Part 26: The Great Court of Illusions II
BGM: Smile-less Soiree
"Following a short break in the family conference, Natsuhi left on her own, saying that she was going to bed early. Therefore, her alibi is completely lost from that time until the next morning."
"Oh, is that so? I believe there are several people besides Natsuhi who have dubious alibis. Unless you can clear suspicion from all of them, I cannot allow you to call Natsuhi the culprit."
"True. If Erika wants to claim that Natsuhi is suspicious, she should first show that everyone besides Natsuhi has an alibi. Right, Bern?"
"...Yes, of course. Erika will explain that perfectly."
"Of course, my master...! In that case, I would like to explain things in order. Let's forget about Genji's murder for now and focus on the crime in the guesthouse. For this case, you'd like to suspect the servants who were in the guesthouse, right? On that night, Gohda-san and Kumasawa-san were in the guesthouse. Isn't that right, you two?"
When she turned to face the direction where those two people were seated, just those two wax models came back to life. They probably weren't even granted a soul when they weren't allowed to speak. In that case, it would be even better if Natsuhi's soul could've disappeared as well... Natsuhi, who was in the defendant's chair, kept her soul the whole time, and was constantly hanging her head, looking nervous...
Gohda hurried to his feet and answered Erika's question.
"Well, look at my age. Staying up the night would be a heavy burden, so I returned to the waiting room in the guesthouse and went to bed right away on my own, yes, yes...!"
"...Doesn't that mean Gohda and Kumasawa have lost their alibis?!! Kumasawa claims that she was sleeping alone in the waiting room. Gohda claims he was alone in the servant room. Either of them should have had enough time to go to the cousins' room and commit murder!!"
"N, n, nonsense...! Why would we do something like that...?!"
"That's right, that's right...! How could we ever kill another person...?!"
"Natsuhi said it all. Both Kumasawa, who was sleeping alone in the waiting room, and Gohda, who was alone in the servant room, are in the exact same situation as Natsuhi in her room. Both of them have lost their alibis."
"Have no fear. I guarantee that neither of these two are murderers. First off, following dinner, Kumasawa-san left the mansion with me and the others and went to the guesthouse, entered the waiting room, and slept until morning."
"It's the same for Gohda-san. Once he finished with his job, he chatted with us in the lounge and went to sleep afterwards. Neither of them had the opportunity to commit murder."
"Hmph. So, we're finally here."
BGM: Organ Short #600 Million in C Minor
Beato glanced at where Dlanor sat on the second-floor audience seating. However, Dlanor just stared back with those usual expressionless eyes.
"Repeat it. 'We have absolute proof of Gohda and Kumasawa's alibis'."
"We refuse. Why give a hint to an enemy? There's no way we'd answer."
"Aha. Did you hear that, Lady Lambdadelta? They say they have no proof! How could they claim that Gohda and Kumasawa have alibis without proof?!"
"Good point. What do you say, Bern, Erika? Why can you claim that Gohda and Kumasawa have alibis?"
"Fall back, Erika. My opponent is Dlanor over there. A mere human like you can be no match for a witch!"
"No. There's no need for Dlanor to step forward. In fact, it is because, as you say, a mere human will defeat a witch that the Illusion of the Witch will now be denied. So go ahead. Use the red and blue as much as you like. I'm ready for it, okay?"
In response to Erika's challenge, Beato smiled boldly yet gracefully and slowly stood up. And they glared at each other between the floor and the balcony...
BGM: The Girls' Witch Hunt
Beato's blue truth struck out rapidly. The curtain had finally dropped, and the battle had begun...
"...A human like Erika can't use any red. How could she turn this around without calling Dlanor?"
"Though Erika cannot use it, her master, Lady Bernkastel, can. We mustn't let our guards down."
"Blue truth, effective. What'll you do, Bern? Will you or Dlanor step in instead?"
"It is still not my TURN. And it is not Lady Bernkastel's turn EITHER."
"...Yes, that's right. There's no need for us to show up for something like this. This is important precisely because a mere human like Furudo Erika will defeat you, Beato."
