Part 141: The Visitor Who Came Late II
BGM: The Executioner
It was clear that this person had enough of a reputation to make them tremble. Erika lifted me up, flew into the air, and landed on top of the arbor. Then, she let go of me and, still wielding her scythe, made an elegant curtsy to the crowd of goats surrounding us.
"...Let's have the blockheads who can only think of the Rudolf's family culprit theory step down! If anyone thinks they can counter my argument, please feel free! Of course, I won't be holding back either!!"
The goats all howled at once. It seemed to be a cry of shock, of fear, or possibly of wonder. The goats surrounded the arbor... chattering, but not moving any closer. None of them had the courage to stand against this detective, this Witch of Truth called Furudo Erika...
"...Good grief. All those thousands, and this is the best you can do? None of you has the courage to fight Furudo Erika in a battle of words? Too bad. Let's put an end to this. Then again, I, Furudo Erika, don't have enough spare time to counter all you blockheads one by one. I'll let her clean up the rest. You're up!!"
When Erika cried out, red cracks opened in the dark night's sky. It looked like the spiderweb-shaped fissures that appear when a glass window has been struck hard. No, it actually was a spiderweb, colored blood-red.
BGM: Resurrected Replayer
A laugh rang out through the spiderweb-covered world. A witch's laugh. It sounded somehow familiar to Ange... And there, standing on the spiderweb and gazing down on the goats who must have looked like bugs caught in, was the witch.
It was the witch who had hidden inside of Eva. The witch of the future, who would one day call herself the Endless Witch after the cat box closed over this world.
"Who forgets EVA Beatrice and calls themselves the murderer of Rokkenjima?! How impertinent! On this island, who lives and who dies is totally up to me!! All the wealth and gold is mine!! Everything about October 4th and 5th in 1986 is mine to do with as I please! It all belongs to me, EVA Beatrice!!"
EVA swung her One-winged staff at the crowd of foolish goats beneath her, proclaiming their deaths. The spiderwebs which formed a ceiling that covered the heavens plummeted... and more spiderwebs seeped out of the ground at the goats' feet. Then, the webs from above and below met, and thousands upon thousands of goats were caught in their grasp. Then, as EVA swung her staff, it swirled. Around and around, like egg yolk being mixed in a bowl. Eventually, it was all packed to a massive, blood-red goo. The moans of goats drifted out from inside. That entire crowd had been compressed into a meatball a few meters across.
"So, you morons doubt that I'm the culprit?!!"
"Reaching the Eva culprit theory and giving up there is good enough for the likes of you."
"Why don't you just get crushed and disappeeeeeear?!?!"
No other word could do that sound justice. After sucking in all of those goats, the spider web ball vanished into thin air with a squelch. After that, there wasn't even a trace left. The dark rose garden lay there without any sound but that of the falling rain...
EVA drifted down from the sky.
BGM: About Face
"A, Aunt Eva..."
I knew I should be grateful. And yet, it really wasn't easy for me to believe that Aunt Eva was my ally. EVA realized that too.
"Don't worry. I'm not doing this because I want to be thanked. But I'll always be on your side. See you later."
She giggled, spun around, and vanished...
Now that she had already left, I started to regret not saying even a thank you... So, I figured I should at least thank the other person who had saved me.
"...Thanks... for saving me... Who... are you...?"
I already knew her name. What I was really asking... was why she had saved me.
"I'm Furudo Erika, the detective. And I'm also a witch."
"The Witch of Truth. The one who searches for the Single Truth. And... you're the same, aren't you?"
I've been so desperate to know what happened... that I took a step off the roof of that skyscraper, drifted through several witch games and Fragment worlds, and abandoned myself to this long journey with no rewards. All I want... is to know what happened that day. All I want... is the Single Truth of that day.
"Looking for something like that is what makes someone a Witch of Truth. So, you're just the same as me. That's why I came to save you."
"...I... want to know. Just what happened on that day? No one will tell me! No one knows...! But I know something happened that day! I'd give up anything to learn what that was...! That's the one thing I need to know no matter what, even if it kills me...! So tell me! You know, don't you?! You know what happened on this island, right?!"
"...Does a Witch of Truth, expect to be given the truth? If I told you that so-and-so was the truth, would you really just accept whatever I said...?"
