Part 100: Journey to the Golden Land
From the way they measured the wall and set out tools, it could be seen that they were planning some sort of construction project.
"This is of the utmost importance to the Master. Be sure that you do not damage it."
The president of the construction company nodded his head several times to show that he understood. Then, six young workers carried in a large rectangular object wrapped in a white sheet...
"Ookay, careful there! Set 'er down gently... Gently, I say."
"Is this spot good?"
"Great, let's get started."
Apparently, they were putting something large onto the wall of the hall...
"That's what he wants. After all, this mansion is little more than one of Father's toys."
Natsuhi took a deep breath. Though this was a whim of Kinzo's, a man she greatly respected, she seemed to resist the idea of hanging it right here in the entrance hall, the face of the mansion. When the white sheet was pulled off, a Western woman wearing a beautiful dress came into view...
"Is it proceeding well?"
"Yes. They will be finished by this evening."
"I would like to see it hanging there for all to see as soon as possible. I want you overseeing this, my friend."
"Leave it to me."
"...Father. It seems to be a splendid portrait."
"Yes. An excellent effect. I am satisfied."
"...This is your benefactor, the woman who gave you the gold, right?"
"Indeed. If I had not met Beatrice, I would not be here, nor would the Ushiromiya family, nor would, of course, this mansion. It's only natural that her portrait be displayed in the best possible location."
Now that he had said so this bluntly, there would be no contradicting him. Krauss and Natsuhi could only shrug.
"...Master. The epitaph plate is here. Would you please check to see that all is in order?"
"Good point. Each and every word must be correct..."
Epitaph...? Krauss and Natsuhi crooked their heads and followed Kinzo. The leader of the workers set down a plate wrapped in a sheet. The others thought that the picture's name and an explanation might be on it, but it seemed to have quite a lot of words for that...
"...Father. What is this...?"
"Heh. Heheheheheheh. Read and interpret it as you like."
"I don't know much about this epitaph. It doesn't exist in my world."
"Probably not. In your world, there's already a clear successor: you. But not in this world."
"In other words, this epitaph was set up to choose Grandfather's successor after all...?"
"Most likely. Or, he might have wanted to believe in the chance of a miracle."
A difficult riddle, made so that no one would be able to solve it. If someone actually could solve it, they would be a miracle. Wouldn't that miracle... guide the person Kinzo most wanted to solve it...?
"In short, this epitaph really does show a ceremony to revive the witch Beatrice, just as everyone thought...?"
"...That is a normal interpretation to make. A mysterious ritual, sacrificing 13 people to revive the witch. However, that is not the true ceremony. It lies in wait for someone to miraculously solve it. That is the true ceremony. However, fate does have its irony."
"Genji already knew. Maybe Kinzo set this up in the first place because he guessed that Genji knew everything."
"...Was that fate a coincidence, or something planned? I do not know. However, with this epitaph, the witch Beatrice will revive in the truest sense."
My soul was captured by the woman shown in that massive portrait. That might have been literally true. Or, rather than captured, perhaps it would be better to say that my soul had returned to a more fitting place, the place it belonged. The beautiful blonde hair was the same as mine, but tied up. The dress she wore was a deep black, making that golden hair stand out all the more.
...This is the witch... Beatrice. My... true form...
"? What is this?"
There was a plate with too many words for it to be the title of the picture. Behold the sweetfish river running through my beloved hometown... You who seek the Golden Land, follow its path downstream in search of the key.
"...The Golden Land... I see, so my world... is the Golden Land..."
I have always called my own, personal world a Paradise. But tonight, I shall change that. From now on, my world shall be the Golden Land. I am the master of the Golden Land, Beatrice... And then, there is the brutal ceremony of sacrifices, starting on the first twilight. On the ninth twilight, the witch shall revive, and none shall be left alive...
Then, on the tenth twilight, the journey shall end, and I shall reach the capital where the gold dwells... The witch shall praise the wise and bestow four treasures. One shall be all the gold from the Golden Land.
