Part 28: The Great Court of Illusions IV
BGM: Patchwork Chimera
"What'll you do, Beato? At this rate, Natsuhi's in serious trouble, right? Will you accept the plea bargain? If you're willing to abandon this Ushiromiya family honor thing, Bern'll be kind enough to let you get off with a draw, okay...?"
Krauss is currently missing, and it is unknown whether he is alive or dead. Like Kinzo, he is no different than a 'cat in a box' that has disappeared into the mists of the island. A cat inside a box is unfixed, and no interpretation of it can be denied. It is the root of endless interpretations. The true source of the Endless Witch's power. In other words, no matter how much Bernkastel claims that Krauss is the culprit, she can't make that the sole truth.
In other words, the Krauss culprit theory and the witch theory can be in almost perfect balance. It would mean making the game a draw. This was cajolery... offering her a second chance if she abandons the honor of the family she swore to protect... and consents to a Fragment that stomps all over that honor.
There's no room for false confidence. For Beato, to lose is to die. In this game, she should always choose a draw unless she has an overwhelming advantage.
"I won't allow you to treat my husband like the culprit!! My husband is the next head of the Ushiromiya family!! The only person who will inherit the glory of the Ushiromiya family! I will never let you treat him like a criminal...!!"
"...Are you sure, Natsuhi...? If you refuse to suspect Krauss, then... you'll be the only one left. Alibis have been proven for everyone else, in other words, Hempel's Raven...! Even without any evidence, it will be determined that you are the culprit...!"
"And so what if I'm the only one left?! I am Ushiromiya Natsuhi!! I will not run or hide! I am innocent!! And I am the representative of the noble head, with the One-winged Eagle engraved into my heart!! If you wish to insult me, go ahead! If you wish to ridicule me, do as you please!! No one can damage my honor with a mixture of truth and lies!!"
With a dignified voice, Natsuhi stated her case openly before the witches above her. However, this response of hers might have been exactly what Bernkastel had intended...
"...Natsuhi refuses the deal. And you, Beato?"
"...You understand, right? The instant Natsuhi is specified as the culprit, Lambda will make her verdict. As soon as that happens, the Illusion of the Witch will be denied, and you'll disappear into the mist. Do you plan to let Natsuhi's foolish bragging drag you down to the depths of hell...?"
"Both Lady Lambdadelta and Lady Bernkastel have boredom, not you, as their true enemy. They probably want to have this game repeat and play some more. If they see that you're willing to make a concession, they will most likely accept it gladly and move on to the next game."
"If we move on to the next game, then what will happen to the Natsuhi of this game... the Natsuhi of this Fragment...?"
"Now isn't the time to be worrying about that, right?! Natsuhi is just a piece! Even if she gets removed from this game, she'll show up again in the next one!"
"But you will not let that happen, Milady... I believe you know what Lady Bernkastel plans for this game. It's a more realistic goal to make use of that and aim for victory in the next game instead. Accepting Lady Bernkastel's deal might be our one and only good option right now...!"
"Throw away that useless pride of yours!! Neither Kasparov nor Deep Blue won every game! The person that wins more games wins in the end, right?! If a witch gets too attached to a single match, a single life, a single piece, that witch dies!!"
"I will not abandon Natsuhi! Why? Because if everyone else suspects Natsuhi, then someone has to believe in her! Because truth can only be found in the gap between those who doubt and those who believe...!!"
"I won't abandon her! Even if everyone believes that Natsuhi is the culprit, I will still claim that I, the witch, am the culprit...!! If I can't even make that claim, my existence isn't worth anything...!!"
"...I can't lose. The truth isn't something anyone gets to deny. When you doubt and abandon it yourself, it disappeeeeeeears!!"
"Is that your answer, Beato...?"
"Yeah, of course I refuse!! Ushiromiya Krauss is not the culprit!!"
"...Fool. I won't let you take that back, okay...? Here's what you get for being a quick-tempered moron. By the name of Bernkastel, Witch of Miracles, I speak with the red truth."
"N, no... D, dear, aaah... aaagghhhaaaaaaaaahhhh..."
