Part 37: The Witch of Theatregoing
A sound of misfortune, strong enough to bring sadness and unease to those who heard it.
Slowly, I came back to my senses. I finally regained consciousness on top of a bed with a firm mattress... Where... was this, again...? I can't remember where this is, but I can vaguely recall... that I must not remain here.
There was a light on, but that just made the darkness and eeriness of the room more apparent. There were no curtains over the window, but it was too dark outside to see anything beyond it. If I squinted into that pitch-blackness, it felt as though I could see the witch of the forest peeking back at me from the darkness, and I averted my gaze from the window in fear. I can't see or hear it, but I get the feeling that if I leave this room, it'll be bright and warm, and someone else will be there for me. I have to get to where everyone else is right now...
Bad memories from when I was very young began to well up. Horrible, harsh memories... of when I started dozing off during a family gathering and was put to sleep in some room I didn't know. I remember waking up there, incredibly lonely and sobbing...
Now that I think about it, I don't want to stay in this room a second longer than I have to. I'm scared. It's creepy. Where is everyone? I want to get out of here right now...
I opened the door, trying to leave the room.
I couldn't actually hear them, but I could sense that far away, people were enjoying themselves. I'm sure everyone's gathered in the room across from this one. I've been shut up in this lonely, creepy room... all alone. I should go, quickly.
BGM: Eternal Chains
...The chain had been set. I've always hated chain locks. You can open a normal lock just by twisting. But chain locks are built in an annoying way, and I couldn't work them easily. So I've hated them since I was very young. See? Even this chain... is causing me trouble... and I just can't get it undone.
Why is this happening? I just want to leave this creepy room right away... Just on the other side of this thin door, everything is bathed in a warm light...
The more desperate I grew, the more that unsettling darkness seemed to be closing in on my back, and the more frightened I became...
...Then, I finally noticed. There's something... wrong with this chain. Yes, there is a chain... but this isn't a chain lock. This is just a chain staked into the door so that it can't open any further...
In other words, it isn't made to be opened.
No matter what I did, no matter how much I struggled, I couldn't pull out the stake or undo the chain or break the mechanism. This door was just a demon's mouth... made to trick me into thinking it would open before crushing my hopes. Even so, if only I could just open this door somehow, I could get out into that pleasant corridor... This desire forced me to keep my hand glued to the doorknob. But it was useless. Both the chain and the stake were firm, and though they clattered about, there was no chance of them letting the door open any further. Even though I could see the pleasant hallway through the crack, I had no chance of opening the door any further. Maybe someone will come if I yell... Maybe the door can be opened easily from the outside...
When I thought this, I tried to call out to someone, but it was as though the wind had been knocked out of me. I could mouth the words 'someone, come here', but no voice left my lips. What's... going on...?! Someone, come... Why can't I cry out...?!
Help me help me help me. The mere fact that I can't say "help me" out loud is even scarier. If I turn around, the witch gazing into the room from the darkness outside... might be inside the room this time, standing right behind me... I'm frightened... I'm scared I'm scared I'm scared... Someone help me, someone help me... I can't get out... I can't get out...
Amakusa ran his finger down my cheek. I awoke in an instant from the doze I had just been in. I glared at Amakusa for waking me up in such a creepy way, but he just played dumb.
Where... is this? It feels like the parlor in a house of some well-off person, but I have no memory of this place at all.
Where... is this...? And ...why am I ...?
"...Yeah, sorry. Where are we...?"
Apparently, he hadn't expected me to forget something like that just because I wasn't fully awake yet. Oddly enough, I agreed.
The sound of the footsteps from the 'they' Amakusa had mentioned had come right up to the opposite side of the door. I could hear the sound of a conversation. They were probably women...
Judging by the coffee and snacks laid in front of me, I was the guest here. In that case, I'd better remember why I came here... or at least who it was I came to visit...
Who is the man standing behind me? Amakusa Juuza. The man who used to be my guard long ago. He's now the bodyguard Okonogi assigned to me. In that case, this is after Aunt Eva's death... when I've thrown off my pursuers... on that journey to find out what happened 12 years ago...?
...Really...? I do have a memory like this, don't I...?
...Oh, wonderful. Even after seeing her face, I can't remember who she is.
"Sorry to have kept you waiting. This is Hachijo Toya."
That's a relief. The maid introduced her to me first. And, I finally remembered who she was...
'She'? I was sure it was a 'he'...
"Excuse me, but you are...?"
