Part 50: Self-Reliance
Erika had returned to the room on the second floor of the guesthouse that had been given to her. The next room over was empty. It was very quiet there...
Even pressing her ear against the wall wouldn't enable her to listen in on the voices in the cousins' room. Even with hearing power boosted by the detective's authority, it would probably be impossible to make out anything. This room was the farthest down the hall, a long ways away from the cousins' room...
"And last time, my room was right next to theirs. I see... so he's placed my room farther away this time."
"Well, it's better for me that way too. Like I'd want to hear those brats' squeaky voices as they play cards."
This whole time, Erika had been facing the desk and toying with something. She was preparing some of those duct tape seals from before. She had asked Kumasawa for the stickiest tape in the place. She drew a complicated signature that could not be counterfeited across it with a permanent marker, then began making notches across it. This way, she could stick this over a place that she wanted to prove had been closed, creating a powerful seal equal in strength to the red truth. Those menacing seals had cornered Natsuhi so thoroughly in the previous game...
"Is something WRONG?"
"...He got me. That Battler doesn't let anything get by him, does he?"
Erika shrugged and showed the piece of duct tape she had torn off to Dlanor. At a glance, Dlanor couldn't tell what had annoyed Erika. However, as soon as she held it, she realized the difference right away.
"...This won't be any GOOD."
"Yep. It's barely sticky at all. This won't reach even close to the red truth."
Even duct tape can be of low quality, and it sometimes gets weaker with age. The tape Kumasawa had found was a bit too weak even for normal use. It wasn't nearly sticky enough to be used as a detective's seal.
"It is possible to tear it off CLEANLY. This cannot count as proof of a SEAL."
"...I guess Battler isn't as totally incompetent as I thought. He probably tampered with all the duct tape on the island using the authority of the Game Master."
Letting Erika get her hands on duct tape gave her a fatal weapon to use against witches. The previous game had proven this fact. And so, Battler had removed that weapon from the entire mansion...
"Most likely, all possible substitutes for duct tape have also been tampered WITH."
"...Probably. Well, it isn't really so bad. At least this way, I won't have to look like a fool crawling all over the outer wall in the cold rain."
Erika tossed the duct tape aside carelessly and flopped spread-eagled onto the bed...
"Anyway, waiting calmly for the crime and smoking a pipe is also part of a detective's role. I doubt you'll have any role until the first twilight begins, so why not vanish off somewhere and take a break. I imagine that just the sight of my face is tiresome for you."
"...I do not SMOKE. I am just a KID."
"Oh, really? I wish I could. Well, only if it really is as refreshing as smokers claim."
"...It seems... that you are not in high SPIRITS."
"...Does it look that way?"
Erika answered lazily, still looking up at the ceiling. That in itself was half an answer...
The silence between the two was filled by the sound of the wind and rain. It was so quiet that the sound of the ticking clock rang out clearly.
BGM: Minute Darkness
"Depends on what it is. Answer's probably <no> though."
"...Well, we're just killing time anyway. What is it?"
Erika was probably bored as well. Or maybe the sound of the rain was making her sentimental. She assented, which was very unlike her.
"WHY? Why do you hate magic, Lady Erika?"
"...Ah. You mean that thing downstairs with Maria?"
Erika didn't need Dlanor to tell her that it had been a childish fight.
"...Well, I am a self-proclaimed intellectual rapist. I can't stand having magic confuse the truth."
"And so, you feel pleasure from exposing THAT? I sense a different EMOTION."
"A different emotion? What's that?"
"To me, it feels less like pleasure, and more like a different, negative EMOTION."
"Hah, you really are a murder doll, aren't you? Even your eyes are like knotholes."
"...My APOLOGIES. Please forgive ME."
Erika rolled over grumpily, turning her back to Dlanor. So, Dlanor couldn't see her expression. Even so. For some reason, she could guess that this completely unobserved expression was one of pain...
Interpreting this to mean that Erika wanted her to go away, Dlanor gave a bow and made to leave. Then, Erika suddenly spoke. The words had come so far out of the blue that Dlanor doubted her ears, and she had to ask Erika to say it again.
"...What did you SAY?"
BGM: Witch in Gold (cembalo)
It really had been out of the blue. Dlanor wanted to see what Erika really meant, but the latter still had her back turned, and her face was out of sight...
"...Thank you very MUCH."
"I was going out with another girl a while back, but we've completely broken up. The others might talk about us out of envy, but please ignore them."
"I'm gonna devote my whole life to you, so I want you to do the same for me. Let's find happiness together."
Dlanor avoided asking what she was talking about and stood there in silence. For a while, Erika kept on dully and emotionlessly repeating soppy phrases that might have popped up in some shoujo manga... Then, unexpectedly, she once again followed up with a complete non sequitur.
Of course, she had no idea what Erika was saying. However, with her back still to Dlanor, Erika kept on saying disconnected words.
"A strange cat keychain. A different style of cologne. A music tape that's not his style... which he said he borrowed from a senior at theater. His senior was going so he couldn't refuse. He suddenly had this part-time job to go to. Talked with a friend on the phone for a really long time."
