Part 17: Ten Wedges to Pierce Witches
October 5th, 1986, 8:04 AM
"There's no way he'll wake up if you do it like that! Father, it's Eva! Please wake up! It's an emergency!!"
Eva pushed Natsuhi aside and knocked repeatedly with all her strength.
"Q, quiet down...!! You're being too boisterous...!"
"Is now really the time to be saying something like that?!?!"
"...H, he might be in a bad mood again... Kinzo-san sometimes considers even the slightest change to be an omen. And gets into a bad mood for reasons only he can understand..."
"Hoh, hohoho... Yes, that's true... This isn't something that's started today..."
"Is that how badly Grandfather wants to shut himself away in the study?"
"...Yes. It's not uncommon for him to stay in his study for more than a month at a time..."
"...Don't tell anyone, but even though I work here, I sometimes forget that the Master even lives here..."
"Gohda. That's not the sort of thing a servant should be saying!!"
"M, my apologies, Madam, I am truly sorry..."
"Anyway, isn't it bad that we can't get in contact with him? In the worst case, Father might not even know that there was a crime! Right?!"
"...W, well, I wonder..."
Keenly noticing that people were starting to doubt Kinzo's existence, Kanon mumbled his words...
"...Who was the last person to meet Father...? And when?"
"I, it was me. Last night, up until the time of the uproar from when Battler found the gold, I was in Father's study, giving the daily report."
"...So around 23:00 last night."
"Wh, what did you say...?! This is the family head's precious study and research room! No one is permitted to trespass without permission, okay?!"
"Who here holds the highest rank? Me, right?! I am the third in rank of the Ushiromiya family! If we open it and get scolded by Father, that is also a responsibility to be taken up by the highest ranked. Because of the urgent circumstances, we'll open this door. You have a key, right? Open it."
"I, I believe you know this, but the study door cannot be opened with the master key."
"Umm, the Master has recently taken away Genji-sama's key as well. So he has both keys on his person. Therefore, umm..."
"A closed room. <Good>. It's finally starting to get a little interesting."
"...It'd be pretty neat if Kinzo-san was lying on the bed in there with his throat cut."
"That is too imprudent, Erika-san!! A, anyway, as you know, this door can only be opened by the keys that Father has."
"...That means it's impossible for anyone, even a murderer, to even touch Father from outside the room! So Father must be alright...!!"
"Still, that doesn't mean we don't have to worry about checking to see that he's safe. Are you really so unconcerned about confirming the safety of the Father you respect so much...?"
"...Th, that isn't..."
The atmosphere, which had been so agitated a second ago, suddenly went cold... and an eerie feeling filled the room as everyone stared at Natsuhi. They could understand why Natsuhi would protect the study under normal circumstances. It was understood that she probably didn't want to disturb the research of Kinzo, whom she respected, and she was therefore trying to keep the unpleasant relatives away.
However, this was an extraordinary situation. A murder had occurred. Natsuhi's persistence in keeping things quiet for Kinzo even in a situation like this... was hard to understand using common sense.
"If we reconsider this as a series of murders following the epitaph, that means the crimes will continue further, resulting in a total of 13 lives being taken. Do you have any concept of how many victims that would be?"
"...Wait a sec. How many people do you think there are on this island? Wouldn't that be almost everyone...?"
"Non non. You've got it all wrong. As far as I know, the mystery novel with the most dead people in a serial murder was 'And then there were none' by Agatha Christie, which had 10 deaths. In the realm of Japanese mysteries, it's probably 'The Tokyo Zodiac Murders' by Shimada Souji. Though there were less than 10 deaths in that one."
"...Did you know? If 13 people die at this rate, it will lead to the most infamous and famous development in the history of the mystery genre. The completion of a 13 person serial murder case, get it? And if everyone on this island is killed... That would make it a historical achievement in the world of serial murder mysteries. With even more deaths than the longest murder mystery in the world and the longest one in Japan put together, don't you see?! Hey, didn't you know? Everyone?"