BGM: Love Examination
"The magazines talked about your book signing event. Supposedly, a mysterious male author showed up wearing sunglasses and a mask... Never thought you'd be a woman... What's the deal?"
"...That was just a double set up by the editing department. I was the assistant standing behind him at the book signing."
"Heh, now there's a shock... I haven't read your works, but I'll bet you're more mysterious than your books are."
"My readers only pretend to read my books. They buy them just based on the name of the author and the brand and think that they've actually read them. No matter what I write in my books, they don't truly read anything. They just pretend to read so they can look smart and knowledgeable and keep up with the current fad. Am I supposed to expose myself to these people? Why indulge such trash?"
"...I see. Looks like... you really are the great Hachijo."
Hachijo Toya is a mystery novelist who's become the center of discussion lately. It seems her actual books have been highly praised, but it's her mysterious debut that's attracted so much attention towards her lately. Last year, she somehow managed to win several different awards for exceptional mystery novels offered by multiple large publishing companies, submitting each of her works under a different pen name. And after that, several highly regarded anonymous works were discovered, one after another, to have been stories she had written in the past under false names, and her popularity soared as she herself became more mysterious than her books. Despite all of this, the author herself never appeared in public, and everything about her was wrapped in a veil of secrecy.
However, just a few days ago, this author had finally made a public appearance for a book signing, showing up with a mask that covered 'his' face and drawing even more public attention... And yet, apparently even that had been a fake. Given this person's radically unconventional track record, it was hardly a surprise to hear her casually insult her fans like this.
"I'm sure you've heard nothing good."
"Yes. Nothing good at all. Apparently, you employ and then fire people on a whim, think anything can be resolved with money, and are an outlaw and a thug."
"Yep, sounds about right. Heheheh!"
"However. I happen to like intelligent people like you."
"...Is that why you agreed to meet with me?"
"Exactly. You're the only person who's managed to spot that Itouikukuro Zerogonanaroku is another pen name used by Hachijo Toya. That's actually pretty impressive..."
LPer note: Witch Hunt's translation has this name is 'Itouikukuro Reigonamu', but this turned out to be a totally incorrect reading when the voice acting was added to the PS3 version. Zerogonanaroku is the correct reading, and it literally means 'zero five seven six'.
"Itouikukuro Zerogonanaroku. It was a pretty strange pen name. However, if you match the Japanese syllables to numbers, you can read it as 11019960576."
11,019,960,576. This massive number is equal to 18 to the eighth power. 18 to the eighth. In Japanese, 'Toya no hachijo'. That's how you reach Hachijo Toya...
"Heheh, very well done. I was quite impressed. In fact, I was so impressed, I decided to let you meet me in person. Welcome to my mansion, child of man."
Her manner of speaking was extremely condescending, but, perhaps because of her elegant manner, it didn't feel particularly irritating. This person had a sort of majestic grandeur about her which made that style of speech seem almost natural. At least, that's how it felt to me. In fact, it felt almost as though this was the manifestation of some noble being, who would have no need to show herself before mere humans under normal circumstances. Since I'm not particularly a fan of hers, I guess this is proof that her mysterious charisma really is nothing to be laughed at...
...I'm interested in Itouikukuro Zerogonanaroku, the mysterious web author who only released her works over the Internet...
Around the Japanese parts of the Internet, Itouikukuro is an extremely famous Witch Hunter. However, she isn't a big opinion leader like Professor Ootsuki. She was one of those 'message bottle Forgers', who were always the center of vigorous debate...
Message bottle Forgers are, as the name suggests, people who forge and post the contents of riddle-filled message bottles which purport to tell the story of the Rokkenjima incident. They claim to have discovered a new message bottle and post either a very close counterfeit story or a new theory with their own interpretation of the truth, claiming that it was written by Ushiromiya Maria. They openly call themselves 'Ushiromiya Maria', write up a new bizarre tale as if they had been there themselves and knew the truth, and send their stories out into the newest sea that mankind has discovered--the Internet--calling them the third or fourth message bottles...
All of the first Forgers were either simple pranksters or crooks trying to swindle collectors. However, eventually, people who claimed to have solved the riddles of the message bottles' tales and reached the 'truth' started to appear, and they started work creating third and fourth message bottles from Ushiromiya Maria, as though they had moved over to the riddle-teller's side. Since these people rewrote the tale of the witch with whatever interpretation they wanted, every once in a while, parts of their theory would gain a great amount of support on the net. Some of these 'creations' began to be so widely trusted that they were believed to contain some grain of truth. The more rigid Witch Hunters openly despised these people, calling them 'Forgers', 'Counterfeiters', or just 'Witches'. Though they claimed to have reached the truth, they refused to tell it, and created fake message bottles as though testing everyone else. It's no surprise that the serious Witch Hunters were very annoyed by these Forgers...
