off in front of me.
......That's right, you have awful taste.  You're heartless and cruel, so you can't understand.  That's unpleasant in an opponent.  So I don't want to see your face again."
As Battler went on and on by himself, Beato was shocked into silence for a long time.

Maybe she couldn't understand what she was being told, and this was a sign that she was doing all she could in an effort to understand.
For a while, she kept switching between angry expressions, frustrated expressions, bold expressions, ......as though she didn't even know herself what attitude she should take.
In the end, she made her face into a candid expression, as though she had come to her senses, and shrugged her shoulders as though she was tired.
"...........................In that case, do as you like.  From now on, I will continue this game through Ronove.  ......You have no complaints as long as I don't show myself, right?"

"......For the time being.  But I definitely won't forgive all of your cruel actions up until now.  So I definitely won't accept you.  For that reason as well, I won't back down from this fight you've picked.  And I definitely won't lose.  ...That's all there is to it."
"............Beato.  No matter how many more excuses you give, his impression will not waver.  ...I have something to talk about later.  Until then, stay back."

"...............H, ...hmm......Understood.  ...Then I'll hide myself until you call..."
Looking lonely, Beato turned her back to them, and hid herself.
...Battler watched, a slightly displeased expression on his face.

He thought his argument had been valid, but for some reason, his mood didn't clear up.

"......She's, ...an idiot."
".........That's true.  An idiot, and honest."

"That idiot watched Rosa oba-san be killed horribly with me, and turned around with a huge smile on her face.  ......She really believed that she could laugh with me at that cruel show.  ...She really believed that I could sympathize with that emotion...

Looking at that innocent smile, I felt just horrible.  ......It would have been much better if she had said it with her normal bullying face......Damn it..."

"Milady has never had the experience of having a friend.  ......In addition, she has probably never had something spoken to her that strongly.

Madam and I are her attendants.  No matter what we say, it will not reach her ears.  For Milady, this is also-"

"Don't screw with me.  I don't remember ever becoming her friend."
"......That is true.  My apologies."

"........................There is one thing I would like to thank you for.  ...Thank you for not backing down from that child's game."
She spoke words of gratitude, but for some reason, Battler made a displeased face.
Then as though hating himself, he chuckled.

"Now that I've even got witches and demons thanking me, I'm screwed.  ......Let's resume the game.  Of course, I don't intend to go easy on you."
"I wouldn't have it any other way.  Unlike Milady, I do not get agitated."

"......I've already made my move.  If we suppose that Rosa oba-san is the culprit and died in an accident, I can deny the witch.  ......I don't want to suspect Rosa oba-san, but I think I can withstand that premise if it will beat the hell out of Beato."

"I will deny it with red.  Rosa and Maria were killed by other people."
"Alright.  ...Why don't we start from there.  ............Damn, I'm just not getting fired up."
Since Rosa and Maria had been killed, it had become clear that the culprit was still hiding somewhere, trying to add even more murders to this chain.

As he shed tears, Rudolf scolded Rosa's corpse for being reckless several times, but Rosa would never respond to that again.
They had decided to place the two corpses in one of the guest rooms, and to seal it until the police arrived...

The second murder, ...no, the murder of the second twilight, had delivered a heavy blow to everyone.

Because it had blown away the optimism that some of them had held, the thought that 'actually, a crime didn't occur, and it was all a game or a farce by Kinzo and the servants'.
Trying to distract themselves from the loss of the people they liked, George and Jessica had spent the whole time since morning talking about every possibility.
......And, they had distracted their hearts by supposing that these murders might actually have all been an act, and that Shannon and Kanon were only pretending to be dead.
When the next murder occurred, it destroyed that thought, ......and they were once again struck by the fact that the person they liked had most definitely been killed...

The tears that they'd thought had died away began to drip down once more, and Battler couldn't think of anything to say to them...
After that, all of the adults checked that all of the rooms were safe and locked, just in case.

