Part 151: Hachijo Ikuko II
Voices... Voices calling to me. Dad... and Mom... It can't be...
In 1986, on Rokkenjima... Mom and Dad...
"...Ange, hang in there...! Can you hear Daddy's voice...?!"
"Please, say something!! Ange!!"
...Dad, Mom... I'll... say it out loud... Dad... Mom...
I could feel my body being lifted up firmly... and hugged roughly. Mom and Dad... were hugging me...
My eyelids have been open for a while now. I could feel the light slowly returning to my eyes. Just like your eyes get used to the dark, my eyes got used to the light, and bit by bit, the scene around me came into view.
BGM: Song Without a Name (instrumental)
My body... was being hugged by Dad and Mom. Dad was sniffling, his face covered with tears. There were tears in Mom's eyes too as she hugged me tight. It was... so strong that it hurt a bit. They held me with all their strength. Me, the bad kid who wasn't obedient, who always had an excuse, and who always tried to do the opposite of what her parents said. They held me tight, to make sure I didn't head down the wrong path...
As my eyes adjusted, I could see other people besides my parents. Everyone was there. George onii-chan, Jessica onee-chan, Maria onee-chan. My uncles and aunts. Even Sakutarou. And then, there was the witch Virgilia, and Ronove, and...
"You were fortunate. By chance, we found you drifting in the waves of the sea of emptiness. You were in a terrible state. It took much time to make you remember your true form."
"...Beatrice... So, this is..."
"The Golden Land. Your whole family has been waiting here for you to return."
"...We knew you would come home."
Did I... come home because I was supposed to...? I'll... go back to how I'm supposed to be, and then...
"No, you did come home."
"That's right. You made it back here because you wanted to come home to us."
"...Dad... Mom... I..."
"You don't need to say anything. You've been on a great and terrible journey, haven't you? You took that journey all by yourself..."
"You understand now, don't you? You won't forget again?"
I understand, Dad...
"...This is... a place you can always call home..."
When I gave that answer, Dad and Mom hugged me again. Hot tears fell onto my face. They were Dad's and Mom's tears...
"Feel free to hate me as much as you want. Give your Dad and Mom a million kisses. Give a kiss to everyone who cared about you so much."
"...And say 'I'm home' to your other mother."
Mom gave me a push from behind, and I stumbled forwards. Towards my... other mother.
"If only... I'd called you that on that day, I might never have messed up... We might have been able... to create a new world together..."
"That's enough. You've come home. You don't need to say anything else..."
"Welcome home, Ange-chan... You're my adorable daughter..."
"Mom... Always, and until the end, you were my closest friend..."
The two of them hugged each other quietly, burying their faces in the other's shoulders and sobbing.
The truth... wasn't worth anything at all. In the first place, the truth is always in the past. The point of the future isn't to learn what happened in the past. What really matters... is whether I can truly live and prosper in the truth that is the now. If I truly live and prosper, that is the truth.
Back when I only ever tried to see the truth of the past, I was nothing more than a ghost trapped in that past. Since that time, I haven't lived a single day. Now, I truly understand. This is what... the real truth is...
Because I was young and selfish, I didn't even remember until now. The kind Grandpa, who always spoiled me. The entertaining aunts and uncles. All of the kind and gentle servants. It was always... warm. And yet, because I was young and cruel, I never tried to remember any of that. Everyone was distorted by my irresponsible imagination, and I completely forgot the truth...
Now, I can remember clearly, and I understand. As for that Halloween quiz party, that certainly was an illusion. That never happened. However, weren't there all kinds of fun things we did when the relatives gathered, things that were no more or less fun than that party...? And, for the first time since the start of the game...
I went up to each and every one of them... to greet them, thank them, and apologize. To thank Grandpa for always pampering me. To thank my aunts and uncles. To thank the cousins for always playing with me even though I was so selfish. And, I thanked and apologized to the fantasy creatures.
I think I said something horrible to Sakutarou once, in the past. And to Maria onee-chan too.
"I've always been a witch. You approached that level yourself once, didn't you?"
"No. I never really understood. Pitiful Maria onee-chan with her pitiful magic. That's all I thought of it... So, I couldn't pick up a Fragment of happiness, couldn't even find one. You told me that yourself once, Onee-chan..."
"...It can't be helped. It takes two to create a universe. I had Beato, but you were all alone."
