Part 115: Six-Year-Old Ange
BGM: In the Sun
They searched for bits of glass, polished by the waves to become small and gem-like. They caught up on news of each other's lives and joked around. They wrote words in the sand. They chased the receding waves and ran away from the coming ones. The cousins enjoyed this time they had to themselves.
"Get back here, Maria! You won't get off easy this time!! Wahahaha!"
"Kyahahahahahaha!! No way, no way, kyahahahaha!"
"You'll get hurt if you fall. Be careful, you two."
"Feels like the wind's gotten stronger. Maybe we should head back soon."
"You're right. I think the sky's getting cloudier too. Battler-kun, Maria-chan! I think we should call it a day soon and head back to the guesthouse for the time being."
"Uu-? No way! I wanna play more!!"
"Hey, don't ignore your cousin. Okay, that's all for now. Here, I'll give you my glass gem."
"Uu-!! Really?! Thank you, Battler!! Now, I have the most, so I win! Uu-uu-uu-!!"
"Ange, are you okay?"
"What's wrong, Ange? You look a little down."
"She's just tired out. Come on, let's all head back together."
True, Ange's expression probably looked tired. However, Battler alone thought he saw something else in it.
She said those words, but something in her expression showed that she was unsatisfied for some reason. Since Ange didn't say what it was, and Battler couldn't think of anything, he was unable to guess any more. So, he squeezed her small hand, silently letting her know that she could tell him whenever she was ready...
Even though it had seemed such a bright, sunny day until a short while ago... The sky turned gray, and the winds started to feel more annoying than pleasant. If they waited around, they might have to deal with scattered raindrops as well.
"And I guess it'll be raining the whole time from now on. What a drag."
"Still, even though it didn't last long, it was fun to be a kid again for a while."
"I can't wait to show Mama this glass gem! I'm gonna tell her I won!"
"Ihihi. Even though you only won 'cause I gave you mine."
"Uu-! I got it, so it's mine! So I won! Uu-uu-uu-!!"
Ange walked distractedly, pulled along by her brother. George and the others thought that she had probably woken up too early and was tired, so they didn't try to talk to her much. As they reached the end of the forested path, the rose garden lay before them. They could see the strong winds making the rose bushes wave.
Maria ran forward, waving her hands about and yelling. It looked as though Rosa was waving to them from in front of the guesthouse.
"I'm gonna head back to my room for a sec. I'll meet you in the cousins' room right after."
"Okay, got it. See you later, then."
Jessica ran off in the direction of the mansion. George turned around, as though suggesting that they had better get going too. However, when he saw Ange standing still with a crabby look on her face, he realized that she might have been put into a bad mood by something.
"...Is everything okay?"
"Y, yeah, she's fine. Sorry, but would you mind going on ahead of us?"
"Sure, got it. See you later."
George headed for the guesthouse. The only ones left in the rose garden were Battler, who was waving at George, and Ange, who was still staring at the ground and holding Battler's hand. For the past few minutes, he had repeatedly asked Ange what was wrong. He realized that this wasn't anything like a stomachache, or something obvious that had put her into a bad mood.
However, young girls sometimes get upset for reasons that only they can understand. Battler knew this, so he didn't rush her in any way, and continued to gaze around the beautiful rose garden, holding her hand.
"...What is it?"
"Where... is this place?"
She asked the question as though she was talking about something on the other side of the silver screen. Though Battler understood what that question meant, he played dumb.
"Where is this? It's Rokkenjima, right?"
"No, I'm not."
"How is this supposed to be Rokkenjima?"
"It's the Rokkenjima of October 4th, 1986. The Rokkenjima you've wanted to see for so long."
"That's a lie."
"Why do you say that?"
"This is... totally fake."
Ange wrenched her hand from her brother's grip. That hand hit a rose and sent flower petals flying.
"I don't lie."
Ange spat those words out. However, Battler's expression remained calm and composed.
"...What don't you like about it?"
"Ushiromiya Kinzo, for example! He wasn't anything like that, right?!"
"What grandfather wouldn't smile, when he's been reunited with his grandchildren after a long time?"