Bernkastel's cruel and ruthless red blade gouged Natsuhi... It was... totally merciless... Natsuhi had been crushed with uncertainty, not knowing whether Krauss was alive or dead... but she had still been capable of believing that he was alive... And now, that hope ...that expectation... had been crushed... without any chance for a miracle...!!
She had thrown herself into this trap out of concern for her husband's safety. She had now lost her daughter and husband... and everything she had gained since marrying into the Ushiromiya family. No, even after all this, one thing still remains. If her husband has been lost, then right now, she is the last person who can protect the honor of the Ushiromiya family. She still... couldn't let it end here... Even wrapped up in so much sadness, Natsuhi would do all she could to protect that honor... with this final bit of strength...
BGM: Patchwork Chimera
"...Well done, Erika and Bernkastel! You've fully proven that the crime was impossible for everyone except Ushiromiya Natsuhi! Why don't I start reading aloud from the verdict."
"...At 24:00 on October 4th, 1986, the defendant, Ushiromiya Natsuhi, left before the others while pretending to return to her room to sleep, and murdered George, Jessica, Maria, Rosa, and Genji one after another during the one hour period before 1:00 AM!"
"Let me add something on. Due to circumstantial evidence, include the murder of Krauss."
"Yeah, that's right. In this situation, it's unthinkable that anyone except Natsuhi could kill Krauss!!"
"A revision to the verdict! During the hour before 1:00 AM, Krauss, George, Jessica, Maria, Rosa, and Genji were killed one after another! It's only possible for any of these murders to have taken place between 24:00 and 1:00! The only person without an alibi during this time was Ushiromiya Natsuhi...! From this point forward, the defendant will be treated as the true culprit."
"Furthermore, because it has been fully proven that the crime was possible for humans... Beatrice, the Endless Witch...!! This Court of Illusions hereby denies your existence!! You'll be given a chance to plead your case, but can you prove an alibi for Natsuhi? Or can you prove that it was possible for someone other than Natsuhi? If you can do that, Natsuhi will stop at being one shade short of absolutely guilty, and the denial of your existence will be put on hold for this game..."
If Natsuhi had an alibi, Beato would have shown it long ago. In fact, wasn't the whole point of that trap to make her lose her alibi...?
"...The truth is known only by the master of the night on this island, Beatrice the Golden. I am Ushiromiya Natsuhi! Now that my husband has passed away, I am the head of the Ushiromiya family!! My determination will not bend no matter how you try and humiliate me!"
"Why, you ask? It is because Father gave me permission to engrave the family crest of the One-winged Eagle into my heart...!! How do you intend to disprove the existence of this honor with your evidence and your alibis? You cannot!! The Ushiromiya family crest engraved into my heart is immortal!!"
...Now that Natsuhi and Beatrice had practically been placed on the guillotine, they cried out with all the strength of their determination... However, that did nothing except bring a cold smile to Lambdadelta's face. Erika had constructed a truth that Lambdadelta could accept. And no one could construct a more convincing truth to deny Erika's. In that case, the most convincing truth would swallow up everything else... and become the one and only 'truth'. Even if it happened to be different from the real truth.
The truth of those in the past is swallowed up by the truth of those in the future. This can happen even for a mixture of truth and lies. As long as everyone acknowledges it as true...!
"...Sheesh, stop howling already. I like it best when witches sob and beg for their lives when they're about to be burned at the stake."
"Wh, what do you mean...?"
"...S, stop it, Lady Bernkastel... Hasn't it already been overwritten with the truth you wished for...? That truth and Natsuhi's should be able to coexist... Please don't defile it, please..."
When that heartless announcement was made... Kinzo stood up.
"Natsuhi!! You need not listen to this!! No one can defile the crest engraved in your heart!! That is yours alone!! Don't let your pride as the final family head be forgotten forever! Natsuhiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!!"
"Just shut up and disappear. You miserable delusion of Natsuhi's."
"Nngggaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhh!! You can't erase me! You can't erase my soul!! Not as long as the crest is engraved into Natsuhi's heart!!"
"Gwaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhaaaaaaaahhhh, Na... tsuhi... nnggwoooooooooooohhhhhhh...!!!"
