Part 11: The Frantic Golden Drama
October 4th, 1986, 10:46 PM
The sudden sound of someone banging fiercely on the door brought Natsuhi to her senses. She had probably nodded off in the study while planning how they would overcome the next day. But... what could it be...? At a time like this...
More importantly, the knock itself was strange. If someone had tried to contact her, they could have just used the internal phone line. She had told them that she would be here. Realizing that something strange was going on, Natsuhi shook her head one more time, completely throwing off her drowsiness.
BGM: Golden Sneer
It was Eva's voice. What is this? I thought I told them to lock the doors and windows of the mansion tightly after everyone left for the guesthouse. So why is Eva here...?!
Natsuhi ran up to the door, responded with a small knock, and spoke through the door in a quiet voice.
"...What is it? You're too noisy."
"Natsuhi nee-san...?! Why are you in Father's study at this hour?!"
"...I told you to be quiet! Have you forgotten that the head likes peace and silence more than anything else...?!"
"Now's not the time to be saying that!! Stop harping on that and open up quickly!! Bring Father out!!"
"The head just went to sleep! I don't know what business you have, but I will listen to it tomorrow!"
"I don't have any business with you!! Just open up right now!!"
This is bad... If I open the door, Eva will probably throw herself forwards and rush into the study. Now, I can't even open this door...!
At that moment, the phone suddenly rang. I, it's alright. Both of the keys to the study are here. No one can open this door...! Natsuhi inched away from the door and grabbed the receiver...
"H, hello!! It's Natsuhi!"
It was from Krauss. His tone was strained. What in the world happened...?!
"It seems that Battler-kun and the guest called Erika... solved the witch's epitaph and found the gold."
"Huh? Is, is that true?!"
"Right now, Eva-san is just outside the door, yelling at me to open it...! If I open it now, she might push her way into the study...!!"
"...I, I understand. I will go there too. Don't worry about Eva. Just stay there and don't do anything...! I'll give you a signal once I've gotten Eva away from the door, so leave as soon as you hear that. Ready...?!"
Right after that, Krauss came up the staircase, accompanied by Genji. A heated debate started between him and Eva. "Open up!" "No, calm down."
In the middle of that, there was a small knock as a signal. Krauss had skillfully pushed Eva away from the door and distracted her.
Eva noticed this, and her face twisted in disappointment, but the heavy sound of the auto-lock had already rung out, and the door had been sealed.
"The gold of the epitaph has been found! It's only natural that we should inform Father...!! Or else what? Is there some reason you can't tell Father about this?!"
"Father gave strict orders that he not be awakened--no matter what--after he went to bed. Following those orders is the duty of the head's representative. Isn't that right, Genji-san?"
"...Yes. The Master's sleep must not be disturbed, no matter the circumstances."
"Even that rule depends on the time and circumstances, doesn't it...?!! I mean, the epitaph was solved!! Father has a right to know straight away!"
"Of course, the two of us will report on everything to the head tomorrow. That's our duty as the head's representatives."
"I don't care about that!! Come on, just open this door!! Let me see Father!! Father, Father, can you hear me? It's Eva!! Please open up!! Owowow, let go of me...!! Th, that hurts...!!"
"We're telling you to listen to us...! Don't knock on the door so loudly...!!"
"Ouch, owowowowow...!! Let go, let go of me!!"
"Krauss-sama, Eva-sama. The Master is sleeping. Please refrain from disturbing him any further...!"
When Genji spoke firmly, the two finally ceased their scuffle. It seemed that Genji, the one who had spoken for Kinzo since they were very young, still possessed an air of dignity strong enough to handle both Krauss and Eva...
Eva put her argument aside for the time being. She could worry about that after seeing the gold with her own eyes. Eva hadn't seen it for herself either. Natsuhi and the others had managed to deal with this crisis somehow. However, the move of the demons, which would sneer upon their efforts, had already begun...
BGM: Organ Short #200 Million in C Minor
"Yes. Though he had a lot of help from that Erika girl, Battler was the one who reached the answer. Erika has proclaimed that she will abandon her rights to the Golden Land. Therefore, Battler is the one who reached the Golden Land."
"...Fate can be truly interesting. To think that Battler-sama would reach that place..."
