Part 45: The Lovers II
BGM: White Shadow
"Hmm. The log for today has not yet been filled out."
"Yes. I'll do that right away. Kanon-kun, thanks for keeping an eye out while I was gone."
"...That was a pretty long break."
Kanon had already noticed. There was a silvery glint coming from the ring finger on Shannon's left hand.
"Then I will retire. Please do not hesitate to wake me if anything occurs."
Genji disappeared off to the waiting room. After that, only Shannon and Kanon remained.
"...Thanks for giving me some time. I'll stay here for the rest, so you can go to sleep now."
BGM: Blue Butterfly
"...Yeah. Sorry, but we aren't going to lose."
"And I... won't lose either..."
"Even though you've always been a coward and let Milady take the lead until now...?"
"...Wasn't it you who taught me, Nee-san?"
"What did I teach you...?"
"The past is immaterial when it comes to love. The present is all that's important. If that is true, then I think my present is in no way inferior to yours, Nee-san."
Shannon and Kanon glared at each other with serious eyes. That period of tension vanished when Shannon chuckled.
"...Yeah, that's good. You and Milady have to give it your all. If you do end up together, make sure you build up a relationship wonderful enough so that the rest of us can cheer you on with all our hearts."
"Well, you do have a huge lead on me."
"...Nothing to be done about that. That's what you get for your cowardice before now."
"I know. That is my... sin."
Shannon and Kanon fished around in their pockets, and drew out two small things that glittered gold. They looked like... the left and right wings of a gold butterfly.
"We are furniture. In order to become human and receive the miracle that allows us to love, we must rely on a miracle of magic once again."
"...To think that her brooch would prove useful."
"It's the only magic within our reach."
It was the golden butterfly brooch, which Beatrice had once given to Shannon in the hopes of creating love between her and George. Shannon had given it to Kanon, but he had let his emotions get ahold of him and had crushed it into pieces. So, when the two wings they held were brought together, it would regain the form of a beautiful butterfly.
"...Then I'll be back soon. After all, they have asked me to play cards with them."
"Yeah. Good luck. I'm sure Milady will be happy."
"...It's a bit embarrassing."
"Enjoy that feeling."
Kanon left the servant room. He went to go see Jessica and tell her what he had determined to do. Shannon quietly watched him go. The fragment of the brooch and the engagement ring let off a gold and silver glint...
"...That's the golden butterfly brooch, isn't it? I read about the magical brooch that can save a love relationship in Featherine-san's book."
And that had been the first moment that Beatrice, witch of the forest, had met with a human and given them her power. Bit by bit, she had transformed from a mere ghost to the ruler of the mansion at night, and by making the servants believe in her, she had wiped away the anti-magic power. And then, it eventually became possible for her to appear openly in front of Shannon, whose magic resistance had grown particularly low and who had begun to believe in the existence of Beatrice... To Beato, who had been unable to interact with anyone for many years, this conversation with Shannon must have been especially fun...
"That's why I generously gave her the butterfly brooch. *cackle*cackle*, I was in quite a good mood. It is no common thing for a heartless witch such as myself to be so gracious."
"But it's wonderful. You brought a pair of future lovers together."
"Of course, I did not do it to pamper them. It was in exchange for smashing that hateful spirit mirror that had repressed my magical powers. Thanks to that, I was able to regain much of my power all in one go."
Kumasawa had the rest of the night off. So, she had let Erika talk her into drinking a bit, and was chatting about the legend of Akujikishima and Beatrice in a happy, tipsy mood. Erika would nod from time to time, but she listened very closely. She wasn't actually taking notes, but she was gathering the information on the whiteboard inside her head.
...Then, she frowned as though noticing something out of place and held up her hand.
"Let's stop there."
BGM: The Great Detective Knows
"Yes, that is correct. It was one who possessed a vast supernatural power, and who placed that power within the mirro-"
"And placed it within the shrine as a sacred mirror to seal the evil spirits. Something feels off about that. Why would a shrine to seal the evil spirits of Akujikishima also seal Beatrice?"
