Part 43: The Source of Magic
"Hahaha, I remember how Aunt Natsuhi used to get mad at you all the time."
"But eventually, Shannon managed to overcome that forgetfulness."
"Oh, and how'd you do that?"
"...Heheh. It wasn't anything big, but I got into the habit of writing things down. I'd write down wherever I put something important. For things that happened often, I made a checklist and always made sure to check it..."
"Oh, umm, didn't see her directly, but, umm... some very strange things did happen..."
She was talking about a certain summer night. It was when Shannon was doing the nightly rounds...
From her perspective, it was a ghost story. From the witch's perspective, it was just the story of a little summer's night prank...
BGM: In The Sun
"N, no. What is that, big sister?"
"Hmm. The time of witches has long since passed. Those vile humans who claim to control everything came to deny our existence and possess a strong toxin."
"Is that toxin harmful to us...?"
"It is extremely dangerous. If it got to us, our forms would probably evaporate in an instant."
"However, one thing we do have in our favor is the fact that our existence is still extremely weak. Because of that, the toxin does not affect us greatly. At worst, it can only transform us into mist for a time."
"However, we'd rather avoid it if we can, right?"
"Correct. Yes, I see that you are me. You understand quickly."
The older sister appeared to be haughty at first, but, perhaps because she was so happy to have met her double and little sister, she was more than willing to teach her anything she wanted to know.
The first thing she had taught her was that they were witches, a different type of being than humans. Beato had thought that she wasn't a witch because she couldn't use magic, but apparently, she was still a witch nonetheless. Then she was taught that witches such as her, unlike humans, were bound by various restrictions. The greatest of those restrictions was the anti-magic toxin possessed by humans.
"Correct. You can think of it as though human eyes radiate the toxin. If they see you, it is the same as your body being burnt. Though they are lesser in extent, being heard or sensed can also result in contact with the toxin."
"...So, it's dangerous just for us to get close to humans..."
Wasn't Father a human...? Why am I not burnt by Father's toxin...?
"If we stock up magical power and have it acknowledged by humans, that toxin can be reduced drastically. In other words, by having our existence acknowledged by humans, we make them lose their toxin, making it possible for us to appear before them once more."
"I see... Simply put, as we are now, we can only exist when humans aren't around..."
"We are still very lacking in magical power, which makes us inferior to even a stray cat hiding from humans in the shadows."
The main goal of the older sister was to gain a large supply of magical power and be revived as a great witch strong enough to have no fear of the anti-magic toxin. For that purpose, she had wandered around the mansion night after night, striving to regain her magical power and reduce the anti-magic power of the humans...
The powerful previous Beatrice, whom she had read about in Featherine's library, had appeared openly in front of humans and had even toyed with them at will. According to her big sister, such a level of power was most impressive.
"Yes. She was like a witch from a picture book, appearing openly before the humans of the mansion and summoning magic and underlings at will..."
"Hmmm, how inspiring. If that is our future, it means that all of our hard work will have been worth the effort."
"...Anyway, big sister. How are those efforts and going around unlocking windows like this related...?"
...It felt more like a child's prank than the work of a witch...
"Eheheh, this is the path that leads to becoming a great witch. All journeys begin with a single step. To those who cannot understand, that first step may look quite foolish from time to time. However, it is still a momentous first step...!"
With pride, as though making the first step for mankind on the surface of the moon, the older sister undid the lock on a window with a *click*.
"Do you not understand, my little sister? Can you not see what makes something like this momentous?"
"...? No, big sister. I don't really understand."
The older sister closed her eyes lightly, smiled, and opened the unlocked window a crack. Cool outside air flowed in, making the curtains flutter.
"I shall go further. 'Right now, there is no one in this corridor'. And yet, the lock has been undone, and the window has opened. Can you see how great a miracle, a work of magic, a proof of our existence that is? Even you should understand the coolness of this breeze..."