"No. If I had called Aunt Eva Mom, there would have been two of us. I'm sure I'd have been able to create a new world with the same magic you used, Maria onee-chan."
"...All of it is my fault. The message bottle I threw away half-jokingly caused a distortion in your future and wore you down. I bear responsibility for that."
"...Yeah, seriously. It's all because of your message bottles. Because of that, people started copying you and making Forgeries, growing the story into something crazy."
However, the message bottles thrown away by Beato did not name a specific person as the culprit. One of the Forgers wrote a plausible forgery that had Ushiromiya Eva as the culprit, which spread like a wildfire... Even though I should've known better than anyone else that it was impossible, I accepted it in the end.
"...It isn't your fault, Beato. No matter how many people around me had their baseless suspicions, there should've been only one truth inside me. And yet, so easily, I abandoned my warm memories of all of you, and surrendered my heart to them."
"No, no. If I had not thrown away the message bottles, the future of Rokkenjima would never have become the center of such bizarre misconceptions. I bear responsibility for it all."
"...True. That's right, it really is your fault after all."
"Mu. Put that way, it's a little irritating. You do have your share of the blame as well."
"...Yeah, you're right. You were at fault, and so was I. Still, it'd be stupid for us to attack each other. After all, I'm a witch of the future. You're a witch of the past. I should be using that magic to build my future. We both bear responsibility in some way, but neither of us has the right to blame the other."
"...I knew you'd be able to understand Mariage Sorciere's teachings, Ange."
"That's right. As the final member of Mariage Sorciere, it's my responsibility to pass on Onee-chan's magic."
"My magic can make everyone happy."
"Indeed...! You have both pure magic and wicked magic at your fingertips...!"
"...That's true. Magic can change completely depending on your heart. If you aren't properly guided, you can't use magic properly. And proper magic can bring people happiness."
"It is a wonderful thing... Bringing people happiness is the sole reason that witches wield magic. I am very pleased to know that those teachings have been passed down through the Endless Witches, all the way to the final witch..."
"Sorry for failing to pass it down myself at all."
"Witch of the Future, ANGE Beatrice. I will now retract your expulsion from Mariage Sorciere."
"Uryu-! I knew Ange would come back...!"
"...And for a while, I thought I understood what the time we traveled together meant. Sorry. I'm really sorry..."
"Witches cannot create a universe unless there are two. In the future, you will be alone. Will you really be okay...?"
"Yeah, I'll be okay. I'm not alone anymore. I'll... live. With everyone. And I'll live in the future. I swear to keep living, so that I can pass on the magic of Mariage Sorciere."
"Maria onee-chan's magic has saved me too. There are a lot of people out there who need magic. As the final witch of Mariage Sorciere, it's my duty to teach it the right way and save as many people as I can."
"Will you truly be able to do so...?"
"Of course. I have the power to do it. There's the golden magic that my predecessor, EVA Beatrice, spent so much time building. I've inherited all of that. Right?"
"*giggle*. Well, if only my health had held out a little longer, I was planning to spend all of it on myself."
*giggle*, ahahahahahahahahahaha. As Ange laughed, tears poured from her eyes again. Everyone surrounded Ange with their kind, warm smiles...
After searching for some time, Ange found him.
Ange, who was feeling guilty, sensed anger in her brother's expression. So, she thought he was going to hit her. She shut her eyes. However, her brother touched her softly. He patted her head gently.
"...No, it wasn't. Even though you were here, waiting for me to come home in such a warm world... I had my back turned the whole time..."
"You learned the truth."
"So, any hopes you had of someone miraculously surviving and coming back... have been crushed. However, you now have a new mission, a hope for living in the future."
"...You kept that precious hope safe for me. I was the one who set it free and let it escape. It turned out worse than Pandora's box. A truth I didn't need to know flew out of the box, along with all my hopes, leaving nothing inside but empty space..."
"That's okay. It's open now, and that's that. Better for it to be empty than to have something rotten inside. After all, false hopes can sometimes come back to bite you."
Battler laughed heartily. Then, with that same smile on his face, he told her.
"You've lived 12 years on the hope that we might still be alive. Not anymore. That's over and done with."
"Yeah. I know. Starting now, I'll step forward into a new life."
