Part 149: The Book of the Truth II
"...Oh, would you like some too, comrade EVA? We have no more cups, so you'll have to use a funnel."
A gold butterfly drifted onto the balcony and turned into EVA.
"That's what I came to talk about. She says the seal has been broken."
"Congratulations. So, the time has finally come. The period to mark the end of your life."
"Take the key and go to Lady Bernkastel. One of her cat familiars will guide you."
Two emerald sparkles flew in. They were the green, glinting eyes of a black cat. The cat flicked its tail elegantly, with the dignity of a high-class attendant.
"...Got it. Then, I'll be back in a bit."
Ange rose from her seat. She did it casually, as though she really was just heading out for a short trip. However, her lips would never touch her half-finished cup of tea again...
"Same here. Next time we meet, you'll have to teach me the trick to making tea this terrible."
"...Are you happy? Now, you'll finally get to learn that secret I've been hiding from you these past 12 years."
"I am happy. Yeah, now I can understand how Erika feels. It feels like I've taken a shot back at you, exposing the secret that you kept until your death."
"And is that a good feeling?"
"...Well, it's better than nothing."
Ange nodded towards the black cat to let it know that she was ready. The cat nodded back in a refined manner, indicated that it wanted Ange to follow, and leapt from the balcony. Without turning back, Ange followed it, jumping out into the air as though swimming...
EVA watched her go. An expression of ridicule and scorn... failed to cross her face...
"Good luck, Ange. This is the path you've chosen. You aren't six years old anymore. You're 18. Choose how to live your own life."
"...What an overprotective aunt you are."
"I'm going to watch the ceremony. What about you?"
"It's almost time to begin the attack, so I'm heading for the ships. I've got to go pick up Beato's corpse. The guts will go to the party. I get to keep her skin, so let's stuff and mount it."
"So, this is the end to the mysterious tale of Rokkenjima."
"...Which means that it's also the end for you. I mean, you are a piece from there, right?"
"A piece is all I am. The role of a piece is to remain faithful to its role until the game ends. It's not a piece's place to worry about what happens after the game is over."
"True. And it's the same for me. Let's both enjoy this time while we have it. Well then, allow me to take my leave."
"Later. Good luck with your work."
After exchanging elegant bows, the two witches vanished at the same time. Nothing remained except some half-finished tea cups and the aroma of the tea itself...
BGM: Revelations (instrumental)
"Hey, Professor Ootsuki...!"
"Oh, what a surprise! I haven't seen you since the last convention!"
All of the guests gathered here were very rich and cultured. A single hobby tied all of them together. They were the Witch Hunters. Like-minded people who enjoyed exploring various interpretations of the Rokkenjima mystery.
"Still, I wonder if it's really true. To think that this diary of Ushiromiya Eva's actually exists...!"
"Just like that fable of the king with the donkey's ears. Humans truly are tragic creatures, incapable of keeping quiet about a secret even if no one else could possibly learn of it."
"Wahahahahahahahaha. From what I've heard, a collector from Dubai offered to buy it for ten million dollars...!"
"Incredible...! More evidence of the fascination that the Rokkenjima mystery is capable of stirring!"
Conversations like this were breaking out passionately all over the place. Furthermore, it wasn't just guests who were allowed to enter. The press was also there in force. The Rokkenjima mystery created such a large movement that, at one time, it became a social phenomenon. Though it had died down slightly in recent years, it was still a topic fiercely debated across the internet. It was hardly any surprise that the discovery and eminent release of Ushiromiya Eva's diary, which contained the truth of that mystery, had caused an uproar. And on top of all that, the mysterious Forger Itouikukuro was to appear publicly for the first time. In fact, it seemed that Itouikukuro and Hachijo Toya, the up-and-coming mystery novelist, were the same person.
Of course, this meant that Hachijo Toya would also be appearing in public for the first time. Though she was thought to be a male author, the fact that she was actually a mysterious woman author alone was enough to cause a stir. Before the diary unveiling party, a press conference was held in one of the rooms of the hotel.
"We now know that in your previous book signings, you refused to show yourself to the point of using a body double, so what has caused you to change your mind and appear before us this time...?!"
