Part 109: Tea Party IV
Battler yelled wildly into the receiver. When he said 'at this time of night', George and Jessica turned to look. According to the clock, it was just past midnight. It might be a normal time to be told to brush their teeth and go to bed, but they couldn't understand what this test was all about.
"Okay, I'll hand it over. Here, George-aniki. It's my dad."
"...Hello, this is George speaking."
BGM: Witch in Gold (cembalo)
"Pretty much. Maria-chan is sleeping, oh, wait, looks like she just woke up. So, what did you want to talk about? Battler-kun said something about a test..."
"Yep. Dad can be such a pain sometimes. He suddenly came down from his room. A bunch of stuff happened, and he suddenly started talking about which grandchild would make the best successor."
"...But isn't Krauss oji-san the successor?"
"He says that none of us are good enough to be the successor. So, he's talking about skipping us adults and choosing one from you grandchildren instead. It's really shaken us up, having this forced on us all of a sudden. Aniki and the others are all arguing about it across the room. Maybe you can hear Aneki's shrill voice leaking through across the phone."
"I, is that so? If that's what Grandfather says, then there's no way around it, I guess... In that case, what should we do?"
"He says he wants to call you out one by one, starting with Jessica-chan. Oh, wait a sec."
"...Okay, you still there? Looks like George-kun and Jessica-chan will be the first up to bat. He wants Jessica-chan to go to the parlor in the mansion. You're supposed to go out by the chapel."
"It's so sudden, I hardly feel ready... What sort of test is it?"
"It looks like Dad's made some sort of crazy quiz. Some weird questions about what it means to be the Head."
However, Kinzo was famous for doing radical things on a whim. Even this strange test seemed plausible once he heard that it was a sudden idea of Kinzo's. But even in that case, if he wanted to test them one by one, why wouldn't he call them out one by one? They should just have to wait in the reception room and go when they were called. Why would two people be called to different places at the same time? The plan didn't seem to make sense, which made George feel as though he was missing something.
"...Grandfather... wants to talk to me?"
"I wonder what it is. After all, you are the most accomplished of all his grandchildren. Is there something he wants to tell you in particular? Well, anyway, that's what he says. Get over there right away. I'm also supposed to go there. Let's get this over with. We'll both catch cold if we keep this up."
"...Is that so? I see. Then I'll head towards the chapel. Jessica-chan will go to the parlor. Okay. I'll see you in a bit, then."
Just what sort of test... what sort of private conversation could Kinzo want to have at this time of night? However, it was a well-known fact that Kinzo didn't have very long to live. It was conceivable that he wanted to give some sort of will to each of his descendants individually...
Inside George's mind, the faint feeling that something was wrong was replaced by curiosity... and a desire to meet Kinzo directly and hear the details. George set down the receiver and quickly explained to the others.
"Uu-? A test...?"
"After hiding in his study all these years, he suddenly decides to give us a test this late at night? Damn that old geezer. What's he thinking?"
"It seems our parents feel the same way. It sounds as though they're very worked up about it."
"Well, I doubt getting worked up about it will change Grandfather's mind any."
"Exactly. We might as well accept it. It's Grandfather's order, after all. Let's obey it. To start, Jessica-chan and I are being called out. I'm going to the chapel. Jessica-chan is supposed to go to the parlor in the mansion."
"What about Maria and me?"
"I think they'll call about you later. You can wait here."
"Uu-! A midnight test! What could it be?! What kind of test is it?! A quiz? A puzzle? I'm really good at wolves and sheep puzzles! Uu-!"
Maria, who was now fully awake, seemed to be very excited about this unexpected midnight test.
"Then we'll just hang out here."
"Yes. Okay, I'm going. I think they're already waiting for us."
"...So, he's making one of his grandkids the successor. Sounds just great for me. Now I can let one of you guys deal with it!"
"I'm gonna become the successor! I wanna do it! Uu-uu-uu-!"
"Ahaha. It'd be fun to have Maria as the successor."
"Bye. See you later."
"Okay. Guess I'm going to the chapel. It's damn cold out there. Gohda-san. Have some coffee waiting for me when I get back, will you?"
Next to Rudolf, Gohda was lying face-up.
His face was covered by a crossword puzzle book. However, its pages were stained with blood, and you didn't need to move the book to imagine how he had met his pitiful end...
"Yep. We should be thanking Dad. If we just say it was him being fickle, no one will doubt us."
"*giggle*. Then, let's split up. I'll take care of Jessica-chan. You take care of George-kun."
"You got it. Let's get this over with quickly, then relax with some coffee."
"There won't be any problems, yes? No sudden pangs of conscience?"
