Part 136: Banquet of Witches and Humans
"Thanks. Was she sleeping well...?"
"Yes. She is sleeping peacefully."
"The noise from here won't reach the parlor, right...?"
"That's right. The door is closed, so I don't think it will reach."
"...Ange. Sweet dreams."
When Beato clapped her hands loudly above her head, a white flash filled the hall, and its entire appearance changed in an instant. The hall had transformed into a golden party chamber, with gold butterflies flitting about and gold leaf dancing everywhere.
"Yes, the true party shall begin now!"
"You said it! Okay, the anti-magic toxin is totally gone!! Everyone, come on in! The party after the show is about to start!!"
BGM: Happiness of Marionette
By the time it passed, the number of faces had grown significantly.
"Indeed. Let us enjoy ourselves as well."
"Come on, haven't we been enjoying ourselves the whole time?!"
"Pu ku ku ku. In this world, the one who enjoys the most is the true winner."
"Come, let's have the Seven Sisters over here too."
"The Seven Sisters of Purgatory, right here!!"
"I can't believe the game is finally over! Waaah!"
"What do you think you're doing, crying at the after-party! You little crybaby!"
"Lord BATTLER, Beatrice-sama, thank you for the invitation!"
"I wanna see six-year-old Ange-sama's sleeping face and have it all to myself!"
"I wanna see the food and have it all to myself!!"
"Then I wanna see a good man and have him all to myself!!"
"Why are you clinging to Battler when you say that?! Stop, thief!"
"Glad to see you, Seven Sisters of Purgatory! Enjoy yourselves!"
"Ah yes, things do get much noisier the moment they enter a room."
"And what makes that so terrible?! In fact, it still isn't nearly noisy enough!"
Another gold cyclone rose up. In its wake, three people with bunny ears came into view.
"It's such an honor to be summoned to a gathering such as this!"
"I haven't had nearly enough fun for it to end yet nyeh. Nihihihihi!"
"There, I agree with you. But fear not, for our game will continue much longer than this."
"For eternity, inside the cat box. Glad to have you here, Chiester Sisters."
"Lord BATTLER, allow me to express our deep gratitude for your invitation. In the future, we will endeavor to show even more-"
"Come on, don't be so stiff and formal. Tonight, we're all equal!"
"That's right nyeh! Battler gets it nyeh, nihihihihihihi!!"
"S, stop it, 410. You're getting carried away... We'll get in trouble!"
"<Hi> Riiche. Long time no see! Wow, how long's it been since we've had so many of us here?"
"Not since Natsuhi's trial, right? And you could hardly call that a party!"
"...Dang, just how many of them are there?"
"If they keep coming like this, there'll be more of them than us humans..."
"You can come out now, Sakutaro!"
"Lord BATTLER. It was an honor to receive your INVITATION."
""Let it be known that it is an honor.""
"Hey! Glad you came. It's been a long time. How've you been?"
"Very well, thank YOU. Fighting with you all is always the most FUN. I have had enough of stamping DOCUMENTS."
"Commander Dlanor. Know that your to-do box is piling up as we speak."
"Please make haste with the approval of our vacation papers. We want those."
"Pft, wahahahaha! Sounds like living in the Great Court is as boring as ever!"
"...Lord BATTLER. I fear I must bring you some unfortunate NEWS."
"Hm, what is it?"
Dlanor held out an envelope. It was one of the invitation cards that Battler had handed out for this night's party. The name on the card was... Furudo Erika.
The invitation was filled with stamps bearing the unreadable words of various foreign countries. Even without reading them, it was easy to guess that it had been returned to sender, destination unknown.
"I see... Thanks for trying so hard."
"The depths of oblivion are like an empty endless desert, or perhaps the bottom of the SEA. No one besides Lady Bernkastel herself could find her LOCATION..."
"I did send invitations to those witches too. We'll have to hope they have the kindness to bring her along..."
"...Lady Bernkastel is just like a cat. She'll show up whenever she feels like it, but when she doesn't feel in the mood, she'll never come no matter how often you call her."
"Lambdadelta. So, you came."
"Believe it or not, I'm a busy person, okay? Still, I am Beato's guardian. Wasn't I your guardian too? Well, anyway, I came because it's my 'responsibility'."
"I happened to be in the neighborhood, so I stopped by! Hey, you, Gohda! I've brought you some presents! Could you just put these wherever for me?"
For someone who just dropped by because she was in the neighborhood, she brought an awful lot of colorfully wrapped bottles and food boxes.
"Bernkastel isn't here yet."
