Part 23: Closet
October 5th, 1986, 12:33 PM
"Yes, that's right. We did get fairly tired. We decided to take a short rest and then start up again."
To smoke out the murderer of the first twilight, Erika closely questioned everyone involved to check their alibis and evidence. To confirm these, she went around the mansion with them, and when needed, took several trips out to the guesthouse through all the rain. Her vitality was admirable. Though she was an uninvited guest, everyone had long since stopped feeling anything strange about the way she imitated a detective...
BGM: Organ Short #200 Million in C Minor
"It's useless. Whether alibis exist or not, she can't deny our existence. Kinzo escaped through the window and is now one with the mists of Rokkenjima. She most certainly won't be able to capture or deny him."
"When all's said and done, perhaps you could say he's escaped to the underside of the chessboard."
"In that case, maybe it would be appropriate to say he's been stowed away."
"...Come to think of it, about those corpses from the first twilight. They've been stowed away too, right?"
"Yes. They've been put away in my darkness between this world and the next."
"...And that detective wannabe won't be able to find them...?"
"Of course. It would definitely be impossible for a human. Want to check?"
"Just in case. And we also need to reexamine what Lady Bernkastel's goals will be from now on."
"If you know your enemy, you need not fear the outcome of a hundred battles."
"If you know the truth, you can win a hundred battles without fighting."
"Pukkukukukuku. My, my."
Gaap opened up a large hole in the sky and had it swallow all of them up. She invited Beato and Ronove to the gap between worlds where she had hidden the corpses...
In other words, it truly and literally was a place not of this world. In this place, questions such as 'Where is this?' and 'What time is it?' have no meaning. Every single place led to here, but no place could be reached from here. Furthermore, all times connected to this place, but no time could be passed to from here. In short, this place was just what they said it was: the underside of the chessboard. No, perhaps it would be most appropriate to call this the captured pile, where pieces that have left the game go...
The five pitiful corpses with their necks sliced open had been arranged neatly. Their eyelids were shut and their hands joined. Apparently, even Gaap had respect for the dead...
"Oh my. There are five sacrifices for the first twilight in this game? Not six?"
"Oh, it's you, Teacher. I was worried about where you'd gone. The game has already reached the first twilight, and as you see, the first victims have appeared. So, it's finally time. I'm getting all excited...!"
"I see. The you that is here looks to be in high spirits. I'm pleased."
"?? I've got high spirits and a captivating body! What else to like except a good disposition? Wahaha."
For some reason, Virgilia praised Beato for her high spirits. Though Beato was taken aback at such granny-like words coming out of Virgilia's mouth all of a sudden, she pounded her chest and answered.
Virgilia had been absent often during this game. She might even have been away from her seat when Battler solved the epitaph and during the uproar that followed. Apparently, she had been absent for so many critical points that she didn't really understand much about what had happened so far in this game...
"Right now, five corpses have appeared. As you can see, their necks have been slit."
George, Jessica, Maria, Rosa, Genji. All five of them had had their necks sliced open by something sharp... The wound opened wider than their mouths, and made it feel as though they would no longer need their mouths to breathe.
"Hmm? Red? Well, there's no point in me holding out against you. That's right, At a glance, anyone could confirm that these corpses are dead, so it is absolutely impossible that they are just people playing dead."
"Why did Lia use the red...?"
"Who knows. However, she is always thinking of Milady. She's probably thinking of something that will benefit Milady."
But they had hid the corpses here so that no one could use the red... Despite that, however, Ronove was right. Virgilia always thought of Beatrice first. The way that these corpses, which Gaap had gone to all the trouble of erasing, had now been confirmed with the red made a slightly displeased expression rise to her face. However, in the end she remembered that she was only a guest and shrugged.
BGM: Dead Angle
"Hmm. Since the epitaph has already been solved, this game of mine is different from usual. I now have serving and protecting Natsuhi as my goal."
"...How would concealing their corpses protect Natsuhi?"
"...We've more or less figured out what our opponents' moves will be. This is probably a trap made to corner Natsuhi. Most likely, they'll sort through alibis for the first twilight and find them for everyone except Natsuhi."
