Part 25: The Great Court of Illusions
All of the humans, furniture, witches, and the witches on an even higher level... had gathered in one place. That place was like a solemn cathedral, with an unbelievably high ceiling. White stonework. Golden ornaments. Though there were windows, there were no entrances or exits.
It was a strange, strange place. But for some reason, no one wondered where this strange place was. Because they were not given the right to think of this place as strange.
"Yes, they have."
"Well done. What a spectacle. I wonder just how many people there are here."
"...No matter how many we see, every being outside the 18 people is a phantom."
"Making you acknowledge them is what my game's all about. *cackle*cackle*!"
The three witches were seated on special thrones set upon a very high balcony. In the center sat the Game Master, Lambdadelta, and on either side of the semicircular balcony sat Bernkastel and Beatrice, facing each other. Below them, Erika ran forward, lifted the corners of her skirt and bowed respectfully.
"Yes, I am looking forward to it. I'd expect no less from my double, my piece."
Erika and Bernkastel exchanged cruel smiles that'd make anyone want to look the other way.
The commander of the game spoke with words of power. Though her words were spoken inside such a vast space, they rang out with the force of a bell in a bell tower...
"Your lives and roles as they correspond to this game are over! The 5th game is now closed, and the 24:00 answer session shall begin! Well, I'd like to get started quickly, but why don't we have everyone quickly introduce themselves first? After all, there are so many people here."
"Eheheheheh! I am Lambdadelta! The Witch of Certainty and the new commander of this game!"
"...Bernkastel. Witch of Miracles. My goal is to penetrate Beatrice's Illusion of the Witch."
"I am the Endless Witch, Beatrice. My goals are to claim my own existence and to protect Natsuhi and Kinzo."
"...Battler-sama. You come next in rank."
"As I believe you know, you joined in on this game partway through. At the time this assembly of witches opens, you have yet to participate. Do you understand...?"
"I get it. You probably mean I don't have the right to speak for a while, right?"
"Thank you for understanding."
Even though Battler held a rank near that of witches, he sat on the foremost of the benches shared with the other relatives, all by himself at one end. He met the gaze of Beato, who was up on the balcony.
"You could have said you were my arch-enemy."
"...Well, you aren't necessarily my only enemy."
"Hmph... Let's take this game back.
It belongs to us."
I almost said that I was fighting against Beato's Illusion of the Witch. Since the beginning, Beato has been my only enemy. But... right now, Erika and those witches who started toying around with Beato's tale... are also my enemies.
Who should I fight and how? Maybe it's a good thing I don't have the right to speak for a while. I'll calm down and coolly watch over everything...
Erika greeted the witches above her and the humans behind her once again.
"I'm also looking forward to it. Okay, remaining pieces, introduce yourselves in whatever order."
"Humans! Introduce yourselves, all of you...!"
When 45 urged him to introduce himself, Kinzo stood up.
"Ushiromiya Krauss. Currently, I have been captured and am being confined somewhere."
"I'm Ushiromiya Eva. I'm alive."
"I'm Rudolf. The rest of us are all Ushiromiya too, so I'll leave off the family name."
"I'm Ushiro-, Rosa. I was killed on the first twilight."
"Jessica. I also died on the first twilight."
"I'm George. I also died on the first twilight."
"Maria. I died, but look, I'm here talking. See? Dying isn't a big deal, right? Kihihihihihihi hihihihihihihi..."
"I'm Ushiromiya Natsuhi. I am alive."
"Hideyoshi here. I was killed just a short while ago."
"Kyrie. I'm still alive."
"Nanjo... I am also hanging in there..."
"My name is Genji. I died on the first twilight."
"I'm Shannon. I'm still alive."
"I'm Kanon. I'm also alive."
"I, I'm Gohda. Pleased to meet you, everyone..."
"I am Kumasawa... Pleased to meet you..."
"Now, on to the witches! Everyone, introduce yourselves!"