"...I do understand. It's nice and cool..."
"The coolness, the softness of the breeze. And the feel of the fluttering curtain touching your hair. All of these things show that we truly are here."
"So, by unlocking the window like this, we can leave behind proof that we really did exist."
"...And that is why I unlocked it."
Of course, it wasn't just small pranks like opening a window. She could also smash windows and vases or leave behind strange fires and mysterious scribbles. In fact, one time, she actually did play a large-scale prank in the kitchen, piling up kitchenware in an eerie manner and leaving behind a bizarre scribble, which scared the servants considerably. It had been a complete success. It had been truly terrifying, and she had succeeded in making the servants acknowledge the existence of magic, weakening the anti-magic toxin...
However, she chose to make her presence known by unlocking windows. By doing this, she could release herself from the restrictions imposed by the humans' toxin.
We won't have to be afraid of anyone's gaze anymore. We'll be able to fly wherever we wish, disappear whenever we want. Laugh however we like, prank however we like, talk with anyone we want to. Humans might ask things of us from time to time. They might fight with us or play with us too. What wonderful things for us frail creatures, who cannot appear before anyone, to look forward to...
"...Right now, they are little more than pranks. However, as they pile up, proof that we exist will begin to gather. The servants already call me the witch Beatrice, master of the night, and are beginning to believe in me bit by bit."
"The more they believe, the more those humans will lose their anti-magic toxin..."
...I see... So, this means that Father has no anti-magic toxin. And, that's because he truly believes in the existence of the witch I am, without any doubts. I finally realize that, though I'd thought him to be cold, Father did possess a kindness that couldn't be seen...
"I'd like to become a great witch and appear in front of everyone soon. Yes. Eventually, we will be able to appear openly in front of anyone."
"By doing that repeatedly, we will make people believe in us, and eventually, we shall display even our magic for all to see. After that happens, we will descend upon Rokkenjima as the great witch you told me of. Ahahahahaha!"
BGM: Look Back
"It does sound credible, in a way. When humans are frightened to hear that they've entered a ghost hot-spot, they're likely to start yelling 'ghost, ghost!' at the drop of a hat."
"That's right. All phenomena are fundamentally neutral, indifferent, and dull. If one wishes to have them be accepted in a certain manner, they must first create a suitable environment..."
"If a person has charisma, people will interpret what they do in a positive way, even when they screw up... I see. I guess in that sense, the Beatos' small efforts aren't for nothing."
"If it was just the mansion's locks being undone, everything could be resolved by saying that someone forgot to lock up or that it was some kind of prank. However, the rumors of a witch wandering about the mansion night after night slowly began to take shape as the existence of the witch."
After the Beatos finished their mischief of unlocking and opening the window, they enjoyed the coolness of the wind and the brightness of the moon, then became gold butterflies and disappeared into the darkness. There was no way of knowing whether the window they had opened had actually been opened by them. The servants might have forgotten to lock up, or one of the family might have opened it after the servants had locked up and forgotten to shut it again, or maybe someone had played a prank. In the same way that none of those possibilities could be denied, it was also impossible to deny the possibility that a witch really had opened a window to enjoy the night breeze...
"However, people who believe in the possibility of a witch can imagine that it was a witch's prank. When that happens, the scene of the Beatrices' prank that we have just seen is etched into the Fragment as a fact..."
"...That's one of the foundations of magic. Decorating... the process."
With just a little magic, even a mass-produced stuffed animal... can be reborn as a wonderful, unique stuffed animal filled with a mother's love. If you doubt it, it will be burnt by the anti-magic toxin. If you believe it, the magic will become the truth.
BGM: A Single Moment
"The power to repel evil magic may be necessary for a child of man. However, it is the nature of love in the human world that it does not burn away and defile love-filled magic."
"...Well, good magic is the only kind I can forgive. For all other kinds, the best remedy is to deny them and burn them away."
"Heheheheheheheh... A typical answer for a child of man."