"What will you do, Beato? You made a promise to stop the ceremony if anyone solved the epitaph's riddle."
"Yes. That was the deal."
"...That was the deal. Hmm."
"Apparently, Battler-sama does not intend to become the master of the Golden Land. It now seems that no one will become our master."
"That is also fate. It has been several decades since we first manifested in the human world through our bond with Lord Goldsmith. It was all very fun."
"...Come on, Lia, you sound like an old lady. So, what're we going to do? According to Riiche and Goldsmith's rules, now that Battler's solved the epitaph and decided not to become our master, we've been relieved from duty, right?"
"That's true. I have no regrets at all. I've been prepared to be kicked down into Cocytus all this time."
"Wait. We can't let that happen. You might not have any regrets, but I will keep on serving Natsuhi. To let ourselves be relieved from duty just because Battler solved the epitaph would be quite irresponsible. Witches aren't allowed to break contracts, but they also must not fail to show gratitude."
"...True. We should serve her until the family conference ends."
"In that case, you won't be relieved from duty for a while either, Lord Goldsmith. Perhaps you should wait until you've overcome this family conference safely, said goodbye to Natsuhi-sama at the very least, and if possible, rewarded her for all her efforts."
"...Hmm. She has done well supporting my foolish son."
"Aren't you a fallen angel with one of its wings plucked off? Just leave the other wing as a parting gift and go."
"...Hmm. That is also fitting. Natsuhi might be worthy to bear my wing."
"...However, we are approaching the critical moment. Your reward is waiting for you. Try and overcome this test safely, Natsuhi..."
BGM: Happiness of Marionette - Omake
Regardless of how strongly they had believed in its existence, no one could look at this much real gold and not be shocked...
"...To think that a place like this existed..."
"I can't believe it... That Dad..."
Everyone was stunned by the gold. The first one to break the silence and jump around in ecstasy was Hideyoshi. Letting out an excited laugh, he clung to the wall of gold. Then he felt the cold, hard touch of it all over his cheek.
"...H, hahahahahahaha!! That damn Dad, sticking this much gold into such a ridiculous place!!"
"Now that we have this much... we no longer... have anything to fear... With this, we could overcome any kind of trial...! Rosaaa...!!"
"Nee-san, Nee-san... We'll be able to find happiness with this, right...?"
Eva and Rosa started walking towards each other at the same time and hugged each other as they broke down crying... Ecstasy and shock... wonder and sighs.
After stepping forward in front of the pile of gold that caused these mixed emotions, Erika spoke as though she were an announcer in some show.
"I take my hat off to you... To think that you would solve the epitaph within a single day of coming to this island."
"...If you couldn't solve it in a single day, then you wouldn't be able to solve it no matter how many days you had. After all, it doesn't take more than an instant for your little gray cells to give you a flash of intuition. Also, I wouldn't have been able to solve this riddle myself. I ask that you praise Battler-san's achievement as well, everyone."
"...I abandon any rights to this discovery. I'm already satisfied to have my reasoning proven correct. Therefore, I want to give Battler-san the full credit for discovering the gold. I may be here, but please continue your discussion as though I am not. Battler-san called all of the adults here, making sure that none of the cousins would notice."
BGM: Smile-less Soiree
"...Erika. Quit deciding things on your own."
"My apologies. In that case, I'll step down as the facilitator of these proceedings. So, who will take my place?"
Shrugging, Erika looked around at everyone. After a short period of silence, Eva made the first move.
"None of us have forgotten the deal we made earlier today, right?"
"Yeah. Divide it between the four of us, with 2.5 billion for each. And then the successor to the head gets another 10 billion."
"...W, wait a second! Who decided that the one who discovers the gold becomes the successor to the head?!"
"Hold up, you won't be able to get away with that, Natsuhi-san...!! We've all been arguing based on that premise the whole time, haven't we?! You really think you can pretend that never happened now?!"
"...That's right. Weren't you the one worrying about how if one of the servants solved the riddle, they might consider themselves the successor to the head...?"
"But nowhere is it explicitly written that that's the truth, right?!"
"You bastard!!! We were all aware of it, weren't we?!!"
