Part 55: The Fate of Those Who Do Not Fight II
Krauss had told her to go to bed, but she couldn't afford to lie around sleeping on an important day like this. However, she realized that she was the type to get excited easily, and that this sometimes held her husband back... So, though she didn't like it one bit, there was no way around it... It was probably close to the time for the break to end, and the family conference would begin once again in the dining hall. Her husband would have to protect the Ushiromiya family honor from those greedy siblings... all by himself. If she grew emotional by his side, she would just tie him down. Though she knew that quietly waiting here was the best way she could support him, that didn't make the waiting any easier.
Natsuhi pulled the small box she kept treasures in out of the drawer. This was her secret box. Inside was everything from valuable items to mere rubbish. However, they were all precious, memorable treasures in Natsuhi's eyes. She pulled a small pouch out of the box. She stuck her hand inside it.
...It was a kind of charm that her own family had given her when she had married. It was a spirit mirror to ward off evil. Her own face was reflected in the mirror. She wasn't as young as she once was. Recently, she had seen a bit of her parents and grandparents on her own face. So by staring at her reflection in the mirror like this, she felt as though her soul had returned to the family she had been born into...
BGM: 599 Million Ruins
Of course, her face in the mirror did not answer... However, Natsuhi continued.
"...I am waiting here alone because I love my husband. However, I think love means being close to one another. Though I understand logically that staying here is the best way I can help him, I still feel wretched for doing it... It's tough, isn't it... waiting for the sake of love..."
With a plop, a tear fell onto the mirror. Old, dear memories of her life at her parents' house rose up inside her. Now was the time... for her to follow her parents' example... When her father came home late, her mother would always sit up straight waiting for him, prepared for him to arrive at any moment. She would always wait for him, kneeling in the entrance hall, and no matter how late he came home, she would always wake up all the children and line them up to greet him.
At the time, I only thought of her as being exceptionally strict, but at this age, I finally understand how strong she was, persevering in her love for her beloved husband even after being left in charge of the house while he was out.
Video: Beatrice VS Natsuhi
The sudden voice made Natsuhi jump up and look about the room. When she did, there was a western lady wrapped in an extravagant dress.
"Wh, who are you?!"
Natsuhi was confused. There was no one like this in this mansion. However, though this was her first time seeing her, it felt as though she had seen this person somewhere else... Her mind had gone blank with her anger at the ruffian who had snuck into her private room and confusion over the appearance of someone she didn't know, so much so that it took quite a bit of time before she realized that this was the witch of the portrait.
"...Though you murdered a baby you didn't know on that day 19 years ago, I will not hold that sin against you."
"Wh, what are... you... talking about...?"
Beato had chosen Natsuhi as her sacrifice. She was 'Battler's' enemy. Beato didn't understand much about the details of Battler's birth. However, she knew the Fragment of the previous game, and knew there was a chance that Battler was the baby that Natsuhi had pushed off a cliff 19 years ago. Battler had used his blue wedge to protect Natsuhi from certain false charges, but since that might have been related to Battler's own confession, Beato still viewed Natsuhi as an enemy who might have forced Battler to live a painful life.
"You killed that baby, who lacked your husband's blood, for the sake of your love for your husband, so, also for the sake of love, I will not hold it against you."
"I don't... have a clue what you're talking about!! Get out!! This is my room!!"
Beato slowly stuck out her arms... and made as if to grab something in empty space. That grab... bound itself around Natsuhi's neck.
"Ggh... ah... eh..."
Natsuhi's heels lifted up, and a faint, purple shape appeared around her neck... Natsuhi frantically scratched at her neck, trying to stop whatever was strangling her, but there was nothing there. So, to an outsider, it just looked as though Natsuhi was standing on her toes in anguish, scratching at her own neck.
"...Both pairs of lovers have shown their determination. I do not think... that my love for Battler-san is inferior to theirs... Just as I will not blame you for your sin of 19 years ago, I will not blame myself for this sin...!"
"...Eh gah gghh..."
As Natsuhi twisted in agony, something she had been grasping fell from her grip. Since it had fallen by her feet, Beato dropped her gaze to see what it was...
BGM: Black Lilliana
When she peered into it, there was a sound like a burst of electricity. That sound released Natsuhi from the invisible hands... and made Beato topple backwards like a doll.
