Part 111: Tea Party VIWARNING: There's one last bit in here that gets a bit close to Kinzo's Sin. It's not explicit and it's only one screenshot long, but just in case, I've thumbnail'd it.
"Why can't humans control their own truth? They stupidly search for the truth like that's all that matters, and when they finally find it and can't stand it, they turn themselves into scrap meat!!"
"Hey, are you watching? Clair? You wanted to hide this truth too, didn't you? For fun, you wrote several cat box tales, and planned to seal them in message bottles like the end of a mystery novel you loved. Then, you threw them into the sea. To save those who would suffer if they knew the truth...!!"
"You sealed everything in a cat box, and Eva provided the lock. *giggle*giggle*!! And I've sliced that box open for you...!! Ahhahahahahahahahahaha, all that effort you spent to hide it has gone to waste!!"
"I've exposed all of the truth you hid with your death!! Ahhahahahahahhahhahhahhahha!!"
"Is that... what you've been after?! You did all of this just to insult Clair's death?!! And then... you showed it to Ange to make her suffer...! You really were... an evil witch after all!!"
"I've been a witch the whole time. A traveler whose only goal is to escape boredom. Care for it and love it while it's alive, then eat the guts when it's dead. That's how witches live!"
"I cannot forgive you for what you have done...!! You've hurt Ange and humiliated Clair, the person I would become in another world...!! I won't forgive you...!!"
"Lion. You are what Clair longs to be. Even after death, she longs for it."
"From the moment that Clair was thrown from the cliff, her fate was already sealed. I'm sure it gave her a little bit of salvation to know that another 'her', lives in happiness in another world."
"...That's right. I'm her salvation...! So, I must live life to the fullest... live life for the both of us...!"
"Lion. Let me show you just a bit more of this tale of the truth."
"I'm not interested!"
"Don't worry, it'll be very interesting. After the duel between Eva and Kyrie, the guesthouse is wrapped in silence. Let me invite you to the parlor at that point in time."
"The parlor...? The one in the mansion?"
In the cruel tale they had just been shown, the parlor hadn't been particularly important. Jessica had been summoned to the parlor, but she was then immediately led to the dining hall and killed there. So, there had been nothing in the parlor. And, right now, there was nothing in the parlor that appeared before Lion.
"Just what's supposed to be here?"
"*giggle*. As you can see, there's nothing here. But watch. I'm about to show you something interesting."
"If you call it interesting, that's a sure sign that it isn't."
"*giggle*giggle*. Go on, take a look. It's right there. Right in that corner."
Bernkastel was pointing... at nothing more than a corner of the room. There was nothing there. She had told Lion to look there, so the latter was expecting something terrible to be there, but there really was nothing there at all.
"...That's right, there's nothing there. At least, not in this world. But what if we peek into the next Fragment over...?"
On the white, blank wall... bit by bit... a splash of blood seeped into view.
BGM: Patchwork Chimera
"Th, this is... m, me...?!"
It was Lion, lying dead against the wall... Ushiromiya Lion's corpse lay there exposed...
"Wh, what's going on here...? Why am I here...? This is supposed to be Clair's world, not mine...! Clair and I can't exist at the same time, right...?!"
"Yes, that's right. That's because I just switched worlds... switched Fragments. Switched to your world, that is."
"...I don't understand!"
"It's very simple. They both end the same way. *giggle*giggle*!!"
"I don't get it!! Why am I supposed to be dead here?!!"
"In your world, on October 4th, 1986, Beatrice's funeral was held just before the family conference."
"Yes, I know that. And for me, that happened today, a short while ago!"
"From that time until late that night, do you know what happened...?"
"Nothing at all!! The cousins all played together, and the whole family had dinner together!"
"Then, the family conference took place that night. You were going to succeed the headship when you turned 20, right? Was the entire family satisfied with that, I wonder...?"
"...I don't know if they were satisfied, but the decision had been made. The Head made it himself."
"Looks like you don't really believe they were satisfied. That's it right there. Kinzo adored you more than anything... and tried to make an exception and set you up as the next Head. Of course, his children wouldn't have been happy with that."
The siblings objected to having Lion succeed the headship. Even Krauss joined in, saying that Lion was still too young. Then, on the night of the family conference, Kinzo tried proposing a difficult riddle...
"Could it be...?"
Kinzo decided to present that riddle at the family conference. Did he plan to give the position of successor to the person who solved it? Or did he promise to reconsider Lion's position as the head if it was solved? Either way, Kinzo was confident. He was confident that no one would be able to solve this tough riddle, which he had created himself.
"After that, everything happened exactly like the truth you just saw. The siblings solved it right away, and there was a quarrel over the pile of gold. *giggle*... Then, Kyrie and Rudolf decided to prevent any chance of the crime being discovered the next morning and an outcry being raised, they carried out the late night murders. They called the kids out from the cousins' room one by one, then killed them."