"At least Ushiromiya Kinzo wasn't that kind of person!! Ushiromiya Kinzo was...!"
"Strict, discontented, short-tempered and quick to anger?"
"So you do understand!! What was all that back there?!! How was that supposed to be Ushiromiya Kinzo?! Halloween? Exchanging presents?! What the hell is that?!! That's nothing like Ushiromiya Kinzo... This is nothing like Rokkenjima...!!"
"...Don't you remember, Ange?"
"We did that every year, didn't we?"
"Every year...? That?!"
"Well, I guess it's no surprise. The last time you went to a family conference, you were less than six years old. So, it's only natural that you wouldn't remember."
"It's... only natural that..."
Ange understood what her brother was trying to say. However, she couldn't accept it.
The grand tale of how Kinzo had restored the Ushiromiya family was more than enough to paint him as a rigid, terrifying man. Furthermore, Kinzo was an investor. All the legends and tales that made him seem more mysterious had probably worked in his business's favor. At times, Kinzo may even have acted out this part people expected, endeavoring to make his presence all the more overpowering. That's why the world at large spoke of Ushiromiya Kinzo as a strict, short-tempered man. And they even thought of him as a fickle, bold, incomprehensible eccentric...
"But that was just the face Grandfather showed to the world. That's not how he acted in private, alone with his family."
"...Are you saying that weeping old man who doted on his grandchildren... is the real Ushiromiya Kinzo?"
"He must have played with you and patted your head many times. Do you really not remember...?"
Things like that... might have happened once or twice. But that must have been a mere whim of Kinzo's... My parents told me all the time. Grandfather is a terrifying person, so make sure you don't mess up. They always... always said... that he's very scary, so take care...
"...And that means... he was a scary person..."
"When you were little, you would always accept whatever your parents said and take it too seriously. To put it nicely, you were obedient, but to put it bluntly, you were a kid with an overactive imagination. Dad and the others were just trying to make you realize how important it was to be polite."
"...I... I saw it though! I knew about it! I knew that Ushiromiya Kinzo was a scary person! I've even seen him yelling in anger!! I'll never forget it!!"
"Well, like you saw just now, Grandfather could be a bit abrupt at times. He might just have been trying to surprise you. Or, it might just have slipped out when he was having a serious discussion with his kids."
"And you think I just got scared for no reason... and got the wrong idea?"
"That can't be! That can't be true!! I mean, I still remember it! I know I saw Ushiromiya Kinzo yelling and being scary! Mom and Dad were terrified too, so I know I'm right!!"
"...The impression you had of Grandfather when you were young remained with you, and that impression grew inside you as you grew up."
Ange, who got sick easily when under pressure, couldn't have gone to Rokkenjima often. And, since she was absent for the family conference when she was six, her last memories of him must have come from when she was just five years old.
"B, but even you haven't seen Ushiromiya Kinzo, for six years."
"That's right. But, when I finally came back after six years, I saw that Grandfather hadn't changed in the slightest."
"Kinzo was... fickle, so you could never understand what he was thinking, and he was an eccentric with a creepy love for the occult, and..."
"It's true that he had a love for the occult. Yeah, it was a bit of a strange hobby for him to get into in his final years. I'll admit that his hobby of collecting strange objects to scare his grandchildren and laugh at them wasn't exactly praiseworthy."
Even Battler had been pranked by Kinzo in the past. He showed me an attache case with seven strange stakes in it... and said something about how they were once used in the Middle Ages to gouge the hearts of victims in a witch's ceremony. When Kinzo first showed me those, I was pretty frightened, but looking back on it, it really was a childish prank. Grandfather only scared his grandchildren because he wanted to joke around with them.
"I'd be willing to bet... that Grandfather pulled a prank like that on you too. It's no surprise that, young as you were, you let that scare you and convince you that Grandfather was a strange, terrifying person."
"...I... I don't know what you're talking about, Onii-chan..."
Ange bit her lower lip and stared at the ground. She said she didn't understand, but in truth, she understood perfectly, and was refusing to accept it.