Give it a rest. If you love me, then trust me... If you can't do that, then you don't love me anymore. How could I love someone like that? I'll treasure you for all my life, but I want to do well in theater just as much. You said you liked seeing me act, right? So why are you telling me to stop acting now? Why do I have to choose between you and acting?
What's wrong with you? I'm seriously worn out, alright? Come on, if all we do is fight when we see each other, maybe we both need some time to cool off, okay? I need to concentrate for my next performance anyway. There's this senior girl who suddenly said she wouldn't be able to perform. I need to rewrite the script by tomorrow. I don't have the time for this.
If you really find it that hard to trust me, we're through. Stay away, just go home, bitch, I don't love you anymore. Don't cry dammit, it's disgusting. Just die. Stop shouting, dammit, you're annoying the neighborhood. Just get the hell away from me and never come back.
"...Without love, it cannot be seen? Hah. That's backwards."
Without love, humans would never need to sift through truth and lies. Because we can see those, we doubt. We suffer. We cry out loud.
"...Right now, I am happy. Though it may be temporary, I have become the Witch of Truth. As I am now, I no longer need to worry about being tormented by non-red words."
"...What about you? How would you have countered my endgame?"
"How would... I?"
"That useless man wouldn't play the part of my opponent in that game. I was wondering how you would have countered it?"
BGM: Smile-less Soiree
Dlanor shared in the Fragments of Erika's past and was made to grasp the full situation. The board was reproduced in full inside their heads...
The situation... was one-sided. Erika's side had constructed a blue truth based on countless bits of circumstantial evidence, had turned all of those into pieces, and was already cornering the opponent. For some time, Dlanor thought in silence... and announced her by-the-book response.
"Counter with the blue truth. I present 84 points of circumstantial and physical evidence."
"Counter with the blue TRUTH. I present 6 points of circumstantial and physical evidence that I still love YOU."
"<Good>. Blue and blue cancel each other out, but the number of pieces used to construct each is overwhelmingly unbalanced."
When both opponents meet with the blue truth, the decision is almost always based on which side has more pieces of evidence, regardless of the actual circumstances. This is especially true in the human world. So, by the standard rules, Erika would win...
"First point to me. Your next move?"
"...I will attempt to switch offense and DEFENSE. I ask that you, Lady Erika, provide proof that you are not CHEATING."
"Perpetual check. That's a forbidden move, since it'd result in an endless repetition of the same question going both ways."
"Then I frankly declare that, despite a lack of proof, I still love Lady Erika even NOW."
"Not the red truth, so that's ineffective. Even if it was red, that'd be a stalemate. After all, I'd have no move to counter with."
Dlanor remained silent for a while. Then, she quietly responded to Erika's moves until they reached checkmate. A stalemate is a forbidden move in the game of witches, since it means the ruin of the game. However, in chess, it also represents a draw. Because of this, it is a splendid final move that the weaker player can pull off if they are already unable to win outright.
In this situation, Erika clearly had the advantage. On the other side, it was natural that Dlanor would seek a stalemate to obtain a tie. However, that would only be the case in chess. In the game where witches fight over the truth, it is a forbidden move. So, it was already checkmate from the very beginning. Dlanor had no way to turn the game around...
However, regardless of what the real truth had been, this game would...
"...Any other moves? O witch-hunting archbishop, protector of the truth?"
"See? There you go. Hmph..."
Erika had succeeded in crushing her opponent with the truth she espoused... that her former boyfriend no longer loved her and was cheating on her. Her opponent had no way to argue back. After all, humans are not allowed to use .
A splendid game, a splendid finish from a superior position. Regardless of the truth of her opponent, Erika could win. A splendid... victory.
Dlanor could only respond with silence. And with that, Erika spoke no more. She was probably done talking and wanted Dlanor to leave. Dlanor understood this, but even so... Before leaving, she wanted to tell Erika one thing.
"It's only natural that the detective wins."
"Even before you became Lady Bernkastel's piece, you truly were a splendid wielder of the blue TRUTH. However, Lady Erika. Humans are only allowed to use the blue TRUTH. And the only thing that can counter blue truth is red TRUTH. And humans are not allowed to use the red TRUTH."
"...In that case, how should your opponent have shown his TRUTH?"
"...Who knows. Maybe he should have used that gold truth or whatever, which is supposed to be stronger than the red truth at times."
"...You certainly were the victor in that GAME. However, allow me to say this as a protector of the TRUTH."
"What? I imagine it's something unpleasant, so say it and go away."
"...YES. This game is your VICTORY. However, you still have not denied the six points of blue truth evidence that I showed to claim that I still loved YOU. Even you are HUMAN. You cannot use red truth to deny those POINTS."
"Later on, I used the detective's authority to have all 84 points transformed into red truth. By the power of my master...! I am human, yet superior to humans. A detective and a witch. I am the Witch of Truth, Furudo Erika. Any other questions? Parting remarks?"
"...I have NONE. In that case, please excuse ME."
Dlanor bowed and disappeared. After that, all that remained was a single Witch of Truth laughing off a bitter past with an equally bitter smile...
Judging by the bedside clock, it was almost exactly 24:00.