"...Because you'll be defeated by a human, we'll know. We'll all know that the fake witch who calls herself 'Beatrice the Golden' is nothing more than a sub-human phantom."
"*giggle*giggle*... If you really could do that, it'd be seriously interesting... Very well, Erika. Let's see what you've got...!"
"Explaining it for the first person, Kumasawa-san, is extremely simple. Kumasawa-san, stand."
"No! I was sound asleep until morning, I really was!!"
"The truth is... after dinner last night, I had a chat with Eva-san, and she told me something very interesting. I tried that out myself."
"What do you mean, 'that'...? You don't mean..."
"That's right. It's what cornered and sealed Kinzo in the study. I learned that you can create a seal by putting something between a door and the frame."
"...Are you kidding...? Did she actually... do that to Kumasawa-san's waiting room?!"
"Erika was in the guesthouse, so there's no obstacle to her having been capable of that."
"After all, it was an unsettling night, and a massive amount of gold had just been discovered. Many sorts of crimes might have occurred."
Erika held a small, folded piece of brown paper high in the air.
"After I watched Kumasawa-san, who returned to the guesthouse with me, say goodnight and enter the waiting room, I used this to seal the door. Then, in the morning, when the crime was discovered and caused a big uproar, I immediately went to check Kumasawa-san's waiting room, where I confirmed that the seal was still set. Therefore, I can prove Kumasawa-san's alibi!"
"...<Good>. A wonderful alibi. Not a single gap. Kumasawa returned to the guesthouse with Erika, went to the waiting room to sleep, and never left the room until morning."
"In other words, after Kumasawa returned to the guesthouse, she never went to the second floor until morning."
The proof Erika had shown was elevated by Bernkastel and became red truth. This truth, which had become red, could no longer be covered up, even by Beato... In other words, in that instant, Kumasawa's perfect alibi had been absolutely guaranteed.
"Hohoh! Then what about Gohda?!"
"Gohda-san holed up in the servant room right after reaching the guesthouse. I sealed him up in the same way. Then, when Rosa-san returned at 1:00 AM, I happened to notice her when I stepped out into the corridor. I let Gohda-san, who was still in the servant room, know this."
"At that moment, the seal was doing just fine, so from the time we arrived at the guesthouse until 1:00 AM, Gohda-san never left the servant room. And afterwards, he was with me in the lounge until 3:00 AM. And after 3:00 AM, I was on the second floor, so I can guarantee that Gohda-san didn't come up to the second floor."
"...Erika's seal proves that Gohda was holed up in the servant room until 1:00 AM. And Erika has proven his alibi from 12:00 AM because she was passing the time in the lounge with him. And Erika has also proven that he never set foot on the ssecond floor until the morning after."
"Red truth, effective. Well done, Erika. The alibi due to your seal on that door has been acknowledged by Bern and elevated to the status of red truth."
"Thank you very much, my master. I am the detective! I may be human, but I can use the red truth despite that and surpass humans!"
"You claim to have surpassed humans... It's a thousand years too early for you to talk like that, you conceited brat!"
"It'll be a pain to have you try anything funny, so I'll make this clear now. In fact, I should have done this in the beginning. I apologize for being so roundabout. This is the situation around the guesthouse at 24:00."
"...The gold was found, an emergency family meeting called for, and Battler-san went to the mansion with the relatives. I, the three cousins, Doctor Nanjo, Gohda-san, and Kumasawa-san remained in the guesthouse."
"I have already explained Gohda-san and Kumasawa-san's alibis. George-san, Jessica-san, and Maria-san were playing trump in the cousins' room. I actually joined in for a little bit, and I clearly witnessed that they were alive at that time."
"My master, I ask that you repeat this!!"
BGM: Totem Blume
"And, since there's no need to hold off on it anymore, I'll confirm that all the victims so far are dead. George, Jessica, Maria, Rosa, and Genji really are dead. How could they be playing dead with their necks sliced open like that?"
"Thanks for repeating that, my master...! If we hadn't made these things clear, you might have started going on about how they were already dead before I guaranteed everyone's alibis, or that they weren't actually dead at all."
