Part 10: Those Who Reach It
October 4th, 1986, 10:00 PM
Natsuhi could be seen in the study. When she muttered as though to herself, gold butterflies appeared and formed into the shape of a person...
"...So, simply saying Father is in a bad mood and refuses to come out won't deceive them after all."
"Yeah... It seems they grew quite suspicious last year. Because of that, the toxin has expanded and is coiling itself around this study, growing ever tighter..."
"It probably isn't due solely to people being suspicious since last year."
"...That's right. The toxin has grown too thick to be explained away by that alone. There must be a strong will which has suspected Kinzo-sama's death since last year... and is trying to expose it at this year's conference."
"Does that mean... they weren't fully tricked last year?"
"...Unfortunately, it might be best to assume that in the current situation. The typhoon will remain here tomorrow, and the boat will not come for them until the day after. In short, we must endure for another 36 hours at the very least..."
"...Your eyes probably can't see it, Natsuhi, but the closed room barrier sealing this room was once very firm. Tonight, however, it has been worn down so that it's nearly crumbling, like dry leaves waiting for a storm."
"No, the storm is already here. Natsuhi-sama. I propose that we switch from the closed room barrier to something else."
"What do you mean by something else...? Do you mean to change our plan...?"
"That is correct. Virgilia-sama and I will reconstruct a barrier similar to last year's."
"What did you say...? You want to change the plan this far in...?!"
"When you learn that you cannot withstand a siege, you must consider abandoning the castle..."
"...Right now, this room is like a castle surrounded by enemy troops with its walls about to crumble. If staying put means certain death, then you still have the ability to ride out for one last stand and an honorable defeat. After all, surrender doesn't seem to be an option in this fight."
"I'll protect Father's secret until the very end! If it's discovered, there will be no chance for us to talk our way out of it! My husband's embezzlement will be exposed to the light of day, and the Ushiromiya family's honor will be destroyed! We must remain firm and prevent that no matter what...!"
"...Calm down, I understand that. Krauss's alchemy will soon see great results. If we can make it through this year, we'll be able to manage. So don't get flustered."
"But we planned this siege because using the same trick as last year wouldn't work, right? Isn't it the height of stupidity to return to a plan you previously abandoned because it was impossible...?! Just what kind of plan could we make at this point...?!"
"Ronove and I will prepare that. Leave it to us, as creating illusions is what witches do. All you have to do is give us your permission, Natsuhi-sama."
"Did you forget that we chose our current strategy because we considered those kinds of plans and couldn't find anything that would work?! To get flustered in an emergency and carelessly throw away the primary plan is simply foolish!"
"But Natsuhi-sama...! You, right there amidst the toxin, must realize better than anyone else that we will no longer be able to outlast this siege...!"
"...I propose that we try and think of another plan without changing our objective of holding the fort. In any event, as long as we can keep this room sealed, no one will be able to deny Father's existence. After all, you can't determine the contents of a cat box that can't be opened no matter how many people you have with you...!"
"...Well, that is true... However, humans are irrational. It's possible for them to eat into an airtight cat box and go inside like black ants surrounding a box of cake. And I'm also worried about Lady Bernkastel's piece."
"...It was fortunate that Erika-sama stole the show at tonight's dinner. By doing that, she created an atmosphere where it was possible for tonight's family conference to be closed. If you had gone straight back to the family conference afterwards like usual, the barrier might have broken tonight."
"But because of that, the toxin has grown even thicker. After thickening all night, the toxin may be able to penetrate the closed room barrier easily. Whether we keep up with holding the fort or give up that plan, we will not be able to make it through tomorrow unless we prepare a new strategy and a new barrier."
"...Lady Bernkastel may have some plan for breaking the closed room barrier... We can't take that piece called Erika lightly..."
"Lady Bernkastel is a fan of Eastern things. In Shogi, Japanese chess, aren't you allowed to drop pieces in the middle of a game?"
"Yes, that is possible. Even dropping a queen from the captured pile right in front of the enemy king is a trump card-like move that would be allowed in Shogi."
"...I wonder... what is that man who spoke of 19 years ago doing? Is he already hiding somewhere on this island...?"
"...That girl called Erika was able to appear by claiming to have drifted here. That man might also have landed somewhere on this island despite the typhoon, and he might be hiding somewhere..."
"...And it's going to be hard to fully deceive the relatives any longer... Why?!! Why have so many irregular things happened at the same time?!! How can you explain this nightmarish miracle of coincidence?!!"
Natsuhi slammed the desk hard, held her head, and cringed at the pain from her overwhelming headache...
