Part 137: Banquet of Witches and Humans II
BGM: Birth of New Witch (instumental)
"Any kids who aren't having a good time'll get eaten!"
""Yell and sing the praises of tonight's banquet!! Ahhahahahahahahahaha!!""
The hall was alive with a mingling of humans and residents of the magical illusion. At first, everyone stayed with their own groups, too nervous to mingle. However, as time passed, people started to move around, and both halves began to chat happily together.
"Anyway, they never listen, do they?!"
"Maybe some subordinates are like that, but I've never had any success with ordinary methods..."
"Anyway, you're done for if your subordinates don't take you seriously! It's important to scold people loudly for some small mistake every once in a while, in front of everyone else."
"You can't do that! It'll just make everyone scared...! A leader has to be an example for everyone to follow. If you really want to be a leader-"
Everyone listened intently to the vegeta-lion's theory on leadership. This was after several rounds of drinks had gone by, and everyone was unnaturally focused on the conversation.
"Don't make it sound so bad. If I want something, I won't let it slip away. I always put that theory into practice. Nothing more to it."
"Thanks for waiting, everyone. Even more food is on the way."
"...Nnngaahhh...! Butting in on the family party like this... And yet, while I hate to admit it, every movement of his is flawless. Just what sort of hotel did he train at..."
"Too bad, Ronove-sama just happens to be totally perfect. But I still love Gohda more. This one's been cooked ju-st right♪"
The Seven Sisters had blended into the party perfectly, and were making things interesting.
"It's not like I'm discrediting anything. The purpose of a mystery novel is your own amusement. If you have fun, that's all that matters."
"Know that even the great Wizard-Hunting Wright has gone quite soft."
"...Both literature and forms of amusement change their guidelines with the times. Surely, mystery novels are no different."
Everyone chimed in on Will's theory on mystery novels. The conversation kept on going.
"But... know that the regulations are always to be enforced..."
"Just let the new beginners do that. Don't forget that regulations and rules are more like guidelines for the new guys."
"You said it. You can't really call yourself an adult until you learn how to move outside the rules. You're still a kid if you let the rules hold you back."
"I can't stand letting other people do the work! I'm Mammon of Greed! I'll do all the jobs myself!"
"That's some spirit you've got there. How much are they paying you for being a Sister of Purgatory? Come and get a job at my husband's business. I'll recommend you personally."
The humans and the residents of the illusion were now completely on casual terms.
"Yeah nyeh, you've got it nyeh! Where we come from, you pour the tea onto the saucer, press your palms on the table, and slurp it up like a dog nyeh!"
"Wh, what the hell are you teaching her?! Who does things like that?! And Natsuhi, what do you think you're doing, getting tricked like that, and at your age!!"
"Satan...! How can you be so rude to Natsuhi-san...!! Huh? Wh, why are you crying, Satan? D, did I scold you too hard...?!"
"Chiester 410-san, please stop giving my pure and trusting mother such crazy ideas. Don't worry, I made sure it wouldn't leave a mark."
410 started yelling about animal abuse, jumping around in circles and holding her butt.
"If I fell in love, could I be a beautiful princess too?"
"Of course! Love is a miracle, power, a mineral!! It grants you invincible strength!"
"...*giggle*. The person who once claimed love equals lust seems to be saying something."
"Indeed. It would seem she's getting her fill every night, heheheh!"
"Sh, shut up, you perverts!!"
The circle surrounding Beato was always a lively one.
"I get nervous when I don't have any orders! Someone order me to do something, or I'll die!"
"You can't have that attitude! You've got to find your own meaning for your life, cut your own path!"
"That's right. Your resolve has to be certain and absolute, right? Back when I was human, I lived like a daredevil all the time...!"
A bit shakily, Lambdadelta started talking about her theory of life. Apparently, she'd also had her fair share of champagne.
"*giggle*. Yeah, I guess so. Dlanor-sama, would you like some more to drink?"
