Part 143: Black Cat Scratch Marks
BGM: Moonlit Night
At some point, each table had started competing to see which could solve it first.
"Bernkastel. Haven't Ange and Erika arrived yet?"
"...They should've been here by now. Wanna make a bet on who arrives first?"
"I can understand Erika being late, but what about Ange? Just what kind of pit did you toss her into this time?"
"How rude. She's sitting on a sofa sipping tea."
"Hopefully the sort of tea you drink suits Ange's tastes."
"Hahaha, good point."
"How rude. That tea would suit anyone's tastes. Erika would even lick the last drop of my tea from the bottom of a miso soup pot."
"...How does miso soup come into this picture...?"
"Now that you mention her, Erika...! This will be a long awaited reunion."
"Yeah, come to think of it. Can't wait to see how long it'll take her to solve Bernkastel's game."
"...This sort of game is what that kid's best at. She'll probably read it from start to finish three times, then just say the answer right away."
"Probably. I look forward to seeing her give the correct answer immediately with that smug look on her face."
"Come now, this is Erika we're talking about. She'll probably pull out some twisted logic and say that it was possible for someone other than Battler's family."
"Good point. In fact, I'd like to hear her proud, twisted logic even more than the right answer."
Apparently, Battler and Beato were looking forward to their reunion with Erika. They had already dueled with Erika in two separate games. But now, there was no distinction between foes and allies. They truly wanted to welcome her to this 'party after the show' as a friend...
"You know. It's surprising that you'd let Ange go this easily."
Making sure that Battler and the others couldn't see her face, Lambdadelta sniggered.
"Is it really so surprising...?"
"Of course it is. I thought that, being you, you'd torture Battler with one tough puzzle after another before releasing her, or that you'd at least try to give Ange some weird ideas and have her turn the game around in the end."
"And I thought I knew you better than anyone else in the world. So embarrassing that I was wrong."
"...I'm sure it is. But don't worry. You obviously do know me better than anyone else in the world."
"Y, yeah, of course! After all, I love, adore, and understand you more than any other person in the universe☆"
Lambdadelta was flustered by Bernkastel's apparently friendly words, which were very rare, coming from her.
"Oh, she's back?! Great. So, is she okay...?"
"It seems that she was soaked by the rain, but Kumasawa is bringing her a towel now."
When Battler heard this, he breathed a sigh of relief. Then, he turned to face Bernkastel, showing her a forced smile as though apologizing for still suspecting her just a little. Bernkastel showed no reaction, and simply continued to wear a blank expression with a slight smile.
"Ange-sama has returned."
"Battler! Ange's back...!"
"Ange...! Wonderful. I was worried."
She stared at Battler as he dashed towards her with a relieved smile. Ange's expression seemed somehow indifferent.
"...That Battler. Looks like he thought I had you hanging by chains in a cave or something."
"N, no, no. I didn't think you'd go that far."
"...I was just having some tea at the house of one of Bernkastel's friends. It was delicious."
"Were there any dried plums or miso soup in it...?!"
"...Why would there be?"
As Ange spoke bluntly, she walked right past her brother and exchanged a few whispered words with Bernkastel.
"What is it, Battler?"
"Huh? Oh, nothing... Nothing at all."
If he said that he was lonely because his little sister was being so cold, Beato would either laugh at him or scratch him. After all, Ange was a girl at that age. She might be in a bad mood for reasons that a boy like him couldn't understand. Taking note of this, and having satisfied himself that Ange was okay, he made to walk away.
"Battler. Ange is calling for you."
"Huh? Oh, sorry."
"...I wasn't really ignoring you. What's going on with you, anyway? You've looked like you were in a bad mood for a while now."
"I imagine Bernkastel gave her something strange to drink and pretended it was just a rare sort of black tea. Hyahhyahhya!"
"...I have no business with you. Back off for a bit, would you? I want to talk to Onii-chan alone."
"Come, come, I may not look it, but I am the wife of the territory lord...! When it comes to Battler, I am far more-"
By now, Battler realized that Ange's issue was more than just a slight bad mood. Beato puffed out her cheeks as though she wanted to say something more. However, she just let it out with a sigh and walked away...
"...Is this okay?"
"It is. After all, this game is between me and you, right? I'm the player. You're the Game Master. No matter how many pieces get between us, in the end, it's still a direct battle between you and me."
"...Well, it's true that I'm the Game Master, but it's not like I'm fighting against you or anything. This final game was held so you could be invited to the Rokkenjima of 1986."
"Games are played to decide who wins and who loses. It's not called a game unless you have foes and allies. Don't try to trick me."
"What... are you talking about, all of a sudden...?"
BGM: Infant Queen Bee
"This has all been a farce you created, hasn't it?! You're using this sentimental tale to dodge the issue and leave me confused! You're trying to chase me out into a lonely future with nothing but this cheap happiness as a parting gift! There's just one thing I've been after since the beginning! What happened on Rokkenjima that day?!"