"Last night, Natsuhi-sama was the first to leave the family conference, and then rested alone in her room. Unfortunately, she has no alibi whatsoever until the next morning."
"By this point, it's impossible to deny Kinzo's existence. However, the enemy still has a single move that can cancel that out."
"I see. So they'll corner Natsuhi and make her confess that Kinzo doesn't exist."
"Yeah. The enemy is probably after something like that. By watching the movements of the pieces involved with the family conference, we quickly realized that Natsuhi was isolated, noticed that trap of theirs, and countered with this move."
"The corpses disappear! Everyone has alibis, and no one exists who could have moved them. Not only does this support the claim that a witch exists, it also throws doubt on whether they were actually corpses in the first place and just barely allows Natsuhi to escape being a suspect."
"In other words, it's possible for Natsuhi-sama to claim that the sacrifices of the first twilight were only playing dead."
"You mean, even though many people certainly confirmed their deaths in the cousins' room...?"
"Just confirming their deaths isn't even close to the red truth...! No matter how much everyone claims to have truly witnessed their deaths, the red truth doesn't exist in the human world!"
"Because the corpses don't exist, Natsuhi can discount their words as a mistake, a trick, or by saying that all of them were lying, and it's possible for her to do this over and over to buy time for herself."
"In the human world, which lacks the red truth, perpetual check is an effective move."
"An endless argument with both sides denying the other's claims. Not pretty."
"True. However, beauty is something to be found after we win. If someone who cannot achieve victory seeks it, it is nothing but a poison to them."
"They do say that might makes right. Wahahahahaha."
"And even if I don't think it's beautiful, those Voyager witches will probably like it and say it isn't boring..."
"...I see. I've managed to grasp the flow of this game. It seems that it will get quite nasty."
"We're fully aware of that. And we already know that Natsuhi is probably about to be lured into yet another trap."
"Yeah. Someone Lady Lambdadelta created, who calls himself a man from 19 years ago, has already threatened Natsuhi. She was ordered to go into a closet in a certain guest room in a few minutes, at 1:00 PM, and hide there. Krauss was taken as a hostage, so Natsuhi can't resist."
"...I see. How relentless. Can you protect her?"
"Of course. After all, Natsuhi isn't the culprit. No matter how much she's treated as the culprit, both the truth and phantoms are on our side. There's no way we'll lose. *cackle* *cackle* *cackle* *cackle*!!"
BGM: Golden Sneer
"...Wh, what do you mean by that...?!! A, are you... saying that you suspect me?!!"
"You've told me that you left before anyone else, returned to your room, and didn't leave that room until morning. However, if you cannot prove that, it doesn't count as an alibi."
"Prove...?! How could I do that...?!!"
"It doesn't matter how. Objectively speaking, it'll all be fine as long as you prove that it was impossible for you to commit the crime. Everyone else is cooperating. I want you to stop being so unkind and give me your alibi along with proof too."
"...That's right. Almost the whole night is a blank space in time for Natsuhi nee-san. She might have left the conference by saying that she wanted to rest before us, gone to the guesthouse, and attacked George and the others..."
"Please don't be a fool!! Why would I kill George-kun, and on top of that, my own daughter, Jessica?!!"
"Calm down. We're all equally suspicious. It's sad, but we all have to prove our innocence."
"Yeah. We've been thinking frantically about how to prove our alibis for last night so that we could clear up the suspicion against us."
"I know you can't like being suspected, Natsuhi-san. If it frustrates you, then shouldn't your first priority be searching for some way to prove your own innocence...?"
The relatives spoke as though they were all under equal suspicion, but the mood about the place didn't feel so peaceful. Erika was still in the middle of confirming everything, but except for Natsuhi, who was uncooperative when it came to proving alibis, everyone else had an alibi which was reasonably credible. Only Natsuhi, who claimed that just being suspected was an insult, was uncooperative with Erika, and her position began to grow more and more perilous...
This parlor was no longer a place of comfort for Natsuhi. And the sound of the cup smashing had made that decisive.
"Oh, so what are you going to do about it? Show us some kind of alibi that proves your innocence."
"As if you could!! Give me George back, murderer!!"
