Part 9: Witch of Miracles II
BGM: Melody (instrumental)
"This is where Bern solved the riddle of the epitaph. I'd expect no less from the Witch of Miracles. 'If a riddle is solvable, she can solve it without fail regardless of the difficulty'. How many years did it take to solve this one?"
"...That's rude. I only fished through a few hundred Fragments."
"Heheheheheheheheheheh... You really are terrifying."
"You aren't going to cheat by suddenly saying the answer in red or something like that, right...?"
"...Don't worry. Just like you, I follow the rules as a player. Well, shall we begin? It's cramped here. Why don't we talk over the sea?"
"OK. Don't get queasy, Battler."
"What do you mean, sea...?"
It must have felt like suddenly having the floor drop from under you, sending you into a bottomless pitfall...
In this space, every direction was covered in an endless darkness, and it felt like an endless expanse filled with countless glittering objects. Some people might have likened it to the depths of an ocean where countless glittering fragments drifted.
"Uh, wh, whoa..."
"...Didn't she tell you not to get queasy?"
"If you want the concept of gravity, just create it yourself, okay? Come on, calm down and look at us. Come on, don't we look like we're just fine?"
"...Believe that your feet are on the ground and that you're being controlled by gravity. If you do that, you'll find your equilibrium."
Y, yes, the two witches are standing normally, as though their feet are planted on a transparent piece of glass. I'm the only one floating about like someone in a rapidly plummeting elevator. When I saw that they were just fine, I started calming down, figuring that there was no need to be scared. Then, just as Lambdadelta said, I gritted my teeth and kept telling myself that there was a place to stand here... and that I had to calm down...
"Very good, very good. What's your name?"
"Ushiromiya Battler. Who else do I look like?"
"OK. You mustn't lose your will, emotions, or form. After all, this is the ocean. If you lose your purpose, you'll fall into the depths of eternity and become a scrap of ocean seaweed. Be careful."
I don't get what Lambdadelta is saying, but I should calm down for the time being. It seems that I gain my equilibrium more the more I calm down. Gradually, that weird floating feeling, like I was falling forever, began to disappear. It still felt strange, like trying to stand up straight at the bottom of a deep pool, but it was much better than before.
"...Then let's begin. I'll grab a Fragment for solving the riddle of the epitaph..."
Bernkastel opened both of her hands. Then, like a planetarium... all of the Fragments throughout this empty space began to spin, leaving tails behind them...
The expression 'planetarium' might have been even more fitting... Multiple Fragments were tied together by gold lines, and what looked like constellations zoomed by us rapidly, one after another. It felt almost as though we were dashing through space at an incredible speed...
Then, with tails of light drifting behind them, several brightly glowing Fragments swirled around Bernkastel. It looked almost like she had created her own solar system with her as the sun. That solar system surrounding Bernkastel grew to a radius large enough to swallow us up. And every once in a while, one of those satellite Fragments zoomed right past me.
BGM: F Style
When those Fragments passed right by me, it felt as though some kind of memory welled up inside me. So I sensed it. These Fragments are probably like a crystallization of memories.
"They aren't memories. They're Fragments of worlds. Well, I guess they might feel like memories to you."
"...Then let's begin. Let's start with this Fragment."
One of the satellites in this solar system was slowly sucked into an inward trajectory with Bernkastel at the center. After drawing a spiral and approaching her, it settled down on the palm of Bernkastel's outstretched hand... Then, it glittered brightly, painting over the world with pure white...
"...I remember that. This is when, in the 3rd game, Aunt Eva was just about to solve the riddle of the epitaph, and was thinking it over with this witch inside her or whatever."
"...That's right. And, from these thoughts, she made her way to the correct answer. In other words, this Fragment shows a vital hint for reaching the truth. In other words, it means that this theory is not mistaken."
"So, you're saying we should assume this beloved hometown isn't a metaphor or anything like that... but the place Grandfather actually spent his youth?"
"...That's right. And at the very least, it isn't Odawara."