"Getting back to the point. Knowing this much, I guess this means that the ghost Beatrice, who was called the ruler of Rokkenjima's night, doesn't really exist."
"It's nothing more than a general term for any inexplicable occurrences that took place in the mansion at night. In other words, Beatrice isn't the name of a person, it's the name of a phenomenon."
If anything bizarre happens, it all becomes the work of the Golden Witch... That 'environment in which a witch could exist' is what Beatrice is.
"...That all piles up until we reach 1986. This is the veil that the true culprit is hiding behind. And the person hiding behind it is, without a doubt, a human."
"Let us say that this holds true at this point in the witches' tale of the past. However, I doubt you can use that argument alone to fight all the way through 1986, don't you...?"
BGM: Smile-less Soiree
"W, well, you may say that, but... umm... B, but this isn't just something that happened once or twice..."
"In other words, you're a klutz, a fool, and a moron of a servant who forgot to check not just once or twice, but many times over?"
"...Shannon isn't the only one. That same window was always opened even when other servants did the rounds."
"Yeah, Mom even asked me if I'd ever left a window open in the hall at night. I had absolutely nothing to do with it, but she still got pissed. Sheesh."
"I'm sure Beatrice wanted to gaze at the moon. Uu-."
"It is a bit creepy to have that happen over and over at the same window. And that time where the kitchenware was piled up in the kitchen, with a creepy magic circle scribbled there... that sounds even more freaky."
"...Y, yes. They said it was an eerie magic circle drawn with something like blood... Ever since then, people have been scared to patrol the kitchen..."
"About the case of the eerie magic circle in the kitchen. Who witnessed that?"
"Well, uh, it wasn't me... I, uh... think I heard about it from a servant kid who quit. I wasn't on duty that day..."
"So, it's basically like this. Just like how the story of some popular haunted location is exaggerated, you servants like to have a little fun telling ghost stories about the mansion at night, right? By doing that, you speak as though the witch exists and infect others with that belief."
"...So, all of the eerie things that are supposedly done by Beatrice are baseless rumors, which are either the result of coincidence and accident or something that someone fabricated for fun. Is that what you're trying to say?"
"Exactly. Of course there's no way Beatrice exists."
"Uu-... Beatrice exists."
"I'm glad you understand so well, Battler-san. There's probably some person by that name, or else multiple persons of known or unknown number who take actions to support that claim. However, this delusion of a Golden Witch Beatrice that we're all thinking of is completely impossible."
"Ooh, could you tell me about that in detail? You met Beatrice? And did she show you magic or something?"
"Uu-! I see her all the time! Every time I come to Rokkenjima! And she always shows me fun magic!!"
Denying the existence of the witch would always have the immediate effect of infuriating Maria. However, Erika, who didn't know to avoid this topic, had challenged her head on. But no matter how Maria tried to smooth over the matter of Beatrice's existence, she stood no chance of defeating the ruthlessly intelligent Erika in an argument...
George and Jessica hurried to calm Maria down, but Maria's anger could not be settled by this point.
"<Good>! So, she showed you magic? Could you explain in detail what kind of magic?"
"She would always use magic to give me candy as a present!! Beato can create candy with magic!!"
"She just took it out of her pocket, didn't she?"
"No, she didn't!! It was magic! It was incredible!! Tons of candies poured out of an empty cup!"
"W, wow, that's some awesome magic..."
"That's right, that really would be magic...!"
"Yeah, it was magic!! It really was empty!! I checked inside it myself!!"
"Huh? What do you mean, you checked inside it?"
"G, give it a rest, Erika-san... She's just a kid..."
"Anyway, Erika-sama, would you like some more t-kyah-"
"You'll have to tell me in more detail, Maria-san. What do you mean when you say that you checked inside it? Fortunately, we have right here with us a tea cup that's just been overturned and emptied! Come on, be my guest and reenact what happened then, okay?! Let's see it, if you would, let's see it!!"