Kyrie smiled coldly... It probably would have been safer to call them out one by one and finish them off together. However, Kyrie had chosen to have her husband work separately. She wanted to measure Rudolf's resolve. If she was the only one who got her hands dirty, and Rudolf just watched, his heart would not be as dedicated to this venture. By having him dirty his own hands, she could make him truly determined to see this thing through. Kyrie understood this sort of mind game better than anyone else.
Rudolf reflexively averted his gaze from the cold glint in her eyes, but then he just shrugged and answered her question.
"Of course. We have a billion yen riding on this. I'm a man. I'm not going to miss a chance that'll never come again in my lifetime."
"...I expected no less of you, Rudolf-san. I love people who seize chances when they come. That's why I love you."
"Th, thanks... I'm glad."
"Stay like that... always, okay?"
"Huh? What did you say?"
"...Of course. When have I ever let you down? Instead of that, you should be worrying more about the kind of champagne we'll use to toast our victory."
"I'll do that. Take care, now. If you really treasure Battler-kun, don't kill George-kun in front of the chapel, okay? It'll be a pain if he finds the body."
"...Yeah, I know. I'll lure him away somehow. It's raining outside. Should be some way to do it."
"And you aren't a villain in some old western, got it? Don't grant any last requests or take down any final messages, okay?"
Kyrie lifted up her gun again and pulled on the lever. To eject the casing from the bullet she had killed Gohda with.
BGM: Dead Angle
Eva was holding Hideyoshi's body and crying. She hadn't been shot at all. The bullet had scraped against the side of her head... and missed. She hadn't been playing dead. She really thought that she had been shot. When Kyrie's gun spat fire, Eva felt something swift and fierce scrape past her head... before feeling light-headed and fainting. Then, later on, she woke up in the now silent room of the gold. The remains of her beloved husband lay beside her. And Krauss, Natsuhi, and Rosa's corpses. It was a room of death and piled up bodies...
When she had cried all she could over Hideyoshi's body, she realized that she still had something she needed to do.
"...George is in danger... George ...George...!"
They're trying to use the bomb to blow up everything, to bury this whole island with an 'explosion accident'. Of course. As Eva had expected, the switch on the clock was set to the right, which meant that it was active. Eva moved to flip it to the left... and stopped.
That's right. As long as this switch points to the right, everything that happens will disappear in this night of illusions. Yes, this is an illusion. No matter what happens tonight, everything will become muddled and hidden away.
"They're probably going to kill everyone else. That has to be it... I'm sure of it...!"
When she looked at the table with the box of bullets, she saw signs that they had roughly removed the bullets from the box. It clearly showed... that they planned to use that many bullets.
If only to protect just the life of my precious son...
The gun that I dropped when I was shot is stuck with the lever handle open. No matter how hard I pull, it won't open any further, and it won't close again. Apparently, a bullet has gotten jammed, breaking it. It's just as Kyrie said. Loading a bullet is tough if you aren't used to it.
"Please, dear... Lend me your strength... Lend me your strength... so that I can protect George..."
In Hideyoshi's hand was Krauss's gun, which he had been trying to pick up. Eva took it, prayed to her husband one more time, and tugged on the lever handle. With a light metallic sound, the golden casing spun through the air... and bounced off the ground. When she timidly tried to push the lever back, this time it returned to its original place without any resistance. There was another metallic clang. It was the sound of a new bullet being loaded...
In the games so far, various people have been suspected of being the culprit or an accomplice. The only difference now was that Rudolf and Kyrie were those suspects... However, that was the most aggravating development possible for Ange.
Even Lion was full of painful thoughts. Though the solving of the epitaph, which was supposedly the only miracle that could lead to a game with no victims, had occurred, how ironic that the tragedy was not averted. Does this mean that we aren't allowed to have a future where we all happily return from this island alive, even if the epitaph is miraculously solved before the crime occurs...?
A miracle certainly will not occur. Those words, which I had heard in one of the Fragments Bernkastel had shown me, raced through my mind...
"Bernkastel-san... You showed me how wonderful my world was... I don't want to believe that you created this tale just to hurt Ange..."
"...By now, even I realize that you're the Game Master here. Please, tell me. Why are you showing us this game...?"
Of course, no one answered Lion's muttered question. The game created to mock Ange continued emotionlessly, with more terrible twists that didn't betray anyone's expectations anymore...
BGM: Yomitsu Hirasaka Corruption
"...Aunt Kyrie, there's no one here."
"He'll be here soon. Sit over there."
Jessica sat in that chair, looking nervous and agitated. Kyrie was by far the calmer of the two. Kyrie closed the door behind her, revealing the gun that rested behind it. Jessica was facing the other way, so she saw nothing...
"...Did you hear anything, Aunt Kyrie? You know what kind of test this is?"
"Yes. It'll be over soon."
"I sure hope so."