"That's right, Aniki! Are you going to change your position this late in the game?!"
"Though it was never stipulated, I believe it was most definitely common knowledge between us. I don't see how you can call it completely irrelevant."
"You can't just interpret the head's epitaph however you like!! Where is it written that the one who finds the gold becomes the successor?! The epitaph was decided upon by the head. You have no right to decide these things for yourselves!!"
"...Calm down, Natsuhi."
"How could I calm down?! I certainly find it very impressive that Battler-kun solved the epitaph! I don't care what kind of reward he gets. However, saying that reward should be half of everything here is clearly a stretch, and you won't get away with the argument that the discoverer is the next head...!!"
"Th, that's low, Natsuhi nee-san...! This is completely different from what you were saying earlier today...!"
"I agree! Though it was never stipulated, the fact that the guy who solves the epitaph becomes the next head has always been the greatest unwritten assumption between us...! It's not fair if you start complaining about that at the last second, right? Yeah, it isn't fair!!"
"No way!! That's low, Natsuhi-san! We were talking about this on and on earlier, right?! Are you saying that whole conversation today was a bunch of bull?! That's just not right!!"
"Why don't we just vote on it?!! Battler-kun, the one who found the gold, is the successor to the head! My husband and I have no objections!! What about you, Rudolf and Kyrie-san? Rosa?!"
"No objections here. Nice going, Battler!!"
"I have no objections either. Battler-kun is the true successor, chosen by the epitaph. If you aren't satisfied, then why don't we just ask Father directly...?!"
"That's right. Like you just said, Natsuhi nee-san, Father is the one who wrote the riddle of the epitaph. And he's also the proper owner of this gold."
"In that case, shouldn't we talk to Father about this directly? How should Battler-kun, the person who discovered the gold, be treated? I believe Father is the only one capable of deciding that...!"
"...Didn't I tell you to calm down? "
"Rosa and Kyrie-san are right. Let's ask Father!! Your turn is already up, Nii-san, Natsuhi nee-san!!"
"Yeah, yeah!! Bring Father out to us!! We won't get anywhere with just you two! Let's begin the real family conference!! Does this look like something you can put off just because he's tired?! If we take this thing lightly, we'll have a massive problem on our hands...! Hey, are you listening?!! We won't get anywhere with just you!! Bring Father out right noooooow!!!"
"...How the hell'd I know?"
"They're probably always like this on the inside. Heheheheh. Looks like they won't be able to get this figured out right now without Kinzo-san. To think he's being called out to settle his children's fight even though it's been announced that he has only a short while to live. I wonder how he feels right about now. *giggle*. Imagining that... no, reasoning that out will be a treat."
The parents ignored Battler and Erika... and kept yelling at each other, on and on... Even though Battler had more or less imagined that this sort of thing happened behind the scenes, this was the first time he had seen it. He had suspected it since six years ago, and he'd been able to get a pretty good idea of what this was like by the darkening expressions on his parents' faces when this time of year drew near...
However, this argument his relatives were having before his very eyes... was much more... ugly than he had imagined... That's why he was very glad that he'd called the adults out here without letting the cousins catch wind of anything...
It was decided that this family conference inside the Golden Land should be moved over to the mansion... This place may have been gorgeous, like a VIP room, but there was no heating, and it was a little cold. It wasn't well suited for a long conversation. They thought of the possibility that someone might snatch the gold away while their backs were turned, but of course, no one could manage much with just human hands and a small amount of time when it's 10 tons of gold they're dealing with. In fact, it might be said that having this mountain of gold in the background was actually robbing them of the ability to make sound decisions. So they agreed to return to the mansion, in part so that they could regain their composure and continue the conference more ruthlessly...
"Sure, sorry. Did we bother you too much?"
"Let us show our gratitude again tomorrow. Sorry for letting you see such an embarrassing side of us."
"You said that you refused, but allow us to prepare a fitting portion, out of gratitude, for you as one of the first to discover the gold. Right, Nii-san?"
"...Yes. We know what you're capable of. I think you can grasp our current circumstances."
20 billion yen in gold isn't something they wanted out in the open. They didn't want an outsider like Erika telling people about it. Of course, Erika had already 'reasoned out' that much. She'd worn an unpleasant smile on her face, as though she'd understood all too well...