"That's right... Aunt Eva and her siblings said that it wasn't Odawara. And not only that, it looks like everyone guessed where Grandfather's hometown was."
"...Right. And annoyingly, the actual location isn't spoken of in any of the Fragments."
"Of course. If I told you that, there'd be too many hints. If a riddle isn't hard, there's just no point to it."
"...Uh-oh, that's a hint too. *giggle*..."
"...Just where is this hometown of Grandfather's? We can't even start if we don't know that..."
"You mean you couldn't start, so you stopped thinking? Since it had to be a place where he could have lived, the number of possibilities is limited. Well, this is the toughest part."
"...You were the witch who could 'certainly solve any riddle that can be solved', weren't you? So you took those limited possibilities, in other words, everywhere on the earth, and considered every single piece of land that Grandfather might have lived on?"
"...That would work too, but that way, no amount of time would be enough. So, I needed to take some more hints into consideration to wring out the answer."
"...A sweetfish river running through the hometown. However, this river isn't truly a river. Eva thought of something else, something that could be linked with a river."
"Sure... But if it isn't a river, then why the sweetfish...?"
"...Think. A river that runs through the hometown. But it isn't a river with water running down it. Something that can be likened to a river..."
"...Behold the sweetfish river running through the beloved hometown. Eva knew where the hometown was, so she could forget about the sweetfish hint. However, since we don't know where it is, this could be a hint for us."
"...What are these 'sweetfish'...? If the river isn't a literal river, then of course, 'sweetfish' probably doesn't mean the kind of fish that swims."
"Yeah. And on top of that, Rosa tossed it aside, saying that sweetfish weren't that significant."
"...And on the other hand, Eva said that it wasn't important for them to be sweetfish, but that it was still an excellent hint. In other words, the 'sweetfish' is a key to make you think of something else. If that something is a different word, but a word that sweetfish makes you think of, then Eva's line about how it 'probably didn't have to be sweetfish' makes sense..."
From these thoughts, Aunt Eva formed some theory, went to the archive, looked through some books, and 'verified that she was right'. In short, Aunt Eva formed some theory about the true nature of this sweetfish river running through a hometown. Then, she opened a certain book to determine whether that theory was correct or not. In other words, this theory was something that could be verified through some kind of book... Also, after she figured out what the sweetfish river was, she figured out the rest of the riddle very quickly...
"...Good thinking. The epitaph continues on, saying 'as you travel down the river, you will see a village'. At that point in time, Eva hadn't yet solved the three lines starting with this one."
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...?!
"...Correct. And we know that because even Eva didn't know what the village meant until she checked the book."
"Dammit... Just what is this book...?!"
...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 then 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...!!"
"Yeah. And this key... was some kind of word, number, or string of characters... six characters long!"
"...That's it. If we know that the key's true identity has six characters, the meaning of the first twilight changes drastically."
"O, on the first twilight, offer the six chosen by the key as sacrifices... The six... chosen by the key... Six characters...! In other words, it means to sacrifice the six characters chosen by the key on the first twilight...!"
Yes, Kyrie-san has been thinking that way ever since that moment...!
"In other words, on the first twilight, we take a list of characters that's longer than six, 'kill' the six that are the key, and then do something with the characters that remain...!"
"...That's right. But, like Kyrie said, what should we kill the characters from? We don't know this longer string of characters that we're supposed to be killing from."
On the first twilight, kill the six characters that are the key. On the first twilight.
"...In other words, by the time we reach the first twilight, some string of characters already exists?"
"I also thought of the possibility that it's an anagram."
"...Come to think of it, you did say something like that before. But in that case, where do we take the six characters out from?"
"That's right. Since we're taking six characters out, it must be at least six characters long. We need to read it in some way that gives it more than six characters..."
"If we follow Father's sensibilities... I guess it probably is English after all..."
"...If it looks like we're getting stuck, why don't we move on to the second twilight and look for hints?"
"In that case, what does it mean by two characters that are close...?"
"...I see. I get it, so that's what this is about...!"