A bright red flash of lightning smashed Kinzo over and over again as he screamed. Then, he crumpled like a doll... and sat back down in his chair as though nothing had happened. The fierce emotion had left Kinzo's face. He had truly... become like a wax model. And so, he would never again share kind words with Natsuhi...
...That's right. The true Kinzo... never once trusted Natsuhi during his entire life. The true Kinzo... never once thought about allowing Natsuhi to bear the One-winged Eagle. Because, of course... Kinzo had already vanished before the start of the game. The Kinzo that appears in this game... is nothing more than Natsuhi's... delusion... Everything about this Kinzo, who believed in Natsuhi and entrusted her with protecting the family honor... was a phantom... created by Natsuhi...
"...Natsuhi, don't cry. Kinzo... entrusted the Ushiromiya family... to you, right...?"
...No, he didn't. Not only did he not entrust her with that, he never said hello... or met her gaze even once...
Natsuhi's cry was a mixture of sadness and many other emotions... and it echoed throughout the cathedral... Natsuhi could no longer stop her tears. Some last, faint element that had cheered her up until today, that had allowed her to endure as an Ushiromiya, as the wife to the head's representative, and as the final family head... had been torn to bits... Natsuhi no longer... had anything left. Natsuhi could no longer allow herself to even call herself an Ushiromiya...
Those difficult days, those painful days. Those days where she still gave everything she could for the family she'd married into despite it all. The very few happy days among these. All of these flitted through her mind, one after another... and disappeared. All of those once beautiful memories... were then... crushed by Bernkastel's red truth, smashed to bits and scattered, plunged deep into her hands, and smeared red with sad blood...
...It was... the red of sadness and truth.
Lambdadelta... clapped. Then, a bit later, Bernkastel also clapped, looking pleased. The expressionless, wax figure-like audience followed suit, and the unshakable verdict was welcomed with a great applause...
And so, the 'truth' of this tale... was decided...
And, with one exception, it has been shown that none of them have committed murder. And, the culprit is among these people.
"...Whoa, whoa. In that case, it's conclusive, isn't it...?"
"Unless the culprit is a witch who committed murder with magic, that is..."
"...It was you?! You killed George, killed my husband?! Why?!! Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy?!!"
In a panic, and with a voice that really couldn't be called flowing, in a manner that was, to put it coldly, unsightly... Aunt Natsuhi denied the suspicion placed upon her... However, there was no longer any way around it...
Red-faced and tear-streaked, Eva walked up to Natsuhi... and grabbed her by the collar. Then, wordlessly, she slapped Natsuhi's cheek. Natsuhi, who had never been slapped in her life, was shocked by the taste of iron, which she was feeling for the first time. It turned into a scuffle between Eva and Natsuhi. Battler immediately tried to stop them, but Eva planted a sharp knee into Battler's gut and he doubled over.
"Give them back, give back George and my husband!! Why did you kill them?! You murderer, murdereeeeeeeer!!"
Sobbing, Eva kicked Natsuhi, who had fallen to the ground, over and over. Battler tried once more to cut in and stop them, but he was brushed aside, and after that, no one tried to stop them. Repeating her son and husband's names over and over, Eva kicked Natsuhi. And kicked her. Then she started grabbing whatever her eyes fell upon and throwing it. Natsuhi was hit with a steaming teacup, hit by a can of black tea, whose tea leaves fell out all over her. She was kicked, her hair pulled and dragged up, her cheek slapped so many times that it started to swell. No one tried to stop it. It wasn't because they were worried about Eva kicking them too. It was because they thought it an appropriate act of retribution for a person who had lost her beloved son and husband.
A proper... retribution. A proper... truth. Everyone in the parlor accepted that Natsuhi was the culprit... They accepted the truth Erika claimed. So it became a proper truth, and Natsuhi was designated as the proper culprit. She had already lost the husband and daughter who might have protected her, and even Kinzo, who should have given her a final bit of strength, had already vanished like a bubble in the ocean of illusions...
No longer... would anyone protect her. No longer... would anyone believe her.
Eva's shoulders heaved with her heavy breathing. Apparently, her anger still hadn't abated. Erika patted her shoulder and made Eva take a step back. Of course, this wasn't to protect Natsuhi from violence. It was to further humiliate Natsuhi, now that she had been branded as the culprit.