"...As the first of the cousins, you were the first to be called out. Then, Kyrie shot you dead right here in the parlor."
"...No, that's not quite right. You're the Ushiromiya Lion from the early evening of October 4th, 1986. So, I'll say it this way. Tonight, Kyrie will shoot you dead in the parlor."
"That's... insane... It's... That's right, probability! Just like Lion can be born from Clair thanks to a rare miracle, Aunt Kyrie only commits murder with a tiny probability, close to zero! That must be it! Aren't you the witch who specializes in finding extremely improbable worlds?!!"
"That is correct. I had to find one Fragment out of 2,578,917 in order to discover the miracle that is you. However, it was very, very easy to find this result for your world. After all, probability isn't a factor. I'm a witch who can find any miracle, no matter how unlikely it is. But I can't find things that don't exist. If the Witch of Certainty really guarantees that something is certain, even I can't win against her."
"But... then... I..."
"With a 2,578,916 out of 2,578,917 probability, you live in the world as Clair, are toyed with by an inescapable fate, and reach a tragic end. And, with a 1 out of 2,578,917 probability, you live as Ushiromiya Lion... and are killed by Kyrie tonight."
"...In other words, your fate... no, the fate the two of you share, traps you in an inescapable dead end, a hell of fate, with a 2,578,917 out of 2,578,917 probability, To put it another way, it's a certain fate, with absolutely no chance for a miracle!"
"*giggle*, eheheheheheheheheheh!! Sucks for you, Clair. No, Beatrice."
Just when a bright light seemed to turn the world white, the scene suddenly changed back to the theater. On the stage, Bernkastel's reaper scythe slid across Clair's stomach as the latter stood absolutely still. A red line was drawn across the white skin, exposed now that the dress had been cut, and black blood began to seep out...
"However, you had a dream. You dreamed of Ushiromiya Lion. You consoled yourself with the thought of a miracle world, where you could have lived in happiness and would never have become Clair!"
"...I had to work hard to find Lion. As Beato dreamed, Lion's existence is a true miracle. And, at the end of your funeral, I wanted to show you. To show you that, even with that miracle, you couldn't have escaped this tragedy!!"
Through the small crack between the bars of the jail that imprisoned her, the witch called Beatrice dreamed of a world where she might have been happy... However, the space she could see through that crack in the bars... was just another part of the same jail...
"The more I hear... the less I understand about you...! Why... would you do something like this...?!"
"I lost a game to Beatrice, so I wanted to get back at her. *giggle*giggle*!! Yeah, now I feel a lot better about losing that game...! Hey, Beato, are you watching? Can you see this?! And do you remember? Remember when I promised you that a miracle wouldn't occur, with certainty?!"
"Ahhahahahahahahah, ahhahahahahaahahahahahahahaha!! So, Lion! Allow me to return you to your world, right before Beato's eyes!! It looks like the theatergoing witches are all sick and tired of those happy family get-together scenes."
"So, I'll send you to the moment just before Kyrie shoots you! Then, I'll make Beato watch that moment!!"
"Ahhahahahahahhahhahhahaha!! Die, scum Lion! The last hope of that scum Beato, uhyahhah hyaahhaaaaaaaaahhh!!!"
Bernkastel raised her reaper scythe... swung it down with gusto... and plunged it deep into Clair's stomach...
"Did you think you'd get an easy death? Hehihihihihihihi!! But humiliating and tearing out a corpse's guts is my specialty...!!"
She took the blade end of the scythe, and heartlessly, ruthlessly, brutally... raised it up into the air. Along a vertical line from Clair's stomach to her chest, the blade cut deeply... slicing Clair open. The red-black insides... jutted out... then burst like a dam breaking, covering the world with dark red entrails...
When I came to, I was in the parlor of the mansion.
When did I get here? I heard a sound behind me, then slowly turned around... And there...
I could see down the frigid barrel of the gun Aunt Kyrie was pointing. Then... she slowly... pulled the trigger...
I could feel a razor-sharp wind pass through my body like a knife slicing through butter. Prepared for death, and hoping to see my fate until the end, I slowly opened my eyes...
Kyrie was frozen in place like a statue, still pointing her gun with a cold smile on her face... and had been cut in half at an angle, the top part of her slowly sliding off to the side. No, that wasn't quite right. That wasn't right at all.
Then, immediately after fissures seemed to appear across the world, it shattered.
"...?! Y, you...!"
BGM: The Executioner
He pointed at Bernkastel with the tip of the pitch-black sword that had sliced the world, glaring at her.
"*giggle*giggle*... What's this? Are you saying you came back here on a whim...?"