"So 2, 4, and 5 are left. So what?"
"...Oh, 4 and 5 are close..."
"Yes, I get it!! So the two who are close are..."
"Yep. There's a gap between 2 and 4, but 4 and 5 are right next to each other. They're the two who are close...!"
"...<Good>. Well done, Battler-san. We can't tell whether 'tear apart' means to crush 4 and 5, or to put a gap between them, but I think that's a good observation."
"Then what do you think about the third twilight, those who remain shall praise my noble name?"
"...Since there's a good chance that we're playing with letters, there's a possibility that this is also playing with letters. 'The characters that remain shall praise my noble name'."
"Hmmmmm... That's tough... What could it mean...?"
"...Does anyone know? I think I do."
"Huh? What is it? Tell me...!"
"...Once again, <good>. Battler-san, you're a pretty flexible thinker."
"By anagram, you mean playing with letters, right? That means..."
"In other words, maybe it means that you can make some kind of word by changing the order of the remaining letters."
"Yeah. If so, This theory might be a little rash, but maybe the original list of characters that the first twilight is taken out of is 11 characters long."
"...Well done again. I reached the same conclusion."
"Wh, why's that? Why do you think there are 11 characters?!"
"...We think that 'killing a single sacrifice' means 'crushing a single character'. If we interpret the 'tear apart' of the second twilight to mean adding a gap between two characters, then there are 11 characters total. If 'tear apart' means to crush those two characters, then we can assume that there are 13 characters."
"...After all, from the fourth twilight to the eighth twilight, the word 'kill' appears five times. And then, on the ninth twilight, it's written that none will be left alive."
"If we ignore the part about the witch reviving for now, I figured that after crushing the first six, separating the characters that are close, and then crushing five more of them... there should be no characters left."
So that makes 6, or 11 characters. If tearing apart the two who are close in the second twilight means to kill both of them, that makes 6+2, or 13 characters. There's a chance that the word symbolizing the first twilight has 11 or 13 characters. Wait... it couldn't be that easy, could it?
"...Wonderfully done. That's the exact same theory I thought of. It looks like you were gifted with a lot of little gray cells just like me, Battler-san."
"Hey, quit it. Just doing what comes naturally."
BGM: Deep Blue Jeer
"Oh, sorry about that. You weren't around at this point, so I just controlled your piece for you. Isn't it nice how smart I made you look...?"
"*giggle*giggle*giggle*...! It looks like you'd be wiser to let Bern be the player. Why not step down as the player and concentrate on being the piece instead?"
I joined in on this game on October 5th, after the first few murders. That means the piece called 'me' was controlled by the player, Bernkastel. So, I guess that means it's possible for Bernkastel's reasoning to be announced through 'my' mouth...
...The game I'm watching now is nothing more than a replay of a part that's already ended.
However, that's probably good enough for now. Since this Bernkastel-sama has gone out of her way to solve the epitaph for me. I'll watch closely for now. And, I'll try to find out what it means.
Lambdadelta let it slip herself just a second ago.
...This theory about Grandfather creating the epitaph in order to choose a successor isn't bad at all. Erika and Bernkastel's logic is extremely reasonable. But that's only if we assume Grandfather was the one to create it.
BGM: Minute Darkness
And, in the games up until now, Beatrice threatened us repeatedly with letters, saying that the only way to survive was to solve the epitaph... and trying to force us to solve the riddle. In other words, it was Beatrice's intention, her hope... that we would try solving the riddle of the epitaph. The epitaph is so confusing that, in most cases, the relatives never seriously tried solving it until the threatening letters started to arrive. That's why Beatrice fired the starting pistol which made us take a go at it.
...Why is Beatrice succeeding Grandfather's will after his death...? Like the theory proposed in the first game, is Beatrice really Grandfather's confidant, who's following his orders even after his death and trying to select the successor with the riddle of the epitaph in Grandfather's stead...? If she did that, it would mean that Beatrice really was Kinzo's trusted underling... the family alchemist she called herself in that letter...