They made certain that shutters on all of the windows were down and locked, and they checked that no one suspicious was hiding anywhere.
On top of that, they checked their weapons once again, and made sure that each other's hearts were prepared, so that they wouldn't hesitate to fire off a preemptive shot if they saw the shadow of a mysterious person.
Furthermore, the gun Rosa had been holding had been left near the place she had been found.
Someone had gone out of their way to leave it there, so everyone suspected that it was some kind of trap, but when Hideyoshi skillfully used a fire iron to fire off a test shot, it was definitely able to discharge.
As a result, since all five shots that had been loaded had discharged without any problems, they reloaded it with bullets and handed it over to the only adult male who wasn't armed, Hideyoshi.
However, the fact that it had been able to fire off five shots gave rise to a certain paranoia.
This short barrel Winchester could load five shots.
In other words, Rosa hadn't fired even once.

And yet, the two had probably been killed by someone with their bare hands.

This meant there was a possibility that the crime had been committed by someone whose face they knew...
"......When the first murder occurred, I privately thought of the possibility that it was all an act.  ...My apologies to Doctor Nanjo, but if he had actually been an accomplice, I thought that there was a chance that the deaths of all the servants could have been some massive, elaborate act by Father.
......After all, unless we assume that the closed room situation they were in was all a charade, it couldn't have been created in the first place."

"...We also, ......suspected that.  ...No, ...I still want to believe that's the case."

"............My apologies, ......but that is not so.  ...I am quite old.  There may be a chance that I made a misdiagnosis.  ......However, I would never mistake whether they were alive or dead..."

"I get it!  Don't go out of your way to say it out loud, Doctor Nanjo...!"
"......My apologies..."

They couldn't know about it, but Beato had already proclaimed the deaths of the six, ...no, this time the deaths of all victims so far, in red.

That faint dream that it was all a farce, and that the victims were actually alive, ......it's a shame, but that's impossible...
"......In that case, it's more natural to think that there's someone hiding around who's acquainted with the mansion, carrying out a well-polished crime.  In other words, from the time that the typhoon came to this island and sealed it off from the outside world, there were more than 18 people on this island."
Of course, there was no way for them to know that.

That claim of Rudolf's had also been denied in red.
There are no more than 18 humans on this island...
"Maybe it's fairly consistent if you think of it that way.  ......In other words, this person who's hiding is actually someone who shouldn't be on this island right now.  And yet, there's the possibility that it was someone whose face was known by Rosa-san, and with whom she would let her guard down."

"......S, so, for example, could it be, a servant whose shift doesn't lie on these two days...?"

"Hmm.........It's hard to argue with that one.  When they finished their service and left the island, it isn't as though we made sure by punching their ticket or anything.  If we suppose that a servant on a shift from a few days ago only pretended to leave the island, and actually stayed here, that would be hard to deny..."
"......Rosa-san sure is a fool.  Normally, if a servant that wasn't supposed to be there suddenly showed up in front of ya, ya'd be at yer most cautious..."

"............I have a problem with even labeling this as a crime by an acquaintance.  ...They suddenly attacked Rosa from the darkness, and were about to steal her gun.  Then Rosa fell, hit her head against the fence, and stopped moving.  The guesthouse was nearby, so they wanted to avoid the sound of a gunshot, and they killed Maria-chan with their bare hands..., perhaps."

"......There's also that possibility.  ...Still, even if that is the case.  Would they intentionally leave Rosa's gun at the scene of the crime?  We don't know what the culprit is armed with, but they must feel an element of uncertainty about our guns.  ...Wasn't that a perfect chance for them to thin out our supply?  Why would they intentionally leave it at the scene of the crime?"

"At first, I thought that gun was a trap.  ......That's what chessboard thinking says it would be.  By purposefully leaving it, they wanted to make one of us touch it.  And they must have wanted to make us pull the trigger.  ...I was sure that it would have some dangerous device to make it explode and cause massive injuries."
"But, it's actually alright.  ......The culprit was probably in a hurry.  I'll bet that right now, they're regretting that they missed their chance to steal a gun...!"