"The legend of the Rokkenjima witch has given birth to endless tales. Considering the weight of such a legend's demise, and being the mere writer that I am, I felt obligated to show myself as a sign of respect."
"As a Forger, you announced on the web that you had reached the truth! Does that mean you have already read the contents of that diary?!"
"...And, very soon, those contents will be revealed to everyone."
"Pardon me for asking, but is there solid proof that the contents of this diary are the truth? It seems that some are claiming it to be no more than a personal account of a single deceased person."
Oooooohhh. A stir passed through the crowd, and the room was suddenly filled with camera flashes.
"This ends Hachijo's interview...! Allow us to express our deep gratitude towards all members of the press for coming on this day! And now we would like to move on and allow you to take photos of Madam Ushiromiya Eva's diary."
A hotel worker pushed forward a cart covered by a veil. Then, after looking to Hachijo for approval, he removed the veil. There lay... Ushiromiya Eva's diary. The Book of the Single Truth sat there, waiting for its seal to be released. Hachijo held it to her chest and laughed enigmatically. Camera flashes came from everywhere, making the Book of the Single Truth glint...
"And that is all for now! If you would all please move to the assembly hall...!"
Still holding the diary, Hachijo left the press conference room, escorted by men from the hotel. Until she went through a door that said 'Authorized People Only', the journalists continued to surround her and ask questions, hoping to gather just one more comment. When the door slammed shut, the world twisted. The hotel employees became black cats wearing capes. Hachijo had turned into Featherine...
"...How tiring. Though it didn't feel bad. And yet, this diary truly is heavy."
Featherine tossed the diary, and Bernkastel caught it.
"I will rest in one of the waiting rooms."
"You're up again pretty soon. There's no time to rest."
"...In that case, call it a short break so that I can properly enjoy this long-awaited excitement."
"I need to borrow that book. I promised Ange that I'd show her first."
"I see. In that case, do as you please."
Featherine left, followed by her cat attendants. After watching her until she was out of sight, Bernkastel disappeared as well.
Like Erika's room, Bernkastel's was a balcony without a handrail, dug out of a bookshelf cliff. Ange had been kept waiting for some time, but she had waited patiently, looking down at the world below her...
After Bernkastel appeared, the black cats gave a bow and vanished.
"Here you go. I've brought it with me. The Book of the Single Truth."
"...Can I touch it...?"
"Do as you like."
Bernkastel set it on the table and beckoned Ange forward. Slowly, Ange approached it.
BGM: Bring the Fate
"That's right. Inside it, you'll find the Single Truth that you wanted. You do have the key, right?"
"Yes. Right here."
Ange took the key out, looked at it there on her palm, then gripped it tightly. Even that heavy lock that held the diary so securely... was fated to be swept aside easily as soon as Ange readied herself...
"I won't rush you. You don't have to open it until you're ready."
"...In here, there's the truth of what happened at midnight after October 5, 1986, right?"
"...Yes. Everything that you wanted to know so much, you offered up your life."
In that instant, two Anges appeared inside of her, taking control of her body at the same time. On the one hand, she knew that she had already paid a great price to learn the truth. This part of her gripped the key, wanting to prevent the moment of hesitation that might lead her to refuse to learn the truth now, at the final moment, with the Book of the Single Truth right before her.
On the other hand, a feeling that she was betraying the brother and family that watched over her warmly made her bite her lower lip. However, though she shook, she could do nothing but watch as her right hand slowly brought the key towards the lock.
What am I hesitating for...?
Inside this diary, there's the final destination of my sad, painful, 12-year-long journey. Was 12 years not enough of that? Do I want to keep living that way...? That brother is an illusion created by my heart. My naive hope that a miracle might still occur. If I put my two options on a scale, then the path I should choose is clear.
The lock opened with a click, and at the same time, it felt as though a crack ran through the key in my hands. Maybe a part of that intricate design had fallen off. I couldn't tell where it was broken just by glancing at it. However, for some reason, its golden glint seemed dulled somehow.
