Part 6: Closed Room Barrier
"Ah, hello?! Sorry to keep you waiting! Battle~r! What'd ya think you're doing, not contacting us for six years?! How's it goiiiiiiiing?! Oh, really? How the hell'd I know?! Heh, shut up! Ahhahahahahahaha! So you'll be coming to this year's family conference? It's been six years!"
Spread out on the table were the blueprints and designs for a building, as well as documents related to expenditures and the like... so packed that even a tea cup would have gotten in the way. Officially, they were here to give Krauss a progress report, but in actuality, Krauss had called them all the way over to Rokkenjima so that Natsuhi could hear from them directly. This was because Natsuhi needed to hear someone other than her husband explain what condition their business was in.
...In short, even though another family conference without Kinzo was approaching, their business had not yet earned them any money. After telling the guests to wait for a short while, Krauss took Natsuhi out into the hall and once again summarized the situation...
"By now, it is certainly impossible for this catch to get away from us. To the contrary, it's growing so big that in one go, we'll be able to regain not just that power of attorney, but everything we've lost up to this point as well!"
Krauss spoke passionately. This made things seem all the more suspicious to Natsuhi, but this time, at least, she had to admit that everything really did seem to be going well. Certainly, this business Krauss boasted of had expanded in scope over the last year, and was promising an even greater payoff than had been anticipated in the beginning. Whether it proved to be a winner or not, investors had gathered around it, and they were rapidly gaining funds. This must be what they mean when they say that money summons money.
It was probably the greatest success of Krauss's life so far. No, it probably would become his greatest success yet. That point was where Natsuhi's misgivings lay. True, it was certain, and as Krauss had said, they wouldn't lose this catch now. However, the fish on the line had gotten too big.
"We'll definitely be able to reel this fish in. There's no need to rush. It's such a success that I wish I could show it to Father to be praised, if he were still alive...!"
"Yes, I know. However, I believe you made me a promise last year. You said you were sure you could manage something within a year...!"
A pained look rose to Krauss's face. They certainly had hooked a fat fish that guaranteed a great success. However, it would require an appropriate amount of time to reel it in... Natsuhi pressed Krauss, asking if there was any way for them to make money before this year's family conference, but Krauss kept saying that he needed just one more year...
Krauss planned to use this unprecedented success to catapult them into further challenges in the future. Because of this, he didn't want to do anything that would raise suspicions by making it seem like they were rushing to get money... Certainly, fortune tends to turn against people who take it for granted even in the slightest. Like by anxiously begging for money...
On many occasions before now, Krauss had gotten cold feet and sold businesses that would surely have brought in a profit had he just waited, and had, in effect, given away his winning picks. Natsuhi also knew this. She knew that guts were the thing her husband lacked most. That's why she was unable to refuse when Krauss said he wanted to prudently wait just one more year...
"You don't look too disappointed. Your life is fated to be chewed to bits by demons as soon as you leave this world."
"...My apologies, Father. For another year, you might not be granted peace."
"It is fine. Do not worry, Natsuhi. I am no longer the Ushiromiya family head. The ghost of the study should obediently follow the current head's commands. I've taken a look at Krauss's charts, and they aren't bad at all."
"Even from your perspective, Father?"
"...Hmmm. They're pretty good even from my perspective. Everyone is confident in victory and concentrating a significant quantity of magical power. As a result, that victory is growing ever deeper, gathering more and more people and magical power, and beginning to create gold. A perfect embodiment of alchemy's shortcuts."
"Hoh. If you've earned even the Golden Witch's approval, that is very reassuring. Be pleased, Natsuhi. This business of Krauss's will save the Ushiromiya family from its crisis without fail."
"Th, thank you very much. And, if you would once again..."
"Hmmm. We'll have to overcome one more family conference, won't we..."
"Yes. I think things went well last year, but I imagine some of the relatives will find it suspicious. I think this year's conference will be a critical period."