".........I don't like it.  It ticks me off, 'cause it's like a message from the witch, saying that she isn't even scared of guns."
"...However, in any event, this is a fearsome opponent.  Even from the outside, they should have realized that Rosa was holding a gun.  To think that they attacked her despite that.  ......We should not neglect the fact that they are unafraid of guns."

"Hmm...  It's as Natsuhi says.  ......We should probably be even more cautious than we have been."

"This is just for peace of mind, but... .........at the time we think Rosa-san was attacked outside, where was everyone...?"
"Natsuhi and I were here, along with Rudolf and Kyrie-san.  I can guarantee their alibis."

"Eva and I were together.  I can guarantee that."
"George-aniki, Jessica, and I were together.  ......When Rosa oba-san yelled at us to return to the second floor, we retraced our steps back to the cousins' room, all dejected."

"......That time, ...if we hadn't let Maria go..."
"Saying that isn't going to change anything..."

"............Doctor Nanjo?"
"I, I was reading a book in a room on the second floor.  ......I was by myself, so no one can verify my alibi, but I believe everyone saw me return to the second floor with the children."

"...Once I say this, it'll never end, but what if you jumped out the window, attacked Rosa, then climbed back up using the rain gutter or something...?"
"D, d, don't be absurd...  How could I perform a feat such as jumping down from the second story or climbing up with this old body..."
"......Let us stop...suspecting each other...It's more important that we trust each other, and, for the children's sakes as well, defend this place until the very end."

"You're right......It's like Natsuhi-san says.  .........For now, let's stop doubting each other."

"That's right.  We may be useless as far as searching for the culprit is concerned.  ......We can only stay alive until tomorrow, inform the police, and follow their instructions.  Because the police will definitely expose who the culprit is."

".........What is it, Eva?  ...'s yer body still feelin' bad...?"
"M, Mother, what's wrong?  Are you alright...?"

"...Sorry.  ...It looks like my fever is still strong.  I'll be fine, so leave me alone..."

When they looked, they saw Eva staring at the floor, her breathing harsh again.
...She had been able to act firm for a time, due to the urgency of their situation, but it seemed her body wasn't at its best after all...

"Yeah.  I killed those two.  Now, the only ones who know about the gold are us.  I won't give up even a scrap to the other siblings."
"............What have you......!  There was so much of that gold, right?!  Giving Rosa and the others their share wouldn't have been a problem at all, right...?!"

"It would.  ...That gold is to be passed on only to the head of the Ushiromiya family.  That is because the whole of it is itself the honor of the head.

......To injure that even a tiny bit, will definitely not be permitted by me, the new Golden Witch, Beatrice.  ......*giggle*giggle*giggle*giggle*giggle*!"

"...Do you plan to continue these murders according to the witch's epitaph...?  Do you actually plan to become a murderer for five more people...?"

"Yeah.  If I don't finish that annoying ceremony, it seems that my power as a witch won't become complete.

......Hey, 'me'.  ...The power of the witch is really awesome.  It really can make all of our delusions become reality.  The power to make dreams more than just dreams...!  Now that I've learned of this power, I can no longer stop being a witch.  If I can complete the ceremony and make my power complete, I'm sure I'll be able to teach you that feeling too.  *giggle*giggle*giggle*, *cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*!"

"Stop acting like an idiot...!  Haven't you played witch enough?  We found the gold.  And we've even been promised the position of the next family head.  We'll probably need to tightrope walk just a bit, but by now, that's a dream that will definitely come true.  ......Beyond that, what more could you wish for...?!"

"I wanted to become a witch."
"I don't know anything about that dream...!"

"That's it.  Because I kept holding on to that dream, I've lived at this age forever.  ......When you became an adult, you threw that dream away.

......No matter how long you wait, the rabbit holding a clock won't visit you, and you won't be able to meet Humpty Dumpty.  Of course, you definitely won't be invited to the land of cards.  Because you gave up like that, you became an adult.

So you don't want to become a witch or anything like that anymore.  ...You've even forgotten that it truly was your own dream at one point."

"......Anyways, stop it!  I've already gotten my hands on two dreams!  The gold and the position of head.  That's more than enough!  So please, your dream has nothing to do with me!  Be obedient...!!"