Unsurprisingly, Beato's side couldn't get away with the simple plan of claiming that the victims were only playing dead. But in order to overcome Gohda and Kumasawa's alibis, it should have been possible to suppose that the crime occurred before those doors were sealed. However, the opponent had predicted this move perfectly. It had been shown in red that the crime did not occur before the time period covered by Erika's alibis.
"Got it. That's the last time the victims were confirmed to be alive. I wish you'd said that in the beginning. This means we can ignore everything that happened before 24:00."
"...To go even further, at 24:00, Natsuhi, Krauss, and Genji were in a corridor on the second floor of the mansion. All the remaining people were at the family conference in the dining hall. Of course, at that point in time, no murder had occurred. Genji was also alive."
"This isn't something that Erika observed, but we can't move the game forward without settling it. Very well, I'll acknowledge that red truth."
"Thank you very much for that red truth, my master!"
Since Erika had been in the guesthouse, it was only natural that she could explain the situation there. However, since she hadn't been in the mansion at the time, explaining the situation over there would have been extremely difficult for her. Beato would normally have attacked there with the blue truth, saying that the people in the dining hall had all agreed to keep to the same story, that someone had snuck out of the dining hall, and that they might have committed murder in the guesthouse. However, because Bern had instantly settled that matter with the red text, Beato had completely lost her chance to strike back...
"...Very troublesome. To think we would be put at such a disadvantage..."
"This is almost the exact opposite of Riiche's fights with Battler..."
"...In fact, the situation might be even worse than it was back then."
BGM: Deep Blue Jeer
However, there were some vital differences. The first was whether or not Beato was the Game Master. The Beato who fought against me was the Game Master. So she knew all the truth. That's why she was able to use the red text at will. However, the current Beato isn't the Game Master. She's just a single piece on the game board. In other words, even Beato doesn't know the truth. So you could say that Beato is now in the same position I once was.
Also, though Erika may seem to be in the same position I once was, the situation for her is totally different. She's connected to the witch called Bernkastel. Even though she isn't the Game Master, she's capable of elevating Erika's statements to become red truth. Because of this, Erika can use the red truth even though she's neither a witch nor the Game Master.
Beato, who's supposed to be the witch, possesses no truth nor red she can use. And yet the detective, Erika, can use the red truth. The advantage has completely flipped over to the other side. Perhaps you could say that the current Beato is in a much worse position than I was when I fought with her. After I got used to the game, Beato stopped responding to my demands that she use the red, but in the beginning, she had responded to almost all of them, giving me quite a few hints. That's why we were able to fight on par.
However, Bernkastel is different. She fully understands the rules of this game, and is prepared to corner Beato without even a hint of restraint. And because of this, I knew. In the past, Beato went easy on me so that we could fight on par with each other...
"In the past, I've insulted you and called you incompetent. I can handle much, much worse than this. *cackle*cackle*!"
"It's now impossible to suspect Gohda and Kumasawa. You can't win by arguing that point any longer."
"Yep. Let's switch to a different approach."
"The next in line would probably be Nanjo. He was also in the guesthouse."
"Nanjo was in the lounge with Erika. However, I believe the time periods before and after that have been left open."
"That's right, I'll strike there. Nanjo. You were relaxing in the first floor lounge of the guesthouse with Erika and Gohda, correct?"
"Yes... I was with Erika-san the whole time..."
"And during what time was this?"
"F, from 1:00 AM to 3:00 AM."
"Yes, that's right. It was the period between 1:00 and 3:00. Doctor Nanjo, Gohda-san, and I were relaxing in the lounge."
"...Repeat it, my master!"
"I'll respond. From 1:00 AM to 3:00 AM, Erika, Nanjo, and Gohda spent their time in the lounge on the first floor of the guesthouse."
...Though she had flat out refused to repeat what Beato told her to, she responded to Erika's demand immediately. The red truth... was starting to corner Beato. Beato grimaced as though in pain, but she still struck back with the blue truth. No, perhaps she really was in pain. Now that the characters apart from Natsuhi have had their alibis established, the Illusion of the Witch is also being denied. Beato perceived the denial of her existence as pain...