After Grandfather's death, Beatrice managed the ten tons of gold and took the title of alchemist. She was entrusted with the epitaph's riddle, and without ever embezzling the gold, she waited for a human fitting to be the successor to appear and solve it... And if that human didn't appear within a set time limit, would that be 'game over'? Certainly, Aunt Eva, who solved the riddle in the 3rd game, became the only survivor and, automatically, the final head of the Ushiromiya family, inheriting everything.
Up until now, no one has ever survived past October 5th except Aunt Eva, the one who solved the epitaph... That was the only case where Beatrice let anyone survive...
Was she so loyal that she faithfully carried out some terrible order... to kill everyone if the epitaph wasn't solved...?
...I must not stop thinking. Don't, stop thinking... Don't just think of the riddle itself... think about why it's significant. Why is Beatrice telling us to solve the epitaph...? Why did she create such a confusing epitaph for us...? If Beatrice makes us try and solve this epitaph that we have no real chance of solving, and by some lucky chance, a 'miracle' occurs and someone is able to solve it... what significance would that have to her...?
I don't know... what this miracle would be worth to Beato.
We tried looking at it from several different angles, but in the end, we got stuck there and made no further advances.
Maria let out an extra-large yawn. This caused several other people to yawn. We had been using our heads so much that everyone had gotten a little sleepy. Jessica, who had been silent and looking displeased the whole time, quickly stood up.
"...I'm going upstairs with Maria. We'll watch TV or something."
"Okay... I'll go up too. Hey, why don't we all play cards upstairs?"
When George proposed this, Maria completely forgot about that big yawn of hers and started jumping around, insisting that she wanted to play cards. Judging by the clock, it was already 10:00 at night. It was already about that time you normally take a bath and get ready for sleep. Even the adults seemed pretty weary from traveling. We decided to continue this later and went our separate ways...
"Will you play with us too, Erika-chan? Cards?"
"Seriously. You're in such high spirits it's hard to believe you almost drowned."
"*giggle*. That's youth for you. Still, I enjoyed it. I think we've taken a big step in our reasoning thanks to you. If I find the gold, I'll let you have about a million yen worth."
"Wahahaha! Can't you at least offer the poor girl a hundred million! Uhahaha!"
"No need to bother. I'm only interested in solving the riddle. Well then, if you'll excuse me. Good night."
"Oh, you aren't going upstairs, Battler-kun?"
"...I'm getting a bit interested here. I'll think things through here just a bit longer. If I can just figure out the list of characters that marks the first twilight, I'll bet the road before me will open up all at once..."
Everyone went up to the second floor one by one. Only Aunt Rosa remained behind, cleaning up the coffee cups everyone had been drinking out of. Kyrie-san and some others had offered to help, but since Rosa had refused this, she was washing them all alone. Since I'd just been treated to such delicious coffee, I decided to help too. I wasn't just doing it because I felt obligated. I wanted to keep discussing the epitaph with someone.
"Nope... I don't have a clue. But instead of the first twilight, it's the tenth twilight that bugs me."
"The tenth twilight...? What about it?"
"Why is it... that the word 'capital' only appears in the tenth twilight? The place that the gold is hidden is called 'the Golden Land' everywhere else, but only this one place calls the Golden Land a capital."
"...You're right. No mistake. That's the only time any capital is mentioned..."
Even though the Golden Land itself is referred to several times, only the tenth twilight talks about a capital... Is this the capital of the Golden Land, or the Golden Land itself...?
"Still, you and that Erika-chan girl are incredible. The way you think really is flexible. I'm already an old lady, and my mind just doesn't work that fast. That theory about the six chosen by the key signifying six characters to be removed was very impressive."
"After hearing that, I can't see it as being any other way, but before then, I didn't think it was like that at all... My thickheadedness is getting annoying."
"That's not true. You have a very flexible mind, Aunt Rosa. This capital thing might be really important somewhere down the line."
"Not at all. My mind's very stiff. Up until now, I've always thought that this 'first twilight' was nothing more than a place one-tenth of the way on a road to the Golden Land."