"During last year's family conference, you were correct to predict that the same thing might have to happen again someday."
"...Even for those who aren't witches, preparing for the worst case scenario is one of the basics for getting on in this world. So, what will you do this year?"
"Just like last year, I will see to it that a high concentration of the servants who know Father's secret are there on the day of the conference. Some of the relatives may already have noticed that Father isn't around. A careless act might actually put us in more danger of exposure."
"Hmmm. It is said that too much is as bad as too little. Then what will you do?"
"That would be suitable. A barricade is simple, and a final trump card."
"No matter how much the mansion is filled with the toxin, it will be impossible to deny Kinzo's existence as long as the closed room barrier remains around this room. I shall guarantee that myself. However, when making a barricade, it is inevitable that you will be surrounded."
"I know. Even so, I beg that both of you lend us your power just one more time..."
"I cannot disobey the orders of the new head. Furthermore, a ghost cannot disobey the orders of the living. If you tell me not to leave this room, then I will obey."
"Thank you very much..."
"I don't like it. If you want me to lend you my power, I won't listen to a mere request."
"Yes. You are the family alchemist. So, I won't ask you to help. I order you to help. We are relying on your magic alone. Use that power to create an illusion of Father just one more time."
"Very well. I hear and obey. I find your dignity quite pleasing."
"...I see. So we've made it to this year's family conference. Grandfather was in a bad mood, so he shut himself in his study and didn't appear in front of anyone."
Natsuhi spoke boldly about how she would somehow overcome this year's crisis and protect the Ushiromiya family honor until the end, while Kinzo praised her, saying that it looked promising. Beato also praised her, saying that Natsuhi's dignity was even more fitting for the family head than Krauss's. However, right now, the true number of people in this room was...
At the same time I thought that... no, just because I thought that, Beato grabbed her chest and moaned.
"...Don't worry. We're still outside the game board. So, I won't deny you or Grandfather over there."
I put my hand on Beato's as she tried to hold back the pain deep inside her chest...
I already told Bernkastel. Just the two day period of the 1986 family conference is enough to deny the Illusion of the Witch.
My hand that was touching her let off a faint blue light, which seeped into her chest. That light tenderly wrapped itself around the splinters in Beato's chest...
"...And, I also can't deny the existence of the Beatrice in this place. The number of people on this island outside the game board... in other words, before October 4th, 1986, has not been proclaimed in red. Therefore, there's nothing strange about Beatrice existing here."
Beato's expression softened slightly. My blue light... slowly started to melt the red splinters that denied the Illusion of the Witch...
Beato still wore the same sad expression, but she lifted her face... and looked me right in the eye. Even though she was silent, her eyes told me that the pain had gone away. The feelings that showed in her eyes were gratitude for taking the pain away, and appreciation... or was it surprise? For leaving even a tiny bit of leeway for witches to exist.
Unable to look directly at those pure eyes of hers, I automatically averted my gaze.
Beato hung her head. I was still facing away from her. However, we waited wordlessly for a while, my hand still on hers...
...By now, no one would believe this woman with sad eyes... was the same person as that prideful Beato. So, I asked once more. Even though I said it aloud, it wasn't a question to her. I was asking myself.
"That's right. Even though this is Lambda's game, I have to find you here. I have to find what you thought... and what you were trying to do."
Very soon, this game will also reach October 4th, 1986. The 5th game will finally begin. And this time, I'll reach the end. The end of that journey.
"...I'm not worried about the obvious stuff, like murders and tricks. What did you, the Golden Witch Beatrice, think, and why did you do what you did? What were you hoping for? That's what I'm gonna find out."
That's right. I already know how I can reach the end of that journey. And it's been shown since the very beginning.
"And this time, I'll understand you. And I'll pick my way to your heart. I won't let you feel pain. Don't worry. I won't let those witches make you their toy anymore."