".........No wa-y.  Magic's too interesting.  ......Also, those two dreams of yours both came true because of my magic.  It's not fair if my dream doesn't come true too."

"I am grateful for your magic, and I accept that you are a real witch.  ......So from now on, be obedient and return to the inside of my heart!  And never appear again!!"

"No wa-y.  ......We're both misunderstanding each other, aren't we?  That's right, I am not you anymore.  You are Ushiromiya Eva.  I am the Golden Witch Beatrice.  So it's not my responsibility to go back to the inside of your heart.  ......I guess I feel like a butterfly who has broken out of her cocoon, which is you."

"............Haah, ......haah.........urg, ......the fever, ...is making my mind cloudy......"

"My inexperience with my magic power is making me support it with your vitality.  Until I finish the ceremony and become a full witch, you might have to bear the burden.  I'll take that in exchange for making two of your dreams come true.

......It's alright, don't worry, okay?  For the remaining five sacrifices, I'll avoid your family.

Let's see, Rudolf, Kyrie, Krauss, Natsuhi.  ...After that, what about that old geezer Nanjo?  Perfect, I'll kill those five people.  *giggle*giggle*, could you call this a murder announcement revealed only to yoouu?  *giggle*giggle*giggle*giggle*!!"

Eva finally crouched down.  Hideyoshi rushed up to her, and lent her his shoulder...

"......Are ya alright?  ...Let's take it easy and rest!"
"Are you alright...?  Doctor Nanjo, Eva...!"

When Nanjo and George tried to approach, Eva made a gesture to stop them.
"...Thank you.  I'm fine, Doctor Nanjo.  I'm taking medicine.  ......I apologize for saying this in such an extreme situation, ...but let me rest a little longer..."

"Mom..., I'll lend a hand too..."
"Thank you, but I'll be fine as long as your father watches over me.  ......Go back to the second story cousins' room, and don't come out no matter what.  ...Understood...?  No matter what happens, you must not leave the guesthouse.........Outside, ......that, witch is......, uuuu..."
"Don't talk anymore...!  Sorry, everyone, but I'll be watching over Eva in the room.  Call if something happens."
Hideyoshi and Eva retreated from the lobby.
...However, Eva wasn't the only one who wasn't feeling good.
They hadn't gotten a wink of sleep since the previous night, and had been pressed by tension since that morning.

...They were mustering their energy to protect the family, but if they relaxed even a little, surely everyone would be down and out...

"......Everything has gone as planned until now, but from here on out, it will become difficult, you see?"
"Difficult, you say...?"

"Hmm.  In the average situation, as the ceremony progresses and the victims increase, they begin to tighten their guard, and in most cases, they hold up in one place and stop moving.  That is extremely inconvenient for us."

"...Are you saying that we witches are inferior to a bunch of humans in a group...?"

"Witches are not inferior to humans...  However, perhaps you could say that times change, and that humans have gotten their hands on a poison.........This wasn't a problem long ago, during the period that witches were believed in, but just like that annoyance Battler, people in the current era fundamentally deny magic.

In other words, their existence itself is anti-magical.  As a result, at some point, they grew to possess a toxin inside their bodies that denies magic."

"In other words, you're saying that the more humans there are, the stronger that magic-resisting toxin gets, and the greater the disadvantage is for us witches?"
"......The combined amount of power in their hearts that denies magic, in other words, their magic resistance power, becomes the denominator in the power of the magic...  Understand?  Is that a bit too difficult for you...?"

"You're joking.  Actually, I understand it easily.  ...In other words, you're saying that the more people there are that don't believe in magic, and the stronger their will is, the greater the dramatic division in the effect of the magic is.  ......I see, if it's so formulaic, I'll have to rethink my method of attack."
Fundamentally, magic possesses a vast power.

It can even make a rain of fire fall from the heavens, divide a sea, and reviving a lost life isn't impossible either.
However, that power is extremely weak against the toxin that rejects it.

And that toxin started piling up in humans since the time they forgot to respect things sacred, ...until finally, this earth was covered with enough toxin that the miracles of magic could not be displayed.
Thus, witches from across the world were chased from their dwellings.