However, there were many people who simply liked to entertain themselves with the occult fantasy of Rokkenjima, and a small number of those accepted these creations as literary works, glad of this expansion to the mysterious tale... Of all the Forgers, Itouikukuro was the one most highly regarded.
"Is that why you came all this way? Just to say that...? I think not, final descendant of the Ushiromiya family."
In her latest forgery, 'End', she killed off seven of my relatives, at least during the actual story. No, if you count 'Alliance' and 'Banquet', the other forgeries she's made before now, then she's killed off most of my family in horrible ways, over and over again...
Of course I'd want to complain. However, all of her works are known for being, in both form and level of completion, the closest tales to those written by 'Ushiromiya Maria' herself. In particular, Itouikukuro's first forgery, 'Banquet of the Golden Witch', managed to show everything, including Ushiromiya Eva's escape to Kuwadorian. People wondered whether this might be the true story of Rokkenjima, and it even made it onto the talk shows...
So far, all of these tales have been nothing more than electronic text on the web. However, people will eventually realize that Itouikukuro is actually Hachijo Toya. When that happens, it will become the work of 'that bizarre Hachijo', and no one will think of them as mere fan creations. People will probably start wondering if this might actually be a third message bottle she found and released under the guise of a story she herself wrote. When that happens, these stories will probably seem even more bizarre and credible...
"...You are cunning, aren't you?"
"Why do you say that?"
"You're doing this to make your forgeries more mysterious and more credible."
"And what do you mean by credible?"
"Once you've gained credibility, your forgeries will rise to the level of truth."
BGM: Love Examination
"...Is that because your works are the truth, and not mere forgeries...?"
"Correct. They are the truth, so there's no need for them to rise into anything."
"You aren't Maria onee-chan. And you weren't on Rokkenjima on that day. So how can you be so absurd as to call this the truth?"
"Lady, you're getting a bit too stirred up."
"Shut up. How can you call this stirred up?"
Ange realized that she'd let her emotions get control over her. She let out a sigh and shrugged...
"Your reason for coming here. It wasn't to yell at me for killing your family several times within my forgeries, correct...?"
Hachijo had been smiling at Ange kindly, but in a condescending manner, or else, like a mother might watch over a very small child. Ange realized this and was unable to suppress her irritation. Apparently, Amakusa could tell that Ange was getting worked up. He joked around with her for a bit so that they could start the conversation over again from the beginning.
"...Why are you so sure that you've reached the truth...?"
"Because I've understood all of the tales."
"And I'm asking you why you're so sure about that."
"...Do you think the sun ever revolved around the earth?"
Hachijo suddenly started talking about the Ptolemaic theory. Ange was about to tell her not to answer questions with more questions, but she quickly realized what Hachijo meant.
"...Humans used to support the Ptolemaic theory. However, that theory has been disproved in the modern age. Does this mean that, at the instant the theory was denied, the sun stopped moving and the Earth started revolving around the sun?"
"...Of course not. The truth doesn't change based on what humans believe."
"It's the same with this case. If you try to deny my theory, it comes to the same thing."
However, that didn't change the fact that it was the truth. 'Despite it all, the Earth still revolved around the sun'.
"...So, you're saying the truth is still the truth whether you can prove it or not...?"
"Correct. In the future, when the full truth finally becomes known, people will look back and realize that I had already discovered it."
Apparently, Ange just couldn't stand Hachijo's attitude. She kept getting irritated, and every time, Amakusa would joke around until she settled down again. However, there could be no mistake that Hachijo was a genius and had used her extraordinary intuition to form a most interesting outlook on the events that occurred on that island... That was why Ange had wanted to contact Itouikukuro and hear about her viewpoint.
Still, she really was lucky to have been granted this meeting. Ange hadn't been absolutely sure that Itouikukuro was Hachijo Toya, she hadn't thought that the publishing company would really contact the author, and moreover, she hadn't dreamed that the mysterious masked author would grant her an interview under such short notice. The more she thought about it, the more she realized that the sum of the events leading to this meeting made for nothing short of a miracle.