BGM: Smile-less Soiree
"Looks like you haven't read enough yourself."
"Did I say something wrong...?"
Erika, who had been chatting away happily all by herself up until a second ago, changed her expression into a displeased glare in an instant...
"...ah. Th, the number of people was the same in both, right?"
"They tie for the record, but 'Non-serial Murders' was first published in 1947. 'The Zodiac Murders' was 1981... If you know so much about it, shouldn't you have mentioned 'Non-serial Murders' first?"
"Well, that's understandable. The crimes in 'Zodiac' took place in 1936, right? That must have gotten her confused, right?"
Lambdadelta kept on hitting the table, overcome with laughter. Even Bernkastel, who had been struck with humiliation, snorted and started pounding the table and laughing in the same way.
"Pfft, hihihihihhahahahahahaah!! This is just too good!! Giihihihihihihihihihihiii!! Not bad, Battler's piece. Gahihihihihyahah haahahahahahahahahahahaaaaaaaahhh!!"
"Books? I don't read those at all."
"...You liar. You know... quite a lot, don't you?"
"Y, you mere... piece..."
"Ah, *cough*. A, anyway, we can't let such a massive crime take place...!!"
"That's right. At any rate, checking Dad's safety is our first priority right now. But what should we do? He's ignoring the phone and our knocking. The keys are inside. There's nothing we can do. Are we supposed to knock this thick door down? That won't be easy."
"Father might have been attacked by someone and severely injured, and maybe he's waiting for someone to help him. This is an extraordinary circumstance. Even Father will understand. And if he has any rebuke, I'd be happy to take responsibility myself."
"...B, but... breaking down a door would be... qu, quite rude..."
"What about the window...?"
"Th, that's right. The window. Is there a ladder somewhere which can reach up to a third floor window? We should be able to go inside by smashing the window...!"
Erika finally came back to her senses and her tone regained its decisive edge.
"The third story window... th, that would be dangerous..."
"We won't know unless we try. Is there a ladder around here that can reach up three floors?"
"I don't think the ladder in the gardening shed is long enough..."
"...Oh, then what about the ladder in the boiler room? I remember using it earlier when a bird made a nest on top of the rain gutter...! Yes, that would be able to reach without a doubt."
He must have been extremely happy about thinking of something Kanon hadn't. Looking pleased with himself as though he had won something, he glanced around at everyone. He was probably hoping that Natsuhi would praise him, but she quickly avoided his gaze...
...However, in order to protect Kinzo's secret, he had intentionally pretended to have forgotten...
"But with this weather and the strong winds... Isn't this just too dangerous...?"
"I agree. Even if someone gets seriously injured, we can't go to a hospital until tomorrow, right...?!"
"...The wind might not be as strong in the courtyard. I think it's at least worth it to take a look."
"But seriously, going up to the third floor will be quite a challenge...! Back when we had to clean up the bird's nest, most of the servants shrank away from the danger. And that's when I, your humble servant, took on a major role in spectacularly handling the situation. Uhahahahahahahaha...!"
"Right, then there's no problem! Let's just get a ladder that'll reach-"
"And it looks like someone here already has experience with this sort of thing."
Fortunately, the ceiling jutted out a bit, so even the rain wasn't so bad.
"Alright. Let's try standing the ladder up. Be careful. Don't hurt yourself."
Rudolf and Battler carried the special ladder, which was designed for work on high places. Two umbrellas followed the pair. Shannon and Kanon were holding umbrellas and sheltering them from the rain.
"It doesn't matter if we get wet. Go back under the eaves. Gohda-san! Even if there's something wrong with your knees, you can at least hold a ladder down, right?!"
"Y, yes yes yes yes...! If only I had enough Hyaluronan, going up a ladder would be no problem at all... I am truly sorry..."
Gohda clambered forwards to replace Shannon and Kanon. As she watched this, Kyrie giggled.
"Cool. Battler, you love athletics, don't you?"