"...There was no way you'd end things on a happy note. Do you really hate Beatrice so much?"
"You think I'd let her win and get away...? I have to pay her back in full for the humiliation she caused me. When I hold a grudge, a mere century isn't long enough for me to forget it."
"You're a gloomy person."
"Please, you mustn't forget my heart. *giggle*giggle*giggle*!!"
"Are you okay, Lion? Hey, what's wrong?!"
Lion had suddenly doubled over, groaning.
"...My chest... hurts... It's..."
Will roughly grabbed the hand that was pressed against Lion's chest and tore it away. Blood was seeping out of the place that Lion's hand had been. It was the place that the bullet would have entered if Kyrie had shot Lion.
"Lion, hang in there! Damn these chains...!"
When Will tried to pick Lion up, he finally noticed the chains attached to each wrist and ankle.
"What's this? Are you trying to take that kid and escape? I won't let you. I'm about to let everyone watch as Lion coughs up blood, despairing at the fact that there is no hope in any of the many worlds... before finally dying in agony."
"Lion isn't a show."
Will swung his pitch-black sword and destroyed the chains binding Lion. The chains and shackles shattered into little bits like glass... then vanished.
"You intend to get in the way of my fun...?"
"You aren't God. All you can do is sneer at fate. Lion's fate is decided by Lion. You can't use a human's fate like a toy."
"...*giggle*giggle*, hahhahahhahahahahahahahaha...!! You've got guts, saying that to the great Bernkastel, witch of the Senate! I have no more use for you either, get it...?"
"You've shown that Beato's fantasy is a mystery and cut it to pieces. You've fulfilled your role. I would've let you be, if only you'd just left quietly. Now that you've strolled on back here, you can hardly complain when I make you my plaything."
"Come to me, my cute kitties. Scratch them up and tear off their skin. Peel them like grapes...!"
They were clearly cat eyes, but the way the drool hung from their mouths looked far more terrifying than any cat...
"I'll handle this. Trimming kitty nails is nothing new to me."
The number of jewels surrounding them already reached into the thousands. Will pointed his sword in one direction after another, warding off the surrounding cats...
"Get a grip, Lion. You haven't been shot. Don't acknowledge that you have been... no, that you will be shot...!"
Lion tried to fight an incredible tearing pain. No, it was a fight against the promised future that Bernkastel had shown. However, the gouging stake representing that future, which the Witch of Miracles had guaranteed would certainly contain no miracle, was firm and merciless... Bit by bit, and yet unceasingly, it continued to pierce Lion's chest...
"...Listen up. I'm gonna break through their perimeter for just a second. When I do, you need to run with all you've got. It doesn't matter where. Just make sure you get far away from this place, and keep on running no matter what happens."
"...I'll try... to the best of my ability... If I can't do it, please forgive me..."
"...If you can't do it? Enough whining. I won't forgive you. Neither will Clair."
"...Be... a miracle..."
"You're gonna reach a happy future. You can't give up, and you can't complain. Just you try complaining one more time. This time I'll pinch your ass...!"
"*giggle*giggle*. Ahhahahahahhahhahhahhahha!! How very confident you are, telling this kid to be a miracle when you stand before the Witch of Miracles...! Miracles are no more than fantasy! Grovel in this world that has been convicted as a mystery, and die horribly like a worm! The witches of theatergoing are looking forward to watching it!!"
"...Hmph. You call that mystery? You think I'd ever accept a mystery without heart? Let the cat who wants to be made into a shamisen strike first. Gah, what a pain. Let's have all of you at once! I'm Willard H. Wright, SSVD's Head Inquisitor of Heresy. This'll be the final time I draw my sword...!"
"Trash him, kitties."
At once, all of the cat eyes opened wide, undulated and spun in a spiral, then swallowed Will up. But Will and Lion were not swallowed up. The cats that had flown in at them from all directions were now being launched away, like a balloon popping around them.
"I don't give a damn about your kitties. It's just the mama cat I care about. Bernkastel, Witch of Miracles!! It's about time someone trimmed your claws!!"
Another flash of the black blade spun in a black tornado and scattered the cats once more. Lion, realizing that this was the opening Will had planned to make, ran all out, hand on chest.
"...Will, I'm running."
"Diana has a weak stomach. Make sure you only give her warm milk."
By the time Lion asked Will to repeat what he had said, he had already leapt onto the stage and was now confronting Bernkastel. It was like the climax of a show. Loud cheers erupted from the pitch-black audience seating. On either side of Clair, who lay with her insides exposed, stood Will, with his pitch-black sword, and Bernkastel, with the scythe that could harvest miracles from fate.
"Kyrie and Rudolf are the culprits, and they massacred the people on the island? They called Lion out to the parlor, then shot Lion to death? Sorry, but this 'truth' of yours just doesn't work as a mystery. This is all fantasy."