Coughing, Natsuhi tried to comprehend what was going on around her. Beato rolled over and, dizzy as though she had just bumped her head, she slowly tried to stand up. Her eyes were bewildered, as though even she didn't really understand what had happened.
"...Wh, what... what is this...?"
"E, even I... don't have a clue what's happening... What in the world..."
She had thought that only Beato the elder possessed the non-human weak points such as getting burned by spiderwebs and wards and having her power sealed by spirit mirrors. However, for some reason, this spirit mirror alone could apparently affect Beato as well. Even Beato couldn't understand what about the spirit mirror had had such an overpowering effect on her.
But Natsuhi was different. She instantly realized that the reason for the hesitation of this unearthly being, this witch of the portrait... must be the power of the mirror. So, she rapidly crawled across the floor and picked up the mirror. Then, she stuck it out so that Beato could see it...
Beato still didn't know what was happening, so, still sitting down, she looked straight at it. And this time, both of them understood the situation completely. Beato realized that the mirror was working some hateful power against her. And Natsuhi realized that the spirit mirror had the power to repel witches.
"...Gghh... uuuuuhhh...!! Wh, why is... the mirror...?!"
"It is because you are an evil witch. This miraculous spirit mirror repels all creatures of evil...!"
"...Don't... point it at me...!"
With the spirit mirror still held out, Natsuhi cautiously closed the gap between them. She was cautious, so as to prevent the other from suddenly lashing out and stealing the mirror, but she steadily moved to corner this evil.
"I... I do not know who you are. All I know is that you tried to kill me. And I know that you are a creature of evil, fearful of this spirit mirror. Begone, evil one...!!"
Beato didn't understand what was happening herself. She didn't know why she had to fear this spirit mirror. However, when she tried to look at the bright light let off by the spirit mirror, it pierced her eyes. Though she didn't understand why she must be afraid, she did understand that she must be afraid.
By now, Beato realized that this spirit mirror was both terrifying and harmful. As it came closer to her, she felt an increasingly stronger burning sensation over her whole body, as though someone was approaching her with a hot iron. She couldn't even open her eyes because of the mirror's bright, painful glint...
"Uuuuu... ah... aaaaaaaahhh... ah..."
"Go, return to the world from whence you came, evil one! I, Ushiromiya Natsuhi, do not fear evil in the least!"
...It's... no use... Why...? Why is this... musty mirror... so...
Just like George-san and Shannon-san... Jessica-san and Kanon-san... I also want Battler-san to acknowledge me... and treasure me... And... even though I've finally admitted that... I alone... in a place like this...
"Believe! The miracle of love will surely occur!"
...I... love... Battler-san... I want him to notice me. And I want him to acknowledge and accept my feelings... If my reason for calling him Father and dedicated myself to him... was out of duty towards a parent of mine, I would have been satisfied with no reward... That had been... a deception to fool myself with...
...I... love Battler-san. And I want him to see me. I accept it. I won't turn away any longer.
"...And so... I cannot lose... here..."
"Begone, evil one!! There is no place for you here!"
Her determination had come too late. If she had had it since the beginning, she would probably have finished Natsuhi off right then without any fear. Because she had wavered, it had taken time to kill Natsuhi, and things had ended up like this. But now, I am resolved. I want to love Battler-san. I want him to love me.
"...And so... I cannot lose here...! After all, I was born for Battler-san's sake...!!"
Just after a sound like a beetle banging off all the walls in the room, the spirit mirror was knocked out of Natsuhi's outstretched hand. It fell onto the floor, and the stake flying around the room pierced through it with a crash.
"...Huh?! Ah, Lucifer... san...?"
"Beatrice-sama, you must complete your trial...! She'll get away...!"
Now that the spirit mirror, her last ray of hope, had been smashed, and the number of strange demons had increased, Natsuhi could do nothing but run for it. However, if she made a scene and people gathered, the anti-magic toxin would burn Beato. Now was her last chance.
"Th, thank you, Lucifer-san...! P, prepare yourself, Ushiromiya Natsuhi...!"
"...Gggah!! Ghghhgg... kk..."
Once again, Beato choked the thin air. This time, she wouldn't let her escape. She had to end Natsuhi's pain right away before it got too drawn out. But... her power wasn't... enough... Though Natsuhi scratched at her neck, she also struggled to escape from the room. Her shaking hand... stretched out... to the lock on the door.