"And the only answer you gave me was this game! This sentimental party of illusions!! It's obvious how you're going to try and answer my question now! I want the truth!! And you aren't going to tell me!"
"Ange, listen, you've got it wrong-"
"Don't try and trick me!! This game is the final fight between me and you! I want the truth of that day! And you're trying to hide that truth behind an illusion!! It's exactly the same! The setup is no different than those fights between you and Beato! Pretty soon, I was going to be chased out of the gameboard with everything still vague and fuzzy because of you! Well, sorry, but I've already figured out that this game is a battle. Don't think you'll trick me so easily anymore!"
Ange's shout tore apart the peaceful atmosphere. The family members and fantasy residents gulped and watched the scene, wondering what was going on... Beato tried to run up to Battler, but he motioned for her to stay back.
"...What is it you want?"
"There's only one thing I've ever wanted! The truth of Rokkenjima in 1986. That's all I'm looking for!!"
"The truth is sealed within the cat box. It can't be reached by someone outside the cat box like you."
"Is that why you're trying to trick me with this sentimental illusion?!"
"Yes, this is an illusion. However, I wanted you to feel this fun atmosphere, the harmony within your family. It's not about what happened on that island that day. I wanted you to remember the warmth of these family conferences, a warmth you forgot about."
"That's just an illusion you're trying to impose on me! I reject that and deny it completely!!"
"The truth of 1986 doesn't exist. The cat box is empty inside. You're looking for something that isn't there."
"...Hmph. I won't be tricked anymore. The truth of that day does exist. It was written down by the sole survivor and preserved to this very day!"
Battler's expression faltered for just an instant, and Ange didn't miss it. So he was hiding it after all. Onii-chan... has been hiding the Book of the Single Truth from me...!!
"A, Ange-chan, you have to listen to me...! Everything I wrote in that diary is nonsense, so it doesn't..."
"There's no point trying to deceive me. It's already been proven in red, that your diary has the truth of that day written in it!"
"...A, absurd. How could anyone but Battler, the Game Master, use the red truth...?!"
"...It's Auaurora, isn't it?"
"That's right. The Book of the Single Truth exists in 1998, the world of the future. Who else could perform the crucial role of confirming its contents with the red truth...?"
"I heard everything from Bernkastel!! I've been fooled by you long enough!! I don't want some sentimental illusion. I want the real truth!!"
Video: The Last Beatrice
BGM: Golden Nocturne
A cyclone rose up around Ange. It was a golden swirl of gold butterflies. Just like the Golden Witch, Beatrice...
The cyclone of gold broke apart, and as gold leaves scattered across the room, the final witch, who would inherit Beatrice's name in the future, appeared.
"You are the Golden and Endless Witch. I'm not! I'm the Witch of Gold and Truth! No illusion can stand in my way!! Yes, this is the end of Onii-chan's boring party! Now it's time for my party to start!! I've even readied a game to liven things up! You're up, Aunt Eva."
When Ange snapped her fingers, she vanished along with the swirl of gold butterflies. In her place in the middle of the cyclone, a girl wearing a dress appeared, bowing modestly...
"The sole survivor of Rokkenjima. And the witch of the future, the Golden and Endless Witch from 1986 to 1998!! In the world of the future, Battler-kun's sentimental illusion is more fragile than a flake of snow on a lake! Okay, let's have some fun!! Come, try to remember, 'all of you'. Remember 'your' endless theory-making!!"
When EVA held her hand to the heavens, light gathered there and took the form of a bottle. Yes, a bottle. A glass bottle with no label. There was no alcohol inside. Sealed within it was a Fragment that let off a pale, sinister light.
"B, Battler!! This is bad!! She must not smash that bottle!!"
BGM: The First and the Last
The bottle was slammed against the floor and smashed to pieces. As soon as the Fragment within it touched the outside air, it flashed white and burst.
...At first, it seemed that nothing had happened. However, EVA grinned at them before becoming a cloud of butterflies and vanishing. Come to think of it, Bernkastel was gone as well.
"What did she do...?!"
"...It was probably a Fragment she brought back with her from the world of the future. Perhaps we could call it the contents of the cat box in the future."
"So, what does that mean?! What?!"
At that moment, they heard a thundering roar. It was as though large chunks of hail had started falling everywhere. An earthquake accompanied that noise, and the whole mansion creaked. Dust began to fall from the ceiling. At the same time, it seemed as though the curtain-covered window glowed with a pale light.
"Wh, what on Earth is going on...?"
"Kyrie, look outside! What the hell is that?!"
Everyone rushed to the window in response to her voice. Of course, Battler and Beato went too. Then, they drew the curtains, looked at the scene outside, and were stunned into silence.
Kinzo's words spoke for the first impression felt by all who looked out the windows.