"...It's because you've made your choice with that key. A bit of magic has disappeared."
"What kind of magic?"
"Didn't Battler tell you? He said you couldn't hand that over to anyone else. That magic, which 'left the decision to you', has just fulfilled its role and disappeared. That key is just a key now. It can't do anything but lock and unlock that diary."
"...I see. Then, I guess I have no more use for Onii-chan's key."
"Can I have it? Once you've read the diary, I'll lock it up again. Opening that lock will be a big part of tonight's ceremony, it seems."
"...I see. Do whatever you want."
I don't give a damn what happens after I find the truth. Bernkastel slid the key from where it lay on the table and put it into her pocket.
"Go ahead, then. Before the courage that led you here fades."
I lifted up Aunt Eva's now unlocked diary. The lock was open. Even the hinge had been released by now. Nothing stands in the way of me opening to the pages within...
I thought of taking a deep breath. However, I decided against it. I prepared myself for this long ago. So stupid to fuel my reluctance further.
Video: The Single Truth
I knew... that this was the right way to open to the pages that held the truth. As soon as the cover was opened, a brilliant light poured out, and my mind went hazy. The truth was sent to my mind directly, without letters or words... Tell me... what happened that day... on Rokkenjima...
My consciousness returned gradually.
Nothing was written in the open book before me. Of course. This was... my own blank and empty notebook. I was at school, just sitting idly with my notebook open. The world had stopped. The hands on the clock had stopped too. In that case, the auditorium should have been filled with silence.
However, I could hear a small commotion. In this world of suspended time, I could see dark shapes sneaking about in the shadows of the unmoving students.
They were sneaking glances at me from behind the frozen students, whispering something to each other. I know. I can hear them. Everybody... everybody knows.
One after another, students with goat heads grew out of shadows all over the room. They slipped around all the students stopped in time... and gathered around me. Then, they all jeered out something in unison, and, possibly aware that I could hear, showered me with giggles and gossip and sneers. However, nothing that came from the goats' mouths reached my ears as words. This was a world without letters or words, so no words reached me. However, their emotions and meanings did reach me. So, I knew what it was they were saying. And then, when I was able to visualize it, this happened...
One after another, the goats opened their massive jaws, showing their fangs that dripped with saliva, and came forward to bite me. Time was stopped for me. I was aware, but I could not move. Literally, that wasn't true. However, I was pretending that I couldn't hear, so I couldn't move.
The goats bit me all over my body, leaving their fang marks, licking me. Maybe they didn't like the taste of my clothes. Taking advantage of the fact that I couldn't move, they chewed through my clothes one by one. Over and over again, the goats stuck their tongues, their jaws, their fangs into my naked body. I was covered with drool and bitten all over. Bright red teeth marks were left behind as sharp fangs pierced my skin, leaving trails of blood. They licked up that blood like real goats, hurting and humiliating me.
As I hung my head, one of the goats pulled on my hair, forcing me to look up, and spoke. It wasn't with a direct concept, but with words I could hear. However, they weren't words of the human world. They were a witch's words. The red truth, which signifies absolute truth.
"...I won't accept it."
"It doesn't matter if you accept it or not!! This is the truth!! After all, *********, ********* *********!! ************************** *******!!!"
"...I won't accept it, I won't! I won't accept a truth like that... like that..."
"Whether you accept it or not, that doesn't change the truth!! After all, this is the Single Truth, proven in reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeddd!!"
*giggle*giggle, heheheheheheheheh, hahhahahahahahahaha...!! Who cares about the truth, so stupid, so pointless...! I'm the one who gets to decide if that's the truth or not, right? Even if it's red truth, I won't acknowledge it, won't forgive it, I definitely won't accept it...!!
"...Ange, calm down. You're the one who wanted to know, right?"
"Hahahaha, ahhahahahahahahaha!! My truth is that Aunt Eva's the culprit!! Aunt Eva killed everyone!! Everything's her fault!! Dad and Mom and Onii-chan and all the others are just victims...!! It's no one's fault, no one's fault...!! Of course it is, of course it is!!"