"You really think she'd come? She's not the kind of kid who'd just drop by to say 'hi' at a game she's lost."
"...Probably. After all, she is very proud."
"I seem to remember her putting us through hell, but she's still one of the players in this game. Might as well have her over to celebrate the final night of the final game."
"You're right. Without that kid, this game might not have reached its conclusion. Enemies and allies are the bare minimum needed to establish a game."
"True. Without a foe, there can be no game."
"At least I can enjoy defeat as just another part of the game. That kid can't. Too bad, but she's been through a lot. So please, don't blame her too harshly."
"Actually, I was planning to thank her. A lot of crazy stuff happened, but thanks to her, we were able to make it to where we are today."
"...Thanks. I don't know when I'll see her next, but if I'm lucky, I'll get my chance in a few hundred years. I'll let her know what you said then. Ah, that's right. They don't have invitations, but I've brought two guests with me."
"Guests? Who? I'm pretty sure I sent invitations to all the usual suspects..."
"Come on over, you two! I'll introduce you."
When Lambda snapped her fingers, the empty air exploded and two forms appeared.
"...If it isn't WILLARD!"
"...Now here are some unfamiliar guests. Who are they?"
"Owowow... don't... pinch... ass!"
"You have the mark of the One-winged Eagle on your clothes. Are you an Ushiromiya...?"
"My name is Ushiromiya Lion. In my world, we're cousins."
"I'll introduce Lion! This is the successor to the Ushiromiya family headship, born only in a world of extremely low probability. In that world, Jessica isn't an only child. She's Lion's little sister."
"Now there's a surprise... There's really a world like that...?"
"...Wait, you couldn't be..."
"Seeing you smiling happily is the greatest joy I can imagine. I'm as glad as anyone else that you've made it to this point."
"...I see. So, it's you... I'm glad you're here..."
Beato realized who and what Lion was. The two of them stared at each other's faces, as though looking at their own face in a mirror.
"Willard's the name. I'm just a passing stranger who got caught up in a game you know nothing about."
"He is an Inquisitor of Heresy of the Great Court, like MYSELF. A truly great one, though he is now RETIRED."
"I see. If you're Dlanor's friend, you can't be anyone bad. Please, make yourself at home."
"Just where did these two come from?"
"Bern brought them in and made them pieces. When she was done with them and about to crush them, I picked them up. Auau said leaving them there'd leave a bad aftertaste."
"Is that okay? If, by chance, Lady Bernkastel does drop by here..."
"On this game board, they're my pieces, okay? And I can't wait to see the look on that kid's face when she bumps into them in a place like this. *giggle*giggle*giggle*!"
"...I don't really get it, but you obviously brought them here for some shady reason."
"That's all for my gifts. I'll just hang around for the rest. Okay, I'm leaving the rest to you, the host."
"Come, Lord BATTLER!"
"If you don't announce it, we can't start!"
""The start of tonight's party at the end of this long, long game!!""
"Enough of that. It's embarrassing."
"Come on, it's a wife's responsibility. I'm not letting anyone else take it!"
Beato sulked and handed Battler a glass of champagne. Come to think of it, everyone had a glass in their hands now.
"Maria, you're a kid, so drink some juice instead!"
"Uu-!! I want champagne too!"
"Hey, Maria-chan, why don't we drink some juice together."
"Battler, our drinks are getting warm!"
"Agreed. Begin, Battler."
"No objections, I see. This way please, Lord BATTLER."
Ronove motioned towards the center of the room. When Battler stepped forward, everyone silently awaited his words.
Everyone raised their glasses to the heavens as they cheered, and afterward, the soft sound of glasses clinking together rang out across the room...
BGM: Worldend (solo)
Maybe that was what did it.
Before I realized it, my cheeks were wet with tears. I was lying on the sofa, covered by a blanket. I can just barely remember getting sleepy and falling asleep in a chair. Someone probably carried me here. I can't actually hear them, but I get the feeling that everyone's still in the hall, having a good time.
...I... want to go there too. No. I will go. Over there. It's what I've wanted the whole time, but I've never tried to take the first step. I'll go to where everyone is. My head still feels hazy, so there aren't any complicated thoughts in my mind. But that's okay. It's okay if my head's empty. I'll be together with everyone. I'll go to where they are. That's all that matters.
I got up from the sofa and put on my shoes. Let's go. To where everyone is.
The parlor door was shut. I tried to open it, but maybe because of my clumsiness, I couldn't get it open. It was a bit creepy, as though the bad dream I'd just had was continuing.