"...Lady Bernkastel controls miracles. There's no point being surprised at irregularities or miracles when that person is around."
"It may be true that Shogi is a game where an enemy piece can suddenly appear right in front of a king. However, that is why you build up a perfect formation that doesn't allow for that kind of weakness, artistically constructing a castle to protect your king."
"In that case, isn't holding the fort something we should be doing now?!!"
"If we had a fort that we could hold then perhaps, but we cannot hope for such a thing now."
"It is difficult to corner a king without a wall to his back, and even more difficult to corner one with open spaces in all directions."
"...Think of a mouse. You can catch a mouse that's shut in a cage. However, catching a mouse in a field is like trying to catch a cloud."
"Natsuhi-sama. Please allow us to consider an option. Kinzo-sama will leave his study and wander around the mansion on a whim, avoiding the gazes of the relatives. We will think of a natural-seeming plan for this before morning."
"...Don't you see the danger...? If we're willing to consider such a dangerous option, wouldn't it be better to continue acting as though Father is in his room in a bad mood...?"
"Tomorrow, the relatives will again crowd around in front of the study. They will crowd right on the other side of that single door. After that, just how long do you intend to make it seem like they're having a yelling match with Kinzo-sama?! It's impossible...!"
"We have to somehow postpone that impossibility for 36 hours!! If you tell me to do it, I will!! I am Ushiromiya Natsuhi! The wife of the Ushiromiya family head!! If you tell me to do that, I will act out a shouting match with Father for as many days as it takes...!! Aaaaaaagghhh!!"
But she could no longer see any chance of victory from a plan which involved making an illusion of Kinzo walk around...
Banging on the desk several times, with tears of rage streaming down her face, Natsuhi alternated between groaning from her headache and placing the blame on one thing or another. It was enough to make one feel that there was a curse which made anyone who sat in that chair do the same...
"...This is like a game of mating Shogi, where you are on the defensive. In mating Shogi, the opponent has no king. And you have no way of winning other than avoiding a checkmate for a predetermined number of moves."
"And to think... that I must escape for a whole day and a half's worth of moves... that's just too many..."
"Don't stop thinking... don't give up...! I'll listen to your complaints, so don't have a fit...! That certain will of yours to overcome this trial no matter what will produce results with certainty...! That is the power of the Witch of Certainty."
"You must not lose that magical power. Believe that you will overcome this no matter what...! I'm sure you'll think of a brilliant plan. Therefore, you must not give up and stop thinking...!"
"...You're right... I understand... If I can't overcome this hardship, then no one else can..."
"That is correct. Didn't Kinzo entrust you with the job of overcoming all of this? Kinzo acknowledged that you were worthy of this responsibility...!"
"...Father... Father... gaaaahhhh!!!"
"I understand, I understand!! But, I'm already, all tired out, and I can't stand this headache... Why is it... that I'm crying here... all alone in this ice cold study?! Why... why isn't my husband here for me now?!"
Back when dinner ended, Krauss claimed to be dizzy and went to bed early. Of course, he had done this to get enough rest to ready himself for the long day ahead, but to Natsuhi right now, it felt as though he had just gone straight to sleep and pushed all of the burden onto her. However, complaining about such a thing would mean that she had failed as a wife. Isn't it a good wife's duty to work hard and think of the family first even when her husband is resting...?
Still regretting even her anger at her husband, and unable to determine whom she should be angry at, Natsuhi continued to sob... If only... Kinzo could just speak to her kindly at times like this. Beato searched for him, but Kinzo had been nowhere to be seen in the study for some time now... Perhaps Natsuhi had noticed this as well...
Though she bragged that fighting alone and supporting from behind was the responsibility of a good wife, without anyone to confirm whether this was really necessary, she was now so frail that she couldn't even stop her own tears. Just as Beato was thinking of words she could use to console Natsuhi, Virgilia tapped her lightly on the shoulder. If words of consolation don't come from the mouth of the right person, they can sometimes do more harm than good. Therefore, Virgilia silently urged Beato that remaining silent was the best course of action for now...
BGM: Organ Short #200 Million in C Minor
"Gaap. Please restrain yourself for the time being."
"No, as long as you're here, there's no distinction between outsiders or guests and the rest of us. You may speak."
"...Thank you. Ronove said it himself a while ago. This is mating Shogi with you on the defensive. How does one lose in mating Shogi? It's because their king is checkmated, right?"
"That goes without saying. And the opponent has no king. Therefore, all Natsuhi can do is have her king run away constantly."