"Something non-ALCOHOLIC. I am a kid, after ALL."
"Ah, Shannon-chan will do. Do you have a second?"
Battler came back into the hall. He was searching for a servant, and the first one his eyes met was Shannon.
"Of course, Battler-sama. Do you need something?"
"Sorry, but would you mind lending me the key to the parlor?"
"The... parlor...? The master keys can open that, but why?"
"Well, I was just wondering if Ange was asleep, so I went over there. The door was locked."
"Locked...? After we carried Ange-sama to the sofa, we shut the door, but we didn't lock it."
"...Ah, don't tell me Ange... She must have felt like she was being left out of the fun, and locked the door from the inside in a huff. Silly kid."
"*giggle*. Shall we unlock it, then?"
"Yeah, if you don't mind. Sorry about the trouble."
Battler and Shannon left the hall together. In the hall, Lambdadelta started suggesting that they all have another quiz tournament together. Apparently, the Witch of Certainty would be handing out prizes. Everyone seemed enthusiastic about the idea. Smiling contently at the ensuing uproar, Battler headed towards the parlor.
"Hmmm... I didn't knock on the door in case she was asleep, but if she locked it, that proves she was awake. Let's try knocking once."
Battler knocked on the door and called Ange's name. However, there was no response from the other side. He pressed his ear against the door, listening carefully, but there was no hint of Ange unhappily throwing a cushion at it.
"She might have fallen asleep after having her little tantrum. Could you open it for me?"
"As you wish."
Shannon took out her master key and unlocked the door. Then, she stepped back to let Battler go through.
"...Ange... I'm coming in..."
Speaking a quiet voice to avoid waking Ange if she was asleep, Battler opened the door. Then, just as the door was opened, a chilly breeze drifted by. The breeze, which felt like outside air, immediately caught the attention of the pair, and they looked at each other.
...It could be seen at a glance that Ange wasn't in the parlor. The curtains to the wide-open window fluttered about.
A blanket lay crumpled up on the sofa. It sat there just as Ange had left it after waking up. The blanket was slightly warm. Clearly, she had been here until a short while ago.
"Ange-sama...? Are you there...?"
She obviously wasn't playing hide-and-seek. Ange was nowhere to be seen in the parlor. Battler peered out the open window into the rainy blackness. So, she slipped out the window in this rain and went... where?
"Do you think Ange-sama might have gone out the window...?"
"...That'd make her one hell of a sleepwalker."
She couldn't have left from the main entrance, so she probably doesn't have an umbrella. It was very hard to imagine a reason Ange might have for going outside in this weather. I have a bad feeling about this. This shouldn't be happening. I'm the Game Master of this game board. So why are we in a situation that the Game Master can't understand...?
A large bolt of lightning lit up the surrounding area for an instant, but I was unable to see any trace of Ange...
At that moment, there was a roar of thunder and the lights flickered. The cheery voices vanished in an instant, like candles being blown out.
Amidst the silence, one voice rang out and answered Lambda's riddle. The crowd parted, and the form of a girl, a thousand year old witch, came into view. She had been invited. She was an official guest, holding an invitation to this party...
BGM: 599 Million Ruins
As Bernkastel spoke, she looked around at everyone...
"Ooh. And I thought you'd wasted away in the Fragment sea."
"They're my pieces now. Pretty cool, right?"
She stared at Lion and Will with an unnerving smile on her face, but she apparently lost interest quickly.
"Where's Battler? And Beato? I'm a guest, aren't I? Isn't there anyone to welcome me?"
"We did invite you, but I didn't expect you to actually come. I see, so this must be a miracle."
"Now there's an interesting thing to say. *giggle*... Why'd everyone get so quiet? This is a party, right? Go ahead and be noisy just for the hell of it. Or is welcoming me with silence supposed to be some kind of joke...?"
"Now it's your turn."
"...My turn for what?"