"Remember how we traded Halloween presents in the parlor just now?"
"...What was that all about? The Ushiromiya family never did anything that sentimental...!"
"It's almost as though... you don't remember it at all."
"Are you saying I got presents once too?! I don't remember anything like that!! That could never happen!"
"...Do you really think that Grandfather, a man who loved the occult and Western traditions, wouldn't celebrate Halloween? Grandfather's 'Happy Halloween' was pretty much the standard greeting at our family conferences. You must have heard it yourself. Youth can be so cruel. Even though Grandfather put all his heart into choosing those presents, it looks like your heart didn't remember."
"Are you saying that I was just too young to remember, and that... and that... was the truth of October 4th?!"
That day, just like six years before, Grandfather entered the parlor with a cry of 'Happy Halloween'. Then, he and I traded presents, as he shed tears over our long-awaited reunion after a six year gap. Grandfather seemed so sad that Ange wasn't able to come. So, he gave Kyrie-san a present, telling her to make sure that Ange got it...
"...True. She never... had the chance..."
"I don't believe it!! I won't believe that was Ushiromiya Kinzo! Then what about the family conference itself?! Wasn't that a tense argument over the distribution of the inheritance?! All of the adult siblings were in money trouble! That's why they all longed for Kinzo's inheritance money...!"
"...Ange, where did you hear that from?"
"What do you mean, where?! It's the truth, isn't it?!"
"Do you think Dad would talk to you about financial difficulties with his company when you were that age...? And not just Dad. Even if Uncle Krauss, Aunt Eva, and Aunt Rosa talked about how they were in money trouble and wanted Kinzo's inheritance money, do you really think they'd talk about it in front of you...?"
"B, but... But it's true, isn't it?!?!"
In the end, it was true. Ange's words were not mistaken. Not only Rudolf, but Krauss, Hideyoshi, and Rosa as well... all had companies in money trouble. People started talking about the Rokkenjima Explosion Accident as though it was some sort of conspiracy, and a 'mystery' imagined by the public covered the island. Weekly magazines and television shows researched the circumstances of Kinzo's children at the time, and in the future where Ange lived, that research had been made public.
"But it's a fact, isn't it? There's no difference between facts and truth!"
"And does that prove that the inheritance created a strained atmosphere between the relatives on Rokkenjima? I guess that seemed to fit with your memory of your parents telling you repeatedly to be extra polite at the family conference..."
"A, are you saying what I know about Rokkenjima... what I know about the Ushiromiya family... is wrong...?!"
"You're the one who's wrong, Onii-chan!! There's no way something like that could be possible!! I won't acknowledge that that thing was Ushiromiya Kinzo! I could never acknowledge that!!"
"So, you don't believe, Ange?"
"That's right, I don't believe!! I just don't understand why you're showing me something like this! After all, this is your game... no, your game board, isn't it?!"
"Beato and Bern! One witch after another has sneered at my fate, trying to make me surrender in their games. But I want the truth! Witch illusions won't work on me! Now I get it, you damn witches. So, you've sent Onii-chan as a final assassin to finish me off."
"...You're right. This is... my game. So, of course, this is my tale, and I'm the one making it. That's why I'm able to add in 'what if' situations, like what would happen if you came to the island too."
"See! You made this tale!! It's all a pack of lies, a fiction you created!!"
"See?!! You've admitted it! You have, haven't you?!! Just like I thought, this is all a lie you made...! Why are you lying to me?! Why won't you tell me the truth?!"
"...Because there's something I must get you to understand. Something more important than the truth."
"Something more important than the truth...?! What the hell are you talking about?!"
"The purpose of my game is to help you understand that."
Just as Beato's games were made to make Battler believe in witches. Battler's game... was made to help Ange understand something that was more important than the truth. Games never bring about their intended ends by force. After all, Beato's game could never be won for all eternity, unless Battler acknowledged witches on his own. Battler's game was the same. Battler couldn't win in this game... unless Ange acknowledged it herself.