"...I see. So you're thinking of that move. Has that time already come?"
"What do you mean? Are you saying we have some sort of move?"
"...It's the thing you proposed in the very beginning about how to hide Goldsmith's death. I'm trying to say that the time has come for us to use that..."
"You mean... having him go missing...?! You mean to make that move right now, during the family conference?! That's too dangerous!"
After successfully resolving all of their problems, they would have to lay Kinzo to rest. And the way to do that... was to make him disappear.
One day, Kinzo would go out into the forest and never return. They wouldn't be able to find him no matter how much they searched, so he would be declared 'missing'...
"You plan for us to talk our way out of this using that?! Using such a move now, when the suspicion against us is greatest, would be no better than committing suicide!!"
"They will probably suspect. This move would most certainly lead to mistrust."
"...However, even if they set foot in this study, such suspicions will be unprovable. It will be impossible for them to capture Kinzo forever after, and no matter how much they suspect that he has died, they will be unable to prove it..."
"Forget about a mere 36 hours, wouldn't you be able to protect Kinzo's secret forever that way...? Of course, it will come with an appropriate risk."
"...If you make this move, you may be able to overcome this particular challenge, but we cannot even guess at how much prestige you might lose for it."
"Even so, this move will most certainly overcome this one challenge. Of course, you must then deal with an even greater suspicion. But you won't die."
"Y, yes, that may be true, but..."
"...During the Great Kanto Earthquake, the Ushiromiya family should have died. However, the mad genius Goldsmith revived it so splendidly that it is now something you desire to protect. So this time, it is up to you and your husband, the new head and his wife, to do the same."
"...Hoh... Is that how you intend to stir her up?"
"I'm not stirring her up. I'm just asking if she's prepared to be the wife of the head... Are you prepared to protect the Ushiromiya family even if it means eating dirt...?"
"I, I am..."
"Then now is the time. If you can last a little bit longer by eating dirt, then chow down as much as you can. You will drag yourself out of this world of suffering, and you'll eventually regain that glory. I, Gaap, the 33rd in rank, promise you this."
"...The fact that I came to play at a time like this must be guidance from the gods of happenstance... I'll keep that promise, Ushiromiya Natsuhi. I require nothing in return. Riiche, the one who serves you, has already paid me plenty in advance."
Gaap seemed quite careless, but she was actually possessed by a strong sense of duty. She was the kind of person who just couldn't leave someone in trouble alone.
"*giggle*giggle*...Just the various magical items that you couldn't remember where you put. I made off with quite a few of those."
"Wha?!! So it really was your fault that I could never find those...!!"
"...This is the sort of magic or plan that I can give you. I can hide Goldsmith away in a world where no one will be able to find him. Let me know the instant you need this magic. Until then, you may think of another, safer plan."
"True. Having an option open to you leaves you with a little peace of mind. Without any peace of mind, you cannot think up a brilliant plan."
"Natsuhi-sama. The night is not short. Let's leave Gaap's plan as a final trump card and iron out our plan for the time being. Please give us permission. Furthermore, please give us the trust, magical power, and certain conviction needed to succeed without fail."
"If you believe, I will make that come true. If you doubt, I will make that come true. You must make your own future."
Hiding this final trump card in her heart, Natsuhi decided that she would grope around for a different plan until the last second. After all, this long, long night had only just begun... Bernkastel and her piece had just as long a time to prepare as Natsuhi did...
"I see, so that's what 'gouge' meant after all. Once again, my reasoning was correct."
The reaction this last time was clearly different from the previous ones, making it feel as though some sort of device had activated. However, as far as a quick glance could tell, there was no dramatic change, such as an entrance of some sort opening. Apparently, they would need to do just a little more before they could find it...
"You're incredible. After all this, if we really do find the gold, we'll have to split it together."
"Enjoying the intellectual stimulation is enough for me. The only thing I like is solving riddles. Proof that I was right is all I need for a reward."
She shrugged it off, saying that just seeing the gold would be enough. Then she crouched down, peering fixedly at the lock mechanism. It's no exaggeration at all... to say that this girl really loves solving riddles. Her fondness for treasure hunting is fueled by a romanticism regarding the process of finding hidden things, and she has no interest whatsoever in getting the treasure for herself and becoming a billionaire or whatever...
"...I see. You really think such a device would fool me..."
As she said this to the device she had exposed, she grinned at it. That smile had a bit of triumph on it, but it was more fully characterized by the small bit of unpleasant disdain it contained. After solving the riddle, she was probably reveling in the pleasure of having won against the one who had proposed it, as well as the way she could now scoff at this person...