"Not as much as I love my cool handyman of a Father♪"
"You little brat. Sheesh, I guess I need to show this son of mine my good side every once in a while. Battler, Gohda-san. Hold that ladder down tight. And make sure you're looking up, okay? My hand might slip and you'll have this hammer tumbling down on you."
"Don't worry. I'll catch it and smash your head in."
After putting the hammer they had gotten to smash the window in his pocket and cracking his knuckles, Rudolf started climbing the ladder...
"Will Rudolf-sama... be alright...?"
"He will be. That guy could totally be in an action movie. Plus, sports are one of his strong points."
"He'll manage to avoid dying, so there's nothing to worry about. More importantly, we're really lucky that the shutters aren't down. Isn't it a common practice to lower the shutters to Father's study for the night?"
"Y, yes. When we're permitted to enter and exit, we open and close them in the morning and at night."
"...However, I think it was decided that such a thing was unnecessary for the time being, so it was left open."
"I see. Father will be pretty mad, won't he? If his son smashes his window and comes in while he's sleeping."
"It would be wonderful if we didn't have to smash the window, don't you think?"
Natsuhi had ordered them to interfere as much as possible, but now that it had come to this, there was nothing that the two of them could do. They had tried to interfere by pretending that they didn't know about the ladder that could reach up to the third floor window, but... Because of Gohda's showing off, that ladder had been found...
Rudolf carefully climbed the ladder. He would reach the third floor window very soon. As he did this... Shannon and Kanon stared at him, looking uneasy... After this... what will happen next? To the two of them. To Madam. To the Master.
Very soon, Rudolf will reach the window.
BGM: Dead Angle
"Hahah. The soldiers are scaling the ramparts, trying to reach the other side. The moment of surrender is truly right before our eyes. I am prepared to be erased at any moment."
"We can't let that happen. You have to remain alive, even if it means eating dirt. Think about what happens next. Escape from this place for now."
"You may say that, but what can I do? Eva and the rest are still camped out in the hallway and Rudolf is approaching the window. There's no way of retreat through the door or the window."
"In that case, perhaps you could hide under the bed."
"...Hmph. So I am not even permitted the chance to wait for the enemies' arrival in my throne?"
"You might have done that while you were still alive. However, you are now a ghost that Natsuhi and I brought to life. Ghosts should do what ghosts do best and hide under the bed or in a closet."
"Will something like that really deceive their eyes...? My, my."
"...Don't worry. I'll be with you. I'll let you escape at the last moment."
"It'll be dangerous for you. Even though you're a demon, you won't get away unscathed if you're burned by the magic-resisting toxin."
"Don't worry about that. Anyway, I need things to get at least that bad before my heart starts pumping."
"How comforting. I understand. I'll hide under the bed."
"...Milady. Rudolf will reach the window very soon."
BGM: Witch in Gold (cembalo)
"What did you say...? You've got it backwards. Didn't we plan to leave this place to Gaap and have you retreat, Milady?"
Even though Ronove should have been used to her fickleness, this surprised him for the first time in a long while. Though Beato was the powerful queen, she was also an important piece which mustn't be exposed to danger. Though she was strong, running to the front lines without any plan would not be a praiseworthy move.
"What kind of whim is this...?"
"It's just a whim. I'm not so fond of boredom that I could simply sip tea while leaving everything to you...! I've just gotten the urge to jump into the struggle right away...!"
"...I understand. It is your game, after all. You can do as you wish. I'll carefully watch over the corpses of the first twilight that I erased to make sure that nothing happens to them."
"Sorry for stealing your time to shine."
"...Is this really alright, Milady?"
"You should know that I like standing out even more than my three meals a day. I've done nothing except gobble up Gaap's turn. Don't worry about it...!"
...Ronove and Gaap were both silent. The two of them had already noticed.
...This fight would probably be terrifying as well. Beato couldn't expose Gaap, her friend, to this danger... Beato bluffed and said that this wasn't the case, but Ronove and Gaap had already figured it out. Therefore, after confirming Beato's resolve one last time and seeing that she was completely firm in her decision, they nodded in silence and accepted it.