...They had been forced to choose whether to throw away their magic and live as humans, or live in hiding in remote areas where the toxin of humans didn't reach.
In that sense, Rokkenjima, with its population of only a few dozen humans, was extremely favorable for witches.

And even more favorable was the existence of the ghost story, about the witch who lived in the Rokkenjima forest.
...In other words, by permeating the island with the fear that a witch might exist, the magic-resisting toxin from the humans was weakened.
A small population, and a margin which made it possible to accept a magical being.
In other words, minds that were only weakly anti-magical.

...Only in the valley where those two converged, could a witch live in modern times...
"I see.........So by this formula, we can make several rules about how a witch can use her power efficiently.
The first one is creating a scene.  Create a murder scene that you couldn't imagine was done by humans, decorate it with occult ornaments, make it look very much like a witch exists, and by permeating the people with fear, make them believe that witches exist, and as a result, the anti-magic power and the denominator for the power of the magic will be decreased.  ......I see, so this is why the creepy magic circles of the first twilight were created?"

"Th, that's right, exactly...!  The gaudy scenes for the first twilight each game are all for that reason.  It's definitely not as though I like cruel things or am doing it for fun..."

"...In that case, Predecessor-sama, this time was a failure.  You killed them in a very plain way.  It doesn't look like anything more than a simple mystery.

.........I heard about last time and the time before that from Ronove.  You should have damaged the corpses more grotesquely, like you did then, making it look like a fantasy and instilling fear in those people."

".........W, ...well, about that.  ...I thought it wouldn't be artful to do that every time, see...?  Don't think too deeply on it, it's just a whim...!"

Actually, it really had been her whim.
After hearing that from Battler, she couldn't say it out loud anymore, but she had decided her method of killing based only on a whim.

No, would it be better to say that she had halfheartedly let Ronove decide?
Because she had left the closed room of this game's first twilight to him.

But if Beato had gotten a cruel idea, then she surely would have explored the limits of atrocity even worse than the last game...

".....................For the methods of Rosa and Maria's deaths too, you told me to be prudent, but that wasn't a course of action beneficial to us witches either, was it?

In actuality, by now, none of them believe one bit that a witch actually exists.  They're sure that it isn't a fantasy, but completely in the mystery genre.  This turn of events is a failure for us witches.  ......For some reason, you keep doing things in a kinda lukewarm way, Predecessor-sama."

"Aah..., l, like they say, things you learn when you're young will definitely help you out in the future...!  This is a test passed on from my predecessor to you.  Challenge it with respect.  Wah-hah-hah-ha...!"

Beato tried to laugh heartily, but it was obviously a fake laugh trying to cover something up, and the new witch shrugged, sighing.

"........................At this stage, it's probably too late to reduce the anti-magic power by creating a scene.  ...In that case, there's another move.  Having the humans split up should work."

"Hmm, that is probably the most effective way.  The smaller the number of humans, the more the denominator shrinks.  As a result, the magic power becomes instantaneous.  In other words, it all begins from one point: how to destroy this barricade situation and have them split up into small groups.

However, they are already very cautious.  The barricade won't be destroyed easily, right...?  Both the barricade in Kinzo's study two games ago and the barricade in the parlor last time were very stubborn.  Furthermore, most of the cunning adults have been left this time.

The situation is more difficult than all the ones before it, correct?  ......If you wish, I could give you some special advice..."

If the first murder case occurred in a closed circle, the survivors would definitely hole up, gathering together to observe each other and ensure their safety.

......It's almost laughable that not only do mystery authors and murder culprits probably worry about how to break that situation apart, but witches, who supposedly exist at the other end of the spectrum, share in that exact same worry.

For a while, the new witch poked her cheek with her pointer finger, and after acting as though she was planning something, she spoke.

".....................No, I'm fine.  After all, it is a test.  ......I won't borrow your moves."
"Mu, ...really...?  ...Still, it will be pretty hard to defeat this barricade, right...?"