...Kinzo received a massive amount of gold from Beatrice, and rumor has it that it still lies hidden somewhere. Is this, as the family members and servants are all whispering, a code showing the location of Kinzo's hidden gold?
"...If a human solves it, they will obtain a great quantity of gold. However, if I do, it will mean my own resurrection..."
...Kinzo, you aging magician. Just when I was mocking the shortness of the time left to you, you start a game like this. How interesting. I'll definitely solve it. Then, I will revive as the real Beatrice. When that happens, I will use my great magical power to control object and man, day and night, and all of Rokkenjima...
"The rumors tell that the Master has 10 tons of gold hidden away...!"
"...Yes, those rumors about Beatrice being the one who gave it to him. I've heard that too."
"10 tons of gold... That would be incredible. I can hardly even imagine it."
"If you had all that, what would you use it for...?! I'd like to touch it, just once...!"
"Hohohohohohohoho! Forget touching it, I'd like to spend it all."
"But why would he go out of his way to present this epitaph, this code showing the hiding place of the gold..."
"That's obvious. He's laughing at everyone, since he thinks no one can solve it."
"It's a challenge to the rest of us, isn't it? He wants to know if there's anyone here wise enough to solve it..."
"It seems that the Master doesn't intend to let Krauss-sama take the headship easily. Perhaps the one who solves this will become his successor?"
"Genji-san, what is this?! Could this be a portrait of... Beatrice? The Beatrice?"
"...Correct. This is Beatrice-sama."
"What on Earth? There's a strange little poem-like thing over here."
"...What is this all about? It's almost like... a pirate code that shows the way to hidden treasure. Genji-san. What does this mean?!"
"The Master said to read and interpret it as you wish. That the riddle applies equally to all who can see the epitaph."
"You said riddle just now, didn't you?! That means this can be solved. Yes, that's it. Father doesn't want Nii-san to succeed him...!"
"So, whoever solves this becomes the successor...!"
"*cackle*cackle*, *giggle*giggle*...!!! Finally... The tables have finally turned... and I now have a real chance... to become the head...!!"
"...I think it's extremely likely that this epitaph shows the location of the hidden gold."
"It looks like Aneki thinks the one who solves it will be chosen as the successor."
"That may also be possible. Father certainly doesn't view Krauss nii-san as an ideal successor. This might be a huge trick he's set up now that he's reaching the end of his years."
"So, if you really solve this riddle, you stand to gain ten tons of gold and the position of successor."
"Technically, perhaps. However, I'm sensing some malice, as though he doesn't think us capable of solving it. I doubt it will be easy."
"True. Heheh. Looks like this'll keep us entertained for some time."
Rosa tossed aside a notepad with the epitaph written on it and flopped over onto the sofa. Solving this means ten tons of gold. With that much, I'd never need to worry about schemes for cash again. If I had money, I could pay off my debts, and that man might come back to me...
"...I know where Father's beloved hometown is. And the sweetfish river? There are many rivers there. What's the village supposed to be? Aah, I don't have a clue...!"
"...Uu-. What's wrong, Mama...?"
Maria looked concerned. Kids are really good at riddles, so maybe...
"Hey, Maria. Do you think you know the answer to this riddle?"
Maria gazed at the paper with the epitaph on it as though she was trying to bore through it with her eyes. Her eyes opened wider and wider...
"What do you think, Maria...? I guess it might be a bit too hard for you."
"Kihi. Kihihihihihihihihi! This is a witch's ceremony, a resurrection ceremony for Beato...!"
"Where'd you get this?! Hey, Mama, where'd you get this?! I'm gonna ask Beato!! I'm sure this ceremony will let Beato regain her full power! She'll be able to appear in front of everyone and do miracles of magic, without having to worry about the anti-magic toxin anymore...!! Kihihahaha, hahahahahahahahahahaha!!"
BGM: Witch in Gold (cembalo)
"It seems the family members are all competing to solve the riddle."
"Hmph... Good. Let everyone try. And none will solve it. Except for the one blessed by a miracle. If I let my guard down, even I might forget the process. That is how difficult it is."