"Stop it, Eva...! Natsuhi-san, you're probably a little tired too. Of course, so are we. Why don't we take it easy for a bit...?"
"...Seriously. We're a little too high-strung."
"Aunt Natsuhi... Where are you going...?"
"Searching for alibis or the culprit is truly laughable at this point...! When the typhoon passes and the police come, everything will be exposed to the light of day. There's no reason whatsoever for us to play detectives. Am I wrong, Erika-san?"
"Generally speaking, you're right. However, I have the authority to do this."
Who gave her that authority? No one asked. It was an authority given by words of power from a higher world, so the pieces weren't even allowed to doubt it...
"I'm leaving. I have no intention of going along with your pointless questioning before the police come. If you suspect me, feel free to do so. I'm counting on the police to clear away that suspicion."
...It may be a bit late to mention this... but wait, this happens every time. As usual, the phone couldn't connect to the police. Natsuhi said the police would come, but that wasn't exactly true. Strictly speaking, the boat would come tomorrow, and they would use the radio on that boat to contact the police.
Well, it's not like I'll let everyone live that long anyway. *giggle*.
"...Natsuhi-san, it's dangerous to be alone... Perhaps it would be better if you..."
"Why not let her? That might make for some excellent proof. If Natsuhi nee-san gets killed in her own room, that'll be excellent proof of her innocence."
"Quit it, Aneki. It's probably best if we all get a bit of rest. Our bodies won't last until tomorrow."
"If we're going to take a break, we still mustn't let our guards down, got it...? We might not make it through the night, much less tomorrow."
"...Aunt Natsuhi. If you're returning to your room, make sure you lock it tight. Close the windows and shutters too, and stay safe. I don't want to suspect anyone. And more than that, I don't want there to be any more victims."
"...Thank you, Battler-kun. Then I'll return to my room. Gohda, you're in charge now. I know this is a horrible situation, but make sure that the guests have everything they need."
"Y, yes, Madam... I shall do so..."
With everyone watching her, Natsuhi left the parlor.
BGM: At Death's Door
...Natsuhi... couldn't disobey because of the threat against Krauss, who had been taken as a hostage. Very soon, it would be that promised time, 1:00 PM. She was to hide for an hour in the closet of a specific guest room.
It was easy to suspect that this bizarre order was a trap to select her as the next sacrifice. She thought of various ways to resist, but all methods would be useless against a culprit who had a hostage and was observing her from close by... So Natsuhi could do nothing but obediently follow that order and then claim that she had been forced to do this for her husband's safety... When the promised time had drawn near, Natsuhi had intentionally acted annoyed and smashed the cup on the ground to give her an excuse for slipping out of the parlor.
At any rate, no matter how cowardly a trap it may be... I cannot disobey now. I am now the one who carries the burden of the One-winged Eagle. Now that my husband, Krauss, has been captured, I must protect that even if I need to eat dirt...
...Of course, I am prepared to do that. I am Ushiromiya Natsuhi. Even if I am not permitted to bear the One-winged Eagle on my clothes, Father gave me permission to bear it in my heart...
...I've managed to get this far by believably dashing away in a rage. So far... everything has gone well.
The servants are normally ordered to lock any unused rooms. What will I do if it's locked...? I dashed out pretending that I was returning to my room. Popping back and asking a servant to unlock this guest room would be obviously suspicious... If I can, I'd like to get this eerie hide-and-seek over with without anyone noticing.
In that phone call from the one who claimed to be the man from 19 years ago, he said that I would win if no one found out, but lose if anyone did find out. He said that my husband would be released whether I won or lost, but as a person with a hostage taken against me, I'd rather not lose... I don't like it at all, but I have to go along with this game.
When I softly gripped the doorknob, I could feel that it was unlocked. Did Shannon or Kumasawa forget to lock it after cleaning? Or did that man unlock it in advance...? That man... couldn't be waiting for me in this room, could he?
All that about hide-and-seek might have been just an excuse. I kept the fact that I was coming here secret, and all of the other people think I'm resting in my room. If I were to be killed in this situation, it might create a new baffling murder case, like an extension of the one which occurred this morning.
"...Th, that's just great. Perhaps this is a good chance to confront the culprit directly..."