So, Battler had advanced this game just as Beato had done in the past. To believe, or not. To accept, or not. The decision lay solely in the hands of the opponent. And so, Battler was trying to enshroud Ange with his own illusion...
"Ange. I'm not trying to challenge you to a game."
"No. This is a game. I made a wish, hoping to learn the truth of October 4th, 1986. And so, you invited me to this game, saying that you'd show me the truth. And now, you're showing me this strange illusion, trying to make me believe that it's the truth! Well, too bad. I'm already used to dealing with witches. I'm fully aware that you're trying to use that kind face of yours to trick me...!!"
The big brother realized that no words of his would have any effect on his enraged little sister. So, he just quietly listened to Ange's words. But even so, Ange was dissatisfied.
"I've had more than enough of this stupid farce. If you don't plan on telling me the truth, then end it all now! I'll find my own truth for myself! I won't rely on you...! That's right. There never was anyone I could rely on anyway... I've... always been... all alone..."
"...Ah, that's right. Unless the Game Master admits defeat, the game never ends, right?"
"That isn't what I meant. I'm just telling you to stay quiet and listen."
"...Oh, sure. I'll just stay quiet then. Even if a player isn't around, the pieces just move by themselves, and the game moves forward. Isn't that how it was?"
"...That's right. A player can step back and become an observer for a while if they want. And they can come back and join in whenever they want too."
"Then I'll do that. This is an endurance contest. It'll keep on going until you give up on trying to cover up the truth."
"Something more important than the truth? I don't get it...! How could anything like that exist...?!"
"It does, Ange. Whether my tale is the truth or not, the fact remains that you lost something precious on this island."
"Dad, Mom. And you, Onii-chan. I lost my family... and everything that mattered to me."
She spat out those words as though no further questioning would do any good... and looked away. Even as he watched this, Battler's expression remained gentle.
"Just keep going however you like. Later, Onii-chan."
"...At least make sure you watch the tale. Even just listening is enough."
"If I feel like it. Later."
Ange's eyes clouded. Then, a particularly strong gust of wind blew by, sending her hair flying. The wind must have been carrying some dust with it. Ange's nose twitched, and she sneezed loudly.
"What is it?"
"...How long are we gonna stand here...? The weather's all weird. Let's go back to the guesthouse."
Ange's eyes weren't cloudy anymore. However, the tone and atmosphere about those eyes seemed somehow different from before...
In a manner typical of young girls, Ange signaled that she was too bored and wanted to go do something. This Ange was clearly a six-year-old Ange.
"Good point. Then, why don't you head back to the guesthouse now? I'm going to stay here."
"Why...? It'll start raining soon."
"It won't be long now. So, I'll wait here a bit longer."
"You're waiting here? Who are you waiting for... Huh?"
Then, to Ange's eyes, it looked as though the strong winds were now carrying flakes of gold along with them. No, she had definitely seen something, but she wasn't able to describe what she had seen, so to her it had seemed like flakes of gold dancing on the wind.
"So, here you are. I've been waiting a while now."
It was as though he was talking to the wind. Battler spoke to the empty rose garden. That can't be right. After all, it was clear from his words that he was talking to someone right in front of him. So, Ange thought it must be someone that she alone couldn't see, and she rubbed her eyes. Then, when she opened her eyes wide, another large gust of wind blew past her. She shut her eyes immediately, and when she timidly opened them...
From the other end of the rose garden... Yes, from the path that led up from the harbor... A person appeared. To Ange, it looked as though she had appeared along with a cloud of gold flakes carried by the wind...
BGM: Birth of New Witch
"Am I? I'd call it early."
"You should ride the boat with us every now and then."
"You mean grasp the handrail and scream alongside you?"
"Yes, sure, let's scream. Fall, fall..."
"*cackle*cackle*! I see, how interesting...! Yes, I suppose I did arrive too late."
The pair casually walked up to each other and hugged. It looked like a pair of friends being reunited after several years.
Ange, surprised by this unfamiliar woman, looked for somewhere to hide. However, her eyes met Beato's, and she was unable to escape...
She was shocked to hear this unfamiliar woman suddenly use her name.
"Look how cute she was at the age of six."