A closed room is one of the definitions that makes a witch. Just unlocking the door made the anti-magic toxin strengthen a little. Since Beato was at her limit even within a closed room, if Natsuhi undid that lock, Beato's power would weaken immediately, and Natsuhi would surely escape into the hallway. Their strengths were matched. However, Natsuhi's began to surpass Beato's slightly... The power of the living to live is fundamentally stronger than the power of magic. Of course, Beato was mustering all her might. However, Natsuhi was just slightly stronger...
BGM: Bread of Life
"A, as you wish!"
Natsuhi... crumpled slowly. When Beato saw this, she also fell to her knees, breathing hard.
"That's right, Furfur! True, this trial must be accomplished without borrowing the help of any other!"
"But maybe this is an exception?!"
""A pair in love are as one! This doesn't count as help from outside!""
"M, my apologies... Sorry I didn't listen to your instructions..."
"...Well, I didn't stay in my room..."
Beato hung her head apologetically. When he saw this, Battler scratched his head uncomfortably.
"In that case, I should apologize too. I should have been more kind."
"N, no, you did nothing wrong... Father... I... I mean... Battler-san..."
"It's okay. Call me whatever you like."
Battler had always looked at the new Beatrice sternly. However, that was gone from his expression now...
"...True, the old you may have called me just 'Battler'. At first, I might have tried to force you to speak to me that way. However, that would be pointless. You are Beato... but you're yourself. You can call me whatever you want."
"Sure, that works great. Can't say being called Father is really my thing."
Earlier, she had hesitated just to say Battler's name at all. If Battler had told her to say his name without honorifics, she couldn't have done so right now, and even if she had, that might have hurt Battler even more. However, now, she was allowed to call Battler by his name. If you just looked into her eyes, there would be no need to describe just how happy this made her feel...
"Y, yes... Sorry for being so selfish..."
"No problem. That reckless way you get into something before you understand it is really like you. And... well, I've heard about the theme of the game. Apparently, you're supposed to play it in pairs."
"Yes, that is correct, sir!!"
"If you can succeed in winning through our trial!"
""We will bless the pair of you and bestow a miracle of magic upon you!""
"It seems these guys have been given the power of Beato's golden butterfly brooch. That means their effect is guaranteed. We've been stuck with each other for a long time now. Nothing wrong with playing this sort of game every now and then."
"Oh, did you hear that, Furfur?! It looks like Lord BATTLER is joining in as well!!"
"That's no surprise! After all, we've known since the beginning!"
""Welcome to our trial, Lord BATTLER! Then, who will your sacrifice be?!""
"Very well, Lord BATTLER! Come, Furfur, let's go check!"
"Yes, let's! But Zepar? This means that all six lovers have succeeded in their trials, right? What should we do next?!"
""The resolve of all six is the real deal! Let us test them further in the next trial!""
The two noisy demons disappeared. It seemed that they had left to go check on the sacrifice Battler had killed, and that they had done so also so that Battler and Beato, who could finally look each other in the eye and talk, could have some time alone...
When suddenly asked this question, Ange immediately came to her senses... Then, she realized that she had been immersed in the other's tale. She felt a bit defeated and tried to look displeased.
"Y... you've cleverly tried to mix things up with all this about the love trial, but exactly six people have died, setting up the first twilight. Impressive."
"Oh, you're right. I didn't realize."
Amakusa clapped his hands as though he'd been outsmarted. Even though he'd figured it out before me, he played the fool.
"...That's simply because the number of lovers just happened to be six. The fact that it matched to the number of the first twilight was half coincidence, half design. It's a bit more interesting that way. Feels more like fate."
"Humans have the bad habit of taking two meaningless phenomena and trying to link them together. Trying to make things seem like fate is a 'trick' of books."
"I guess you aren't a fan of destiny and miracles, Lady."
"It's like UFOs. Everyone knows about them, but no one has ever seen them."
"There's a cool metaphor."
"...So. Normally, I'd try to skip over all the love and illusions and call them unnecessary, useless scenes for the mystery... But Okonogi-san disagreed with that way of thinking. He thought that, by looking at things without love that way, the truth could never be reached."
"Ah, you mean President Okonogi's killer phrase? Without love, it cannot be seen?"