"...You don't need to worry about me. Of course, I have no desire to tell anyone else about this. And if I did, no one would believe me without proof. I got to see something interesting tonight. It was quite a spectacle, so I'm more than satisfied."
"Heheh, I see. I guess it's not every day you see 10 tons of gold."
Judging by Erika's dark nature, it's obvious what she's so happy about. I thought about telling her to just go away, but I wanted to leave this all behind me myself...
I tried to head back to the guesthouse along with Erika. However, Kyrie-san grabbed my shoulder.
"You can't go, Battler-kun. Please come with us."
"Yes, yes. You're now a real successor to the head! You've got to have an audience with Father and have him acknowledge you right away...!"
"Father is the only one who gets to decide that!! Don't make things up on your own!"
"...Battler. I know it might be a pain, but stick around with us for a little while longer. Don't say anything. Just stay quiet and keep your head down. Got it?"
"...Just do whatever you want."
It would have been easy to say that I had no interest in being successor to the head. But I was sure that would only add more oil to the fire. Even if I hadn't been ordered to keep quiet, staying shut up like a clam is almost certainly a good idea... In that case, would it really be so bad if they just let me go back to the guesthouse...?
Dad put his arm firmly around my shoulder, and I told him it was uncomfortable and to let go. However, he didn't pay attention to a word I said...
BGM: Worldend (solo)
"When you were the Game Master, we'd always get those letters. 'Try and solve the epitaph'. 'If you don't, I'll kill all of you'."
...Why did she want to make us solve the riddle of the epitaph? By solving it, we found a mountain of gold. Yippee for us. And what about Beato? Does she gain anything... by having us find the gold? Or does she lose something...?
"...As far as chessboard thinking tells us, people don't make moves which cause them to lose something. That means you must have something to gain by having us solve the epitaph..."
"...Are you sure that's alright? Using red like that without her permission."
"...This child most likely wishes for it."
Virgilia, who had suddenly appeared there, quickly gave me an answer to my question with the red truth...
"In the past, I sometimes guessed that the reason Beato was trying to make us solve the epitaph was that she wanted to make us find the gold's hiding place for her so that she could snatch it away. Is that wrong too?"
"Yes. In the first place, the gold of the Golden Land belongs to this child. She had absolutely no need to make you find it for her or to snatch it away herself."
Of course. Beato is Beatrice the Golden. Isn't she the master of the Golden Land and the Ushiromiya family alchemist? That totally makes sense.
However, that makes me even more confused. Even if someone exposed the answer to the epitaph's riddle, Beato has nothing to gain. No, to the contrary, her own gold might be stolen away.
"In that case, I'm understanding this less and less. I understand the epitaph murders. It might be revenge against the Ushiromiya family, or else a ceremony to revive her powers as a witch. After all, she's probably doing it because of some reason or goal of her own."
"But what's the point of her telling us to solve the epitaph? Whether we solve it or not, she has nothing to gain at all. In other words, the whole issue of whether the epitaph is solved or not is immaterial in Beato's eyes."
"It doesn't matter whether it's solved or not. In other words, could we say that the epitaph's riddle itself is immaterial to Beato...?"
"...You're right. The epitaph's riddle doesn't have any meaning for this child. So even if you take it to an extreme and call the epitaph's riddle immaterial, it may not be possible to argue against your claim..."
Beato... Why are you making us solve the epitaph's riddle...? If we liken the witch you are to a pair of scales, the epitaph murders lie on one plate... And the riddle of the epitaph lies on the other plate. For some reason, she's saying that she'll stop the epitaph murders if the epitaph is solved. In other words, the epitaph murders and the epitaph's riddle are worth the same to Beato. Like two sides on a balanced scale. That means that both the epitaph's riddle and massacring all the relatives... are equally significant from Beato's point of view...
But Virgilia responded with the red text. Regardless of whether the epitaph is solved or not, Beato has nothing to gain. If she has nothing to gain, then this epitaph's riddle... is meaningless and immaterial to Beato. In that case, how much are the epitaph murders, which lie on the other side of the scales and are equal to the epitaph's riddle in value... worth to her...?