"No, I wouldn't..."
"What did Battler-san show you today?"
It may have been heart-warming and a lot of fun, but... It definitely... wasn't the truth.
"Didn't Battler-san show you that and say it was the truth?"
"No way. That couldn't... be the truth!"
"Sometimes, other people will try to mislead us by claiming they know the truth. But a real Witch of Truth must continue to pursue the Single Truth without being led astray. That's why you can't accept the fake truth that Battler-san's trying to force on you. You care about finding the one real truth more than anything."
Onii-chan... is trying to confuse me. I've felt that this whole time. Even though he knows everything about what happened that day, he won't tell me anything at all. How is he any different from Aunt Eva, who mocked me and refused to tell me anything, even until the very moment of her death? Why won't Onii-chan tell me?
"Why... won't he tell me?!"
The dam inside my heart burst.
I cried out at the rainy night sky. Hot tears poured from my eyes, but they were covered by the cold rain that beat against me, so no one other than me would know that they were tears. No one would know my pain and sadness. I'm... always the only one alone... all alone...
"Someone, tell me!!! Tell me what happened that day!!!"
"...No one can tell you. After all, you can only find the truth if you do it yourself."
"Where is the truth?! How can I find it?! Everyone's hiding it! They won't tell me! I'll find it myself...! So please, just tell me where the truth is hidden...!"
BGM: L&D Circulation
As that voice rang out, the world bent and swirled. After blinking several times, I realized that the world had become a sea of stars. No, that's not quite right. There are stars up there in the sky, but those lights below me aren't stars. They're lights from building windows, street lights, car lights. I was floating in the dark sky... over a city lined with skyscrapers.
Various bad memories are jumping out at me from the back of my mind. That's right. I was chained in place in that strange theater thing... and forced to watch a repulsive Fragment where Mom and Dad committed murder...
"...I never said that what you saw was the truth."
"B, but you used the red to..."
"...Just how far are you willing to go to mock me...?"
"...I apologize. But I did want to test you."
"Test me how?"
"I wanted to see if you were ready to accept the truth, no matter what it may be."
"...The truth can betray you sometimes. In fact, there are times when it shows itself as the thing you desire least. That Fragment I showed you was probably the worst one you could possibly imagine. However, if you lack the strength and the courage to withstand even something like that, then you aren't fit to reach the truth."
I have no comeback. Finding the truth is my goal. I just want to know what happened on that island on that day. I don't think of myself as wanting to hear only the facts that are pleasing to me. Have I really been prepared to face the bloody, unbearable truth that's probably waiting there for me...?
...If I find the truth, it'll mean having to look straight at my family's tragic final moments and accepting them as they are. And if I do accept that, it means abandoning my faint hope for that convenient miracle... the idea that one of them might have survived somehow... and might return even though 12 years have passed. Even though I know a miracle like that would be completely ridiculous, if I'm honest with myself, I have to admit that the faint hope it brought me has given me comfort these past 12 years.
Those two wishes contradict each other. By learning the truth, I'll be forced to accept that no one's coming home...
"...The truth is always cruel. At times, it can even cut down your hopes. Most of the time, humans don't realize the costs of learning the truth. I simply wanted to see if you had the necessary resolve."
I must choose between my two contradicting wishes. Will I find the truth... and abandon my optimistic hopes for my family's return? Or will I give up on the truth... and keep waiting for the family that will never really return for all eternity? Will I freeze up and let myself be fooled by the childish illusion my brother made for me?
"...Tell me, Ange. Are you truly determined to learn the truth...?"
"And your resolve will not falter?"
After hearing my immediate reply, Bernkastel stared at me. Are those expressionless eyes of hers... measuring my resolve? Now that my brother is covering up the truth even after becoming Game Master... The only thing I can rely on in my search for the truth is the path that Bernkastel can show me...
"...Deep in your eyes... I see the glint of one who seeks the truth."
"Will you tell me?! Will you show me the way that leads to the truth...?!"
"Yes. I'll guide you. Did you forget, Ange? I am your guardian, am I not...?"
How long has it been since I last heard Bernkastel use that word? Yes. Not since that time at the very beginning, when I met her in this future world and became a witch, with her as my guardian. That's when I become the Beatrice of 1998, the one who could defeat the Beatrice of 1986...
