Part 13: The True Family Conference II
Right now, it is exactly the same time that the large clock in the hall announces midnight.
Wondering who the person who knocked on the door twice was, the relatives in the dining hall stared at the door.
Rudolf told them to come in. But there was no answer. Until the end of that long tone marking the coming of 24:00, which had come from the large clock in the hall shortly after the knock, they were unable to move in the slightest...
"...Maybe their hands are full and they can't open it..."
"Maybe. But it's a little creepy that they won't say their name."
"...Should I open it?"
Kanon nodded back, then slowly opened the door...
"Ah, what's that...?!"
BGM: Corridor of the Sands of Purgatory
Right behind the opened door, on the floor of the hallway, lay the envelope.
"There's no one in the hallway. Perhaps they placed this here and left..."
The adults flew out into the corridor as well, but they could find no trace of anyone who might have knocked on the door...
Barely an hour ago, Shannon and Kanon had come in to serve tea. At that time, everyone had seen that nothing lay in that spot. Someone came, knocked, left an envelope with the mark of the One-winged Eagle on it, and left...
"C, could it have been... the Master...?!"
"...It's not unthinkable. Father's pretty much the only person in this mansion who would refuse to answer when asked who he was."
"That's not possible. If that's so, then why didn't Father come in here openly?"
"...That's right. Father would probably just suddenly come in here without knocking... The doors and windows of this mansion are locked now, right...? In that case, the only people who could conceivably have left the letter there are Krauss-san, Natsuhi-san, and Genji-san."
By this point, the mansion had been completely locked up. Therefore, the cousins in the guesthouse, Nanjo, Gohda, Kumasawa, and Erika could not have come here. Furthermore, since Krauss, Natsuhi, and Genji were the only three who weren't in this room, one of those three had to have been the one who set that letter down in the corridor.
In that case, it was very likely that Krauss and the others had placed the letter there to make it seem like a message from Kinzo...
"It's not like I have any interest in being the next head..."
"Give it up. That's just your fate. Anyway, why don't we read what's inside?"
Rudolf set the letter on the dining hall table and let everyone see the front and back to show that there were no tricks or hidden mechanisms, almost like a magician does before performing his act.
"...This envelope is without a doubt Father's?"
"Y, yes, there's no doubt. Father liked to use this envelope for handwritten letters... What do you think, Shannon-chan?"
"Y, yes... To my eyes as well, it looks like the type of envelope that the Master uses..."
"That doesn't mean Father was the one who wrote it. It would be pitifully easy for Nii-san to snatch one of these from a drawer in Father's study...!"
"Even Krauss-sama would not be able to enter the study easily... It might be hard for him to steal an envelope..."
"Let's try opening it. We can think about this later. There's something in it. I wonder what."
Then, a folded letter... and a glittering object fell. It was a ring.
"Huh? Wait a second, that ring is...!"
Eva noticed it immediately and grabbed at it...
BGM: Fishy Aroma
"...Wh, what in the...!! Seriously?!"
"Are you sure it's Father's ring...? Could it be a replica...?"
"No, this is the real thing! I've always dreamed about wearing this ring on my finger someday. Even though Father wore this on his finger, I know more about it than anyone else. This is Father's ring, no doubt about it! Why is it here?!"
"In that case, was it really Father who wrote this letter...?!"
"...Heh, heheheheh. The sender isn't Father. It's much more interesting."
"Then, who is the letter from?"
Rudolf showed everyone the part of the letter where that was written. It really did say that...
"I, it's from Beatrice...?!"
"What's it say...?"
"...Hah, hahah! What the hell...! I see, Dad just won't come out of his study, so Beatrice, the witch of the forest, has acknowledged Battler directly...! Hahaha, hahahahahahahahaha!"
"...Battler-kun. You should take that ring. This is a special ring to be worn by the family head. I don't know who this Beatrice is, but she's watched the whole thing and sent you this ring after acknowledging you as the true successor."
"I, is that alright...? It's such an important ring..."
"Yeah, it's fine. You should wear it proudly on your finger. Got it? Even if Aniki and Natsuhi nee-san tell you to take it off, you better not do it no matter what...!"
All of the relatives, with creepy smiles on their faces, urged Battler to put the ring on his finger... It looked like things would get pretty nasty if he refused, so Battler reluctantly decided to put it on the middle finger of his left hand... The ring was heavy and stiff...
At that moment, Krauss returned. Genji came back as well immediately afterwards.
"...Battler-sama, that is..."
Immediately, Genji keenly spotted that which Battler had just put on his finger...
"Your eyesight's pretty good, Genji-san! Looks like you know whose ring this is."
"What...? What are you talking about...?"