"Even so, he shouldn't have an alibi for the time period before and after you were in the lounge! It was possible for Nanjo to commit the crime too!"
"That's right. I get that Nanjo was in the lounge with Erika from 1:00 to 3:00, but what about before and after that? What about that? Erika?"
"Yes. First, the alibi for before 1:00 AM. This is no problem at all."
"I played cards with the cousins in their room until 24:00, and then went downstairs to the lounge, where I met Doctor Nanjo."
"That's right... At 24:00, I met Erika-san as she was coming down the stairs, and spoke with her, learning that she was quite the connoisseur of the mystery genre. I realized that I'd found a kindred spirit..."
"When I went into the archive to solve the epitaph's riddle, I noticed that there were several original copies of famous foreign mystery novels stored there. So, I wanted to discuss them with the actual books in hand. We moved to the archive and were talking the whole time. Constantly, until we moved to the lounge."
In it were several famous foreign mystery novels that Kinzo had once taken a liking to. Of course, they were all originals and in English, but English was no problem for both Erika and Nanjo. For this occasion, they had borrowed the key to the archive one more time from Gohda in the servant room. At that point, Erika checked the seal again, and, of course, reset it.
Damn her. Even though she keeps it sealed for anyone else to enter or leave, she alone enters and leaves whenever she wants.
"I see. So, from 24:00 until 3:00 AM when you went to sleep, you were with Nanjo the whole time? That means Nanjo's alibi is the most rock solid of them all."
"Yes, that's it exactly! My master, repeat it...!"
At 24:00, the crime in the cousins' room still hadn't occurred. So this way, an alibi had been established for the period before the time they had spent in the lounge.
"After that, we walked out of the archive and into the hallway at 1:00 AM. When we did, we just happened to bump into Rosa-san as she returned. I then told Gohda-san about that. I figured it was probably a servant's responsibility to welcome in a guest."
She quickly headed up to the second floor. At this point, Erika, Gohda, and Nanjo gathered together and decided to have a drink... Their alibis in the lounge up until 3:00 AM have already been proclaimed in red, so there are no problems there.
"Let's continue on to after 3:00 AM. This is Doctor Nanjo's alibi after we split up. At 3:00 AM, Battler-san returned and the people in the lounge went their separate ways. Doctor Nanjo, Battler-san and I went up to the second floor."
"I then said good night to Doctor Nanjo. At this time, of course, I put a seal on the door to the doctor's room as well."
"And it went unchanged until the crime was discovered. I flew out of my room at the same time as Battler-san's scream and checked to see that the door to Doctor Nanjo's room was still sealed. Therefore, Doctor Nanjo's alibi is perfect both before 1:00 and after 3:00...!"
BGM: Smile-less Soiree
"Splendid, Erika. Both your seal and your red truth are perfect. Nanjo had the alibi of being with Erika until 3:00 AM. And he didn't leave his room after 3:00 AM until morning."
Erika made use of the seals on the doors and was granted red truths from Bernkastel one after another... For me, demanding that Beato repeat something had been about maneuvering and tactics, but it's totally different for Erika. For her, it's like having a trump card which can make red whenever she wants...
"I, I do have a problem...!! And that problem is, umm..."
Beato racked her brains to find some point to latch onto, but Erika's red had been ruthlessly perfect. There was no point she could take issue with... Beato kept thinking hard, trying to fault Erika on something, but her expression was so wrought with desperation that anyone could tell by looking...
"Beato's complaint is rejected. I can't sense any problems at all. It's totally <pop>, <cute>, and <perfect>! The alibis for all humans in the guesthouse have now been proven."
"...Wait a sec, Erika. Are you trying to leave me out of this? I believe Ushiromiya Battler also had a chance to commit the crime. After all, I was in the same room as the victims all night. There's no way I'll let you carry on this discussion while ignoring me. ...?!"
It didn't pierce through me, but it slapped me hard on the cheek like a whip.
"Battler-sama, your right to speak has not yet been recognized. Be warned."
"Yeah, I understand, Battler. And my apologies. Forgive me."