After holding the cup of black tea, which she had just overturned and was still dripping, upside down over the table, Erika slammed it down hard and slid it over to Maria. Erika's eyes glowed repulsively, like those of a snake about to snap up a frog. Those eyes were ice-cold and had a madness in them that made one want to avert their gaze. On the other hand, Maria was glaring furiously, her whole body shaking uncontrollably, in the greatest expression of anger that a human can manage. The look on her face was frightening... not at all something one would expect to see on a nine year old girl.
"S, stop it, both of you...!"
"Uuu--!!! Okay!! So Beatrice took the empty cup!! Then she did this!! And she put it upside down on the table!!"
"Yes, and then what?! Did she then lift it up and candies flowed out?! Incredible, that really would be magic, right? It *would* be!!!"
Battler and the others tried to get between the two and calm them down, but it was no use. The two violently pushed aside the others, and, glaring at each other from so close that their foreheads banged together, they repeatedly slammed down the upside down cup on the table.
Video: Erika VS MARIA
BGM: Death (from stupefaction)
"Then why don't you reproduce it for us?!! Founder of Mariage Sorciere, the Witch of Origins, MARIAAAAAA!!"
"Lady Erika, this opponent is not worth your TIME. This battle is not worth FIGHTING..."
"Shut up, murder doll!! Alright!! How do you claim that the overturned cup was filled with candies?!"
"Just turning the cup over won't make candies come out!! Because you have to use magic to make them come out!! Beato can use magic because she's a witch!!"
"Oh yes, magic, she used magic!! How did she use magic?! Did she swing a magic wand and tap the cup to make candies pour out?! *giggle*, no, that can't be it, right? Right?!"
"Beato is a witch so she used magic! Magic is when you say an incantation and cause a miracle!! You can't use the magic that makes candy unless you say the incantation!!"
"Oh, sure, understood. <Good>, <good>, very <good>!! Let's see this incantation, let's see this magic, come on, what kind of incantation would a witch use? What kind?!?!"
"Ooooooooooh? And then whaaaaaaat?"
"Look, the inside of the cup... is filled with candy!!!"
Maria grasped the overturned cup so tightly that it nearly cracked, and slowly... lifted it up...
Maria looked at Erika with a full smile, as though saying 'that showed you'.
"<Good>!! Is this what you call Beatrice's magic?! Dlanoooooooooor!!
"...As you WISH."
"I won't let anyone deny Beato's magic!! After all, magic is magic!!"
"Magic is impossible. You might be telling a lie about something that never happened!!"
"Repetition DEMANDED. Failure to respond will be a violation of Knox's 7th."
"This wouldn't have anything to do with a trick in the actual cup or table, making this just a sleight of hand, right? That would be against the rules, wouldn't it?!?!"
"Hidden devices and tricks are in violation of Knox's 3rd. However, if and only if foreshadowing has been presented, these are permitted by Knox's 8th."
Knox's 3rd prohibits hidden doors and devices that have no clues pointing towards them. However, by presenting foreshadowing and clues that point towards the existence of said devices, Knox's 8th allows them to be used.
"They had no such tricks in them!! It was just an ordinary table and an ordinary cup!! That's why it's magic, not sleight of hand!!"
"...UNDERSTOOD. By Knox's 9th, we acknowledge that Lady MARIA witnessed MAGIC."
"Ahahahahahahahahaha!! That's right, with the 9th at least!! Observers are always allowed to speak their personal opinions! Otherwise, mysteries where the culprit is seen dressed up as a woman and it's written 'I saw a woman' would all be disqualified!! Sure, that's fine, claim that you saw magic all you want!!"
"All truths are nothing more than claims! So, I'll make a claim separate from yours and smash right through yours!! That is the detective's duty, and the time we shine the mooooooost!!"
"You can't break through this, this is magic!!!"
"Since it is magic, only witches can use it, right?"
