Part 117: Halloween Party
BGM: Doorway of Summer
However, inside the cousins' room, it was loud and cheery. It could have been raining spears, and no one would have paid any attention.
"Whoa. You weren't bluffing...!"
The cousins were all bursting with energy, sitting in a circle on the bed.
"And I thought Battler always had crap in his hands every time he acted tough...!"
"Of course, I've been losing all this time just to make you think that! Ushiromiya Battler, the man who loses strategically to win in the end! Ihihi!"
"Uu-, Battler's incredible...! All my coins have disappeared again."
"I'll give you some of mine. Let's crush Battler together, okay?!"
With just a deck of cards, the cousins could enjoy themselves for many hours. They were so engrossed that the occasional thunderbolt hardly even registered as static in the background.
"I'm starting to get hungry. I wonder if dinner's ready yet."
"Who knows. It should be ready soon. Gohda-san and the others really went all out for tonight."
"Heheh, which means we've got a lot to look forward to. Is this to celebrate my long awaited return?"
"I heard from Shannon just now that it's going to be a Halloween party. They'll set up a buffet in the hall. Sounds incredible."
"A Halloween party?! Incredible, incredible, uu-uu-uu-!!"
"Hmm? Yeah, who is it?"
There was a knock, the door opened, and Ange was there. Ange had been sleeping in her parents' room.
"Umm, they said it's dinner, so we have to go to the mansion. They said to get ready."
"Uu-uu-uu-!! Food, foo~d!! I'm hungry!!"
Perhaps because she was the hungriest, Maria celebrated more vigorously than anyone else. She jumped up happily and hopped off the bed. As the others all clambered off the bed and started putting their shoes on, Kyrie and Rudolf came into view.
"It looks like today will be extra special. I can't wait to see."
"Uu-!! I know! It's a Halloween party!"
"...A Halloween party?"
"KIhhihihihihi! I know, and Ange doesn't. Kihhihihihi."
"Mom, what's a Halloween party?"
"Who knows? We'll have to go and see for ourselves."
"Everyone ready? It's about time to go."
"Is everyone here? Please follow me."
"Maria, over here. Your collar's crooked."
"Ah, I'm starving. The food is the best part of these family conferences. Are you starving too, Ange-chan?"
Eva smiled at Ange.
"...Yeah. I'm starving."
"Ange. That's 'I'm hungry', right?"
"*giggle*. Don't worry about it. Yeah, I'll bet you're starving. My stomach's rumbling too."
"Okay, let's get out of here. Looks like the wind's blowing hard outside. Make sure you don't lose your umbrellas."
"Everyone, please take an umbrella."
"Here's your umbrella, Ange-chan."
"Thanks, Aunt Eva."
"*giggle*. Ah, girls really are so cute. Come over to play at your aunt's house one of these days. It's a promise, okay?"
"...It looks like Aunt Eva's taken a liking to Ange."
"Yep. Apparently, Mother really wanted a daughter."
"Ah, I've heard that too. I think she adored me too, when I was little."
"My Mama said she really wanted a son, uu-!"
"If your kid grows up happily, it doesn't matter if they're a boy or a girl. Maria is my precious, precious gift from God."
When they got outside, the wind was fairly strong. Eva, who had now really hit it off with Ange, offered to share an umbrella with the little girl. It was hard to tell what they were chatting so excitedly about, but it seemed that they were already getting along splendidly. Battler opened his umbrella as he watched this. His little sister was cute when she clung to him, but she was just as cute and adorable when looking up at someone else with a happy smile. The wind and rain were strong, but even this must have been the perfect spice to heighten their anticipation of the coming meal...
The Ushiromiya family always took meals in the dining hall. This was the first time I'd ever seen a buffet-style party set up in the main hall.
"Beato!! Happy Halloween! Trick-or-treat...!!"
"*cackle*cackle*. I have some candy for you, but now is not the time. After all, it's just before a meal."
"*giggle*. Thank you, Beatrice-san. I see you're looking as beautiful as ever."