BGM: Eternal Chains
My mood grew darker and darker. The knob that locks or unlocks the door is on this side. If I twist it, I should be able to lock or unlock it. I turned it. *click*.
The door won't open. Did I accidentally lock it just now? I turned it. *click*. The door won't open. It didn't open the last time, so it should have opened this time. I don't have a clue how I'm supposed to turn it to unlock the door. I kept on alternating between turning the lock and roughly twisting the doorknob. I began to get irritated, wondering why they'd locked me away behind such an inconvenient door. Eventually, I ran out of patience and pounded hard on the door, but that noise didn't bring anyone over. Why am I locked up in a place like this, all alone?! And everyone else is having a fun party, right there in the hall...! Let me out of here...!!
At that moment, a cold wind blew past me. The wind rippled through my hair. Wind? Inside...? I turned around... to find the window curtain waving about. There was a sound like scraping or crying. At some point, the double window had opened outwards toward the darkness. The icy wind that came through it... told me that this window was the only exit from this room.
I suddenly realized that the darkness beyond the open window was glaring at me, and my heart leapt.
*jingle* ...A cute sound rang out.
I finally understood. That sound was a cat's bell. The glaring emerald eyes in the darkness... were those of a cat standing in the open window. Its pitch-black, luxuriant fur left only the eyes visible, blending in with the darkness easily. Did the Ushiromiya family own a cat? It has a bell on it, so it can't be a stray. It's a cat someone owns. At any rate, the cat was standing by the window... and staring straight at me.
"...Who... are you...?"
Of course, the cat didn't answer my question. I didn't think it was a cute cat, but I thought it might be trying to tell me something, so I approached it slowly. Then, the cat did an about face, turning its back to me. Then, it turned its head to look at me, almost as though it was telling me to follow it, and it leapt down into the darkness, leaving the jingle of its bell behind. When I peeked out the window, I saw the cat waiting for me under the pounding rain.
I finally realized. This window was the only exit out of this closed room parlor. That cat has surely come to tell me that. The longer I keep standing around here, the longer the cat will have to wait in the rain. That's no good. It'll catch cold.
I climbed up onto the windowsill and went out the window. The wind was strong, and the rain was cold, but I didn't get as wet as I'd thought I would. I might have been in the mansion's shadow. When the cat saw that I was outside, it walked along the wall of the mansion as if guiding me. It quickly disappeared into the blackness, but every now and then, it would turn around and set the bell jingling to let me know it was there.
Eventually, a window with light seeping out came into view.
When I peeked inside, I saw everyone having a good time. I couldn't hear their voices, but they were all right there.
"Open up...! Open up!!"
I pounded on the window, but no one heard. Maybe the window was really thick, or maybe it was just noisy inside. Or, it might have been so dark outside that I blended in with the darkness. In any event, no matter how much I hit the window, it didn't look as though anyone noticed. By this point, my loneliness was giving way to anger. Why don't you notice me? Why did you lock me up in that room all alone?
I've had enough. I'll just get inside somehow and yell at everyone. When the cat realized that I had given up knocking on the window, it led me onwards with another jingle. But just where is this cat going? I know it's following the wall of the mansion. But that's not the way to the front door. The front door might be locked. I'm sure the cat knows a place that I can get into the mansion from... and is leading me there.
Away from the light seeping from the hall, and towards the blackness lit only dimly by the lights in the garden, the cat and I continued to walk. Then, I found it. An open... window. The cat stood below it and looked between me and the window, as though telling me to go inside.
When I walked closer to pick the cat up, it slipped away from my hands and flew into the bushes in a nearby flower bed. Then, as though it really had melted away into the darkness inside the bush, all traces of it vanished. No matter how much I strained my ears, I couldn't hear the sound of that bell...
Suddenly, the wind changed directions, and the rain started to hit me fiercely. I can't stay in a place like this forever.
"...I'll go inside. What room is this, I wonder..."
I climbed up onto the windowsill and entered the room. Then, the window silently shut and locked itself. Good. That saves me the trouble of doing it myself.
The room was completely dark. However, as my eyes got used to the darkness, I was able to make out a few things. It was a large room. There was a long table, and many chairs. It was... the dining hall. Perhaps because I realized this and was relieved, I was suddenly unable to see again. I searched blindly along the wall for the light switch. Then, finally, I felt a familiar shape. Wouldn't it be annoying if I pushed this, and the light didn't come on?
In fact, it was nearly the opposite, and an annoyingly bright light filled the dining hall and made my eyes hurt. I slowly opened my tightly shut eyes. And then... I saw the state the room was in.
The dining hall was covered with blood... Here... and there... were humans lying on the floor.