Beato looked up at me again... and gave a small nod. That's right. The position of Game Master might have been snatched up by Lambdadelta. However, as long as I continue this contest with the intent of fighting against Beato, our fight will continue no matter who controls the game board.
Very soon, the curtain will rise on our game...
"Y, yes. I understand."
"...I'm a little doubtful that the same trick will work twice."
"Madam shares your concerns. Because of that, it was decided that this year, he will not leave the study even once."
"In other words, we'll make it seem like he's shut away in the study the whole time...?"
"...Yes. And the only ones allowed to enter the study are the three of us, the servants permitted to wear the One-winged Eagle."
"...Which means that the three of us will have to perpetuate the lie about the Master..."
"Correct. The relatives will probably question you about the Master's health and mood. Make sure you answer without hesitation, and see to it that nothing is seen as suspicious."
"...Y, yes. I understand."
"I'm sure you'll screw up right away, Nee-san. Maybe it's better to say you have a cold or something so that you can skip that day."
"Th, that's mean..."
Kanon wasn't just making fun of her. He only wanted to release Shannon from the burden of working on this most serious of days.
"Genji-sama. Is it really necessary for Shannon to work that day? We can manage things well enough without her."
"That I cannot do. Madam gave strict orders that the three of us be scheduled to work on that day."
"Yes... I am prepared to perform my duties successfully."
"Don't screw up."
Shannon grew sullen, and Kanon shrugged. Then Genji told them that they weren't taking this seriously enough.
"...Shannon. Kanon. The Master we serve has already passed away. However, until he has truly passed on, we will continue to serve."
"...That study is not empty. The Master is still there, hard at work on his usual research. Make sure you take that to heart."
BGM: Dead Angle
"Settle down... It's only a possibility. It's well known that Takeda Shingen said in his will that his death was to be kept secret for three years. Know about that?"
"...Is that how it went? My Japanese history isn't so great."
"At the time, Takeda was in the middle of a war with Oda and Tokugawa. If his death had become known at a time like that, it would probably have had a negative effect on the war. 'Cause of this, he left a will sayin' that his death should be kept hidden for three years. Hideyoshi did the same thing, right? He completely suppressed information about the death of his master, Oda Nobunaga, so that the enemy wouldn't find out, quickly made peace with Mouri, and defeated Akechi in the Battle of Yamazaki."
"On the other hand, Shibata Katsuie failed at this. The enemy, Uesugi, learned of Nobuyuki's death, so Shibata had to deal with an unexpected counterattack and was slowed down. That's why, later on, he suffered a great loss against Hideyoshi in the fight for the succession."
Hideyoshi, who had a strong fascination with the commanders of the Sengoku period, would always show off his knowledge whenever he got the chance. Wincing slightly, Eva made him get back to his point.
"...In short, the whole time since last year's family conference, I've felt as though something was strange."
"You mean the time when Rudolf and I were talking about the inheritance and Father overheard us from the hall..."
"That's just it. Natsuhi-san and the servants kept saying Father was here or there and that he seemed to be in a bad mood, but not a single one of us relatives saw Father, right?"
"If what you're thinking is right... What does that mean?! Does it mean that Nii-san is trying to get all of the inheritance for himself?!"
"Of course, hiding someone's death is a very dangerous thing to do. And all things considered, I'm not sure Krauss-san would be willing to do it just to have the inheritance to himself. However, it is possible."
"...W, well, it's true that Nii-san has always been greedy. He always used to take things that were meant for all of the siblings and keep them all for himself..."
"Krauss-san is supposedly the most affluent of the siblings. For Krauss-san to scheme to keep the inheritance all to himself to the point of accepting the risk of hiding Father's death... Sounds a little unbelievable to me. Even so, last year's family conference was just so strange that it makes me wonder."