"...What's that? Sounds interesting. Mind telling me about it?"
"*giggle*. After all, in the line before the first twilight, it says 'you must travel to the Golden Land', right? The next part describes a journey that lasts ten days, so I thought the first twilight would be part of the way through that journey."
"...A journey... I see. "
"Something like that... Don't tell anyone, okay? For some reason, I used to think the capital bit was about Kyoto."
When you say 'kyou', it sounds like Kyoto. There might be some kind of secret hidden at the end of the first tenth of the road from Kinzo's hometown to Kyoto...
"...After all, if the capital of the gold and the Golden Land are the same thing, you can also say them the same way, right? 'Ougon Kyou' can mean Golden Capital."
But when 京 is all by itself, it can also mean Kyoto specifically. The ten-day trip might be between Kinzo's hometown and Kyoto...
"Are you kidding? That's a brilliant idea. And the first twilight is the first stop on a ten-day journey... The name of that place might be the key..."
"For my ten day theory to work, you'd have to know both the start point and the end point. I know the start point. I know the hometown Father loved. The place Father spent his time when he was a boy really is far away."
"...But the problem is the goal... the Golden Land. What does that really mean? If we don't know that, my theory gets us nowhere. I've been stuck at this spot for a long time, but after listening to your reasoning today, I've realized what an embarrassing mistake I've been making."
"...No, I think that's still an interesting idea. A start and a goal, a ten-day journey. And the place reached at the very first twilight..."
"Believe it or not, I think you might solve this one easily, Battler-kun. If you do solve it with your aunt's hint, share some with me. Even 5% would be great. It's a promise!"
Despite being my aunt, she gave me a wink which would've made a man's heart jump. As I helped her wash the coffee cups, I kept pondering the epitaph's riddle silently...
"...Your room is on the second floor, right? I was sure you'd gone upstairs and had fallen asleep by now."
"...I was just searching for something. I thought it might be here."
"Searching for something...?"
Erika unlocked the door and opened it. A dusty smell drifted out...
The gaps between the bookshelves were too small for this to be called a library room. This was obviously a room made for storing books, not reading them.
"...So you're searching for a book?"
"Not necessarily a book, but materials. There's something I've just got to look up."
"...You're looking for something having to do with the epitaph's riddle...? Pretty admirable that you haven't given up yet. I guess 20 billion yen is pretty enticing."
I hadn't given up either. Apparently, we were both bad at giving up...
"You're joking. I'm only interested in riddle-solving. I'm only looking for the gold because I want proof that my reasoning was correct. Even if I found it, I wouldn't pocket it for myself, so don't worry."
...She immediately cast it aside, saying that she just liked solving riddles and had no interest at all in the gold. At first, I was pretty sure she was a weird one, and it looks like that impression was spot on.
As Erika slowly circled the bookshelves, she started searching for the book she was after...
"...Let me hear it."
Erika asked this without stopping her search or even turning to face me.
"In the line before the first twilight, it says that one who obtains the key must do so and so."
"...The one who obtains the key must then travel to the Golden Land in accordance with these rules."
"Whoa... You've already got it memorized? Guess I shouldn't be surprised..."
"And what about that?"
"...Yeah. You should travel to the Golden Land, right? Apparently, this made Aunt Rosa think about the tenth twilight... in other words, going on a ten-day journey from the beloved homeland to the Golden Land..."
"Actually, I already noticed that myself. The place you reach on the first day of the ten-day journey. That's where you offer the sacrifices from."
"Y, yeah, that's what Aunt Rosa thought of too. I also think it's an interesting theory. The place you reach on the first day of the ten-day journey. That bit of land, or else the place's name, might be a key..."
"...I also guessed that the place's name might be a key. That's why I'm looking for materials. I want to turn my guess into certainty."
"What is it... that you're looking for?"
Then, Erika's hand suddenly stopped, and she slowly pulled it out... Then, as she dusted it off, she finally looked at me and spoke.