"You asked where Battler was. So I told you. Now it's your turn."
"What are you talking about? Did something happen...?"
"Ange's gone. Even I, the Game Master, don't know where she went."
"That's insane...! Isn't this your game?! That doesn't make sense...!"
"Is that even possible...?!"
"Oh, yes, I was surprised myself. Just when I opened the game board to start a delightful game of my own, I found that Battler had started up this bizarre game at the same time. What a crazy world we live in..."
"In other words, you're admitting that you hid Ange away somewhere."
"...It would seem so. After all, no one could create a scenario not invented by the Game Master... except for another Game Master."
"Would this be... those festivities to liven up the party that you mentioned?"
"...All of you looked like you were having a blast with that quiz tournament. So, I decided I wanted to join in."
"And you decided to hold Ange hostage to do that?"
"You've got it. Battler, Beato. I want to challenge you to a game. You cannot refuse. Not if you treasure Ange as a little sister, that is."
"...What do you want?"
"Lambda and I made a bet about the game between you and Beato. I must acknowledge that I've lost. At least, that I've lost to Lambda."
"*giggle*giggle*. Bern tries to act all dry, but she cares about things way more than she looks. So, you're saying you lost to me, but not to Battler and Beato?"
It seemed as though Bernkastel might smile. However, she didn't. Those cold eyes spoke without words. Battler understood. He had played so many games against Beato. Those games had been a wordless message from Beato. So he knew. He understood.
BGM: Grey Empty Smile
"...She will be a fearsome opponent."
"But we can't back out."
"I know that. We mustn't let Ange become Lady Bernkastel's plaything."
Beato understood as well. She understood why Bernkastel was asking for one, final battle...
"...Hard to believe Bern's fighting up front."
"Is that funny?"
"Why would it be?"
Lambdadelta understood as well. Before the tale of Battler and Beato ended, before everything was locked away in the cat box...
Bernkastel would finally move from the audience to the stage. That witch who had hidden off to the side of the stage, unwilling to come out into the light, would now show she had the courage to step forward onto the stage itself. As a friend, Lambdadelta showed that she understood Bernkastel's human emotions, which had given her this courage...
"Is there anything I can do?"
"Please act as an observer for my game."
"...Sure. If you can promise you'll release Ange if we take part in your game."
"Of course. Without such a promise, we are not obligated to go along with your farce...!"
"You might not be obligated, but that won't change the fact that Ange's not coming back..."
"In that case, you can enjoy being branded as a loser for the next few centuries."
"Beato, don't provoke her. This isn't a fight we can back down from."
However, Lambdadelta was making Bernkastel promise to release Ange, in exchange for her agreeing to become an observer. Without that promise, Bernkastel would have nothing to lose. To make this final fight Bern wanted a proper one, Lambdadelta made her agree to that promise.
"...Of course, Lambda. I promise. When the game ends, I'll release Ange."
"Don't make a fool of me, okay...? When I get shamed, I never let go of the one who did it until they regret it..."
Lambdadelta spoke in a soft, threatening tone. However, Bernkastel laughed lightly as though the look on Lambdadelta's face was merely cute.
"I swear it. I swear it on our friendship."
Lambdadelta whistled and grinned. Apparently, this was the most reliable oath Bernkastel could utter.
Lambdadelta nodded, looked between Battler and Bernkastel, and spoke.
After Battler and Beato nodded at each other, they nodded at Lambdadelta to show their determination.
"...I'm so glad. We finally get to fight each other."
"I had a feeling I'd end up fighting you sooner or later."
"...I'm not sure. It might have been before I even learned your name."
Battler vaguely remembered her speaking to him, somewhere in an unconscious world he couldn't remember. At the time, it had sounded like she was giving him advice for his fight with Beato. But thinking back on it, it was a little different. She might have been a cat fighting from the sidelines, too scared to go out into the bright sunlight. So, I had a vague premonition that, eventually, we would stand opposed to each other on the game board in some way...