"...If we find the gold now, the successor to the head won't be Krauss-san, but you."
"Heh. Well, I wonder."
"...Isn't Krauss-san kind of arrogant? Maybe you could even call him a braggart."
"It'll be pretty pleasant to see him have both the gold and his position as successor to the head snatched away by his nephew in the course of a single night, won't it?"
Erika was still crouched down as she spoke, her back to Battler as she toyed around with the device...
BGM: Golden Sneer
"...She really was acting big about her father being the successor to the head. When she wakes up tomorrow and learns that you've inherited all the gold, and that her father is no longer the successor, I wonder what kind of expression she'll have on her face...?"
"...It's not like I have any desire at all to keep all 20 billion for myself. Well, if I get even 10%, that'd be as much as I could handle. We can split the rest fairly amongst the family."
"I'm even less interested in being the successor to the head. I'd be glad to let Uncle Krauss deal with that."
"...Can you really settle things so easily in the end...? *giggle*giggle*giggle*. Instead of trying to predict that... I get the feeling it'll be much more fun to guess what kind of expression Jessica-san will have on her face tomorrow and what kind of sad excuses she'll try to make."
"...You... really have a bad personality."
"Oh? Couldn't you reason that out from the time you learned that I liked solving riddles...?"
"...You probably wanted to expose the gold Grandfather had done everything he could do to hide."
"Yes, that's how it was at first, but my goal changed halfway through."
"Halfway through? Changed to what?"
"Jessica-san. She butted in on my reasoning, contaminating a pure and noble time for me. That's why I changed my goal into solving the riddle so that I could get even with this girl called Jessica."
"...Hey... are you serious?"
"*giggle*. *giggle*giggle*giggle*giggle*. I'll make any opponent surrender, no matter who. That is my sole pleasure. Do you need any more reasoning?"
...This time, I turned my back on her in earnest. Thinking that this riddle-solving game was pretty fun... did I let her get to me and do something terrible...?
That's right. It was possible to guess this. If the riddle is solved, the relatives will probably get into an uproar about who will be the successor to the head. Dad and some others will probably make a fuss about how I, the discoverer, should be the next head, and some relatives not thrilled with that prospect will probably oppose them.
Despite how adamantly Erika affirmed it, it isn't written anywhere that the one who solves the riddle of the epitaph becomes the next head. Because of this, it'll lead to a fight between those who acknowledge that and those who don't... If I reason out what'll happen next, as Erika did... It will probably turn into a messy fight between Uncle Krauss and the rest of the relatives. After I solve the riddle, will Jessica admire me... or curse me? I don't want to think about that now...
...Erika was still mumbling. Apparently... she had already started trying to reason it out... As I began to feel very bad, I lazily gazed out into the black night...
At that time, I looked at a dimly lit outdoor light... and saw the silhouette of a person in front of it. I thought I must be seeing things. After all, it was unthinkable that someone would have been standing there the whole time, pounded upon by the rain without even an umbrella.
However, the silhouette didn't move an inch, and maybe... no, it couldn't be...
...It was... looking at me. And... it was...
BGM: Dead Angle
At that time, I understood. Grandfather had probably... been watching us solve the riddle the whole time. And, he had seen us... as we had spectacularly solved the entire riddle of the epitaph...
Without a doubt, Grandfather smiled faintly. Grandfather, who had never worn anything except moody and frightening expressions, looked me in the face... and smiled at me for the first time. Almost as though he was saying 'How impudent'. Or else, 'I never thought it would be you'...
However, this is the result... chosen by Grandfather's epitaph. So I'm sure... that Grandfather accepted that result. In the end... he grinned one more time. Of course, he didn't use words. His smile seemed to be wordlessly saying... well done...
...I didn't know how I should respond. I couldn't do anything but stand there in shock, ignoring Erika as she crouched down, mumbling with her back towards me.
When I looked in that direction... there was...
The thing he was pointing at... was probably... The signpost to the Golden Land.
I'm sure Grandfather said that one word. I... nodded to show that I understood. After watching that, Grandfather nodded back, satisfied. Then, with a spin of his cloak... he disappeared, seeming to melt into the darkness... The expression on his face at the end... was a truly and finally satisfied... smile.
"...I've found it. That's the signpost to the Golden Land."
"...Huh? Ah, it's facing a different direction than it used to."
"...I see. So it means 'go that way'. You've got some pretty good powers of observation."
"Grandfather told me about it."
"Huh? Kinzo-san...? Where?"