"...A Witch of Truth."
"That's right. You're like Erika. A Witch of Truth, who will seek the Single Truth, undeceived by any illusions."
"The Witch of Truth, ANGE Beatrice... has the power to reach the Single Truth, right...?"
"Yes. However, up until now, you have been unable to use this power. Do you know why?"
"...I do now. Even though I searched for the truth, I unconsciously resisted learning the truth."
"Exactly. Finding the truth was your goal, but at the same time, you were unconsciously afraid that learning the truth would mean losing that miracle of your family coming back. So, you didn't have what it took to stretch your hand out to the Single Truth."
"...You're completely right... I have to admit... that I was naive..."
I must admit it. My entire family is dead. Now that I've acknowledged it, I must expose why they died, and who was behind it.
"...Thanks. The Fragment you showed me in that dark theater... was there to open my eyes."
"Many, many games have gone by, waiting for you to become a true Witch of Truth. But I think there was a purpose for all of it. After all, now, in this final game, you have become a Witch of Truth."
"...Tell me. What happened on that island that day? I won't ask you to tell me directly. So guide me. What can I do to reach the truth...?!"
"It's a bit too chilly here. Let's move."
"To a place better for drinking tea."
BGM: In the Sun
It was an applause in honor of a good fight. An applause in honor of Bernkastel.
"Yes, Lady Bernkastel's game was another splendid one!"
"We're going to reveal her game board to all of you, so have a go at it. It's pretty awesome!"
"...But you solved it in the end all the same."
"A game that no one can solve isn't a game. The main point is whether it was fun or not."
"It was fun! I guarantee it."
"Same here. At first, I thought there was no way anyone could solve it, but the way you can use one confirmed purple statement after another to narrow down the suspects made for a nice puzzle."
"Come, everyone! Gather, gather!"
"Just what sort of game is Lady Bernkastel's mystery?!"
""That's for you to find out for yourselves!!""
Crowds gathered around each, looking down with interest.
"Hohoh, it's like a logic puzzle."
"Quite an orthodox one, don't you think?"
"So this is what a witch's game is like."
"Hmm. Looking at it like this, it's just a game. But for the pieces, it's a massive series of crimes."
"Pu ku ku. Indeed it is."
"It would not do to waste such a rare gift from Lady BERNKASTEL. Let us take this opportunity to enjoy OURSELVES."
"Still, this is a tough one... It almost makes you wonder if it was even made to be solvable, doesn't it...?"
"You can't get anywhere unless you start by believing it was made to be solvable. A battle of wits doesn't begin until you trust the questioner and believe that it can be solved."
"And we'll guarantee that it is. Come on, have a go at it...!"
With Battler's encouragement, discussions over Bernkastel's mystery game began at each table. The mix of humans and fantasy creatures in heated discussion was truly a sight to behold. Beato and Bernkastel sat in a chair far off from the discussions.
"Any kind of calming black tea for me. With milk, if you don't mind."
"As you wish. Is there anything you need, Lady Bernkastel?"
"...Please add some dried plums to some black tea. That's the trick to making terrible tea drinkable."
"*cackle*! Come now, don't sulk. We're honestly complimenting your game for being such a fun one."
Since she had emerged victorious in the game Bernkastel had put all her heart into, the look on Beato's face made her last line almost sound like an apology.
"...I'm not sulking. My face just looks this way."
"When I managed to spot Bern's own kind of warmth in that expression, I felt like I'd climbed to the pitch-black top of a snowy mountain to find a beautiful star."
"...Well, sorry for having an eternally frosty face."
"How difficult it is to compliment Lady Bernkastel. No matter what you say, she always takes it in a bad way."
"That's okay. She's the kind who'll think about it for hours later on."
"Hohoh, the type who lies in bed thinking about it and hugging her pillow."
"Yep, that's Bern for you."
Beato and Lambdadelta giggled together. Bernkastel shrugged and looked away...
"You think so? Thank you."
"Even though you could've made it unsolvable, you really did make it to be solved. That's not something you can do unless you plan on enjoying a fair game."
"...I like games where I win no matter what. Games that I might lose are just a pain."
