Part 24: Closet II
BGM: Closed my Heart
Gohda was gripping some wire cutters to cut the chain with. After trying to open the door again and confirming that the chain was still set, she yelled through the crack in the door.
"Dear!! We're going to open this up...!! Cut it right now!!"
Gohda stuck the large wire cutter, which looked like it could slice off a whole finger, and easily severed the chain.
As soon as it was severed, Eva pushed Gohda aside and dashed in. The others tried to follow her, but they bumped into Eva, who had fallen to her knees, moaning. So even though they couldn't tell much of what was going on inside the room, they could tell by Eva's moans that they were too late...
"Dear...!! Deeeeeeeeeeeear!! Doctor Nanjo!! Look at my husband...! Quickly!!"
"I, I'll do it right now..."
"You've got to be kidding me... It's only been about ten minutes since Uncle Hideyoshi went out saying he wanted to rest..."
"...Is there anyone in the bathroom?"
"N, no...! There's no one here!"
"What could have happened, aaaaaahhhh..."
"...I'm afraid to say... that there's nothing I can do..."
Nanjo stood up, hanging his head sadly. It was only natural. Because anyone, even if they weren't a doctor, would think that at a glance.
When Eva pulled it out with all her might, they could tell that it wasn't a blade, but some kind of stake. And its sharp tip had penetrated nearly 15 centimeters in. It had probably dug deep into the lungs. If it had been stuck in any harder, the tip might even have pierced all the way through to the surface of his chest...
"Didn't I tell you to wait for me?!!
Why did you go on alone...?!! Stupid, stupid, stupiiiiiiiiid!! Uwaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhh!!"
"...The culprit probably waited for us to get careless and split up..."
"That bastard... So he still hasn't had enough blood...?!"
"So he really is... hiding somewhere in this mansion... and coming after us...?"
"But there's something strange here. The doors and windows to this room are completely sealed."
"...ah. Th, that's right. The shutters are all shut, and the chain was on the door until a second ago..."
"Huh?! Isn't that bizarre...?! In that case, how did the culprit attack Hideyoshi-san in this room...?!"
"Perhaps they threw this stake through the crack in the door...!"
"Hideyoshi-san's bed is in a total blind spot from this crack. You couldn't even kill him with a gun. This really is strange. It's a closed room murder."
"A, a closed room murder..."
"...It's a bit too early to be sure about that. Maybe he removed the ceiling in the bathroom and escaped to the space above it, or maybe you can close the shutters from outside."
BGM: Smile-less Soiree
It's no wonder everything felt so quiet and relaxed. At some point, Erika had split from the group. Just now, she had finally arrived and poked her face in from the hallway. When she heard that a crime had occurred in this room, she had watched everyone rush towards the room, but circled around to the outer wall herself. And she had gone all by herself to check that the shutter was down on the window, that you couldn't do anything with it from the outside, and that there was nothing out of the ordinary.
"Is the inside of the room just like usual...?"
"...There's no need to say it like that."
"My deepest condolences. So? What's the situation inside the room?"
"...The chain was set on the door, so we cut it and entered."
"And all the windows have the shutters down. They're locked tight from the inside."
"...What are they bickering about in there?"
Eva was arguing with Nanjo about something. Apparently, she wanted to carry the corpse to the parlor. Nanjo tried to calm her, saying that they should leave the crime scene as untouched as possible until the police came.
"What happened to the other corpses?! The culprit carried them off somewhere, right?! It may be that the culprit isn't satisfied with just killing, but intends to do something with the corpses...!! So no way! No way we're leaving my husband all alone here!!"
Eva does have a point. After all, the victims before now have all been carried away after we were shown their terrible wounds.
"...Erika-chan. You'd probably like to preserve the crime scene, but could you just let this one slide...?"
"...Do whatever you want. All I'm interested in is the fact that a closed room has appeared that's much more serious than Kinzo-san's study. I have no interest in corpses, so do as you please."
Battler's expression was clearly unhappy, but she ignored him completely.
Erika backed away from the door to open a path. There was no trace of any sadness for the dead. Her eyes simply blazed at the thought of this closed room murder that had appeared.
In any event, the great detective had given her permission. Eva and some others wrapped Hideyoshi up in the sheets, and Gohda and Rudolf carried him out... The sheets were quickly stained red. It was so painful to see that Shannon and Kumasawa stripped the blanket off the bed to further cover the corpse...
"...Hey, out of the way."
"Yes, I am out of the way."
"Let's go to the parlor."
"Dear, deeeeeeeeeeeeeeeear, awaaaaaaaahhhhh...!!"
"...Listen up, everyone. From now on, we'll always move as a group. You must not let yourself be isolated."
"When the culprit attacked Genji, he probably got a master key. It's clear that even locking up will no longer make you safe."
"B, but... even the chain was set. How did they do it...?!"
"...It's impossible... The shutters and the chain were firmly set. Even with a master key, it's impossible to force your way into that room...!"