"...O, onii-chan. Who... is this person...?"
"A friend of mine."
"A friiiieeeend?! How can you say that?!"
"This is Beatrice. You've heard from Grandfather, haven't you? About the Golden Witch, who gave the Ushiromiya family its gold?"
...Now I remember. That was the scary witch who would snatch you away off into the forest if you didn't listen to your parents or stayed up too late on Rokkenjiima.
"Mom said... that on rainy nights, if you look out the window at the dark forest, you might see the witch looking back at you and get snatched away."
"Which must mean... I'm supposed to be wandering about in the cold rain, looking into each window to find kids staying up too late? How pitiful that would be...!"
"Wahhahahaha, good point. Ange, your parents just made that story up to get you to go to bed on time. Beatrice doesn't do stuff like that."
"Very well, allow me to introduce myself! I am Beatrice, the Golden Witch-!"
"Or her grandchild, at least."
"Th, that grandchild part's a bit of a killjoy."
"Well, it's true, isn't it? The person that Grandfather got the gold from and called the Golden Witch was your grandmother, right?"
"Nn, nnnnggg, I guess. Grandchild of the Golden Witch, is it? Nnngyah, can't I get a better title than that?"
"...Is this person... a witch...?"
"Yep, she is. She's a guest who's been invited to the family conference today."
"...She isn't a scary witch? She's not gonna take me away into the forest...?"
"Damn Rudolf and Kyrie. Just what do they think they're telling this kid about me! I don't do things like that...! I'll lodge a firm protest later! *pout*!"
She was very loud, overreacting to everything. Nothing at all like the witch Maria onee-chan had talked about, who had lived for a thousand years and had various servants from the demon world. She looked, well, like an energetic young woman whom Ange's mom might have been good friends with.
Her brother and the witch talked together happily like a pair of close friends. Dogs often don't trust people they meet for the first time. However, people say that they calm down once they see that their owner acts in a kind way. Surely, something similar to this was going on in Ange's heart. Ange kept staring at this pushy, temperamental woman who called herself a witch as she chatted happily with Ange's brother...
BGM: Melody (instrumental)
Beato noticed the gold key hanging from Ange's neck. Ange automatically grasped it defensively.
"That's Ange's precious key."
After hearing these vague words, the witch stared blankly for a second. But, almost immediately, she seemed to understand what he meant.
"...I see. Is that how it is?"
"I thought it'd be easier to understand if I made it clear what she's supposed to do."
"Don't worry, Ange. No one's gonna steal your precious key."
"...Are you sure...?"
"Of course. That key belongs to you, and the choice is yours. Battler and the rest of us are merely signposts to guide you on your path."
When her brother gave her the key, he had said that it was very important, so she had to take good care of it. Ange didn't have a clue what the key was for, but it looked like Beato did. However, just like her brother had done earlier, Beato only spoke in riddles. This irritated Ange, but for the time being, the Golden Witch said that she didn't intend to steal this key, so Ange calmed down a little.
"...Do you... know what this key is used for...?"
"But of course. However, I cannot tell you."
The witch said the same thing as my brother. The pair nodded to each other, but it was all Greek to me. It felt like someone had laid out a riddle that everyone knew but me, and everyone was making fun of me.
"You'll know soon enough. Don't waste time thinking about it."
Ange held the key tightly. Even if she didn't understand what it meant, it was her own key, and her big brother had told her to take good care of it. With her youthful suspicion, she was scared that the witch might ask her to hand it over, saying that she'd teach her how to use it if she did. Of course, her thoughts showed up clearly on her face. The witch couldn't help but laugh at that honest expression.
"Fear not. It is impossible for anyone to steal that key from you."
"...No one can steal it...?"
"You might say that it has been imbued with magic to make it so. At any rate, fear not. Neither I, nor Battler, nor anyone else on this island can steal that key from you."
"Yeah, really. The magic won't let them."
The key was hanging around her neck like an ordinary necklace. Ange could take it off right now if she wanted, and if an adult tried to use force, it seemed like it would be easy for them to take it away. However, both her brother and the witch said that it was protected by a magic that would stop anyone from stealing it...