"You too, Rosa! You certainly don't look old enough to be a mother. Wahaha!"
"Have you been drinking? Your ears are looking pretty red there."
"Hmm? Well, after you left, uhihi-! Kinzo said he'd bought this rare drink, so I couldn't help but sample a bit...! Wahahahahaha!"
"And this coming from a person who tells little kids not to eat candy before a meal..."
"Pardon me. Beatrice-sama, the Master is calling for you."
I saw Kinzo beckoning from over by the portrait.
"Good grief. When it comes to ceremonies, that man is always so obsessed with form."
"It's probably that stuff about a ceremony for the gold's return. This is a huge turning point for the Ushiromiya family. You'd better go and play along."
"It does make one feel a bit lonely though."
"This won't change the fact that you're the Ushiromiya family alchemist."
"Perhaps. Then I'll be back shortly. See you later, okay? According to Genji, today's party has a bit of a theme to it. You'd better look forward to it...!"
"You make it sound like you did any of the work."
"Wahhahahaha, you're another one who obsesses too much over details...! Later!"
It looked as though even Ange had picked up on that much. She seemed to be getting tense for no reason.
"This is a special day, for the Ushiromiya family. But it doesn't have anything to do with you personally, so you should just relax."
"Okay. Ah, that's right. Hey, hey, did you know? I just heard a huge secret from Aunt Eva...! Even Maria onee-chan doesn't know, but I'll tell you!"
"Ooh? So, what's this secret?"
"So, yeah! I heard that, if there's an almond in it, you win...!"
"Win? Is this like a lottery or something?"
"Hmmmmmmmmmm... Anyway, if you get an almond, you win!"
Ange puffed out her cheeks. Apparently, she wanted to be praised for sharing this exciting secret. But just knowing that almonds win doesn't really explain much.
"Okay, got it. Thanks for letting me in on that major secret."
"Nnnnnnn, you're mean, Onii-chan! And I even told you my secret!"
Ange, her cheeks still puffed out, headed back to where Aunt Eva was. They really are getting along well. Well, I guess I have no problem if it's her aunt. If it was some guy from her class, I don't care if they're in elementary school, it's not happening! No playing with the opposite sex without Onii-chan's approval!
At that moment, Genji-san's voice rang out. The chatter gradually subsided, and the rain outside once again became apparent.
BGM: White Shadow
Silence filled the room. All of the relatives seemed vaguely aware that tonight's festivities consisted of more than a Halloween party. Battler already knew. This was a ceremony to mark the return of the gold, from Kinzo to Beatrice, which had been borrowed for so many years.
First off, that fact was announced by Kinzo himself. He spoke of how this gold had not only restored the Ushiromiya family, but brought it to a level of wealth it had never before experienced. He spoke of how he would finally return this gold to Beatrice, the one who had saved the Ushiromiya family. Kinzo personally handed an ingot, decorated with a bright red ribbon, to Beatrice.
"...This is the debt we owe to three generations of Beatrice, the Golden Witch. The Ushiromiya family will never forget it."
"Come now. If you've nowhere to put it, I'll be happy to take it off your hands."
"N, nnn, *cough*cough*."
Hard to imagine that Beato taking Genji's warning so seriously. I couldn't help but laugh.
"...After many decades, since my grandmother's generation, the time has come for the eagle that lost one wing to fly once more. I will watch over that eagle, and I pray for its prosperity in all generations to come."
Applause filled the hall. Though she'd just managed to make such a dignified speech, as soon as it was over, she stuck her tongue out and leered at us. I guess that's about the limit to how long Beato can stay serious.
"By passing her name on through the generations, Beatrice, the Golden Witch, may live for thousands of years. Therefore, even her descendants shall be Beatrice, and all shall be alchemists to this family. The descendants of the Ushiromiya family will praise Beatrice for her gratitude forevermore, and this will be passed on through the generations. This family will always be indebted to Beatrice, and she will always be our family, tied by a noble bond."
"...Let those who agree show their recognition with their applause."
After Genji's words, the relatives all looked at each other, then started applauding at once.