"I understand. I'll leave this place to you. I'm rooting for you. Take care."
"Yeah. Please watch over my efforts to your heart's content...!"
"...Lady Bernkastel will probably start trying to expose Kinzo's absence with a closed room argument. Fights in a closed room are normally Gaap's area of expertise. Queens are the commanders because they are best at fighting in wide open areas. This won't be an easy fight."
"I'm fully aware of that. I currently serve Natsuhi. Watching Natsuhi's danger from above and letting Gaap take care of it doesn't make sense to me."
"...Understood. I wish you luck in your battle."
"Be careful... If it becomes a complete closed room, we won't be able to come in and help you."
"I'll laugh at them a bit, and if things get bad, I'll just grab Kinzo and run for it. It's easy. With the door and the window, the past and the future to choose from, there are plenty of places to run to. Of course I won't let this become a closed room."
"...Though you won't see us, we'll be cheering you on from very close by. Good luck."
Gaap and Ronove became a swarm of gold butterflies and disappeared, and Kinzo melted into the darkness beneath the bed. Then, Beato also became a swarm of gold butterflies and melted away inside the study... After that, all figures and signs of life had disappeared from the study, and it once more regained a silence as though no one had been there from the beginning...
Then, Rudolf's outline slipped into view from beyond the window's curtain.
As he yelled, he hit the window. His foothold was so uncertain that just hitting the window felt life-threatening. But of course, this was Rudolf, the show-off. Deciding that he couldn't do anything stupid with so many people watching from below, he suppressed the fear from being so high up... and boldly knocked on the window.
"...Come on Grandfather... can't he hear...?"
"I, I wonder... I hope he doesn't drop the hammer..."
"How many seconds have passed?"
"...It's been 30 seconds since he knocked on the window."
"So, he'll really... sm, smash it? Umm, the Master... will be very mad..."
"There's one person who's been kind enough to brag about how accepting that anger is her duty, so there's no need to worry. Rudolf-san! That's enough. Do it...!"
"Sure...! Dammit Dad, you better not complain after I smash it."
Because of his unstable footing, this took a lot of effort... Using the end of the hammer skillfully, he brushed aside the now fractured bits of glass and opened the hole further, stuck his hand through it, and unlocked the window. Then, after a hard struggle, Rudolf somehow managed to open the window, and his body slipped through into the study. After that, he flopped onto the floor, using his entire body to enjoy the relief of having a ground under him.
BGM: Witch of the Painting
It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that Kinzo's study was a small villa he had created inside the mansion. A study. A book archive. A place to sleep. And a bathroom and washroom. It was divided into multiple rooms. That's right, with all this at your fingertips, it wouldn't be hard to spend your days in this study without leaving at all.
The bed was empty. There were marks on it which made it seem as though someone had slipped out, but there was no one in sight.
"...This happens a lot in ninja movies. Someone finds that the bed is still warm, so the occupant couldn't have gone far."
Rudolf tried placing his hand on the bed, but he couldn't feel any heat at all. Not only was there no heat... it felt completely ice cold. And the bed wasn't the only thing that was ice cold. The air inside the room... and even the presence about it, if that's the right word for it... even that felt ice cold. To Rudolf, it felt as though Kinzo had slipped out of this room a long time ago...
"...However, it's been well cleaned. It has signs of having been lived in. "
Wrinkles in the bed. The slight angle of the chair. Here and there, there were many marks that would doubtlessly have been cleaned or fixed up if someone had come in to make the beds.
"As far as I can tell off the top of my head, Dad must have slipped out of bed several hours ago at the latest..."
That would be the same general time period as the brutal murder case. It looks like we really can't be sure that Kinzo's absence and the crime have nothing to do with each other. For the time being, Rudolf leaned out of the window and told Kyrie and the others in the courtyard to come back up since he was going to unlock the door. Then, he pushed the button on the study desk and released the door's auto-lock.