...Yes. A miracle. After all, in reality, I wasn't contacted by the publishing company at all and left for Niijima the next day.
I left for Niijima, then I went on to Rokkenjima. Then I gave Onee-chan... Sakutarou. Huh? Why would I have Sakutarou...? ...My memory of the future... is all muddled... My head... hurts...
Hachijo said something about showing Ange something good, rose from the sofa, and headed for the study desk. When she turned her back, Amakusa asked Ange, who seemed to be troubled about something, if she was okay.
"Wha? You've been looking weird for a while now. What's going on?"
"...I can't remember how long I've been sitting here."
"Are you still sleepy?"
"That's not it. I mean, I was able to get an appointment with Professor Ootsuki, but the publishing company never got back to me about Itouikukuro, so in the end, I wasn't able to do anything today... right?"
"Amakusa, you went to go get that large black bag, didn't you...?"
That's right. Just before we left for Niijima, Amakusa and I parted ways just one time. He said something about getting a weapon from an acquaintance of his, and he went to go get that large black bag. Wasn't that... today...?
What... am I talking about...? I mean, didn't I go to Niijima, meet Captain Kawabata, and, inside the bed shop... huh? What...?
BGM: At Death's Door
Did my confusion and uncertainty make me sigh out loud...? Even though Hachijo's back was to me, she slowly turned around... and smiled as though she had peered into my heart.
"N... no, it's nothing."
Strange memories... ones that even I can't understand. I tried to hide my confusion, but for some reason, Hachijo had a strange glint in her eyes, as though she could read my mind.
"I have revived and killed your family several times within various forgeries. Almost like a witch might."
"Reviving and killing them whenever you like. Endlessly. Sounds almost like Beatrice, doesn't it..."
"Yes, it does. So, please follow the lead of all those people on the web, and consider the possibility that I might be a witch."
She took a thickly-packed, brown envelope out of a locked drawer. It appeared to be filled to the brim with printer paper. Perhaps this was a manuscript for one of her works. And, the neat letters written with a fountain pen on the envelope... spelled out the word 'Dawn'. There is no forgery by the name of Dawn. Which... must mean...
...Ange could tell. This was a new one. Hachijo's newest, unreleased forgery...
"For one such as I, who knows everything, everything is boring. However, I don't dislike letting the ignorant read my works to see what kind of reaction they have. And so, I want you to read it."
"...You want me to read your newest work, which you've created as the new Endless Witch?"
"Correct, child of man. Whether you resent it or admire it, you can help me forget my illness for a time."
Yes, I did try to contact Hachijo Toya. However, in the end, I never got a chance to meet her. In other words, all of this is a falsehood.
"Whose piece am I this time? Sorry, but if you think you can tame Ushiromiya Ange so easily, you're making a big mistake."
"...Pfft. *giggle*giggle*... Yes, I hoped you'd be this interesting. Eheheheheheheheheheheh..."
She finally couldn't hold it back and burst out laughing... Gradually, the space around them seemed to be filled with a strange purple mist... The room itself seemed to twist and bend...
Her figure also twisted, and, after something that couldn't be described elapsed, her form changed to become just what she had called herself... a witch.
BGM: A Single Moment
"...It seems I'm the type that witches just love to cling to. All of you have that same condescending tone towards humans. I figured you were a witch right away."
The novelist sitting on the sofa was nowhere to be seen. Even Ange's bodyguard, who was supposed to be around at times like this, was gone. There was only a nonhuman figure relaxing in a large, ornate rocking chair.
"I find you to be truly interesting, child of man. Your charming nature is the perfect thing to alleviate my boredom."
"Yeah, well, I don't see anything charming about this. Why am I alive? Wasn't I killed in a pretty nasty way for breaking the rule about revealing my name...?"
Well, I did doubt that those people would just let me go so easily. What kind of farce will I be forced to go along with this time? I really don't care. I'll just do whatever I can within the bounds of the role they give me... whatever I can to help Onii-chan.
Of course, I understand. Even if he wins, he'll never come back to 'me'.
"Even so, I'll struggle on. I'll make sure Onii-chan comes back to the 'me' of that day."
"No need to lose your temper. I am not asking you to be a piece..."
"Then why did you summon me here? Don't tell me you want me to read this new story or whatever it is you've written."
"That's it exactly. I do not want you to be my piece. I have always been a mere observer, and I have no intention of sticking my neck into their game..."
"...I don't get it. What is it you want from me?"
"An observer...? I don't really know what you mean, but no deal."