The epitaph murders and solving the riddle of the epitaph have equal worth. As long as the epitaph murders, which are Beato's goal each time, have this single way that they can be stopped, a way that she decided on herself, both are worth the same thing to her.
X=Y. And whether the epitaph's riddle is solved or not, Beato has nothing to gain. Y=0.
So, in this case, what is X...?
BGM: Witch in Gold (cembalo)
"...Every time she performs that bizarre serial murder, she's willing to spend an incredible amount of effort on politely sending an advance notice. And then killing us one by one in accordance with the epitaph without getting exposed. So all of that is meaningless to her...?"
I turned the chessboard over and searched through Beato's moves over and over. This is always the first place I stumble. The significance of the epitaph murders. Why did she have to commit serial murders in a way that reproduced the witch's epitaph?
If she wanted to kill the whole Ushiromiya family for revenge, it would be much simpler, safer, and more reliable if she just put poison into their dinner or else went around killing people one by one in the middle of the night while they were sleeping. However, on the first evening, Beato sent us a letter that sounded like an advance notice and then carried out a three part serial murder with large gaps in between the six people of the first twilight, the two people of the second twilight, and the five people of the fourth and later twilights.
We aren't fools. Once the first murders occur, we barricade ourselves in somewhere to stave off any further murders. Furthermore, we quickly suspect a culprit among us and start analyzing each other's alibis. As the victims increase, the number of suspects decreases automatically, and Beato's chances of success in this serial murder drop closer and closer to zero...
All of the epitaph murders... are like she's strangling her own neck, making it harder to succeed in the serial murder. All for a useless ornament... all just for show.
"That does follow. She really is a strange child."
"Did you know? In mystery novels, they call things like these epitaph murders 'plotline murders'. I think you can split the possible reasons for these plotline murders into three groups."
"...And what are those?"
"The first would be the benefit the culprit receives by following the epitaph and thereby confusing the evidence and alibis. Pretending to be dead and mixing yourself in with the victims fits this pattern. As does committing murders that don't follow the epitaph and making the others get the order wrong, so that you can give yourself an alibi."
"I see. So perhaps she only made it look as though she was killing them in a ceremony following the epitaph... when she was actually guiding their thinking in a manner that benefited her. That sounds interesting."
"In that case, what are the other two reasons for carrying out the plotline murders?"
"Another one is coincidence. A crime carried out without any particular intention just happens to look similar to the epitaph, and the witnesses mistakenly think it's a plotline murder. Humans try to find cause and effect in everything they see. If we think we know what something is, then that's how it looks to us."
"...I see. That's also interesting. However, it seems a bit odd. In this child's games, there's always an advance notice of the crime given before the murders of the first twilight. Also, I believe you find letters and circumstantial evidence one after another that clearly show the culprit is carrying out epitaph murders."
"Yeah, that's right. It isn't coincidence. From the very beginning, Beato has been proceeding with a goal of making this look like a series of epitaph murders."
"We weren't mistaken about that. These are clear 'plotline murders'. That's why this can't be the reason either."
"In that case, there's only one reason left, right?"
"In other words, this child performed these epitaph murders to make someone feel the fear of death?"
"At least, putting it that way, everything makes sense, more or less. The grotesque mutilation done to the corpses and the dark decorations were all a show to terrify someone..."
"To terrify whom...?"
"Huh? Well, us, of course..."
After hearing that one line Virgilia spoke so casually, my thoughts clouded over once again...
There are many humans in the Ushiromiya family. There's the head and the one who holds the rank of his successor... Grandfather and Uncle Krauss. The relatives, who have some pull in the business world. On the other side, you have the young cousins, who usually visit at most once a year, and the unfortunate servants, who just happened to be on duty.
Even if the culprit hated all of us, they probably didn't hate all of us equally. In other words, they might have made it clear which of those among us they particularly wanted to take revenge against and terrify. If we liken this to a kid eating dessert... Isn't the strawberry on top of a shortcake the part you should eat last? No one tells you that you shouldn't eat it first, but our mentality leads us into saving it for later.
"...In that case, the culprit would want to leave the person they hated most until the end. Yeah, similar to what was said by my favorite character in this novel I like."
