Part 146: Hachijo Toya
"Of course, we'll then move on with a movie version and a TV drama bundled in...! We here at Company X would be honored to accept your manuscript...!!"
"And will there be prize money?"
"But of course...! The 10 million yen prize for Company X's first mystery novel contest will all go to you! And much more besides!!"
"Splendid. You've caught my interest. That's why I've decided not to write up a manuscript."
""Whaaaaaaaa?!?! M, Madam Hachijo, whyyyyyyyy...?!!!""
Everything had seemed to be going so smoothly up until then, so this sudden refusal made the people from the publishing company fall over in their sofa.
BGM: Love Examination
"In that case, it wouldn't be fitting to hand it over to you. It was always a worthless story. Just something for my ignorant readers to put on their shelves and let them think that they've managed to solve a great puzzle. I was hoping that they'd recognize the irony and laugh at their own foolishness, but it looks like you've taken it seriously. Yes, I can say I'm ashamed at my own failure as a writer."
"O, o, of course not!! Please, forgive us!! Please, let us use your-!!"
"...I have no need for money, but some pet food would be nice."
"Pet food? O, oh, for your cat...!!"
"Th, there was a rumor that you had a cat who liked dried plums! Y, yes, as you wish...! Quickly, let's have a high-quality assortment of dried plums in here!!"
"She only eats the ones that are packaged separately, at 200 yen apiece. At this rate, she'll die of high blood pressure. She snacks on kimchi and spicy miso soup all the time too... Really, there must be something wrong with that cat's tongue."
Mii! The cat meowed an objection from where it lay on top of the bookshelf.
"I cannot give you this manuscript, but why don't I write up a new one for your company's contest? However, I won't write it under my name. It's estimated that thousands of manuscripts will be sent in for your contest. If you manage to pick out mine from the pack, and if you also find it deserving of the prize, then I would be happy to continue our discussion just now. How does that sound?"
""H, haha--!! Just the honor of receiving your manuscript is more than enough!!""
"You people truly are amusing, fawning and cringing all the time. But I've grown weary of this for today. Leave now. Meeting with children of men can be so tiring."
""Haha--!! We are deeply grateful for your kindness in allowing us this meeting!!!""
A servant guided the people from the publishing company to the door. In the study that was now finally quiet, Hachijo Toya let out a sigh, slumped down in the sofa, and gazed at the ceiling.
"...It's good for you to talk to people every now and then. You'll go senile if you stay shut in all the time."
The black cat leapt from the bookshelf and landed softly on the carpet. Then its form silently twisted and became that of Bernkastel.
"What's all this about pet food? How rude."
"Well, that's what it is. Here."
Hachijo picked up a jar from a shelf, then took a dried plum out and threw it into the air. In an instant, Bernkastel turned back into a black cat, caught it in midair, and started munching away.
"...Miss Hachijo, your guests have departed."
A servant knocked on the door before making this announcement.
"Thank you. Let me know if that one wakes up."
"As you wish. Would you like some tea?"
"No. I'm going to write for a bit. Please do not disturb me."
After waiting for the servant's footsteps to disappear into the distance, Hachijo moved to her desk. The desk certainly looked as though it belonged to a great writer, with pages of manuscript scattered across it.
The black cat spoke as it tore the dried plum apart with its mouth.
"Tales are to be written with ink. To me, that is an unbreakable rule."
"...So, you write it once with ink, then type the whole thing over again with a keyboard. Pretty stupid, doing the same thing twice."
"In that case, why does a child of man draw up a tale in their mind, and then spit the whole thing out again on a keyboard? How foolish of them to do the same thing twice."
"Look at it that way, and you're doing the same thing three times."
"...Pft, *cackle*cackle*. That was a good one."
Even as Hachijo laughed, her fountain pen was already sliding across the page. Beautiful letters appeared almost as fast and proficiently as a typewriter. Only humans called her creations 'manuscripts'. With her fountain pen and writing paper, she was creating a world...
As she did, the hands of the clock would spin around like a top. The light and shadows that came in through the window changed their angle so fast, they might have been the hands of a clock themselves...
Slowly, she drew a large X across the tightly packed words on the paper.
"...I can't draw it out well. Writing a manuscript to please people is truly a pain. After all, I don't usually write for other people to read."
"Why don't you just try taking whatever it is you're trying to say and writing that down...?"
Bernkastel curled up on the sofa, a mocking smile on her face. Normally, whenever Hachijo was writing, Bernkastel would never let herself be noticed, much less talk to her. However, Bernkastel realized that the other was apparently getting bored with her manuscript, so she yawned and started talking.
"What is it you're writing, anyway?"
"...A tale to give to a child of man."