Virgilia's group could also be seen. Unlike the floor Beato's group was on, the second floor had a balcony which looked like a raised audience seating, and they sat there, looking down as though they were at a theater...
"I'm Gaap. Making corpses disappear is my job."
"Ronove. I'm in charge of making black tea. Pu ku ku..."
"I greet you in the name of the Seven Sisters of Purgatory. I served in the murder of Hideyoshi on the second twilight."
"Let us then have Lady Erika's furniture introduce themselves."
"Gertrude. I am an Assistant Inquisitor of Heresy."
"Cornelia. I am an Assistant Inquisitor of Heresy."
The two of them could also be seen on the second-floor audience seating. They sat apart from Virgilia's group. Then, Dlanor, who was seated between the two, slowly stood up. She had a presence and dignity about her, as though she was overseeing everything from that place.
"Battler. I'm expecting a lot of YOU. Please don't disappoint ME."
"...Let's just both give it all we've got."
"Most of the time, there will be no need for Dlanor to step forward. However, when the witch side plays around with ugly word games, I'll need to have Dlanor convict them. A miracle like the one in the study won't happen again."
"H, hello everyone...!!"
"This ends the introductions of all pieces. A total of 38 people are present here!"
There are 38 characters in the 5th game, but if you added all the pieces from previous games too, it would probably rise even higher. This game, which has so often been likened to chess, now has far more pieces than a chessboard.
"Very well. Then I guess we'll get started. Let the person who called this meeting begin! Oh, excuse me, Mr. Goat. Refill my drink."
"...And some popcorn for me."
"Yeah, that's right. The one who decided demons ought to eat popcorn when watching a play was you, after all."
"Yes, I intend to enjoy this. And could I get some black tea and mustard miso? Erika, begin. I'm already starting to get bored."
"Yes, my master, leave it to me...!! Order!! Silence!"
It became a low, deep rumble in the ground, all chatter in the cathedral disappeared instantly, and their eyes and expressions became even more hollow and empty. The room fell back into silence, almost as though they were a collection of wax models...
Amidst this heavy silence, there was the sound of footsteps as Erika walked out into the center, where she could catch everyone's attention. When she signaled with her chin, a goat attendant appeared from behind a pillar, and carried a single, plain chair out into the front and center of the room. It must have been... the defendant's chair.
"I, Furudo Erika, will make an accusation. The murderer of the 5th game is..."
BGM: Solitary Deep Sea Fish
Erika pointed at Natsuhi and spoke...
The Natsuhi wax doll alone... shook and regained its expression. It was an expression of panic.
"Chiester Sisters. Please take the defendant to her chair."
"Wait, what are you doing?!! Let go of me!!"
45 and 410 pinned Natsuhi's arms behind her back and led her to the chair in the center. Natsuhi resisted, but the Chiester Sisters were surprisingly strong, and she couldn't do anything. She turned to the relatives for help, but they just remained silent like wax models...
"I, Furudo Erika, will now reconstruct why the crime was only possible for Ushiromiya Natsuhi."
"...Beato. Of course, you'll be challenging this, right?"
"Fear not, Natsuhi. You are my master. And you are the true head, with the One-winged Eagle engraved in your heart. Do not fear a crime you have not committed."
At those words, Natsuhi jerked back, and gulped. Her panic finally disappeared, and she stood up straight.
"...Th, that's true...! I am Ushiromiya Natsuhi! I will confront any challenge that would disgrace the Ushiromiya family!"
"...*giggle*. How can you try a bluff like that in a situation like this? You really are the bullied kid in every single Fragment."
"So, Bern. Make your claims."
"And you too Beato, okay?"
"I, Beatrice, claim that the culprit in this game is not human! I am the culprit!"
Bernkastel, who smiled daringly, and Beatrice, who smiled firmly, crossed gazes.