"Yeah, that. If I put aside my anger at the person who killed my family in a story, and even speak with respect for Hachijo, the one who wrote this tale, then there must be a point to this depiction. After all, she's used up all these pages talking about love and trials. In other words, those are the themes and key words of this tale."
"...Oho. And there are many who claim that all words not written in red ink are not worth reading. It is an honor, child of man, that you have read the black letters as well."
"Stories are written because the writer has something they want to communicate. And some writers feel that it's unrefined to lay everything out too directly. All of this about how you'll never reach the truth without love has shown up many times in the works before this one. This new work makes that even more striking. It means that that is the one thing the writer wanted to tell the most... the thing that they want us to think about the most."
Even the first time she appeared before Shannon, she spoke clearly about how love was the single element of the world. And the golden butterfly brooch she had given... was also an item for love. She had said that she enjoyed sowing seeds of love and watching complications arise, and when Shannon stopped borrowing her power, the reason for her argument was also love. After her interactions with Battler started up in full, scenes about love were toned down for a while, but the 'without love, it cannot be seen' definition of magic had been mentioned repeatedly. Then, in the tale right before this one, where Beato had become like a doll, the scenes shown made it seem almost as though Battler and Beato accepted each other as rivals... or possibly something more.
In the end, Battler had regained some memory, and his impression of Beato had undergone a complete change. And then, this game. From the beginning until now, the word 'love' has been repeated over and over again.
"...Correct. That is what I wanted to tell. And it is my own sort of 'answer'."
"Answer? Then all of the crimes 12 years ago were a trial of love started by strange demons?"
"Ridiculous. I didn't come here to read a romance novel you wrote. What I want to know about is the truth you claim to have reached."
With an obviously condescending gaze, Hachijo shrugged. It was clear that she was trying to provoke Ange. She was probably hinting that Ange should just go home if she was annoyed. 'If you're going to read my noble work and not even attempt to see whether you understand it, then get out'. Normally, Ange would already have thrown a fit and left. However, Ange couldn't do that. Though she didn't like someone else toying with her family's fates in a story, she was growing increasingly certain of something else as she read through the story.
...Just as Hachijo's followers said, this tale really does have the same presence... the same scent as the tales written by Beatrice. The author is certainly different. However, because it reached to the real truth, it had the same scent... Ange was beginning to acknowledge this. Hachijo Toya... was one who had reached Beatrice's truth, an 'Endless Witch' like Beatrice, who could add to the endlessly stretching parallel worlds of the cat box...
"...If one has reached Beatrice's truth, they can create a new tale, whoever they are. With this new manuscript, I'm sure some other than myself will appear and reach the truth. Those people will be qualified to create new tales of their own."
"So there will be more and more Endless Witches..."
"Yes. And these many Endless Witches will add to Beatrice's cat box tale. The more they add to it, the more people will reach the truth... When that happens, the very first Endless Witch, Beatrice, will finally be rewarded for writing such long letters, packing them in bottles, and throwing them into the sea..."
"...You might have yelled at me angrily and risen from your seat. However, you did not. Why?"
BGM: A Single Moment
I already have my own ideas. However, that's no more than looking with a single eye. Unless I accept a different viewpoint from my own and look at things from more than one angle, I'll never be able to see the truth in three dimensions. That's my interpretation of 'without love, it cannot be seen'.
"Very well, child of man. Perhaps, as the final survivor of the Ushiromiya family, it was fated that you would find the truth and become an Endless Witch. I exist only as a guidepost to awaken you as the true successor. ANGE Beatrice."
Sometimes, I don't understand what she's saying... However, she knows something. And maybe... she actually has reached the truth, as she claims... In other words, I don't know the truth even after the two message bottles Beatrice left behind, and I've read several tales with hints afterwards.
"So, these hints are challenges, provoking me to think."
"Perfect. I'll find this truth you say you've reached. It's a good thing I came here."
"That it is. I invited you here because you hadn't found it yet, child of man..."
Let the truth I see and the truth you see overlap. Just as you see things with a single eye, so do I. Now that I've found you, I can finally look at the truth with both eyes.
"...You have some sleep in your eye."
"Huh? Wh, where... Th, that's none of your business."
"...Hmph. As you wish, let's begin. First off, the first twilight."