"Fantasy? You're calling it that to try and let Lion escape fate?"
"By all means, try. *cackle*cackle*, *giggle*giggle*giggle*!! Ahhhahhahhahhahahahahahahahaha, hiiyaaaaaaahhaaaaaaaahhh!!!"
...Surely, Will's black sword must have cut through Bernkastel's body. However, it had no effect, like cutting the reflection of the moon on the water.
"What's this? What do you mean by 'clues'?"
"I won't accept your 'mystery' with Kyrie and Rudolf as the culprits. You won't find clues showing that they're the culprits no matter which game you look at."
"Of course you won't. Even if they did exist at one point, the whole island blew up."
"Which means there aren't any clues. And that means this is no mystery. It's fantasy."
It is impossible for an unprovable truth to become truth in the human world. In other words, even the truth cannot leave the cat box.
With a laugh like the howl of a wild animal, Bernkastel carelessly tossed her scythe aside.
"You're not even worth fighting. Get over here, scum. Try and cut me all you like. I'll listen to all you've got to say."
"...The twenty wedges'll pierce every part of your heartless mystery. Here it comes."
"And when you realize that you can't defeat me with those twenty wedges, you know what'll happen next, right? *giggle*, come on. I'll play with you, if that's what you want!"
I dashed out of the theater of the theatergoing witches, then ran through an incomprehensible world of blackness. Before I knew it, I was running through a place that looked like a sea of stars, or maybe the bottom of the ocean with stars scattered around. If I get careless for a second, I'll probably trip. No, if I get careless, I won't be able to tell if I'm running... or just making running motions as I free fall, endlessly sinking deeper into the ocean of stars. I just kept on running, without any goal or target.
I mustn't stop moving. I mustn't fall down here. If I fall, I'll crush the hope of the 'me's in countless worlds... The happy world that the Beatrices dreamed of. I'm their last hope, the only one who can reach that world... Even though I understand this, the 'truth' thrust in front of me by the witch who controls miracles... who says there can be no miracle... is cruelly gouging itself into my chest...
"...Sorry, Will... My body's... already..."
Lion finally... succumbed to the fierce pain and fate... and fell over...
BGM: Resurrected Replayer
"...!! W, Will...!! You're okay...!"
"No, not really. Didn't I tell you I'd pinch your ass if you gave up?"
"...Sorry... I'm really sorry... But, on that day, in that place, I was fated to be killed..."
"That's right. All humans are fated to die in the end. Does that mean their lives are meaningless? Of course not. What a person's life means, what it's worth, what it is... these are things a person decides for themselves. No matter what sort of fate is forced upon them. Don't accept it. Create your own world... for yourself...!"
"...Will, your... left arm...!"
"Ah, right... Must have forgotten it. It'd be a pain to go back and get it now."
There were rips all over Will's body.
Then, Lion noticed. Though this place had once felt like a sea filled with stars, both above and below them, those stars had now gathered together and were surrounding them... That huge, even number of stars, all glaring at the two of them...
Will was holding Lion with one arm. He couldn't take his sword out. However, he didn't let go. He was determined to let Lion escape from here, and to lead Lion towards the happy tale that the Beatrices had dreamed of. Behind the cats whose eyes glowed out of the empty darkness... the queen of cats who permitted no miracles appeared...
"Go file a protest with the Great Court. You can put it up for debate."
"I won't leave you behind. I need to tell you. To tell you why I quit SSVD."
"...Come to think of it, even I don't know that. Why'd you do it?"
"It's because I got fed up with all those damn sob story mysteries. We're gonna survive and make a happy ending. I'm gonna show her. Beatrice died in despair, thinking that there were only bad endings. I'm gonna show her that a happy ending can exist. So I'll never put you down."
"You can take the rest of my left arm, cats. I'll give you my legs too, if you want them. But I'm not letting go of Lion here. I'm gonna let Lion escape your bad ending if I have to crawl out of here...!"
"Are you okay with this, Lion? Will's planning to die protecting you. You don't want that, right? Go ahead and tell him to leave you be and save himself."
As he said this, Will held Lion tight.
"There you have it. We'll keep struggling on, Bernkastel."
"We won't give up on the chance of a miracle...!"
"You're saying that? When the Witch of Miracles has promised with certainty that there will be no miracles? *giggle*giggle*, ehhehehehehahahahahahahahaha!! So long, you two. Go collect dust in the depths of oblivion, unable even to die, and disappear!!"
"Come, my kitties. I won't tell you to kill them. Just clean up the two pieces whose role has ended."
A million, a trillion, ten quadrillion cats all bared their fangs. In the starry sky of cat eyes, countless flesh-colored mouths opened, exposing countless teeth.