Eva and the others were painfully aware of how reckless it would be to try and see Kinzo when he was in a bad mood. So, during last year's family conference, the whole time after they heard about Kinzo getting into a terrible mood, they never actively tried to contact him. That's why, to this very day, they hadn't found it suspicious that Kinzo hadn't shown himself once...
"...It definitely is something we should suspect... But I wonder if Nii-san really would do something as appalling as hiding Father's death... For all his pride, that man has a coward's side to him. Would he really make such a once-in-a-lifetime bet...?"
"In any event, it'd probably be a good idea to make sure we get a chance to meet with Father during this year's conference."
"In that case, it would be very difficult to borrow money from Krauss-san."
"Yeah. I could almost cry."
"...So, would being in financial distress give Krauss-san some kind of weakness?"
"A weakness? Well, investors tend to have a keen eye. If they were to hear that Krauss is actually low on funds, none would want to have anything to do with him."
"I guess trust is the most important part of that business. "
Kyrie smiled thinly. Rudolf was taken aback by that smile... He had figured that his plan, which involved raising money to get him out of his current mess by borrowing from the affluent Krauss, would all come to nothing now that they knew Krauss himself was in financial trouble...
"...Krauss-san's trustworthiness might have been necessary in his businesses in the past, but it isn't something we need now."
BGM: Fishy Aroma
"I wouldn't want to. Who would want to stir up something like that between blood siblings? *giggle*giggle*."
Rudolf felt a shiver go up his spine at Kyrie's cold smile... At times, Kyrie was able to throw away all compassion and think in an extremely ruthless manner. When he felt that, Rudolf became certain that he'd never like to have her as his enemy...
"I wouldn't want to threaten Onii-san if there were any other way to get money."
"...If there were another way, we wouldn't be worrying."
"Don't you think worrying about a problem when you have no other options is a bit pathetic?"
Rudolf stopped talking, folded his arms, and lowered his gaze. Some of the terror Rudolf had felt for Krauss due to his violence when they were young still remained. And now, he would threaten Krauss. That meant Rudolf would also have to fight against his childhood trauma. So to give her husband a little push, Kyrie smiled reassuringly, and perhaps coldly.
"I never like to work based on trust. It takes hard work to build up trust, but only an instant to lose it. There's no less profitable investment."
"Y, you're right. All the trust in the world isn't worth a good banknote."
"Even though Krauss-san has been taking huge losses, he should be able to prepare enough money to buy us some time. Of course, that would probably force him to exchange all the trust he's built up for cash to raise money."
"...That, wouldn't turn out well..."
"We'll have to prepare sufficiently. We haven't been given any time or room for failure. Isn't that right?"
"Among my Kyoto friends, there are a few people who are very good at investigating that sort of thing. I'd rather not be in the debt of these people, but do you want to try meeting them? They don't give receipts, but I'm sure they'll dig up something that makes them worth the investment."
BGM: Witch in Gold (cembalo)
Rosa was talking to Rudolf over the phone. Rosa rarely received calls from her older siblings, so she braced herself for something serious.
"Well, truth is... I want to have a little talk about the next family conference, without Aniki."
"...Between you, me, and Eva nee-san? Sounds like a headache."
"I can't talk about the details over the phone, but you might find that it's worth listening to."
"Of course. Aneki is all for it."
"We just want your approval. We aren't going to ask you for money or anything like that. The most important thing is that the three of us stick together. Got it?"
Rosa let out a sigh. She did so because, in the past, when Rudolf and Eva got into a fight with Krauss, they always used to talk to her like this right before dragging her into it...
"Yep. The three of us will each grab 200 million out of this. If things go well, we might be able to squeeze out more. That should be enough to handle your debt, right?"
"...And when will we be grabbing this by?"
"Of course, it'll be within a year. I need it. Aneki needs it. And you need it too, Rosa. All three of our problems'll be settled."
"So, its chances of success are good enough that Nee-san's agreed to it?"