"...She's also one of the players. Now, at the very end, as the game board is being put away, she's finally found the courage to step up onto the stage. I want to accept your brave challenge. By the name of that courageous girl who once was your piece."
"I forced Erika to fight a duel. I wanted to win. And, even more strongly, I didn't want to lose. The fear of possibly tasting defeat tormented me. And, thinking back on it, I envied you two back then."
"...Erika was a great piece of yours... and my rival. I won't forgive you for abandoning her in the end and laying her to rest in the depths of oblivion."
"Just what do you want me to do...? Apologize to Erika?"
"I feel the same as Battler. She was a piece who stood in opposition towards us, but she was only faithfully fulfilling her role. There can be no game without a rival. She remains our enemy, but she's also an important friend to us."
"...Even though she made you suffer so much...?"
"We fought a fair fight. The outcome may have changed our fates, but now that we've dueled each other, we'll always be friends."
"You want to be their friend too, don't you Bern? That's why you want a fair fight with them now, isn't it?"
"...Are you laughing at me?"
"On the contrary, we welcome it."
"...Even though I've taken a hostage?"
"If you didn't, you probably wouldn't have come up onto the stage."
There had been no need to take a hostage. If Bernkastel wished it, Battler and Beato were willing to accept this final duel. It was hard to make out anything from Bernkastel's silent expression.
"...I'll release Erika from the depths."
"You've really made your mind up about this."
For someone as proud as Bernkastel, forgiving the piece who had caused her defeat should have been nearly unbearable. Battler knew this, so he realized how much this bit of compassion had cost Bernkastel... Bernkastel snapped her fingers, and a black cat slipped out of her shadow.
"I tossed her all the way into the deepest parts of oblivion. She might be late in arriving."
"It matters not. There's no danger of the food and drink running out."
"...Go, kitty. Guide that kid here."
When she gave this order, the cat melted into the darkness, its bell jingling.
"I can hardly believe that you'd forgive Erika."
"...I don't plan on forgiving her. So, she's not my piece anymore. Anyone feel like picking her up? After all, you already picked up Lion and Will."
"...Bernkastel. You have my thanks."
"Okay, enough with the sentimentality. I've already had as much as I can bear."
"...Lady Bernkastel has shown the courage to stand before a great many people already. There is no point in making her suffer any longer."
"Good point. Then let's make it the usual place."
"Any objections, Bern?"
"Sorry, partygoers...! We'll be heading out for a bit, but please continue to enjoy yourselves! Zepar, Furfur! Liven this place up! When Erika gets here, let's have everyone give her a warm welcome."
""Yes, Lady Lambdadelta!! Your wish is our command!!""
"Now then, let us take her to the usual room, a fitting place for our battle of wits...!"
Bernkastel had been invited there once again, and the final game would now begin...
"...Do you have a game prepared?"
"Of course. I worked hard on this game, and I'm pretty proud of it."
"So, Bern will be the Game Master, and Battler and Beato will be the players? The usual game, where Bern creates a murder tale, and the two players have to reconstruct it with human tricks?"
"I'm interested to see what sort of scenario Lady Bernkastel develops."
"...We'll explain things with the blue truth, and you'll knock those down with the red truth. Are we alright with those rules?"
"...My game will be a simpler one. It's just a quiz of guessing the culprit. I don't feel like trading red and blue with you."
"Oh...? What kind of game will that be...? Would you mind letting me have a look at it first?"
Bernkastel held her palm upwards... and a palely glowing Fragment appeared there. Lambdadelta brushed it with her hand and shut her eyes...
"You're right... It's much more straightforward than the mind games these two played in the past. This isn't even a game about witches and humans anymore."
"That's right. This is a game about humans."
"...What a surprise. The game Bern's created to combat Beato's fantasy... is a genuine mystery."