Even the six-year-old Ange knew about the word 'magic'. However, she also realized that real magic didn't exist, and that certain kinds of magic tricks were sometimes called magic. However, her brother and the witch were talking about magic itself.
"Yeah. Magic exists."
"Maria spoke of me often, did she not? She says that witches exist. And she often tells you that magic exists, correct?"
True, Maria had talked about that many times. When it was part of a game, Ange had believed her, more or less. However, Ange was, in some ways, sharp for her age, and when she heard Maria talking happily about magic, she sometimes thought that such a thing couldn't really exist.
"Then, show me."
"Show me magic! Or I won't believe you...!"
"Hold up a sec... Beato just arrived on the island, and she hasn't even gone to say hi to everyone at the mansion yet..."
Battler spoke as though he was trying to smooth something over. When she heard that, Ange became sure that magic didn't exist after all.
"Magic is just a bunch of lies...! I know!"
"Hey, stop that. You'll hurt Beato's feelings..."
"No, it's no problem. Anyone would say that upon meeting a witch. Normally, I would ignore provocation from such a small child, but she is your little sister, after all. Why don't we give her a special showing?"
"Are you sure...?"
"Of course I am. Watch carefully, Ange."
Though Ange had challenged the witch to show her if she could, now that she was about to be shown, she looked a bit hesitant. She gulped, then stared up at the witch's face.
Ange, thinking that she was about to be turned into a frog, shrank back. However, after waiting a while and grinding her teeth, she realized that nothing was happening. So, the part of her that had been scared began to get angry.
"Don't jump to conclusions so quickly. I haven't used magic yet. See, look carefully at my palm. I'm not hiding anything, correct?"
Oh, so that's what she was doing... Now that she finally understood, Ange checked both sides of the witch's hand.
"...Yeah. There's nothing there."
"Watch closely. I'll make a fist, and then stretch out my index finger."
She stretched out her index finger and held it right in front of Ange's eyes. Ange, thinking that she'd lose the game if she took a step back, stood her ground and concentrated on the fingertip.
"Watch the tip of my finger closely. Ready? It'll be fast."
Just as Ange looked up to see the finger raised high, it swung down as though trying to dodge her gaze. In that manner, up, down, left, right, then left again. Ange, feeling as though she'd lose if she couldn't keep up with the fingertip, swung her face this way and that, looking serious.
Since she was very young, Ange had always hated to lose. She would take even the most trivial games seriously, determined not to lose to the adults. The witch's hand moved faster and faster. Ange didn't lose track of it. Then, after the high pointing finger was swung down all of a sudden, the index finger curled up again, and the hand was held in a simple fist. Could it be... that something was going to come out of that hand...?
Ange, suspecting that this might happen, had followed the finger very closely. There had been no chance for that once-empty hand to grab something.
"Ready? I'm going to open my hand..."
The witch slowly opened her right fist... And there...
BGM: About Face
The witch gave the cutely wrapped candy to Ange as a present. Ange took it and desperately searched for some kind of trick on it, but it was just an everyday, ordinary candy...
"Nope. That was magic. You were watching the whole time, weren't you?"
Since I was watching the whole time, how...?
She didn't like it, but she was unable to see how that could have been anything other than magic. As the little sister furrowed her brow and bit her lower lip, her brother gently told her that it was magic, one more time.
"It's about time for me to head to the mansion to pay my respects. You should come along, Battler. I'll suffocate if I have to go alone."
"You sure? Then I'll join you. What about you, Ange? Will you go back to the guesthouse?"
"...I, I wanna stay with you, Onii-chan."
She still couldn't accept it. However, could it really...? She still looked grumpy, but it looked like she was getting interested in this witch.
"Then let us go. The Golden Witch returns...!"
"The Golden Witch's... grandchild returns, you mean."
"We really need to do something about that name...!"
The big brother and the witch really did seem close. With a kindred spirit like a pair of comedians, they started walking. Ange held onto the corner of her brother's sleeve, trying to make sure he didn't forget about her...