"Now do you wanna hear? I know it's a bit sudden, but let's meet next Sunday, 19:00, at that coffee shop you like in Ginza. That's the only time Aneki's schedule and mine match. Any problems?"
"If it could bring me 200 million, I'll have no choice but to listen. Then let's meet at 7:00 PM next Sunday at Leopold's."
"And Maria-chan. You can bring her too if you want."
"Don't talk about money in front of that child!"
She set the receiver down with a *clunk*, a little violently. Apparently, either Eva or Rudolf had gotten ahold of one of Krauss's weak points. They would probably threaten him with that at the next family conference and force him to pay money. Even before hearing the details, she knew full well that it could be nothing good. But even so, this might be her once-in-a-lifetime chance to pay back her large debts.
Rosa took a notebook out of her handbag and started to fill in the day she would be meeting with Rudolf and Eva. Then she frowned and smacked herself hard in the forehead.
Maria was in her room, playing around excitedly with Sakutarou and the others. It was because she was going to be taken to the amusement park that had just been created, Delsney Land, the following Sunday...
Looking at the clock, Rosa saw that it was just past 9:00 at night. Maria was breaking the lights out rule. After covering her face and agonizing for a while, Rosa stood up and stomped over to Maria's room. The room was almost certainly a mess as well. At least tonight, that was convenient.
As she stood outside the door to Maria's room, listening to the happy laughter seeping through, Rosa's face twisted in anguish once again, and she looked at the floor. Then, when she raised her head again, her brow was furrowed, and her face had become an ugly expression of anger...
The weekend forecast had said that there was a high likelihood of a tropical cyclone growing into a large typhoon. If unhappy premonitions tend to be right... This year's family conference will probably take place in absolutely horrible weather.
No, I wish that a typhoon large enough to stop boat travel to the island would seal Rokkenjima away forever. If that happened, I'd be able to hide Kinzo's death as long as I wanted...
"If only, the typhoon would keep them at bay forever."
Natsuhi let out a deep sigh. Just doing that made her headache throb... As the day of the family conference approached, the intensity of her headache just kept on increasing.
At that time, the phone rang. Natsuhi turned the TV off and picked up the receiver...
"I apologize for calling during your rest. It is Genji."
"Is something the matter...?"
"They aren't saying their name...?"
"Yes. The person in question said you would know when you spoke with them... What should be done? It might be a prank."
"What did they sound like?"
"I believe it was a young man. Any idea who it might be...?"
"A young, man?"
Natsuhi didn't have a clue who that might be. In the first place, there was no one amongst her acquaintances who would do something as rude as refusing to state their name. And on top of that... a young... man...?
As a wife, she must avoid any contact that might be considered suspicious with anyone other than her husband, much less a young man. As soon as she thought this, the phone call suddenly seemed like something dirty. But at the same time, she was more interested than ever in what this person wanted to tell her. Could it be that there was some kind of trouble related to Krauss's business? What if there was some particular reason that they needed to talk to Krauss's wife instead of Krauss directly...?
No matter what it is, it's my duty as a wife to listen and report to Krauss. If it's some strange kind of threat, I just have to firmly refuse and inform Krauss that I received such a phone call. If it's just irritating, then I just have to tell Genji to never again send me a call if the caller doesn't state their name. As Natsuhi thought this, she told Genji, who was offering to hang up after all, to connect her to this person, and she set the receiver down.
After a short while, the phone rang again...
Video: The Phone Call
This wasn't the internal line. It was the external phone line, which Genji had redirected to her. So it should already have been connected directly with the mysterious man. However, the person on the other end didn't respond to her.
...Not liking this at all, Natsuhi spoke one more time, sounding displeased.
"Hello? Who is it? Tell me your name...!"
She heard something that sounded like a sigh. She automatically gulped. After remaining silent for a little longer, the man finally answered...
That was the first time the man had spoken.
"...Just how long has it been? How many years, I wonder."