"...Erika! You still haven't shown an alibi for Battler! Battler is the man who was sleeping alongside the victims. Shouldn't he be placed under suspicion more than anyone else?!"
"Beato's right. You can't go skipping Battler like that."
"My apologies. I had completely forgotten."
"After Battler returned at 3:00 AM, you went up to the second floor with him. And I believe you also went to your own room and slept. You may have gone to the cousins' room at 24:00, but I don't think you went there after 3:00 AM."
"...Will you now claim that you went to crawl into Battler's bed later on? *cackle*cackle*! Well, if you say you were looking at Battler's sleeping face all night long to confirm his alibi in the cousins' room, then I'd accept it, riiight?"
"I, Furudo Erika, can prove that Battler-san returned to the cousins' room at 3:00 AM, that he went straight to bed afterwards, and that he went straight to sleep. And I can prove that until he woke up, noticed the gruesome situation the room was in, and let out a scream, nothing happened in that room."
"So you have no need to worry. Battler-san isn't the culprit. He's just the charming first discoverer who entered the murder scene without realizing it was one and slept until morning."
"That's insane... It shouldn't be possible for you to prove that with those seals you love so much...! How can you prove this?!!"
"...That's ridiculous. At that time, I entered the room alone. Erika probably went into her room too. How can she say something like that, as though she saw the whole thing...?!"
"She never said that she saw it. The room Erika was assigned to. Where was it located?"
"Erika, please tell me. How can you prove so much about Battler?"
"...*giggle*giggle*. I'd expect no less from a true detective..."
"My room was right next to the cousins' room. There was only a single thin wall between them."
"Y, you don't mean... You... put your ear against the wall... to check what was happening in the cousins' room...?"
"...You said you could prove that nothing happened until Battler let out a scream the next morning... You don't mean..."
"Yes. I put my ear against the wall and listened in on that room until morning, without sleeping a wink."
...Everyone... was stunned into silence... She put her ear against the wall... and for the entire time until morning... she listened to what was going on in Battler's room...
Just what would that have looked like... Until dawn, she had killed her breathing in a pitch black room, clinging to the wall shared with the cousins' room... Like some kind of creepy venomous spider clinging to the wall of a darkened room...
Bernkastel alone was grinning in triumph.
"...Due to the progression of the game, I realized that Battler, the one who had received the Head's Ring, would be a key player. I was sure that Battler would be a victim of the first twilight."
"Yes. So, just as my master told me to do, I put my ear against the wall until morning without a wink of sleep, checking to make sure nothing unusual happened...!"
"Erika has a photographic memory. And her hearing ability is on par with a tape recorder. It was impossible for him to deceive Erika's ears, kill George and the others and slit their throats."
"...It's an accepted power of the detective's authority. I have no choice but to acknowledge it. I'll confirm it in red...! Ushiromiya Battler returned to the cousins' room at 3:00 AM and fell asleep. After that, until the discovery of the crime, absolutely nothing out of the ordinary happened in the room!"
"In other words, it was impossible for Battler to commit murder or damage the corpses."
The red from the two of them forced Beato to show an expression of considerable anguish...
It was only natural. The red truth they had spoken not only guaranteed Battler's alibi, but a number of other things as well. First off, it meant the murder was impossible for anyone after 3:00 AM. And since the cousins were confirmed to be alive as late as 24:00, the time period of the crime automatically became 'between 24:00 and 3:00'. That meant the alibis for all people who weren't in the guesthouse before 3:00 AM had also been guaranteed automatically.
"...That one hurts... a lot..."
"After 24:00, Erika was in the guesthouse the whole time. So, it should have been difficult for her to prove alibis for all of the people in the mansion..."
"It should have been almost impossible to prove alibis for Eva and the others. But now, all she has to do is prove that they never visited the guesthouse between 24:00 and 3:00 and she can prove those alibis..."
"...Anyway, we'll have to construct it so that the murders were possible before 3:00 AM. And we have to prove that it was possible for one of the people in the mansion to do it...!"
The people who had been in the guesthouse all had alibis. The crime didn't occur before 24:00. The crime couldn't have occurred after 3:00.