"W, well... That's, uh, because the power of the sacred mirror..."
"...I see. So it's this really convenient sacred mirror that works on both evil spirits from the East and witches from the West. Got it. I'm still not satisfied, but I'll back off there for now. What I don't understand is why Beatrice can't stand spiderwebs."
According to the legend, the evil spirits of Akujikishima despised spiderwebs, so they were apparently used as wards against evil in the surrounding islands. Actually, spiders are a useful bug. There was nothing strange about the fact that the farmers of the islands had treasured them. It's very possible that they were then tied to the story of evil spirits and became known as charms against evil, leading to a tradition of people treating this useful bug with care through the generations...
"In other words, the evil spirits of Akujikishima and the Golden Witch Beatrice are completely different things. And yet, their setup is treated in exactly the same way."
"W, well now..."
The evil spirits of Akujikishima couldn't stand spiderwebs. So neither could Beatrice. That sort of reasoning has been applied all over the place. When it was pointed out that this was strange, Kumasawa was lost for an answer...
"The doorknob to Kinzo-san's study has a scorpion magic circle drawn on it, which represents a charm against magic in western sorcery. That's why the western witch Beatrice can't touch it. I can understand that part."
"But there's no reason for Beatrice to dislike spiderwebs. I don't remember spiderwebs ever being included among things witches can't stand. On the contrary, wouldn't spiders be the friends and minions of a witch?"
"In my opinion, those two legends about the evil spirits of Akujikishima and the witch Beatrice... have been mixed together a little. In fact, maybe they've been fully joined together as one. The legend of Akujikishima is a fairy tale created by fishermen fearful of reefs in the Rokkenjima area. However, there was no visual image to go along with those evil spirits."
"Were they people, or monsters, or ghosts without legs? There's no mental picture of them. People are bad at imagining things without visuals. And that's when the legend of the witch called Beatrice came in. A witch is a lot easier to picture than evil spirits. And on top of that, Kinzo-san had a portrait of Beatrice drawn and displayed. In other words, the lack of a visual image, which was the one weak point in the legend of Akujikishima, was finally completed. At some point since then, perhaps the two legends have been mixed together."
Kumasawa laughed to smooth it over, wiping away a cold sweat... She might have seemed confused, but she actually did understand what Erika was saying. In truth, she had been vaguely aware of how the legend of Akujikishima, which had been around before Ushiromiya Kinzo had come to Rokkenjima, and the legend of the Golden Witch, the story of the woman who had given Kinzo a vast quantity of gold, had both transformed. She didn't want to acknowledge it, but she knew. The 'setting' where Beatrice hated the spirit mirror and spiderwebs. This had been based on the ancient legend of Akujikishima. The 'evil spirits' part of that legend had just been replaced by the witch of the portrait...
"...So, if there really was someone claiming to be the Golden Witch Beatrice, I'd really like to ask her, whether she actually does hate spiderwebs or not. What happens when she touches them?"
"I, it is said that witches and their minions... receive burns when they touch spiderwebs... so that is probably what would happen, I guess..."
"Hmph, that's not bad. A splendid witch trial. If the spiderweb touches her and she gets burned, then she's an evil spirit, not a witch. And if nothing happens, then it proves she's just a human. In other words, whether she's burned or not, it will prove that the Golden Witch doesn't exist. The legend of the witch is nothing more than the legend of Akujikishima re-boiled with a new face on it."
"Simply by the existence of the legend itself, reasoning of this level is possible for Furudo Erika. What do you think, everyone...?"
Though only the two of them were in the lounge, Erika faced in the direction an invisible audience would have been if there was one, and shrugged...
And, to match Erika's imagination, the two of them actually were there, listening in...
BGM: Melody (instrumental)
When Beato the elder snapped her fingers, a single, graceful spider slipped down from the ceiling, hanging by a transparent thread. Afterwards, only a single silver strand remained.