"What are you talking about? Who are you...?!"
The voice certainly did sound like that of a young man. But it's a bit hard to figure out much about a person just by their voice over the phone... It sounded like a young man, but it might actually be a middle school-aged boy or an adult man whose voice still hadn't deepened. No wait, it might be too soon even to be sure that this is a male.
However, the one thing was certain... Though this person spoke to Natsuhi in such a familiar and casual manner, Natsuhi had absolutely no clue who it was...
"...It'd be easy for me to tell you my name. But that would make me very sad."
"I don't know what you're talking about. Who are you? And what business do you have with me?! If you can't tell me that, I'm not interested! I'm hanging up...!"
"What I want, is for you to remember."
"And what is it that you're telling me to remember? I don't know you, so I have nothing to remember!"
BGM: Deep Blue Jeer
"What did you say...?! What are you talking about?!"
"Don't say things that'll make me so sad, Mother."
That unsettling word thrust itself mercilessly into the depths of Natsuhi's heart and started churning it about... In her entire life, Natsuhi had never once been told something so unsettling. In her bewilderment, Natsuhi felt her heart beat so loudly that it felt like it would explode.
"I, I, I don't remember someone like you ever calling me Mother! I don't know what you're thinking, but I'm hanging up...!!"
Natsuhi's mind went blank... And from beyond the sound of the wind howling outside the window, she most certainly heard the roar of the sea from that day...
"...So, you actually do remember, don't you...?"
"I, I told you I don't know what you're talking about!! N, n, never call here again!"
"I haven't forgotten how you treated me 19 years ago... To curse you, I still call you Mother despite that, no, because of that. It'll be the family conference very soon, won't it? I am your son, Mother."
Breathing so hard her shoulders heaved, Natsuhi slammed the receiver down and hung up... Then she hit the phone violently, knocking the receiver off. So that no more calls would come through it...
I can hear the roar of the sea... The voice I can hear from beyond the howling wind is certainly... aaah, even if I cover my ears, even if I cover my ears, the headache won't...
Completely pale, Natsuhi kept shivering as though cold...
"Yes, I'm here. I'm anywhere you want me to be, Bern."
"...Then crawl into the cupboard under the kitchen floor. Or in a jar of rice-bran paste, if you want."
"Ooh, you're gonna dip me in bean paste and bite me? But in that case, I wish you'd dip me in hone~y. In return, I'll cook you in sugar water."
"...At least make it sweet soy sauce with sweet sake."
"So what's up? You gonna make me repeat something?"
"...That's right. Is Natsuhi's phone conversation here a fact?"
Lambdadelta grinned unpleasantly, as though sizing Bernkastel up. She was probably trying to tease Bern for making that demand.
"...You refuse to repeat it?"
"Well now... Should I refuse, or should I respond... As the Game Master, that's up to me to decide, and I get to make that decision any time I want."
"...Unless I state it in the blue text, you aren't obligated to respond."
"That's it! *giggle*giggle*. Now the best you can do is wonder about Natsuhi's secret of 19 years ago, right?! Make sure you're sitting on the edge of your seat, alright? *giggle*giggle*."
Of course, this fishy telephone call happened before October 4th, 1986. This is still before the start time of the game. So, there's basically no need to question whether it's true or false.
"Ehheheheheheheheheheheheheheheheh... So, you'll leave without turning the card over."
"Ouch, wh, what?!"
After suddenly being conked on the head, Lambdadelta was bewildered. But perhaps this incomprehensible exchange was funny to her... because she quickly went back to giggling.
"...Are you done preparing the game board now?"
"Yeah, that's right. Now I'll finally move on to the game. On to October 4th, 1986...!"
"...I wonder what number October 4th, 1986 this is. So, the Endless Witch. Beatrice. She really is a frightening child."
"Is your side going to do anything, Bern?"
"...Nope. If you've refused to repeat what I asked, then I'm done."