"I'm going. Why don't I take a look. A look at this Golden Land..."
We started to walk. The entrance to the Golden Land was right there...
When I think about it, I was also a head that no one saw coming. How interesting that the one who will succeed me as head is also a person no one saw coming.
"I now have no regrets remaining in my life!! Beatrice, I am coming to join you. Along with a present, the miracle chosen by my epitaph...!"
"Wahahahahahahahaha...!! Wahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!! At the very, very end of my life, I have seen a true miracle!! Beatriceeeeeeeee! I've won this beeeeeeettt, waaahhhahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaaaahhh!!!"
BGM: Happiness of Marionette - Omake
"...Except for its non-corrosive properties, there's no practical way to turn gold into money. I imagine it'd take a lot of work to exchange all of this for cash."
At the end of a crude underground tunnel, in a VIP room which was so beautiful that it seemed improper, there was a pile of gold so large that there could be no doubting its 20 billion yen worth... Erika was calm, but Battler couldn't suppress his excitement. As for which of the two was the correct reaction to show after seeing a mountain of gold... only those who saw the scene with their own eyes could say for sure...
In this day and age, it's said that an average salaryman earns about 200 million yen in wages over his life. And this is 20 billion yen worth of gold. With even one one-hundredth of this gold mountain... a single human could live their entire life without working. What is labor? Isn't it the very point of a human's life, since a person who doesn't work cannot eat...? If so, then 200 million yen is enough to make a single person's life complete. And this is 20 billion yen! This would account for the labors of a hundred humans, no, a single human life one hundred times over...!
Of course, if you still wanted to work, you could. Any money you gained as a result could all be used to play with. After all, you would already have enough money to live for your entire life, no, for eternity...!! No, wait, I mustn't keep it all to myself. I can split it up among 100 people. If I could create a world where a full 100 humans wouldn't have to work for their whole lives, just what kind of world would that be...? Yeah, there's no doubt at all...
"Heheheheheheheheh!! I had her hide the more central parts of it, but nothing wrong with being just a little mean, right?"
"...Sure, do that as much as you like. I'm not interested in the micro details about what kind of riddle it was or what kind of answer it had. The important thing is that as a result, 10 tons of gold were discovered."
The gold was discovered in the 3rd game as well, by Aunt Eva. Aunt Rosa had also witnessed it. However, the two of them hadn't spoken of the gold's discovery to anyone. In other words, there was a chance that the gold's discovery was a cat-box truth kept between the two of them.
In other words, it was possible that the gold didn't exist and was just an illusion...!
"However, 'I' have finally found it... The cat box... has been opened...!"
"It'd be a waste of time to do that 'repeat it' game, so I'll give you a little bonus."
"...Alright, got it. I'll accept that this gold exists. However, there are still some things I can't accept!"
"...Of course. You met with him, didn't you? With Kinzo."
"*giggle*giggle*! Even though Kinzo's supposedly an illusion, you met with him just a second ago, didn't you? *giggle*giggle*, I guess that really was magic, wasn't it?!"
"Ridiculous. 'I' didn't exchange any words with Grandfather. I only felt as though Grandfather and I had exchanged words. Give it a rest. The same move won't work again!"
"In that case, your blue truth, if you please!"
"As a result, I mistakenly thought that I'd had some sort of conversation with Grandfather."
"...Blue truth, effective. Well, I did say the exact same thing in blue."
"So? Did it work? Where's your counter with the red truth...?!"
"I have none. At least, not now, okay? *giggle*giggle*giggle*giggle*giggle*!!"
...Now that we'd found it, there was no covering it up. I faintly thought about keeping this discovery a secret. However, Erika wanted to prove that her own reasoning was correct by announcing this fact to everyone.
She really is an intellectual rapist... just as she says. The puzzle-solving game is what's important to her, and she doesn't intend to take any responsibility for what happens after the riddle is solved. A riddle is sort of like a lock. Locks exist to be locked. And they're only significant when they're locked. Therefore, there has to be some sort of reason for exposing that sort of thing. However, this girl has set the exposing itself as her final goal, and she doesn't plan on taking responsibility for anything that happens later.
BGM: Deep Blue Jeer
She won't keep this discovery secret. She'll definitely announce it to brag about her success. Then, she'll call a real storm down upon this island. I won't be able to keep this covered up... Then in that case, there's nothing to do except announce this fact fairly. I can't imagine what will happen after that.
As she grinned, Erika muttered to herself. She must have been predicting the uproar the relatives would soon bring about. To her, imagining that was much sweeter than 20 billion yen in gold...