"Beato put Rokkenjima in the cat box. The next witch, Aunt Eva, guarded the lid of that cat box her whole life. The witch after that, you, opened that lid, but so what? Why does the truth of the past matter?"
"...Yeah. From now on, I'll truly live. And I'll make my own personal truth prosper."
"Good luck. The final witch of Mariage Sorciere. I've read Maria's grimoire. It's a great book, with some really good stuff written in it."
"Even the Bible needs a translator. So, Maria's grimoire probably needs one too. You will be that translator. You've got to teach kids who are in the position you once were. That's your mission as the new Witch of the Future."
"I'm... gone. But I'll always be behind you, watching over you."
"I know. And not just you. Everyone else too..."
"...All of us... will love you forever. Don't forget that..."
"...I won't... Never..."
Humans are sad creatures, who can 'learn' but not 'unlearn'. She had already learned. It may have been a cruel, terrifying, merciless thing, capable of destroying even the miracle called hope. However, there was still one tiny Fragment left gripped in her hand.
Her family's... love. If she can just remember that and hold it tight... then surely, Ange will live on... She can stop before taking that single step into nothingness...
"And still, the Rokkenjima cat box hasn't been opened completely. You've just taken a peek at what's inside. So, you must be the lid yourself."
"And, this time, you'll protect everyone inside the cat box. Me and Dad and Kyrie-san, the cousins and the uncles and the aunts. Grandfather and the servants. And all of the fantasy people."
"...Yeah. This time... I have to... protect everyone..."
The sound of popcorn being eaten rang out from beyond a rose bush. It was Lambdadelta.
"...I'm... going. I gave Bernkastel that key. It's my responsibility. I'll go and bring it back."
"The City of Books, is it? But there's no way for us to get in. There's a barrier around that place."
"...She gave me this. With it, I can come and go as I please. What an idiot. She forgot to collect it when she threw me away."
Ange fished through her pocket, and there was a jingling sound. It was a bell with a blue ribbon tied to it.
"...That's it. One of those temporary entry passes that you get when you turn in your invitation. As long as you have that, at least one of you will be able to get into the City of Books. Well, as long as someone takes you across the sea of Fragments first."
"Lambdadelta. Take me to the City of Books."
"This is my way of taking responsibility. I'll see that the Book of the Single Truth isn't made public."
"...Are you serious? That place is a den of monsters among monsters. Now that you've lost Bern's protection, you'll be weaker than a fly. Squish. The end."
The bell was stolen from Ange's hands.
"No! This is my responsibility, my way of making up for what I did! If I don't do it myself, the future won't change at all, and I won't be able to save the cat box of the future...!"
Ange tried to snatch the key from Battler's hand, but Battler had no intention of giving it up. The two of them were grimly serious, but from the sidelines, it looked like an ordinary squabble between two close siblings. Lambdadelta watched this conversation and shrugged. If she just had to take either one of them to the City of Books, she wouldn't have to make any enemies, and there was no risk to her. All she cared about was which one would make the story more interesting. Nothing else.
But then, she finally noticed.
"Stop. Stop, you two. Stop!"
"What's your problem?! Save it for later!!"
"We're having an important sibling discussion here!"
"Okay, first off, let go of each other's hands. Battler's holding the bell now, right? Jump, Battler."
"...Jump? Like this?"
"You next, Ange. Try jumping."
"...Why the hell should I..."
If Battler was holding the bell, where did that sound come from...? Ange hurriedly searched through her pockets. When she did, another blue-ribboned bell came out of a different pocket than the first one.
"These are... the same, aren't they...?"
"...No way... Why are there two? I was only given one of them!"
"I don't know why. At any rate, you've got two bells that'll get you into the City of Books. Now I don't have to sit here and watch the two of you play with each other anymore."
The pair of them gripped their bells and looked at each other.
"From the very beginning, this game has belonged to the two of you. There's just been a slight change in who the opponent is. This isn't a competition between you two. It's a fight between Battler and Ange, who want to close the lid on the cat box, and Bern, who wants it opened. Ange has moved from Bern's team to Battler's team. That's all there is to it."
"Lambdadelta. Take us to the City of Books."
"...Okay, okay, I'm just taking you there! After that, I'm done being anything but a spectator! I just wanna have the best seats, to see exactly how you fight, what you do, and how Bern makes mincemeat out of you all...!"