"Hahahaha, ahhahhahahahahahahahahahaha!! Yeah, I get it now, I know what you meant! Heheheheheh, ahhahahahahahahahahahahah!! That's right, Aunt Eva, you're the culprit, you're the culprit!! It's the world that's messed up and broken for not realizing that...!! I'm the right one, I'll deny the red truth, deny the whole world...!!!"
"...That's right. In that case, try writing the red truth that only you can write. But how is it possible for a human to write with red truth?"
"It is possible!! There's a red ink that only humans can write with!!"
Ange-san, please calm down.
"I'm the right one!! The world's wrong!! I'll write it!! I'll write the truth with the real red truth!! Hahahahahahahah, ahahahahahahahaha!!"
20, requesting urgent support on the roof!! Ange-san!! Hold on!! Please think this over, look ooooooooout!!!
"<Goodbye, Ange. Have a nice day.>"
"I'll write it out! This is my blood-red truth!! I'll never accept the truth of your woooooooooooooooorld!!!"
The air, which she had once been able to swim through, was now completely merciless for some reason. Ange's body... plunged straight into the darkness below.
Bernkastel just watched the scene play out in silence... Behind her, men in black suits rushed up to the fence, clutching it and screaming...
"T, twenty...! A, Ange-san... j, jumped off...!"
"Damn, I can't see her from here..."
"Q, quickly, investigate the ground area...!! It's no use, there's no way...!!"
"M, maybe she was caught by that safety net...! L, let's make sure...!"
What fools. If you jumped straight down from this height, do you really think such a flimsy safety net could possibly save you...?
Ange's body... fell from the skyscraper-like bookshelf and slammed against the floor of the City of Books. Looking down from Bernkastel's balcony, which was as high as a skyscraper's roof, could it have looked like a lovely, red pressed flower?
It couldn't have looked like anything. Just like how the death of a single lonely girl who rejected the world... didn't matter to anyone in the world. She probably died instantly. It was only natural. She had fallen straight down from this height, after all. Is it even conceivable that she wouldn't die instantly after something like that?
The index finger on the right hand of her corpse stuck out, as though it was tracing something. Could it be that, by some impossible miracle, she really had escaped an instant death? And could the red blood that had drained from her on the moment of her death... have been the ink that drew her own personal red truth? However, no one would ever be able to tell what she had written. After all, the red blood pouring from her corpse had run over it all.
EVA was looking down at the beautiful flower of blood radiating from Ange's corpse.
"...I tried to give you a chance to live. However, you didn't truly make an effort to live in the future that began after the age of six. And so, after 12 years, you've finally returned to where you started."
The eyes on Ange's corpse... were closed. However, there was no way of knowing if this was a peaceful thing. Eventually, the corpse began to melt away. At the end, it had become a messy lump of flesh, with only a few parts recognizable as human. It was hardly surprising. How else would she look after falling from that height... and slamming against the asphalt?
"You managed to die. However, this doesn't mean that everyone will be waiting for you in heaven. After all, you reached this place by rejecting all of those in heaven. <See you in hell>. No, that's probably where we are right now. So long, Ange."
"Ah, EVA. Perfect timing."
"Did you call for me, my master?"
"Clean up this scrap meat for me, if you wouldn't mind. I'm going to put this back."
In Bernkastel's hands was the key, which had lost its magic when Ange had made her decision, and the Book of the Single Truth, which had been locked up again.
"As you wish, my master."
After looking down one more time, Bernkastel vanished. Once she had gone, EVA summoned some cat familiars and ordered them to clean up. The black cats gathered Ange's flesh and scattered limbs and threw them into a tin bucket.
Perhaps 'living' is a poor description. She... was unable to die. From now on, forever. She would drift along in the deepest depths of oblivion, covered by the dust of oblivion, until she finally... disappeared.
She continued to question herself. What did the truth mean to her? What was right, and where was the place she could call home...? As her flesh began to cool, even the energy to ask these questions... began to fade... Eventually, she would forget her everyday memories, and even the reason why she was suffering. However, there was one thing she would never forget. That was... the anguish. From this point forth, she would suffer endlessly without even knowing why.