Timidly, Beato stretched her finger out towards the spider's string... Then, she touched it...
Beato the elder lifted up a white, pale finger, and after showing it to her little sister, she traced the silver string with it. There was a stench like a single hair being burnt. Once again, she held her finger up in front of Beato, who was dumbfounded. There was a thin burn line, as though someone had traced across it with a razor...
"What's... going on...?"
"That's what I would like to know. Why are you unharmed?"
"I, I don't know. What I don't understand is why you do get burnt by touching a spiderweb..."
"...I do not know. It has always been like that since I first gained consciousness."
"Then, are you..."
Beato hesitated. However, her question was clear.
"Are spiderwebs the only things you can't handle...?"
"As this Erika said, I can't touch the doorknob to Kinzo's study. That scorpion magic circle burns me. For me, trying to open the door to that study is like trying to pick a red-hot horseshoe out of a fire. What about you?"
"Huh? Scorpion magic circles, you mean...?"
The older sister snapped her fingers again. When she did, the surrounding scene bent and twisted, and they had suddenly moved to the place in front of Kinzo's study. And there... was the doorknob engraved with the scorpion magic circle.
"Those who research magic must have a refuge sealed off from both human and spiritual disturbances. It's no surprise that Kinzo chose to seal off his study and place a charm such as this here. And, unfortunately, that affects me as well."
She gently grasped the doorknob.
"B, big sister, are you okay...?! Your hand... aaaaaaahhh...!!"
Her hand... had been horribly burnt, and Beato couldn't help but avert her eyes...
"Fear not. This scratch will heal quickly."
Apparently, it would heal by itself if left alone. The older sister seemed to heal at an inhuman rate.
"However, it seems that you can handle it just fine."
She timidly poked the doorknob. Nothing happened. Slowly, she touched it with her entire palm, but she felt nothing but a pleasantly cool sensation.
"...Strange. Though you are my double, you are different from me in several ways."
"While I might be able to touch the doorknob, if I ever get burnt like you did, I don't think I'd heal that easily..."
"...It's as though you're a normal human."
"Y, yes. Even I find it a little hard to believe that I'm a witch... I can't use magic like you, and I can't get strange burns or heal from them later... Father believed... that I was a great witch reborn... but... I cannot believe that..."
"...Who are you?"
"I, I am Beatrice. I was born for Father's sake. And you, big sister?"
"I am also Beatrice. I used magic to give Kinzo gold, and later became a soul and the formless witch that haunts this island."
"...Unlike me, it seems you possess a body."
"Yes. I thought of it while listening to that Erika person. I am a witch who can use magic but has no body, and you are a witch who has a body but can use no magic. Eventually, perhaps we will become one, each filling in what the other lacks, and become the true, complete Beatrice."
It did seem plausible. Both of the Beatrices were missing something. If they become one, then surely they would be very close to the Beatrice Battler desires...
"...Do you want... to try?"
"Hold out your hand."
The older sister slowly raised her palm and held it out before Beato. The large burn from a second ago really had started to heal already...
"It may be possible for us to become one. I want to know as well. By becoming one with you, I want to learn about my future self."
Beato also raised her hand slowly, and the two hands... touched...
Perhaps this meant that, while they were fated to become one eventually, that time had not yet come...
"...For me, being burned by spiderwebs is perfectly normal. However, you didn't even know about it. In the same way, you say that the reason you were born was for your Father's sake. Apparently, that father is Ushiromiya Battler. I know him as a rare guest who only comes a few times a year, but I cannot understand what connection you and I have with such an infrequent guest. Surely, we must learn more about each other."
"Y, yeah, you're right... I get the feeling that learning about each other will lead us to something very important."
"On the other side lies the single future Beatrice. No, it may be more correct to say that it is the true form we are supposed to possess."
With their hands still joined, the two Beatrices swore to fill in the parts the other lacked and regain their single form.