"It's extremely simple. You'll watch the tale Bern has prepared for you. There are several rules to it, but if you follow them as you read it through, it'll lead you to a Single Truth... in other words, an answer."
"So, it's an ordinary mystery novel?"
"I see... In that case, there's no need for combat between red and blue truth."
In Beato's games, the argument was about whether it was a mystery or not. However, Bernkastel's game was a mystery. There was no need to argue that from the start.
"I've even cut out the motive and the tricks. There's only one question I'm asking you."
"...What a simple, yet fitting game to conclude our fight."
"Yeah. No cheap tricks. Just a stoically simple game."
"This is a genuine duel..."
"As the observer, I'll say this. This game is 'made to be solvable'. In other words, I guarantee that it's a suitable setting for your duel."
"...Bern, I know I keep on saying this, but are you really sure? Battler and Beato's relationship started because they both loved mystery. I agree it's a pretty tricky scenario, but I'm not sure it'll be enough to stop these two..."
"...If my best tale can't stop them, then what comes will come."
"The important thing is that Lady Bernkastel put everything she had into this game."
"You're right. Will that be enough to stump us? That's all this simple game is about. Thanks, Lambda. Thanks to you, we know that this duel will be a fair fight."
"You're welcome. I'm happy too. It'll be an honor to witness Bern fighting this precious fight."
"I am also honored to have you as an opponent."
"...Same here. I underestimated you. And I did it without even stepping into the battlefield. Just thinking about it makes me want to vomit. So let me fight."
"Yes. Show us what you've got."
"If I win, I'll be able to look down on you for real this time. And if I lose, I'll surely be reminded of that emotion I know I've forgotten."
"...Bernkastel. Whether you win or lose, I'll promise you one thing."
"When this duel is over, we'll be friends."
"...Hmph. Enough of that, please. The sentimentality is killing me."
Lambda clapped her hands. A pleasant sound rang out.
"...I don't need a Reader."
"...A Reader miko can use her own voice to embellish or distort the tale. Even if there was no cheap trickery in my game, by having a Reader, any amount of trickery could be added."
"Yes, that is true. That's another of the Game Master's privileges."
"I want to have a straightforward duel with you. So, I don't need a Reader. You can read this tale with your own eyes and ears."
"Are you sure...?! That means you've lost almost all of your advantages...!"
"...Got it. You don't need a Reader. We'll read the tale ourselves."
"If there is no Reader, doesn't that mean there will be absolutely no falsehoods contained in the narrated text?"
"We're ready, Bernkastel."
"A showdown over a genuine mystery, without any cheap tricks. If you're going to play fair and square, we'll challenge you head on too."
"...Thank you. And I don't plan on losing either."
"Tch, tch, tch. That's no good, Lady Bern."
"She's right. If you're a witch challenging us with a mystery, it's no use having an attitude like that. Yeah, it's all useless...!"
Bernkastel, realizing what Battler and Beato were asking for, snorted. Lambdadelta nodded at her, telling her to enjoy this final duel to the fullest.
"We wouldn't have it any other way! Yes, we'll take your challenge, Lady Bernkastel, Witch of Miracles!"
"Alright, time to start!! I, Game Master Ushiromiya Battler, and Beatrice, the Endless Witch, will be your opponents! Don't start crying when we wipe the floor with you!!"
"Just try and handle this! Here's my mystery!!!"
Bernkastel took a Fragment holding the game and smashed it against the table, shattering it with a brilliant light as the game's scenario laid itself out. The curtain rose... on the mystery Bernkastel had created...
BGM: Eternal Chains
At some point, Ange had fainted and fallen to the floor. Now, her consciousness was slowly returning, forcing her to remember what had happened in this room. So, she reflexively averted her gaze even before the memory overtook her.
Six bodies lay in the blood-stained dining hall. Strangely enough, as her consciousness returned bit by bit, the terrifying scene before her seemed somehow less intense. So, this time, Ange was able to look at the six corpses well enough to make out who they were.