"Something about how the worst way to kill someone is to 'start by killing the people closest to them, make them feel that sadness, then kill that person in the end'."
"Oh my, that must have been quite a terrifying novel. How frightening..."
"...In that case, you could argue that the people who stay alive until the end are the ones Beato hates the most. However, every single time, the order people are killed in gets totally changed."
"...If we try counting up the people who live until the last twilight every single time... even though they do die in the end..."
"...Let me first speak with the red. Battler-kun isn't the culprit. Battler-kun didn't kill anyone. This can be said of all games."
"Then that... just makes it even more likely that it's me. It means the sole reason she had for bringing about the epitaph murders... was to show it to me."
Every time, Beato brags that she chooses who to kill next with a roulette. However, I am the only one she never kills. Though she does kill me in the end, she leaves me be until the very last moment. In all of these supposedly random games, there's only this one unchanging constant...
"She wants... revenge? Against me? So is she performing the epitaph murders to make me feel fear...?"
BGM: Dead Angle
"In that case! That means the epitaph murders really don't mean anything to her. The epitaph's riddle is meaningless, and the corresponding epitaph murders are also meaningless. X=Y=0! But even so, she's clearly trying to show these meaningless things to me!"
"What could she want from me... which is worth the same to her as something meaningless?! I don't get it!! The more I think about it, the less I understand what she's thinking!"
Beatrice, the fickle witch who committed a meaningless, worthless serial murder. Even the epitaph's riddle, which that witch made into a condition to suspend the serial murders... is meaningless, immaterial. And, she's thrusting this meaningless, immaterial thing in front of my face.
...What is it... that you want from me...? Or else, what is it that you want to give me...?
My idea that Beato must have been taking revenge on me... has already been denied by Virgilia's red truth. Both X and Y. Both the epitaph murders and the epitaph's riddle mean nothing to Beato. X=Y=0. However, since she's thrusting that in front of me... it must... have some meaning.
She showed us the scales representing 'if you don't solve the epitaph, I'll carry out the epitaph murders'. In other words, neither the epitaph murders nor the epitaph's riddle have any significance by themselves. However, it becomes meaningful when she puts both halves on the scales and thrusts it out before us... no, before me. In other words, it should be like this:
A scale with meaningless, weightless things on both sides. However, it has weight itself... and gives the rest meaning.
"...It's almost like... playing. Like kids playing rock, paper, scissors."
Rock, paper, scissors is an extremely familiar method to randomly determine a winner and a loser. You sometimes bet some sort of privilege on the outcome, but kids often do rock, paper, scissors just to play, without betting anything in particular. Unless you bet something, you have nothing to gain or lose except happiness and frustration. In other words, the two sides of the scale, both winning and losing, are immaterial.
However, the very act of seeing which way it will tip... is the reason kids play rock, paper, scissors. After all, the kids are enjoying the communication that surrounds the game, and they aren't purely interested in the value of winning or losing. They aren't overly concerned about who wins and who loses...
"That would mean that it doesn't matter to Beato... whether the epitaph murders succeed or not. It almost feels like she's just enjoying the process."
"...In the past, I cursed her, deciding that she was a heartless witch who kept murdering people for no reason. But right now, I can't imagine that's true."
She didn't do it for pleasure, and she didn't do it to make anyone feel fear. Since she has nothing to gain, she doesn't care whether the epitaph murders succeed or fail. It's almost like... a random game kids would play...
"That's not right. It does have meaning. It has meaning for her."
"...And what is... this meaning...?"
"I don't get it. Even though both sides of the scale are immaterial, the scale itself has some weight to it in her eyes."
In the previous game, she urged me to remember my sin of six years ago. Could that have been meaningless too? No. That definitely isn't the case. I clearly remember the serious gaze Beato had back then. Unfortunately, I didn't have a clue at the time. When she saw that, she was horribly dejected.
That's right. At that time, I'm sure she even went so far as to say that the crime wouldn't have occurred if I hadn't come.
"It does have meaning. It means something to her. And it's something she wants from me."
I laughed softly and poked Beato lightly on the head, then patted her head.
"...Next time you want to send a love letter, I suggest that you just write 'I love you'. If you make it too roundabout and confusing, no one's gonna be able to figure it out."