As she complained, Jessica turned her head around, and the tip of her nose bumped into cold metal.
"Heheh. Just can't bring myself to shoot you in the back."
"...C, careful, guns are dangerous. What on Earth are you doing...?!"
"I'll give you two guesses about why someone'd point a gun and pull the trigger."
Rudolf reloaded rapidly and pulled the trigger again without any sign of hesitation. As the sound of gunfire thundered through the rain, George grabbed at his side and fell to his knees...
"That's weird. Looks like it shoots low. This gun's really got it bad."
"S, somebody...!! Help me, Uncle Rudolf is...!!"
George started stumbling away, still clutching at his side. His voice as he called for help was weak and thin. In comparison, Rudolf, who stood behind him, looked perfectly calm as he fiddled with his gun.
It felt to George as though something was tearing into his side. It was so painful that he could barely stand and walk... He leaned against the trunk of a tree. After he crouched down, trying to cover his wound, he was no longer able to stand back up. George didn't have a clue what was going on. However, he had thought it strange the whole time. Of course it was strange that he should be called out to a place like this at a time like this.
...And yet, how could he have guessed that something was wrong...? After all, his own uncle... had told him that his grandfather was calling for him from the family conference. How could he have gotten suspicious...?
"...Sorry 'bout this, George-kun. It hurts, doesn't it? If I knew it'd be like this, it'd have been more merciful to blow your brains out from behind. I thought it'd be too cruel to finish you off before you knew what hit you, but it looks like I got it backwards."
"Forget about this. By tomorrow night, all of it won't have happened."
With a quick use of the lever handle, he loaded another bullet. The casing of the bullet that had pierced George's side fell heartlessly in front of him...
"Everyone's gonna die in a sudden, unfortunate accident. Until that moment, we'll all be a big, happy family. That's how it's gonna be. So don't worry about this. Forget it all."
Of course, George didn't have a clue what Rudolf was talking about. All he knew was that Rudolf wanted to kill him, and that he showed no trace of hesitation... The image George had of Rudolf as the ideal cool, joke-loving adult... didn't match up with the Rudolf standing in front of him, holding a gun. No, maybe it doesn't fit because it fits too well. Even though he has that same smile, as though he's about to tell some hilarious joke, he's pointing a gun at me. Why would that kind, funny Uncle Rudolf... do this...? It made him feel unimaginably sad, and tears flowed from his eyes.
"Uu, uuuuuu... Uncle Rudolf... But I... admired you so much..."
"Haven't I always told you, George-kun? Make sure you don't end up as an adult like me. Now you see. In the next world, make learning how to spot evil your first priority. I know you can do it. After all, it's just another kind of studying."
At the same time, fire spat from Rudolf's gun. The bullet pierced George's chest. George spun around as he fell amidst an outpouring of blood. He moaned wordlessly, clenching blood-stained teeth. A frigid gun was pressed harshly against his temple.
"So long. Go become a great man in the next world. Don't get blinded by money like me."
"...I can't believe... that my uncle... would kill for money... Aaaaaaaahhhhh..."
"You're so innocent. People can kill... over money."
The ruthless trigger forestalled any further questions. George's hands, which had been covering his wound, dropped lifelessly... When Rudolf saw the last glimmer of life leave him, he sighed deeply and looked tired.
Rudolf looked up into the dark, rainy sky, the rain drops hitting him full in the face, and laughed with an indescribable expression, his tongue hanging out.
"I figured there'd be more pangs of conscience than that. Now that it's over, it was pretty easy."
Rudolf laughed. This was probably just the thing Kyrie had hoped for. It had taken some effort to kill George. Though he had been merciless, the last traces of conscience in Rudolf's heart had probably slowed him down. However, now that he had killed someone with his own hands, a turning point that few people ever reach, Rudolf had finally awakened. No, he finally understood.
"...It's no different from squeezing dough out of a group of morons. The same old game of musical chairs. If there's a pile of money in front of you, the first one to reach it wins. The slow ones just get kicked down to hell."
Haven't I driven dozens of poor fools into debt with my earlier swindles? Several of those probably ended up bankrupt, and some of those might've hanged themselves. And I always laughed, saying that was none of my business. And that's all there is to it. The only difference now is that, for the first time, I've dealt the final blow with my own hands.
"...Thanks, Kyrie. You're always the best at cutting away my naivety. Heheheh, hehhahahahahahahaahah! Hyahhhahahahahahahahahaahahahaha!!!"
Rudolf's evil laugh rang out. The laugh was so purely evil it was almost reassuring. The fake evil that covers up pangs of conscience is far more repulsive to behold. If a man commits himself to an evil act, how much more pleasant and graceful it is when the man is wholly devoted to his goal. In that sense, Rudolf's evil smile and laugh truly were pleasant and graceful...