"That's right, only witches can use it!!"
"...So, if a human like me could use it too, that would mean it isn't magic, right?"
"You can't use it!!! Only Beato can use magic!!"
"If you think you can, just try!! Impossible, impossible, useless, useless! There's no way a human can do it!!"
"Then please, please, please just relax and watch!! Okay, here we have an empty cup. Is that okay? It is, isn't it? Then we turn it over on the table like this!!"
"...Let it be known that this fight has no point..."
"Okay, can you say the incantation for creating candies? In fact, why don't we say it together? Come, try and picture it!!"
"The inside of the cup is filled with candy!! Try and picture such a wonder!!"
"Humans are stained by the anti-magic toxin!! If a lowly human saw it, the miracle of magic would be wiped out of existence!! That's why there's a rule that says lowly humans have to close their eyes when using magic!!"
"I see, I see. Okay, I understand the protocol used by humans performing magic!! In other words, not once have you ever witnessed the moment the magic happened! Isn't that right?! Look, it's done! Please, try and lift up the cup, okay...? After all, I've used the magic to make candies appear."
"There's no way someone who makes fun of witches could use the candy magic...!"
"But if it actually did work, all the better."
After glaring at Erika with the utmost of malice, Maria slowly stretched her hand out towards the overturned cup... There was no way that Erika, someone who made fun of witches like this, could ever use magic. There was no way that there'd be candy there...
"...So, how's it look inside?"
"...This is magic, right?"
Erika smiled gently... A look of disbelieving shock rose in Maria's eyes... along with envy for this person who could use the same magic as Beato...
"Erika... you can... use magic too...?"
"See? It's magic, isn't it? What I did there."
"So, in other words-"
Erika smiled pleasantly. She and Maria had finally reached a deep understanding...
"I mean, seriously, did you really get tricked by such a stupid sleight of hand? The magic that your perspective speaks of is completely untrustworthy!!!"
"Everything that you ever thought was magic was just a trick that you didn't get!! There's no way it was magic! There's no way magic exiiiiiiiiiiiiiists!!"
"However, you also can't prove that it could only have been done with magic!! You rotten stuffed animaaaal!!"
"...Please, allow me to speak."
"Know that this is a meaningless battle."
"You damn scraps of paper!! Why'd you have to butt in at the good part...?!!"
"That is ENOUGH. Lady MARIA has been shown that the magic which makes candy appear in a cup could possibly be a trick that she misunderstood to be MAGIC. Therefore, her claim that it was magic is DISMISSED."
"However, it might really have been magic when Maria saw it...! Just because it can be done by a sleight of hand doesn't disprove magic."
"...Well done, Lady Erika. Congratulations on crushing Lady MARIA's Illusion of the WITCH."
If someone can argue back and say that it would be possible without magic, the Illusion of the Witch is defeated, and the witch must retreat. The magic that Maria claimed to have seen had the possibility of being a trick, so it was unqualified to be acknowledged as magic. That was only the result of this battle. It was still too early to bring the fight into the domain of denying Beatrice, the witch and the magic that Maria believed in...
However, battles will always end instantly when your opponent surrenders. Erika had wanted to hit Maria with everything at once, defiling the witch and magic she believed in and crushing it without a fragment of compassion...
Erika grumpily punched Dlanor's arm that had been restraining her. However, that cold, hard, marble-like arm just made Erika's hand hurt.
"...D, diplomatic immunity...! This battle is over...!"
"Allow me to speak. Diplomatic immunity accepted."
"...Know that this fight is childish."
"Did you say something?!"
"She did NOT. Let us WITHDRAW. Lady MARIA is no enemy of yours, Lady Erika. There is no need to pay any attention to small fry such as THIS."
"...Hmph. You're right. How childish of me, tearing a kid's dreams apart."
"I'm really sorry, okay? I apologize for my momentary lack of elegance. *giggle*giggle*. Let's go."