Natsuhi had some experience with using a naginata, but only casually. Unlike Eva, she couldn't brag about being able to hold off any single ruffian indefinitely. As she was now, she had no realistic chance of challenging a man with malicious intent and winning.
She readied herself... and slowly opened the door. She couldn't just stand around in the corridor and risk being seen by someone...
All she could hear were the unsettling sounds of the wind and rain. At first, that seemed to be proof that no one existed to threaten her, but soon, it only made an uneasy feeling rise up inside her even more strongly than before...
The closet was just off to the side of anyone entering the room. Lined up inside it was a set of hangers for hanging coats on. This closet, which had nothing hanging in it, was large enough for even an adult to hide in...
She would have to hide quietly in here for an hour. The room had a wood floor, but something like a carpet had been lain in the closet. It seemed that sitting down wouldn't be a problem. She had been sure someone would be waiting for her in this room or that a strange letter would be lying in the closet. In the worst case, she had even imagined that her husband's corpse might be inside there. However, none of these things she imagined turned out to be true. The only thing there was a cold guest room and a lifeless closet which was silently urging her to go inside...
"...And he told me... to hide in here for an hour... He's making fun of me."
Natsuhi shrugged, turned around, then locked and chained the guest room door.
This surely must be a total victory in the hide-and-seek game against that mystery man. However, it was such an easy victory, it made her feel uneasy. Normally, this would be against the rules of hide-and-seek. Even if she had won, wouldn't this displease the culprit?
And now, everyone thought she had returned to her room. If they found a room with a chain set, that would make it an impossible closed room to them. Erika had dashed throughout the mansion to confirm alibis or something. If she noticed that the chain was set on this room, there would probably be an uproar which would end in them cutting the chain and searching the room. If that happened, Natsuhi would be found hiding in the closet right away. It would be easy to honestly confess as to why she had been hiding. However, that man had insisted that she not reveal that. If she did talk, she might be endangering her husband...
Thinking of it that way, the chain... no, even setting the lock might be a bad idea. That's right. This room was unlocked when I came here. If it were to suddenly become locked, it's conceivable that it might catch someone's attention. It's better if I don't do anything unnecessary... That man only told me to hide...
I hate doing it, but I can't disobey. I undid those two precious locks, went into the dimly lit closet filled with the smell of old wood, and managed to close the door from the inside. Pitch black. It reminded me of when I was young, when I used to hide somewhere and then surprise my mother, but that peaceful recollection wasn't enough to kill off my anxiety.
It really is pitch black. From here, I won't even be able to check my watch to see if an hour has passed. I'll probably need to open the door a crack every once in a while to let in enough light for my watch. For now, I'll crouch down here.
I thought about clutching my knees, but it hurt my back when I tried. I'm not as young as I used to be. Even though I was made to do a PE crouch in every PE class as a grade schooler, I now have to struggle just to sit down. Just crouching down here for an hour will probably hurt a lot...
I can't believe... I'll be hiding in the darkness for a full hour, with nothing to hear except the wind and rain. Ironically, Natsuhi had made Jessica do the exact same thing in the past. She had done it to scold Jessica's persistent bad habits and teach her a lesson when she was a little girl. She had thought that making Jessica stay put in the darkness would sprout a desire to reflect on her mistakes and that, this way, she would understand what she had done wrong.
...It almost... feels like I'm being made to do the same thing. If that's the true purpose of this hide-and-seek...
"...How naive of me."
This must be my naivety, the thought that if their goal is to make me repent, nothing will happen here during this hour... Uncertainty and fear of that man's shadow are not what I need right now. Will someone suddenly come to this room, open this closet, and do something horrible to me now that I've come here in total secrecy as promised?
That's what I should be worrying about. The culprit, or one of his accomplices, is very close by. If they weren't, they wouldn't be able to observe me so thoroughly.
BGM: Minute Darkness
The culprit hid an eerie card with Fall written on it in my room. My personal room is always locked. That trick wouldn't have been possible without a key. Instead of believing that they obtained the key when the servants weren't looking, it's much more realistic to assume that one of the servants lent the culprit a hand...
"But, wh, why... did they know that Fall is my favorite season...? It's creepy..."