BGM: Engage of Marionette
"Wahaha, of course lending money is more important than being a blood relation."
After that, Kinzo's longwinded speech continued. Tonight, Kinzo would retire as the Ushiromiya family head. Then, he announced that he would reveal the distribution of his inheritance. A stir of excitement spread across the siblings in money trouble when they heard that they wouldn't have to wait for Kinzo's death to get their inheritance.
"I am aware that each of you is in trouble with money. This should be enough to resolve all of those problems. But do not grow complacent. This is my inheritance, given to you before my death. In the past, though I have been strict, I have always watched over you. However, beginning tonight, your father will cease to provide support of that kind. I shall watch on as you take flight, as though watching down upon you from the heavens. No longer will I interfere. You may live however you please."
"We understand... You need have no fear... that we'll take flight on our own."
"Here and now, all of us siblings swear to work together... to make the Ushiromiya family even more prosperous."
"That's right...! If we stick together, nothin' can stand in our way...!"
Hideyoshi laughed, but Genji admonished him. However, he could understand why they were so happy. So far, the siblings had quarreled ruthlessly over the inheritance. However, this evening, the inheritance had been neatly split apart, and they no longer had any need to scheme for money. In other words, the siblings no longer had any reason to squabble with each other anymore. On the contrary, this was a time for them to join hands and help each other become more and more prosperous. Eva and Rosa were sniffling, with tears in their eyes. And so was Rudolf. Perhaps now, even at their ages, they had finally left the nest.
It made Kinzo think. If only I had done this from the start... If he had settled the inheritance problem himself, there would have been no need for his children to quarrel at all. Instead, he had acted in a sullen manner and left the problem to them, which had resulted in their strained relationships to each other. Yes. It was all his responsibility. And now, the intertwining bonds had been released. It was as though an invisible rope had been wrapped around Kinzo's body. That rope was now gone, and he felt a sense of release he hadn't experienced for many years...
The four siblings stepped forward, and before Kinzo, they swore to all support Krauss, the new head, and lead the family to greater prosperity. Their faces sparkled with an unexpected youthfulness. It was only natural. After all, none of the four had made such a natural promise since the time they were kids. As the vibrancy of their youth returned to them, the siblings made a promise once again. When Krauss finished his announcement, a friendly applause filled the hall. The cousins... and the servants too... joined in on the applause that continued on and on.
Ange... watched this, dumbfounded. The four siblings were supposed to have quarreled with each other constantly since they were kids. And they were supposed to have pointlessly locked swords with Kinzo's inheritance as their goal, their worries over money spurring them on.
Thanks to this ceremony, even the world of 'truth', the world I acknowledge, has been rewritten. Were they actually friendly towards each other, or did they quarrel all the time like I believe? It doesn't matter. Either way, right here, right now, all of those problems have been resolved. I mustn't believe. This is just... Onii-chan's farce. Even though I knew that fact, when I watched Dad and the others hugging each other, with teary smiles on their faces, I couldn't help but feel something warm welling up in my eyes.
"What will you have to see... what will you have to hear... before you'll let yourself believe...?"
"...Red. If you say it with the red truth..."
"Is everything you can't say in red a lie?"
"...I won't believe... This is... just..."
Ange looked at the floor and fell silent. As the Game Master, Battler was able to use the red truth. However, that rule only exists on the witch's game board.
People see things, hear things, and when they believe that something is worth believing, they accept it as a red truth. Unless Ange accepts it, no kind of truth can become truth. Battler wanted her to realize this. There was no point in using the red truth, a rule of this game, to force the truth on her. Ange would have to use her own power, her own heart... To accept the truth as truth. The decision was Ange's. No one could force her to decide either way. So, there was nothing wrong with Ange declaring this scene to be a farce. But, if so, then what about the hot tears dripping down Ange's face? Ange would have to think of that herself, without anyone telling her...
After one sniffle and a rub of her eyes, Ange let the six-year-old version of her take control of her piece.