Judging by Krauss's dubious expression, it's pretty unlikely that he was the one who set that letter there... Furthermore, that expression quickly changed into one of shock.
"Eheheheheh!! That's right, it's the Ushiromiya family Head's Ring!!"
The family conference took up this new topic, and the storm came once again...
October 5th, 1986, 3:01 PM
...This weather was supposed to continue all day tomorrow as well, which made me feel a bit depressed. Oh wait... given the time, that's today, not tomorrow... But that doesn't really matter now. I'm sleepy... With half-asleep eyes, I opened my umbrella. The large drops of rain pounded against it mercilessly...
Technically, the end of the family conference had been proclaimed at 1:00 AM, but external scuffles kept continuing sluggishly. I'm really jealous of Aunt Rosa, who managed to slip out of there at that time. She cleverly got away by saying that she'd check on Maria, who might have been staying up too late. Dad caught me, I missed my chance to escape... and they made me stick around until now, 3:00 AM...
After all this time, what have they decided on...? They haven't decided on anything. They just kept on arguing about who said what, like elementary school kids. I'm sure that they're tired too. I'm sure that's why they keep dragging on with the same pointless questions. I no longer felt any shock or anger towards them. I guess no painkiller works better than drowsiness...
...I left them behind and finally returned to the guesthouse.
Not only that. I could even hear people chatting inside... Apparently, some people were still awake this late.
Despite this late hour, Gohda-san and Doctor Nanjo were still awake and chatting. Plates and cups were lined up on the counter, and it looked almost like a bar with Gohda-san as the bartender. When they noticed I had returned, they apparently finally realized how late it was. When Gohda-san made to top off Doctor Nanjo's glass, Doctor Nanjo declined with an exaggerated gesture.
"Look how late it's gotten... You were such a good person to chat with, I hardly noticed."
"If so, it's all thanks to your liquor. We'll have to do this again sometime."
"Yes, gladly! Battler-sama, welcome back. Is the discussion with Krauss-sama and the others still continuing?"
"...From the way things were going, it looks like they might plod on until dawn. None of my business..."
I spoke carelessly, with a big yawn.
"Oh, so you're here too..."
"...With one thing and another, they ended up having a small night party here. They let me join in. Don't worry, I haven't said a word about *that*."
Erika could be seen on the sofa. She had taken her shoes off and was lounging around as though she owned the place.
"Erika-sama is very knowledgeable on a variety of subjects. I enjoyed listening to her immensely."
"Your knowledge truly is extensive. Very impressive for one so young..."
"...You're very welcome. I, Furudo Erika, know quite a bit about trifles such as this."
Erika grabbed the corners of her skirt and posed. This was somewhat less than graceful considering she was lounging on the sofa with her feet up.
"...Where's Aunt Rosa?"
"She returned at 1:00 AM, but she went straight upstairs to sleep."
That's probably true... After taking part in that conference for so long... I feel like flopping down in bed right away myself. I've had it. I'm tired enough that I might flop over right here...
"...Well then, let's call it a night. Don't you have to get up early tomorrow morning to make breakfast, Gohda-san?"
"Preparations for breakfast have already been made. I would be most pleased if you look forward to tomorrow's breakfast."
In Gohda-san's eyes, the family conference is an open stage on which to display his culinary skills. Maybe this invigorates him so much that he doesn't even get sleepy. Erika stood up, laughing at how youthful Gohda was. This became a sign that it was time to disperse.
Leaving the clean-up to Gohda-san, I went to the bathroom and then climbed the stairs to the second floor.
"Goodnight, everyone. These old bones have stayed up a little too late."
"...Good night, Doctor Nanjo. Good night, Battler-san."
Then, in the second floor hallway, we split up. Doctor Nanjo went to his own room. Erika went to her room. And I... returned to the cousins' room.
I couldn't hear any sounds of playing coming from the cousins' room. Could they have fallen asleep already? No surprise, at this time of night. If they were still playing, they would have been staying up way too late...
Everyone was already sleeping in their beds. I'm sure they all had a great time and played a ton. Then they'd probably talked about youthful things and enjoyed staying up late. If only I hadn't found the gold, I could have enjoyed my time with them... I'm already... tired... so tired. Forgetting even to change my clothes or brush my teeth, I crawled into bed, and immediately started to fall into the marshes of sleep...
Aaah, today's been so insane... I wonder if that old bastard is still in that family conference now... How does he not get tired...? Come to think of it, what was it that old bastard said when we parted company...?
...I'm sure it's more stuff about being the successor to the head. I don't even want to hear about it...
'If I tell you about this, I'll probably be killed.'
I'll kill you whenever you want, you old bastard... And then, what was it he said next...?
'It's about your birth.'
My... birth...? Probably just something about the noble Ushiromiya lineage...