"It must have been Beatrice-sama's doing, oooohhhhh..."
"...Th, there's no way Beatrice-sama did this... The epitaph has been solved, so there shouldn't be any more reason to hold the ceremony..."
"How could we understand it...? This is impossible for anyone except a witch...!"
"...Impossible for anyone except a witch... you say? <Good>! Has a nice ring to it."
"Erika-chan, are you listening? We've decided to stick together from now on. First, we're carrying Hideyoshi-san's corpse to the parlor. Can you hold off playing detective until we get there?"
When she heard the words 'playing detective', Erika grimaced visibly. Then, everyone stumbled out, and she took a single step into the now empty guest room, looked around, and burned that scene into her eyes. Erika claimed to have a photographic memory. If that was true, those few seconds were more than enough for her. Later on, she could sip black tea in the parlor while perusing the photograph of the scene inside her memory, playing the part of an armchair detective...
...A closet for hanging overcoats. If it was large enough to fit a coat on a hanger, a person should be able to hide in it... Slowly, Erika... stretched her hand out towards the closet...
Erika's shoulder was grabbed roughly from behind.
"Well, whenever I go traveling, someone always dies."
"Hey, what do you think you're doing, brats?! Come quickly...!!"
Rudolf told them to hurry. After clicking her tongue and glaring at the closet, Erika followed Battler back to the parlor for the time being...
That time of terror, when I feared that even the dripping of the cold sweat that covered my cheeks might be noticed, had finally... ended. With my hand that still couldn't stop trembling, I slowly opened the closet door and dashed out into the hallway. It's alright, no one's found me... Still, it's a good thing they didn't lock the door... If they had, I wouldn't be able to lock behind me after I left, and they'd find that suspicious...
Anyway, I should leave this place. Then I'll return to my room and pretend that I was sleeping the whole time... Yes, if I don't get back soon...
A new murder has occurred. They'll probably try to tell me about it. And they'll probably do it shortly after they carry Hideyoshi-san's corpse back to the parlor.
I can get around a phone call by saying I was asleep and didn't notice, but if they come knocking directly, that'll be bad... I have to get back quickly, before they try to force their way in...
At the very least, it'll be bad if I bump into them on their way back to the parlor. Anyway, I'll head to my room... at a quick pace, without being noticed by anyone...!
I passed through the hall... to the lobby. If I go up the big staircase in the lobby, my room is just a little bit...
BGM: Fishy Aroma
Just as she was about to go up the large staircase, Natsuhi heard Erika call out to her, and was so surprised that she visibly jumped.
"Th, thank you very much. Did something happen...?"
"...Just now, Natsuhi-san. You were climbing the stairs, right...? Your room is upstairs, isn't it...?"
Erika coldly pointed out this strange fact. Natsuhi cursed her bad luck.
"I, I couldn't sleep, so I was going to return to the parlor, b, but I wasn't sure whether I had locked my room or not, so I was about to head back. I'm a worrier, so this sort of thing happens a lot. Don't worry about it..."
"Yeah, this sort of thing does happen a lot. It's a common quirk among people who aren't confident in their ability to remember things."
Normally, she would have realized that Erika was clearly making fun of her, and might have put on an annoyed expression. However, right now, Natsuhi was extremely relieved to hear Erika admit that this sort of thing happened a lot...
"Why are you by yourself, Erika-san...?"
"I thought I'd investigate that guest room."
"Yep. It's gotten pretty serious, hasn't it? And investigating the scene of the crime is my right."
...Erika's probing gaze peered deep into Natsuhi's eyes. She could tell. Erika was already suspecting Natsuhi. Judging by the subtle nuance in her words, she must be planning to make me slip up and reveal that I know about the crime with Hideyoshi when I supposedly haven't been told about it yet. Natsuhi played dumb and asked what had happened again.
"...I, is something wrong...?"
"No. It's nothing. This is just a repeat of the first crime, isn't it?"
"What do you mean...?"
"Again, you were in your room. And again, you can't prove your alibi, can you?"
"...I don't know what you mean. To turn it around, how can you prove that I wasn't in my room...?"
"Ah, that. Then let's take this one step at a time. Please worry about your lock later. I have something vitally important to discuss with everyone."
"I'll come back after I check my lock. Please get started without me."
"...Hideyoshi-san has been killed. We'll be talking about that."
However, now that she had been informed of Hideyoshi's murder... It would be clearly suspicious to postpone that and escape to her room. She was already under suspicion just because she had been seen heading up the stairs to the second floor. She couldn't afford to do anything else suspicious... Natsuhi gave up and headed for the parlor as Erika had urged her to do...
And everyone glanced at Natsuhi with grave faces. Those gazes almost made it look... as though they suspected Natsuhi.
It was now painfully apparent to Natsuhi. This must have been what that man was after. It was a trap to create a baffling closed room mystery... and try to frame her for it. However, she couldn't have resisted. She couldn't sacrifice her husband's life...!