BGM: In the Sun
Beautifully adorned dishes were brought in one after another, and champagne corks were loosened with pleasant sounds. Several small tables were set here and there, each with its own theme. That was where the fun lay in this stand-up buffet party, as the guests wandered from table to table, pondering what they should eat first. This sort of performance was where Gohda's genius shone through. The hotel that let him go should probably regret ever having done so. Of course, a stand-up buffet would probably be a tiring affair for the middle-aged. So, chairs had been set up as well. However, each time a new dish was brought into the hall, they could get up to look, and wander the tables however they pleased. This way, they could each bump into a new group of people, then mingle elsewhere when that group melted apart.
People are interesting. As the members in each group changed, so did the topic of conversation. The bustling Halloween party played out like a colorful kaleidoscope. The origami chains decorating the walls recalled one to one's youth. They would make anyone enjoy themselves as they did when they were kids... Even to Ange, it was like a dream. She chatted happily with her cousins. She also chatted with her aunts and uncles.
Beato showed her several tricks that she called magic. Maria said they were magic, Ange said they were tricks, and the night grew even more lively. The two young girls were so fired up that the adults decided to show some tricks they knew, shocking both of the kids utterly. Eventually, they each started showing tricks to the others, asking if they'd ever seen this one or that one before, and it became a party of magic, just perfect for Halloween. In addition to magic tricks, several quizzes, riddles and games popped up, reminding everyone of their childhood days. Even the servants who were serving food got dragged into the groups, and the whole hall was filled with chatter. To Ange, young as she was, every single magic trick, quiz, and riddle was an entirely new experience. They stimulated her intellectual curiosity, and she couldn't contain her excitement. Add in the wide variety of delicious foods and drinks she could choose from, and it was like being in a dream. Ange felt a floaty sensation, as though she was walking on a cloud...
"...I wanted to try some adult grape juice too. So it's okay."
"Your face is looking a little red there. Are you feeling okay?"
"She only had a bit, so I think she'll be fine..."
"...I'll be fine. I'm not a kid... *hic*..."
"*giggle*. Ange-chan, drink this one, okay? Your Dad's drinking a bad drink, so don't try any more, got it?"
"That's right! If you drink bad stuff, you'll end up as a bad adult too. Ihihi!"
"I'm not gonna be a bad adult! I'm gonna be a princess!"
"That's right. Ange is a princess to all of us."
"Yep. Ange's this family's princess."
"I agree. You'd better come over to my house to play sometime...! We'll have lots of fun!"
"Okay. Thanks, Aunt Eva...!"
Everyone's being really nice. It almost feels like I've become a real princess. I feel so great, I could almost believe that this whole celebration was being held for my sake. Battler stood outside that group of people. As he watched Ange smiling happily from the distance, he smiled too.
"I agree. It really is a smile fit for an angel."
"I hope that smile belongs to the real Ange... and not just the piece."
"...Even if it doesn't, she is watching this. And she can think it through herself."
"This game between you and Ange really is overflowing with affection. For me, it's almost irritating."
"And what's wrong with that? No one to get in her way. No obstacles or tactics or anything else to worry about."
"That's right. This game... is no longer a battle."
"Now that you mention it, this is cleaning up. Cleaning up after our game."
"...I will never be able to make up for the sin I did to her through my careless actions."
"Our game was responsible. We'll make up for our sins together. That's why we're showing Ange this final game."
"Do you think... that Ange will be able to use that key the right way...?"
"...Of course, I've thought about forcibly dragging her in the way we think is right."
"Such an attempt may have been meaningless. As long as life is, it is hard to accept that a decision you were forced into was truly the correct one."
"Exactly. Ange must think and choose by herself. Even if she doesn't make the decision we view as the correct one, I think we should respect it."
"...Hmmm. You are the Game Master. I cannot argue with you anymore. I will simply watch on and enjoy this night."
"This game is very significant for Ange. But for us, it's kind of like a party after the show."
"It's almost time. But are you sure? Ange might get the wrong idea again, right?"
"It'll be fine. In fact, this is necessary. Just like how you appeared in the way you did. And everyone else too."