The thought that this mystery man might be peeking into my heart sent goosebumps running across my whole body... It's true that I like Fall, but I don't say that out loud. I don't think anyone's ever heard me say it. If I asked even my husband what my favorite season is, he would probably be stuck for an answer.
...N, no. Just once, I told it to a single person... That's right. Shannon...
...So, the culprit, or one of their accomplices, has to be Shannon...!
"The fact that I like Fall can only be known by Shannon... In that case, this is clear proof that Shannon is involved...! That card with Fall on it is proof...! Incredible... Even though she's served the family for 10 years..."
I trembled and shook with rage. Didn't Kinzo once say that anger is the fastest sedative to cure fear and uncertainty? It's easy to tell the most fearful humans from within a crowd. They're always the first to get angry. I remember him telling me that. So I realized that this anger was a sign that I was actually frightened, and I tried my best to remain calm...
...However, this is a vital clue for turning things around. Shannon may not be reliable as a servant, but if she's an accomplice used by that mystery man, this might actually be convenient. A weak-willed girl. If I threaten her, she'll probably spill the name of the mastermind in an instant. I'll secretly tell the police about this. It might become a big clue towards arresting the culprit.
"...That card was probably meant to surprise me and control me, but he's actually dug his own grave."
This is unshakable proof that she's working with the culprit... Though I'd thought this time in the closet would crush me with uncertainty and uneasiness, it's actually given me the start of a counterattack. If I wasn't given this time in the darkness, I probably wouldn't have noticed this.
I'm almost grateful to the culprit for making up this foolish game. My mood brightened. I still can't guarantee that my husband is safe, but I'll definitely take him back and force the culprit to face judgment... I gripped my fists tightly, and further strengthened my resolve to avoid losing this fight at any cost...
BGM: Dead Angle
At that time, I heard the sudden sound of someone trying to force the locked door open, and my heart leapt.
The voice was Hideyoshi's. I heard a quiet voice, as though he was talking to himself, coming from what was probably the hallway. Apparently, he had thought it was locked and tried to unlock it, but had ended up locking the unlocked door instead. Once again, there was the sound of the lock turning, and now, the door opened with a faint sound...
...Why... is Hideyoshi-san in this room...?!
Then came what seemed to be the sound of him setting the chain. Don't tell me... Hideyoshi-san... is the mastermind...?! Or else, an accomplice...?! Is he planning to do something to me in this room...?
It would take some time to unlock the door from this side, much less to remove the chain. If Hideyoshi-san doesn't intend to let me escape from here, he won't give me enough time to undo the chain... In that case, if he opens the closet door... and sees me crouching here pathetically... just what kind of fearsome words will he say...?
I don't want to be found, I don't want to be found... I beg you, pass right on by the closet door... Please keep going into the center of the room...! My head was so filled with a throbbing sound that it felt like it was about to explode, and I almost missed hearing his noisy footsteps. So when I heard a clunking sound coming from the center of the room, I finally realized that he'd passed by the closet, and was deeply relieved.
As he whispered, he did something that made a clunking sound. He was probably closing the shutters on the windows. Just in case? In case I try to escape out the window...? No, that can't be it. That's right. When I left the parlor, everyone was talking about possibly taking a break. After all, several murders had occurred. And the weather was bad. There would be nothing abnormal about resting in a guest room here instead of returning to the guesthouse.
In that case, locking up and closing the shutters to guarantee safety was the proper course of action to take. When he finished closing the shutters, there was a *thunk* as though he had flopped over on the bed. It was surprising how much of the situation could be grasped just by the sound.
...What's going on here...?
No, that probably... isn't true. He probably planned on me hiding here, but Hideyoshi-san coming to take a rest here must have been outside the scope of his plan. Thinking about it that way, having him in the room might be odd, but it also might guarantee my own safety. Unlike his wife, Hideyoshi-san is the kind of person I can talk to. If Eva-san comes, things will probably get complicated. Maybe I should slip out of this closet now while he's still alone, reveal everything to just him, and ask for help... But if I do that, my husband might be killed... Until my husband is released, I shouldn't do anything rash... Should I go out and talk, or hide in here?