"Later, I'd like to switch sides and try another one. I'll make a puzzle, and we'll see if you can solve it. A game for you to win against me."
"Of course, I'll use all the know-how I've picked up in my fights with Beato to make it super-hard. I'm not giving up my winning streak that easily...!"
"...Both you and Beato. You have such an interesting way of thinking."
"...A game is just a means to decide who wins and who loses, right? When you create one, your own victory should be your highest priority. So, why would you go to all the trouble of making a game you might lose...?"
"What fun is there in a game that you always win? That's not even a game."
"Victory and defeat. It's fun because you're taking part in a fair competition, balanced between those two outcomes. A game isn't a fight. It's communication. It's the means you have to enjoy. And if you manage to win, well, that's just an added bonus."
"...Finally. Finally, I clearly understand the difference between how all of you think and how I think."
"The world you live in must be pretty savage."
"...And what about you? Wasn't it the same for you, until you understood Beato's game? An eternal game is eternal torture. Have you already completely forgotten about that pain you suffered...?"
"...There were days I did think that. But now, it's all been resolved. I won't complain about stuff that's in the past. I'm impartial, you might say."
"That... is the critical difference between you and me, I think. Your eternal torture was something you could laugh off and forget. Mine wasn't nearly so trivial. That's all there is to it."
"...I don't know your history. It sounds like you had it rough."
"Hmph. To think I'm getting sympathy from a mere former piece. I must be losing my touch."
Bernkastel, sipping the black tea that Genji had brought her, gazed up at the ceiling with a faraway look. Battler may not have known her history, but even he was able to understand a bit of how she felt.
"...Are you being tortured, by someone right now?"
"Are you kidding? I'm as free as can be. I'm not bound by anyone's shackles."
"Then that's a good thing, isn't it? At least things are better for you now."
"...True. It's much better now than it once was. Though I am on this long, endless journey to escape from boredom."
"Then, at the very least, meeting up here should have been a good thing for you."
"Indeed. Even the taste of defeat has driven boredom away from me for a time."
No, no. Battler was shaking his head and laughing.
"If your days are filled with nothing except running away from boredom, feel free to drop by our place every now and then. We'd love to welcome a friend. And we'll be able to set up everything needed to help a friend escape from boredom."
"You think you can prepare a welcome interesting enough to help me, the great Bernkastel, escape boredom for even a night...?"
"I do. That's what it means to be a friend."
"We won tonight's game. So, the next time you come, we'll switch sides. This time, we'll entertain you with one of our games. Of course, we don't intend to let you win easily. We'll challenge you to a devilishly twisted logic game! It won't be something you can solve in a night. It'll be good enough to make you stay for months, wracking your brains over it."
"...You would entertain me, the great Bernkastel, as a friend...?"
"Yeah, we would."
"...Hmph... After talking with you, even this dried plum tea is starting to taste sickly sweet. What a pain."
"I heard from Beato. Sounds like this dried plum tea stuff is one of your favorites. Next time, we'll toss some high-class dried plums covered in gold leaf into your tea, so make sure you come again."
"...If you really plan to do that, try finding some better tea to start with. I'll never feel like coming again if you keep serving tea like this."
"Ah, come on. Guess you drink high-grade black tea all the time. In fact, next time, why don't you invite us to somewhere we can drink some of this high-quality tea?"
"...Me... invite you? *giggle*...ahahahahaha."
"It's only fair, right? We've treated you. Now it's your turn."
"Yes, it would be only fair."
"So, let's have the game be fair too. Let's switch sides and start a new game. I'm looking forward to it. We won this time, but who knows about the next...?!"
"...That's some confidence you have there. And yet, I'm afraid you're mistaken on one point."
"My game isn't over yet. I wonder who will win in the end."
After taking one more sip of her black tea, Bernkastel set her cup on the table, wearing a thin smile.
"...The tea here's far too sweet. It was a mistake to have any. Thank you, Genji. Take this away, please."
"As you wish..."
Bernkastel asked for her tea to be taken away after taking only two sips. Battler smiled, realizing that this was just Bern's way of being shy.
If you really think this final game will be nothing but a happy epilogue... Then I'll have to invite you all to a proper game for bringing this tale to a close.
Battler. You forget things too easily. Don't you remember in whose hands lie the key to this final game...?