...And so. Surely the brutal, bloody stage of the dining hall... was also reassuring.
Each time, a red splash landed on the nearby dangling tablecloth.
"Jessica-chan, are you listening...?"
Kyrie asked this with the sort of smile any aunt might make to her niece. However, Jessica didn't answer. There was nothing particularly surprising about this. After all, by now, her nose was broken, her eyes had been smashed, her teeth had been knocked out, and not only her nose, but her entire face was now hardly recognizable as a face, just a lump of bloody flesh...
Kyrie finally stopped her task of repeatedly smashing Jessica's face with the stock of her gun. Still sitting on top of Jessica, Kyrie tossed her gun to the side, pulled a compact out of her pocket, and looked at her own face in the mirror. Then, finally, she realized that her face was covered by speckles of fresh blood.
With a muffled laugh, Kyrie shakily rose to her feet. Jessica wasn't moving anymore. She had been convulsing a bit until a second ago, but now, she was as still as stone.
"...Smashing a woman's face is something, your aunt is used to. Sorry about that. If you hadn't resisted, I could've let you have a much cleaner death."
Kyrie pulled the tablecloth off and used it like a towel to wipe the blood from all over her body. However, instead of taking the blood off, it just smeared it around, and did nothing to remove the stench of blood and death that covered her. When she got tired of rubbing the tablecloth against the blood, Kyrie walked over to the extension line telephone in the corner of the room. Then, she dialed the number for the cousins' room in the guesthouse...
"...Yes, that's right. I haven't been given any instructions about Maria-chan. Have her wait there. *giggle*."
"Yes, keep your wits about you. I'm rooting for you to be chosen as the successor, Battler-kun."
With the same smile as usual and the partly-wiped splashes of blood still covering her face, Kyrie finished her call to Battler. When she set down the receiver, there was a small knock, and Rudolf came back into the room.
"Jessica-chan has better reflexes than I gave her credit for. I didn't think she'd be able to fight back from a position like that."
"It's a bit of a shame she had to end up looking like this. What a waste of a good, Natsuhi-esque woman."
"And how about your end? Did he give you much trouble?"
"No problems there. Plain and simple."
When Kyrie heard Rudolf's instant response, she favored him with an evil smile. Yes, the man she loved was the sort who could do it if he tried, without letting cheap emotions get in the way...
"It's hard to imagine an easier job to net you a billion yen. It's like Dad always said. In the life of every man, there comes one day where he has to be willing to kill."
"In other words, always be willing to kill if your own survival depends on it. That's my favorite line of his."
"What's next? My rifle is hungry for blood."
"You've got a big job coming up. Convincing Battler-kun."
"Ah, that's right. That'll be a pain. Hope I don't have to end it by pulling the trigger."
"I've really enjoyed life as a three-person family with Ange. But, if you really want Battler-kun to join in on that, good luck."
"Sure. I don't think we'll have any complaints from him. Don't worry, I've worked out a scenario to trick him good."
"Good luck. Even I hope that Ange's beloved big brother doesn't get caught up in the explosion accident."
"I know. Then, I'll head back to the chapel."
"...If you can't convince Battler-kun..."
"...I know, I know. If that happens, bang."
"Battler-kun is independent enough that he left the family out of protest when I married you, remember? If you can only convince him halfway, and if things get nasty later on, he'll prove fatal to us."
"I know. Believe in me."
"...And if... If I decide that Battler-kun is growing suspicious, I'll kill him myself. He's not my kid, after all."
"...Yeah, I know. So, promise me one thing, Kyrie."
"If... I can trick Battler, and the three of us make it off this island..."
"...If that happens, what?"
"...Sure, I promise."
Kyrie shrugged and answered as she loaded bullets.
"You go to the chapel. I'll wait until Battler-kun has left, and then clean up everything inside the guesthouse."
"Sure you'll be alright doing that alone?"
"And what about you?"
He had been called to the area in front of the chapel, just like George had been. Not even 30 minutes had passed since the time George and Jessica had been called out. Apparently, this test didn't last too long.
Complaining all the way, Battler strolled off into the rain. Almost immediately, he was swallowed up by the darkness of the rose garden and passed out of sight... And then...
Kyrie could be seen coming out from the darkness of the rose garden. Her right hand held a gun. Her left an umbrella. Her inner pocket contained the master key ring she had stolen from Gohda. Her right pocket had a handful of bullets. Her left held a knife she had taken from the kitchen. She was a carefully and perfectly outfitted murderer.
Another bolt of lightning struck down from the swirling skies. It lit up only half of Kyrie's face. Her cheek... was still covered with Jessica's blood...
Under the eaves, Kyrie folded up her umbrella, smiled, and spoke to no one.