"...Not all beauty is benign."
"They always say that beauty has thorns nyeh."
Though everyone found the scene beautiful, it gave them all a feeling of impending misfortune. Outside the window, countless small objects, pale glowing Fragments of crystals, lay strewn about everywhere like fallen hail. The word 'fantastical' perfectly summed up the scene that lay before them in the glowing rose garden...
"...Just now, I saw something move over there...!"
"H, hey, is there someone over there?! Wait, huh...?!"
"...A, a person... just grew out of that glowing Fragment...!"
"Seven Sisters of Purgatory, battle formation!!"
With those words of Lucifer's, everyone finally realized that they were surrounded by 'danger'...
One by one, the countless Fragments shook and burst, and large, dark bodies rose up from inside each. They were... giants with goat heads. One after another, they appeared from the insides of broken Fragments. Those Fragments lay all over the rose garden in vast numbers and made the ground glow... so that everyone inside was forced to shudder.
"45! Wide-area surveillance!"
"...M, my radar's filled with white! We're either being jammed, or... or the vast number of readings is making a count of enemy numbers impossible!!"
Even as she said this, the glowing rose garden outside the window was being filled with giant goats. The Fragments carrying the goats weren't just in the rose garden. They were spread evenly across the entire island. Not just the rose garden, but the entire area around the mansion was being covered with goats by now...
"...Allow us to speak."
"Know that we are completely surrounded."
"Yeah, we noticed..."
"Kihihihihihihihihi. What'll you do now, Battler...?"
"Only one thing to do with uninvited guests. Let's chase them off. Who are these people? I'm guessing these aren't your minions, right, Beato?"
"...The goat forms they hold are probably just imitations of the pieces on this game board."
"They aren't Riiche's or Lia's minions. This is something worse."
"Messages within the bottles? Beato's message bottles?"
"Wrong. These Fragments are delusions from the people of the future."
"...Endless possibilities are hidden within the cat box. Because of that, those outside the box can imagine the insides to be any one of an infinite number of things. It would seem those endless delusions are the true nature of these creatures."
"Wh, what will those goats do to us, I wonder..."
"It doesn't look like they're coming to give us a handshake and a pat on the back."
"...Those people... Those lowlifes, making up and passing around stories, imagining the tragedies that might have unfolded for us on this island... They found it so interesting that I never talked about the truth... that they kept on creating tragedies one after another for their own enjoyment..."
"I see. So, they're Fragments of the future, containing delusions about the 1986 cat box..."
"In the future world, any and all interpretations can and do EXIST. Unless we deny them, each will be able to call their own views the truth, and they will remain on this ISLAND."
"Ahhahahahahahaha! What a fix we're in!"
"Looks like we're surrounded and fighting for our lives!"
"Hmm, what are they doing...?"
"Th, they're eating... They're eating something...!"
"...They're eating... roses...?!"
The crowd of goats was squirming about and doing something. If you looked closely, you could see them sticking their heads into rose bushes and munching away. And it wasn't just rose bushes. Light poles, the bricks of the flower beds, and even the stone paving itself. They were biting all of it. Almost as if they were trying to eat up the whole island.
"No. They aren't just eating..."
"If they aren't eating, then what are they doing...?!"
"They're... eating the game board...?!"
"In the future world, everyone believes that we were swallowed up by tragedy today. That's why 'they' won't accept a truth where we enjoy ourselves in peace...!"
"...Truths of the past are inferior to truths of the future. The merciless future fangs and jaws of those goats... refuse to accept our truth and are eroding it, replacing it with 'the kind of truth they expect'."
"D, dammit... This is our truth...! It's not for those people in the future, who have nothing to do with us anyway, to rewrite as they please...!"
The garden outside the window was now filled with too many goats to count, all chewing away. This repulsive scene stole the words from everyone's lips... They weren't just stunned into silence. There was just no point in making a fuss and letting the goats know for no reason. No point in letting them know... that there was plenty of prey waiting in this bright, warm room, prey that was softer and easier to chew than roses or bricks...
"Th, that goat there, he's looking at us...!"
"...Silence. Don't make a fuss."
"...I, it's coming this way... Isn't this bad...?"
There was already a huge swarm of them in the garden, so it was no surprise that, when one of them looked around for new prey, it would see the light from this window. Its immense, eerie body slowly approached.
As it grew closer, they could finally see it clearly. The eyes blazed, and yet were still cold, ruthless, and reptilian. The cruel fangs and jaw could tear apart and crush anything. Any fangs that could chew through brick would hardly have a problem chewing through people... Its massive body had to be taller than the windows themselves... And... it was lumbering towards this window...
"If only this window was made out of special Ushiromiya bulletproof glass..."
"...I doubt even bulletproof glass would stop that thing."
"W, waah...!! It's coming, it's coming! It's running towards us!!!"