And, lying next to them, were Uncle Hideyoshi and Aunt Eva. Both Uncle Hideyoshi, the uncle who always said something funny and made me laugh... and Aunt Eva, the aunt who seemed to be so fond of me... Genji-san, the servant, is lying over there. And, the one lying right here, is Aunt Rosa. Six people. A full six people... had their lives taken from them, and are lying in this room...
Maybe I cried myself out before I fell unconscious. The scene before me was still terribly painful, but I was somehow able to look at it without losing my head. So, I'd already felt all the sadness I could at my parents' deaths. The next emotion that rose up inside me... was a desire to check and see that everyone else was okay.
In that instant, she heard a scraping sound. Just as she was about to relax again, thinking she must have imagined it, she heard the same sound again. It was probably coming from the door. Someone was clawing at the door from the outside. Of course, she had no way of knowing who it was. However, for some reason, Ange was sure that it was that black cat scratching at the door. The black cat was telling her to leave this room. Ange understood and put her hand on the doorknob.
I immediately noticed something odd. The door was locked. The same bad feeling I'd felt after being locked in the parlor crawled up my spine. However, unlike the time in the parlor, this door unlocked itself easily when I turned the knob. I unlocked it... and slowly opened the door...
Then, it stopped, its emerald eyes glittering in the darkness, as though it was waiting for me to follow.
The hallway was dark... and wrapped in an eerie silence. When the black cat saw that I was coming, it walked forward as if guiding me. I could hear nothing except the creaking of the floor, the bell of the cat, and the sound of the storm outside.
...The party is being held in the hall. I should be able to hear at least a little of the noise from this hallway...
"...Maybe it got really late... while I was unconscious in the dining hall..."
It was a reasonable conclusion. Then, we finally reached the main hall. The hall was frigid, and no trace of that party remained. Could all of that fun have been... just an illusion...?
The black cat's bell rang out. When I looked up, I saw it had its feet on the stairway to the second floor... urging me to follow it.
"...Are you going to the second floor...?"
Guests were allowed to go wherever they wanted on the first floor, but the second floor was Krauss's family's house, and I remembered getting in trouble for trying to go up there. However, at that moment, I couldn't think of any options... other than following that cat...
I walked along the dark hallway with the black cat. Eventually, we reached one of the doors.
The black cat scratched at the door, then turned to look at me. It must have been telling me to open it.
"Okay... I'll open it for you..."
I put my hand on the doorknob... and felt the resistance of a lock again. This door is locked. I turned around to tell the cat this, but... inexplicably... a single key lay right in front of the cat. Ange picked it up and stuck it in the keyhole. As she did, she finally noticed something strange with her fingertips.
BGM: Infant Queen Bee
Somehow, Ange's fingertips had been stained red with blood. She let out a short cry, and the key slipped out and fell to the ground. She finally realized. In the darkness, she hadn't noticed before. The black cat's key... was covered with blood... The emotions that had gone numb in Ange sprang back. A terrified scream rang out through the dark hallway...
Even so, Ange would eventually open that door. That door... led to Natsuhi's room. Natsuhi's room was a terrible mess. Blankets and sheets were torn. Cosmetics and books lay all over the place, as though a typhoon had just ripped through it. And... there were the corpses.
Very shortly, Ange will step into this room. She will then scream in terror once more... And it wasn't just the dining hall and Natsuhi's room. In the stormy rose garden... Shannon's corpse lay exposed to the rain. Partway down the path to the rose garden... was Jessica's corpse. When Ange finds that, she'll probably dash crying and screaming into the guesthouse. And... death awaits her inside the guesthouse as well. Just inside the front door... is Nanjo's corpse. In the servant room nearby, even Gohda and Kumasawa lie dead.
A full 13 corpses are waiting for Ange. They wait in the mansion and the guesthouse on this desolate Rokkenjima... for Ange, exposed to the wind and rain and tormented by thunder, to find them...