"...Because it is difficult, solving it will bring about a miracle..."
"Precisely. This is the final miracle I will desire while I still live. My final magic. When a miracle comes and allows one to solve that complicated epitaph, it will surely mean Beatrice's resurrection."
"...Oooh, Beatrice... I just want to see your face one more time... I don't need wealth or honor anymore. If I could only meet you one more time...!"
To Kinzo, who realized he was facing his last years, this would be his final magic. He was betting everything that Beatrice had given him, hoping to meet her just one more time, after being separated by death for two generations. His meeting with Beatrice that day had been the true beginning of his life. And even after those two left the stage, Kinzo had remained there alone in the darkness. The aged monarch had obtained everything, accomplished everything, but this was the one element that had always slipped through his fingers, no matter how much he struggled. If he could just have that element, he would need nothing else in life. In the end, perhaps his whole life was just a journey to learn that one single element made up all that it means to be human.
"My friend. Will the final bit of magic in my life bring me a miracle...?"
For a while, Genji was silent. He wasn't at a loss for words or struggling to find an answer. During that silence, something had passed between the two men, who had known each other for so long that their friendship surpassed that of master and servant.
"...Very well. No one will solve it. So, it will be a miracle."
"Master. Please, tell me one thing."
"Nn, what is it?"
"If, I ask you. If a miracle does occur..."
It may have been different when he was young, but in his old age, Genji was not fond of talking about dreams and 'what ifs'. When Genji said 'if'... Kinzo quietly waited for the words of the man he called a friend.
As the one closest to Kinzo, Genji obviously knew of the crazed feelings with which Kinzo had searched for Beatrice in the past. And yet, Genji was asking what Kinzo would do if Beatrice did revive.
"...Master, at one time in the past, you experienced the miracle of Beatrice-sama being reborn. If that miracle happened again, what would you do?"
"...My friend. So, after all, you do blame me."
"...I do not claim to know everything about your heart and Beatrice-sama's. However, I believe that I do know, in part... of the way in which Beatrice-sama adored you."
"...I lament the fact. You may not believe, but as I have aged, I have come to regret everything."
"...Is that truly how you feel?"
"Yes, my friend. I regret it. I deeply regret the mistakes I made in my youth. You have aged as well, so you must know. I could not feel guilt for the sins of my youth when I was still young. However, like a deep thorn, it began to fester, torturing me. I, Ushiromiya Kinzo, no longer care how I die! However, this thorn... this regret... is the one thing I must settle... I will return everything to Beatrice. And, I will ask her to forgive me for my sins...! That is... That is my only and final wish... Ooh, oooooohhhh... Uwaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh...!!"
Kinzo covered his eyes and sobbed. Now that the aged monarch, who had built up a great wealth in a single generation, was reaching the end of his life, he was sobbing simply because he wanted someone to apologize to...
BGM: 7 Weights
"...I thought that too at first, but it looks like the situation's a bit different."
"At this point in time, I also thought it was a trial. That it was a game for selecting the successor, which Ushiromiya Kinzo decided upon on a whim."
"And it wasn't?"
"...This epitaph... meant something for Ushiromiya Kinzo and Ronoue Genji that only, the two of them could understand. So, this was not the workings of fate. It was inevitable. I was no more than a Cinderella, with the pumpkin carriage and glass slippers all prepared beforehand."
"...I get it. So, this was a farce that Kinzo and Genji set up."
"Kinzo did understand. And Genji realized that this was a message."
"I, I don't have a clue what you mean... What did Grandfather understand? And what does Genji-san have to do with this epitaph...?"
"The epitaph wasn't solved. Someone was made to solve it."
"...And then, Beatrice truly revived. If that revival had never happened..."
"...Then, when 1986 came, the crime might have been completely different."
"In the end, since the time of my birth, I have been trapped by the crossroads of fate... and never given the right to make any decisions of my own will."
We are little more than leaves caught in a whirlpool. No matter how we dance, we must eventually be sucked in and disappear...