Erika's group turned their backs on Maria, who was still crouching down limply. However, as detectives in famous mysteries have always done in the past, Erika clapped her hands, stopped, and turned around.
"Oh, that's right. What do you think...?"
Erika's merciless words gouged themselves into Maria's heart once more...
Erika left, leaving an evil laugh behind her. After bowing to Maria and Sakutarou, Dlanor left too. Gertrude and Cornelia followed suit...
After that, only Maria and Sakutarou were left in the lonely Golden Land...
"...Beato... is a witch..."
"Uryu... Beato is a witch..."
"It was magic... *hic*... *hic*... it was magic... It was magic... Beato used magic to give you candy... You don't need to doubt that..."
"...Uryuu-...! Please believe in Beato... You know that magic can't bear fruit unless you believe..."
In the middle of an ice-cold drizzle, which had started falling at some point, Maria sobbed... Trying to at least protect her from the rain, Sakutarou used his large sleeves to cover Maria's head... and stayed there by her side...
"...Erika-san. As an adult, I cannot condone that conversation just now."
"My apologies. I'm still just a kid, after all."
After seeing that wonderful candy magic brutally insulted by Erika, Maria had been crying this whole time...
"Haah... I started noticing it at the quiz party after dinner, but your personality is screwed up."
"Do you think this is fun?! Do you like tearing a little kid's dreams apart?"
"P, please stop, Battler-sama...! Please, for my sake, don't push any further here...! Please...!"
Shannon, who had been looking flustered, bowed her head deeply and implored Battler to stop. George, who didn't want Shannon pressured, fell in line.
"Let's go. Let's spend this year in the cousins' room too. We can watch TV and play cards."
"...I've heard that Erika-san has her own room. Shannon, please guide her."
"Oh, no need to bother yet. I'll relax down here for a little while longer. I want to savor it a bit."
"...What the hell are you trying to savor... pft."
Battler and the others could no longer hide their irritation. They had no obligation to entertain their uninvited guest any further than this. Erika herself understood perfectly well that no place would welcome a detective. Battler and the others wanted to leave, and Erika wanted to stay. Neither had any desire to stop the other. Jessica urged Maria, who was still crying, to come along...
Then, Maria stopped and spun around.
"...Got a problem?"
BGM: Smile-less Soiree
"They don't believe in witches, or magic, or miracles, or happiness! You can't become a witch if you let the toxin of people like that burn you to ashes! I may not look it, but I'm Beatrice's disciple! I'm the Apprentice Witch of Origins! Kihihihihihihihihihihihihihi!!!"
Maria, who had been sobbing until a second ago, seemed to have been transformed into an entirely different person. She laughed... no, cackled eerily. Battler's group stiffened up at this sudden change, but Erika was watching calmly. Then, she smiled and gave a small nod in response.
"<Good>. You've got some guts. Goodnight, <Miss> MARIA. Let's fight in a more satisfying game next time."
"Sure, let's. It's a promise... Kihihihihihihihihihihihi."
"Y, you stop that too, Maria...! Come on, let's go."
"What about you, Shannon-chan? You can play cards with us, if you want."
"Come on, join us for at least one round. It'll cheer you up."
"Uh, ah... th, then, just for a bit..."
Shannon couldn't remain in this suffocating lounge any longer either. In part apologetic and in part trying to escape, she followed after Battler's group...
After that, Erika was the only one left in the lounge... Still wearing a thin smile, she tapped a glass with her finger. There was a light *chink*. A surprisingly boring sound. Even so, Erika wore a thin smile, as though pleased...
"...You just missed them. They went up to the second floor. I'm the one who called you here. I've heard that you know a lot about the story of Akujikishima and the story of the witch of the forest."
"Yes, well. Hohoho. It is a trivial story, but..."
"I don't mind in the slightest if it's trivial. Would you like a drink to follow your bath? Even I like to be helpful every now and then."