Moaning from my headache and biting my lower lip, I resisted the urge to crawl out of here... Even if I talk with Hideyoshi-san, I don't know where my husband is being held. I'm sure the traitor who's observing me is nearby. Just talking to him won't solve everything. I suspect that Shannon is the traitor, but that's no proof that Gohda and the others aren't. It's all useless... I guess... leaving here and confessing is too dangerous after all...
Eventually, I heard a strange, sobbing voice. Whose voice was it...?
Hideyoshi, who had lost his only son, was finally able to shed tears and cry... now that he was all alone like this...
...Thinking that he needed to support Eva in her distress, he had acted as though he alone was standing firm. However, he had as good a right as anyone to cry. And now that he had found a place where no one could see his tears, he finally let himself do that... And I've... lost my daughter. I haven't seen her corpse with my own eyes, so it still doesn't really feel like she's dead. But if the one who carried her off was the culprit and he had some repulsive motive for doing it... just thinking about it makes it feel as though my chest will tear itself apart...
The reason I'm hiding in here now is that I'm thinking more about my still living husband than my dead daughter. But if I were given the chance, I'd be wailing at the top of my lungs too. However, I still can't let myself do that. It isn't because the man from 19 years ago told me to hide. It's because... I'm the final... head of the Ushiromiya family...
...At the very, very end, when it's all over... I probably won't be able to prevent his ascension as the head. And when everything regarding the distribution of the inheritance is revealed, the Ushiromiya family honor and glory passed down from Father... will plummet to the earth. So, I am the final head. Battler-kun will probably inherit the remaining wealth of the Ushiromiya family. However, its history and honor... will all end with my generation...
Therefore, I am the final head. I must not cry. Not yet. Until I get my husband back... and avenge my daughter, I will not be allowed to shed tears... In the closet, I silently hung my head as I listened to Hideyoshi-san's sobs...
Huh?! My heart leapt. Hideyoshi-san, who must have been lying prostrate on the bed, made a sound as though he had bounded to his feet. D, did he notice me...?
"How did you get in here...? Wh, what's that...? W, wait a second...! Wai... ngahh, mmpph-"
He was clearly in a struggle with someone. Who could it be?! No, it doesn't matter who it is. It's probably the culprit, and they're probably trying to take Hideyoshi-san's life...!
Shouldn't I jump out of here and help him...? If I can't help him, shouldn't I call for help...? No, but... if I do something like that, I'll be questioned about why I was hiding here...! However, if Hideyoshi-san gets killed like this... No, now isn't the time to be saying that... At this rate, he'll certainly be killed...! I'll jump out of here and help him right now...!
Aaah, but if I do that, even if I can save Hideyoshi-san, I might be abandoning my husband's life. Hideyoshi-san's life and my husband's life. How sinful it would be to try and weigh those against each other...!!
At that time, there was a loud sound of the door opening and the chain being pulled tight. Someone was trying to open the door despite the chain being set.
"...Eva, aah, gwaaaaaaggghhhh...!!"
"Dear? What?! What's happening?! Dear?! Open up!!"
"Ggh, gggh... ggh..."
"Open up! Open up, dear!! S, someooooooooooone!!"
She opened and closed the door over and over again with all her might, but of course, she couldn't snap the chain. Eva-san called for help in a loud voice and raced through the hallway... By this time, the room had settled back into silence, and that earlier feeling of Hideyoshi being in a noisy struggle had disappeared completely. What's... going on here...?! So, right now, I'm in the same room as the murderer who killed Hideyoshi-san...?! In that case, the culprit should try to escape from the room as soon as possible, so why are they hiding in here...?!
I haven't heard anything... nothing that might have been the culprit who attacked Hideyoshi-san rushing away. No matter how much I strain my ears, I can't sense anyone in the room. In fact, it's so silent that it makes what happened just a second ago feel like an illusion.
I don't even know what I'm scared of anymore. If only I could just melt away into the darkness of this closet...! I mustn't remain in this room any longer. I get the feeling I have more to worry about than just my personal safety... But what should I do?! I don't even know if it's a good idea to leave this closet...!!
Eventually, the clamber of many rushing footsteps approached.