"I've already made my move.  I'm pretty sure it will work.  If that person's smart, then it definitely will."
"I, is that so......  You really are excellent...  I am pleased that my disciple isn't hard to deal with."

"My motto is to study things myself before asking other people.  ......Then, if you would excuse me.  I have to wait for my prey to get nonchalantly lured out."
"Hmm.  ...Well then, handle it with care."
As the new witch lowered her head, her face blank, she turned into gold butterflies and hid herself.

......Beato looked as though she didn't find this interesting at all.
It seemed she was lonely since she hadn't been relied on at all.
"............Every one of them, they don't bother themselves with me.  .........Hmm.  You witch apprentice, acting so smart......I'll bet she makes some painful mistake and starts crying.
Then, without a doubt, she'll finally realize my greatness and follow my teachings!  *cackle*, until then, I shall watch from above."
She laughed loudly on the outside, but a laugh no one can hear is completely pointless.
Beato gave up, and quickly stopped laughing.

...Ronove chose that time to show himself.

"Excuse me, Milady.  ......The game of the second twilight with Battler-sama has ended."
"......Mu, I see.  Good work.  What was the result?"

"My sincere apologies.  I was forced to resign.  ......By saying in red that 'both of them were killed by others', I made Battler-sama revise his claim of 'Rosa strangled Maria to death, then died in an accident', ...but I could not repel his chain of moves placing Eva as the principal offender."

"Wasn't Eva sleeping in her room the whole time as Hideyoshi cared for her?"
"...He put forth the possibility that Hideyoshi was an accomplice, and that the two worked together to create an alibi."

"He even suspects Hideyoshi...?!  Couldn't you have struck back by saying in red that he was in the guest room at the time of the murder?"

"......I also thought of that, but, in any event, several important pieces might have been taken several moves later.  ...And, because there is a possibility that this move was part of the preparations made by the new Beatrice, I acted out of respect to her.  ...My apologies."

"Preparations, you say.  .........Her mind does seem to be sharp.  ...Hmm, we can let her do as she likes.  It will be quite a show to see how far she can go."

"Pu kukukuku.  I thought you would say that.  ......Your disciple isn't cute, so I can understand your mood."

"That's none of your business.  I wonder how that one plans on destroying this barricade from here on out.  I shall keep a close eye on her.  ............Oh, and......h, ...how was Battler's mood?"

"It appeared as though he had calmed himself down.  He did say that he couldn't get fired up without you as his opponent after all."
"R, really, that's no surprise, no surprise at all!  If I don't return for the fourth twilight and after, Battler will probably be lonely himself...!"

"Pu ku ku ku...  And with that, if you would excuse me.  ...I must bake some delicious cookies.  I must at least enliven the discussion between you and Battler-sama, Milady."
"Hmm!  That guy really was munching your cookies, wasn't he?  It's no surprise that a boy can eat so much.  Make a lot of them...!"

"Certainly.  I shall make enough cookies to bury the table."
"That sounds good...!"

"......What's up, what's going on?  What did you want to talk about...?"

Kyrie called Rudolf out into the corridor.
It was obvious that she wanted to talk about something that she didn't want the others to hear.

"Umm, I..."
"Yeah?"

".........want to go outside."

Battle to the Death in the Hall

Sun, Oct 5 1986 1:00PM

"......Certainly, the body cannot last with nothing more than a small breakfast, but..."
"Of course, we understand.  Still, as time passes, it'll get darker and darker.  Now is probably the lightest.  Now is the most convenient time."

"Only about an hour has passed since Rosa-san was attacked.  This is simply too reckless...!"

It was only natural that Natsuhi was yelling about it being reckless.
...Because Rudolf had said that he was going to the mansion to get food.

Certainly, thanks to their fatigue, their hunger was tormenting them.

In the beginning, they could fight their hunger just fine because of their drowsiness.  However, now it just made their minds hazy, since it was still only midday and their bodies felt like they were reaching their limits.

The thought of going to the kitchen in the mansion and bringing back some food certainly was attractive.

"I am opposed to this.  It may be a little tough, but we definitely shouldn't leave this place."