"In the past, I observed the Fragments through Battler's eyes. However, now that he has succeeded the position of Game Master, he is not a suitable observer. I am following this tale with true and earnest intentions. It would be such a waste to observe it through the eyes of Battler as he is now, like reading a detective novel backwards..."
"...Onii-chan is the Game Master?? What on Earth are you talking about?"
"Of course you don't know. You want to know, don't you? I too wish to know something. What kind of tale will Battler weave now that he has taken the position of Game Master? Furthermore, I wish to search for the truth Battler reached as part of my own mental journey. My illness affects me gravely. If I do not think, I cannot even keep my heart beating..."
"...So, you want me to read your new picture book aloud to you...?"
"You might as well interpret it that way. In exchange, you will also be able to take part in your own journey of the mind. I do believe that even you have yet to reach the truth. I think you want to continue, on the journey to find that truth."
"I don't owe you anything."
"Don't push your luck. I can be lenient at times, but that is not usually the case..."
Though she knew that the game was little more than a toy for the witches to play with, she wanted it to resume... so that she could follow the tale and close in on the 'king' called truth...
"...I might follow the tale so that I can find the truth myself, but I have no obligation to read it aloud until the end for your sake. Understand?"
Ange was willing to read the story aloud, but she could quit any time if this witch made her mad. She was, in effect, warning the witch not to annoy her...
"Of course. You call it a picture book, but to me, it is the only medicine for a fatal illness. I cannot take that medicine without you to assist me. In other words, a mutually beneficial arrangement."
"...So, you're telling me to read you a book until you fall asleep. And in exchange, you'll let me read it too. Is that right?"
"Precisely. If you are willing to accept, I shall ask that you become my Reader for a time."
"Well, it's nice to get my own title, but all you really want me to do is read books, right?"
"Becoming my Reader means the same as becoming my familiar. In other words, what is done against you will be done against me. I will not permit anyone to disrupt my only interest, that being to read the rest of Beatrice's tale. I will not let Bernkastel, Lambdadelta, or even Beatrice force anything upon you..."
This witch, who seemed to have an almost divine quality to her, spoke both quietly and forcefully... There was no threat in her words. However, even so, it was clear that she was on a different level than Bernkastel and the other witches, and not at all to be taken lightly.
BGM: As Time Goes By
"Of course. What I want is for you to read aloud to me. I will not spare any who attempt to stand in the way of that."
"...If my attitude seems arrogant to you, allow me to apologize, child of man. It may not seem so, but I am speaking to you with the utmost respect."
"Yeah, probably. Even that witch-like style of speech... feels as though it's more respectful than anything you've said in the last few hundred years."
"When you're reading a book, do you tell it 'thank you very much' before flipping through the pages...?"
"...I guess it is like that. I understand."
Just by agreeing to have a conversation with Ange, she was showing an incredible amount of respect and willingness to compromise. Ange shrugged, but she also nodded to show her consent.
"You understand well, child of man."
"...My name's Ange. Not child of man or whatever."
"Heheheheheh. Very well. As proof of my respect for you, I will acknowledge your name."
For her, acknowledging a human's name was like acknowledging the names of all the leaves scattered across the ground. So, her acknowledging Ange's name was a miracle. No, it was immensely good fortune.
"...From this point forth, Ushiromiya Ange will serve as Reader and miko to the Witch of Theatergoing, Featherine Augustus Aurora. Until you finish reading, I shall bring calamity to all who attempt to hinder your task."
When the Witch of Theatergoing, Featherine, spoke this, Ange was wrapped in a bright light. Ange didn't feel any particular change herself, but she definitely had been given something that only nonhumans could sense. It signified that from this point forward, Ange would be attached to the Witch of Theatergoing. That didn't mean that Ange would gain some sort of special power, but at the very least, it probably meant that anyone wanting to cause her harm would first have to take on Featherine herself...
So.. she wants me to be her miko? Like a shrine maiden?
"...Your name is pretty long. Sounds like some ancient Roman person. What should I call you?"
"Those not familiar with me call me Augustus Aurora."
"...After all the respect you've shown me, it's only fitting that I respond in kind. I'll call you Featherine. Any problems?"
"None at all. For an ailing witch such as myself, even being called by my first name will be an experience to be treasured and pondered over. Child of man."
"I have a name. It's Ange."
"...Heheh. Even conversations like this are nice every once in a while. Ange, my miko."
Ange accepted her role. She would observe this tale with the Witch of Theatergoing.