The 'why dunnit'...refers to the motive.
"If this was a third-rate mystery, Natsuhi-san would let out a high-pitched laugh about now, confess to the crime, and start telling the story of her sad past. Don't tell me you intend to make me explain that part as well?"
"...I am not the culprit!! Someone, believe me!! I just had my husband taken hostage, was threatened, and fell into a trap...!!"
Natsuhi, with her hair a mess and her face red and tear-streaked... protested to everyone, but no one met her gaze. Because it has already been resolved that Natsuhi was the culprit. Because Lambdadelta had acknowledged that the culprit of the tale was Natsuhi and woven it that way, none of the pieces would pay any heed to Natsuhi's... to 'the culprit's' words...
"Why can't you just call it my sin? Why must you suspect Natsuhi?!! Acknowledge me!! I committed all the crimes!! There's no way a human is the culpriiiiiiiiiit!!"
The Illusion of the Witch had already been crushed, and Beato's voice didn't reach anyone. The verdict had already been made. Everything had been decided.
"No one can hear you. You're a phantom, a mere illusion!"
"Go back to being a simple portrait! You're a faint phantom of a witch, born when Kinzo shared his illusion with his relatives!! That is the truth chosen by this world!!"
"So, great Lady Lambdadelta!! Now is the time for you to bury the ridiculous and foolish illusion that this witch claims is the truth...!!"
"...I... am a witch... Even if Lady Lambdadelta doesn't acknowledge it... I'm a witch..."
"Oh, sure, but you wouldn't even be capable of believing that if I hadn't become your guardian in the first place...!! Yep, this is 'game over' for you. You will be buried in accordance with the rules of your game board. What happens to the losers in your game, again...?"
"Beato has already shown that clearly in a previous game. You get made into a mound of living flesh before being tossed into the goats' dinner party and getting chewed to bits."
"Now there's a fitting end for you, Beatrice. And I did come all the way here just to hear the death cries of one as haughty as you...!!"
One by one, a massive number of goat attendants slipped out from the shadows of the pillars and began to fill the cathedral. The goats paid no attention to Natsuhi, who was seated in the center, but the crowd completely enveloped her. From Beato's point of view up on the balcony, it probably looked like a huge boiling pot of goats.
"Yep. Our contract said that whenever you stopped entertaining me, you would relieve me of my boredom with your life!"
"Come, strip the title of witch from this woman and throw her into the pot of goats!!"
Suddenly, there were goats standing right behind Beato. They lifted her up roughly.
"Let me hear some nice screams. It's the wine you've been fermenting all this time."
"...Then perhaps refusing your request will be my final strike back at you..."
"Yeah! I made her say it! Uhihihahaaah!! The best screams always come from a girl who's just said some tired line like that."
The goats carrying Beato no longer viewed her as their master. After holding her above the pot of clambering goats, which were snorting heavily in anticipation... They threw Beato's slender body into the air. All at once, the squirming goats faced the heavens and raised their arms. It was almost as though they would be able to forget their pain for just a short while by devouring her flesh.
As she flew through the air, Beato tried to smile boldly, but it was so stiff that it seemed even more pathetic, greatly pleasing Bernkastel. When Beato fell into the pot, the goats caught her. Of course, they didn't do it gently. The arms of countless goats pulled at her flesh to keep it for themselves. They tried to tear her to bits. It didn't have to be flesh. Hair, fingernails, shoes, even bits of her dress worked just fine. The mouths of those goats were the gateway into hell. However, Beato was too big to enter into that gateway. So they had to chew and tear her into bits small enough to fit into it...!
...Beato let out a bold laugh. She laughed from inside the pot of goats. However, her expression was very different from the one she had wanted. It was an expression not of a witch, but of a single human yelling in her death throes.
Dlanor leapt forward, slicing all the goats in her path with a single flash of her longsword. It was a thin slice, like cutting through butter. The goats were surprised by Dlanor's sudden appearance and stepped back.
In the center, Beatrice cowered in tatters, sobbing...
"What's this supposed to be? Dlanor, Inquisitor of Heresy."