"If the witch wins, the truth about the 5th game will disappear into darkness. If Erika wins, the Illusion of the Witch will be wiped from the game board. In other words, for Beato alone, this is a battle which must not be lost. Are you prepared?"
"And what am I supposed be preparing myself for? This has always been just what I wanted...!"
...If Erika wins, the Illusion of the Witch will be destroyed. That means the existence of the witch will be denied. Beato was fighting for her life. However, this wasn't the only time she had been fighting for her life. It had always been a life-or-death struggle, even when she fought with Battler. Because if Battler had won and destroyed the Illusion of the Witch in the previous games, Beato would have been destroyed.
"...That's dirty. Erika alone has nothing to lose if she fails."
"I wonder. Lady Bernkastel is not a compassionate person. I can't imagine she'd give any warm treatment to a piece that didn't perform as she had hoped..."
It was inconceivable that the ruthless Bernkastel would place no blame at all on a piece who had suffered defeat. Erika was probably fighting for her life just the same. The two claims would clash, and one would be weeded out. One would fall... and would not leave this place alive...
The only ones who truly had nothing to lose... were those witches.
"OK, no problems! Get started!!"
BGM: Smile-less Soiree
It really was simple. Except for Natsuhi, everyone had been inside the parlor. And because it was so simple, it was decisive...
"...No matter how you look at it, the one who killed Hideyoshi was Natsuhi. No, it's the other way around. No matter how you look at it, no one except for Natsuhi could have killed Hideyoshi. There's no room for discussion or debate."
"I, I'm telling you, that's a mistake...!! Maybe I don't have an alibi. However, I don't believe a lack of an alibi proves that one is the culprit...!"
"Hmph, we know that Natsuhi is the only one without an alibi."
"But wait. The scene of the murder was a closed room. It should have been impossible for anyone, including Natsuhi, to have committed the crime in that room. Except for me, since I could have done it with magic."
"I'll explain the closed room trick--the 'how dunnit'--later. For the time being, I'll start with the 'who dunnit'. Because of this, it's impossible to suspect any character except Natsuhi-san regarding the murder of Hideyoshi-san."
"...Milady. It may be dangerous to press any further on this."
"I agree. It's a fact that Natsuhi was hiding in the closet of Hideyoshi's room. When it comes to repeating things in red, they'll check to see who's in the room and you'll be cornered."
"...Probably. Lady Lambdadelta is the commander of this game. If it suits her fancy, she'll set up Natsuhi as the culprit regardless of the facts."
However, in this closed-off Rokkenjima, the police will not arrive for all eternity. In other words, the real truth will not be revealed. Inside this cat box that will never be opened, false charges that everyone accepts are worth no more or less than the truth.
"Their aim is most likely to use the simple murder of Hideyoshi to give the impression that Natsuhi-sama is the culprit... before moving on to the first twilight's reconstruction, which has more uncertain elements."
"It's not good at all to proceed while under the Game Master's suspicion. We should take the initiative."
"Sure. Lady Lambdadelta! As you are well aware, a fair number of murders were committed during the 5th game, and we are skipping the rather lengthy chunk of time from midnight until the early morning."
"Skipping to Hideyoshi's murder , and stepping backwards and forwards in time will only lead to confusion. It is my belief that we should follow events chronologically and in order, though the decision is yours, of course."
"Objection. In the process of prosecuting the culprit, chronological order has no significance."
"Objection. Furudo Erika is trying to mix up the chronological sequence in order to create a false impression of the events."
"Well, I'm not a fan of confusing things myself. I accept Beato's claim. Erika, start with the first twilight instead of jumping to the second."
I definitely saw Erika click her tongue.
I was guided by Virgilia, met Beatrice, reached the peak from which you can see everything below you, and finally understood the truth of this world.
"This is... that thing you were talking about earlier, Virgilia."
"...Yes, that's right. Truth is very fragile in this place."
"As long as each side makes its own claim, different truths can exist at the same time..."
Yes. This really is a trial. Both sides put forth their own truths.