And while it's true that I hid in the closet, that's all. I definitely haven't committed murder! I might be extremely suspicious, but I'm not the culprit. And most importantly, I'm not under suspicion yet. I'll tell the police everything. I'll have to endure until then. I'm sure one of the servants is the traitor. Even in a situation like this, if I talk about my husband being a hostage, the culprit will hear, and it might be used as an excuse to kill him...
"...Something very important...?"
"Yes, it's very important. I'd like to lay out everything in front of you all, starting with the first crime."
"Then please do that with just the others. I think we should leave that sort of thing to the police. I'm not interested."
"Since I have it all laid out, this is a very important thing to discuss. Neither you nor anyone else has the right to refuse."
Erika used her detective's authority to proclaim the start of an assembly. None of the pieces could disobey. Praying that she wouldn't become the topic of conversation, Natsuhi reluctantly sat on the sofa as she'd been urged to.
"...Oh, sorry. Could you close that door for me?"
Shannon and Kanon closed the door. Since they had just now decided to lock all doors and windows carefully, Kanon locked it. The lock which existed to protect the safety of this room... felt like a lock on a prison cell to Natsuhi... one that would hold her there and prevent any escape...
...Natsuhi still hadn't noticed. Though Erika had gone into the corridor to check the crime scene in Hideyoshi's room... her goal had changed. In other words, from Erika's point of view, the sound of that lock was truly...
"Oh, fast! Wow, so you've figured out the culprit already? We've barely gotten to any of the crimes, right? You could've just let me kill a few more and gathered a few clues yourse~lf."
"...Alright, Lambda, gather all of the pieces. Now we're getting to the most interesting part. Let's both enjoy it to the fullest."
"Well, let's see... Why don't you show me what you've got? *giggle*giggle*...!!"
"To think that she'd lay down the challenge without waiting for game set at 24:00...! What a hasty person, that Lady Bernkastel...!"
"It is quite an early challenge. To think that she's already managed to get a winning hand at this stage..."
"...Normally, you can win by just claiming that a witch exists, but with Natsuhi and Kinzo, we've got a lot we need to protect this time. Sounds like this fight'll be a pain."
"That's no problem at all! I won't let them do as they please with my golden island any more...!!"
"Bring it on, Lady Bernkastel! Furudo Erika!"
Battler was nowhere to be seen. It would very soon reach the time that Battler had joined in on the 5th game, and control of the pieces would be passed on to Battler. In other words, he would only be officially added to the game now, in this final stage, where Bernkastel had pinpointed the culprit. So, he had left the arbor a short while ago. Now, the only ones in sight were Virgilia, who continued to knit silently, and Beato, who just sat there blankly amidst the smell of her black tea, not even putting the cup to her lips...
Virgilia stopped knitting for a moment... and looked out across the vast golden rose garden that extended as far as the eye could see.
"...I think we can say that Battler-kun has gained the power to never again surrender... in the game about who the culprit is."
"By the 4th game, you sent him all the messages. In other words, at this time, Battler-kun is capable of realizing the truth at any moment. However, he is naive. Therefore. Even if the games continue at this rate a hundred times, he won't solve it for all eternity. He'll just wander forever like someone trying to find the blue bird."
It's the same for you. Even if this game continues hundreds more times. You will never reach the answer you seek... for all eternity. Bernkastel will abuse this game without a doubt. Lambdadelta will also churn this game about with the utmost arrogance. At a glance, that may be humiliating and appear to you and Battler as though the game had been stolen from you.
...However. That is something the two of you need right now. To end Battler's naivety. To end your hesitation.
"Those two will bring you either victory or defeat. But no matter how it goes, that result has already been filled with compassion. You should understand that as well by now."
Virgilia faced Beato, whom she had come to adore as a daughter, with cold eyes that she must not have shown often. It was like the gaze of a mother who, instead of scolding, silently urges their child to recognize their mistake.
"I am Virgilia. I have guided him through Purgatory and brought him to you at its peak. And you are Beatrice. You must choose whether to take his hand and rise up to heaven or grab him and fall into hell."
Did you know that the discord called Purgatory, which lies in the gap between heaven and hell, is sometimes more torturous than even hell itself...? On the gates of hell, it is written that you must abandon all hope. A human without hope can accept their suffering and give up. However, the residents of Purgatory have hope. A hope of possibly reaching heaven, a hope that cannot be abandoned. And that tortures them. Even in the depths of hell, no greater torture device exists than the single pin known as hope...
Beato was silent, but with a single tear, she nodded slightly.
"Is the cat in the box alive or dead? The time has now come... to check. If the cat is dead, quickly hold a funeral for it and have it rise to heaven. If the cat is alive, quickly feed it and give it all of your affection. Whether it is alive or dead, your cat box eternally desecrates the cat. The key to the box which you were afraid to open... has been brought to you by those two people."