"Which child of man?"
"...It's a tale I promised to write for a miko who once Read for me."
"Ah... You're still writing that?"
"I can't think of anything to write, that would give her satisfaction."
"...Looks like Auau's giving up yet again. You always promise to write a story, then get stuck before you're finished and give up."
"If I had given up, I wouldn't be worrying over it like this."
"...There's only one tale that Ange's wanted from the beginning."
"Ange said she wanted to know what happened that day. No matter how many tales you write distorting the truth, she'll never be satisfied."
"And yet, I do think my tales are far more interesting than the Single Truth."
"Ange doesn't want to read an interesting tale."
"...I promised that child of man that I would write a tale for her sake. So, I'm writing a tale to please her."
"No matter how interesting or uninteresting it is, everything you write is an illusion. Ange doesn't want any of that. Haven't you figured that out yet?"
"...The Book of the Single Truth... was written by Ushiromiya Eva."
Hidden amongst the pile of writing paper... was Eva's diary.
"...Don't make me laugh. Is this coming from the person who entertains herself by taking a tale and tearing out its guts?"
"The truth... is uninteresting."
"Is that your opinion after tearing apart the guts of so many tales?"
"...You might as well say that."
With a self-mocking laugh, Hachijo set down her fountain pen.
"I certainly have aged. The first thing age taught me was that 'not knowing' is more precious than 'knowing'."
"That definitely sounds like something an old person would say, but I'll play along. What do you mean?"
"'Knowing' and 'not knowing'. These two things have a one-way relationship."
"True. It's possible to switch from 'not knowing' to 'knowing', but you can't do it the other way around."
"When I realized that, I saw the noble purity resembling virginity... that exists in not knowing."
"In my attempts to escape boredom, I've torn apart and eaten the guts of as many games and tales as there are stars in the sky. But always, my relief from boredom is short-lived. It's all so fleeting that I've started to ignore each tale as an individual story."
"...That's right. If you eat a cat, then you only get to enjoy it for one night. But if you let it live, it might start calling you names and getting sarcastic."
"Indeed. Even the annoying way they break into your sweets cupboard or sneak into your bed can be part of their charm."
Hachijo looked around at the books covering every square inch of the room, then softly pet the cat's back.
Hachijo laughed with self-derision.
"...Even in Beato's game, you've tried to tear the guts out."
"I just wanted to check my answers. I did try to do it in a way that respected Beatrice, the weaver of this tale."
"...Yeah. I think it was pretty well Read, all done so that people who didn't understand wouldn't find the answers."
"Will it make for a better tale if Ange learns the truth, or if she doesn't? To be honest, I don't know anymore. So, fully aware that you'll scorn me for it, I've decided to stop writing the rest of this tale."
"...What do you mean?"
"I won't write it. I will merely show it. The tale that Ushiromiya Ange weaves herself."
"So, you're going to do that sort of thing again?"
"After growing tired of a thousand years of life, I've decided that choosing not to know the truth is the more noble path. However, I now see that it isn't fair to force my opinion on Ange, who hasn't lived even a hundred years."
"So, you're going to leave it in Ange's care?"
"Yes. I will write it as it plays out."
"...If you're leaving it to Ange, then most of what's left of this tale is pretty much set in stone already, right...?"
"It would seem so. Let it be so. After all, in the end, a tale that a child of man weaves for herself will be more fun than any story I could create."
"In that case, why don't you lend a hand in Ange's tale? You've already given yourself a role in it, haven't you...?"
"...Hmm. So, it is my role to bring this tale to its conclusion."
"Come on, that's no way for someone in Beato's game to talk. It's your job to tear the guts out of the cat box."
Then, she opened a locked drawer.
"...That is what Ange desires. Perhaps fate has decided that this book's seal is to be broken. Ange will reach the Single Truth, the Single Truth will break the seal on the cat box, and everything will be exposed to the light of day. And so, all of those countless message bottles and Fragments made up of delightful imaginings, which have been scattered across the ocean of the internet, will fade away like foam on the sea. After all, even that person has surely tired of such Fragments."
"It's about time for that kid to finish her journey too."
"...Yes, let us accept this task. Let us bring this journey to its final destination."
At that moment, there were sounds of someone in the hallway. The instant someone knocked on the door, Bernkastel turned back into a black cat.
"...Miss Hachijo, please forgive me for interrupting."
It was the voice of Hachijo's servant.
"What is it? If it's a phone call, tell them I'm busy."
"It isn't that. Toya-sama has woken up."
"Thank you. Prepare a light meal. Enough for the two of us."
"As you wish."
Hachijo stood up. Then, she shut the open drawer and locked it again.