Part 71: Red and Blue Truth II
"Ooh, Zepar! What's this?! What does it mean?!"
"This is... a request for a duel!! If she picks up the glove, it means she's accepted!"
"And if she doesn't, the Chiesters will shoot? Why should she pick it up?!"
"She doesn't have to. However, we and the demon attendants would probably spread the word far and wide that she dishonorably ran away from a duel...!!"
Beatrice waited firmly and composedly. If Erika just kicked it away... Then that very instant, the Chiesters would probably all fire at once, turning her into a golden embroidery. So, Erika did not have to pick it up.
However, she could not afford to be afraid of picking it up. After all, she was the true victor, who had defeated Battler's closed room trick and logic. If she was the victor, she should have nothing to fear. So, if she was afraid of doing it, it would prove that she still felt a tinge of doubt about her victory...
"That would probably liven up your reception. However, you will pick it up."
"Oh? And why is that...?"
"...I've brought a wonderful gift just perfect for you. You want to know what that is. Therefore, you'll pick it up."
"Not interested. Goodbye."
"...You'll pick it up. I know... that you want to hear about the closed room I've brought you... which, unlike that trivial guest room of Battler's, is simple, basic... and absolutely cannot be solved."
"...A closed room... that absolutely... cannot be solved...?"
"...I know you want to accept my challenge. After all..."
Erika threw off her wedding dress as though it was a cape... Yes. Before she is a bride or a piece or a witch... She is one thing first and foremost-
"If you pick that glove up, I will prove that I have fixed it in my fight against you."
Ooooooooohhh!! The cathedral was filled with chatter. Erika... had picked up the glove. A duel! A duel!! The cathedral was wrapped in a bizarre excitement.
At Erika's nod, Dlanor pushed the crowd away, leaving the pair alone. People were permitted to witness this duel. However, no one would be allowed to hinder it in any way...!
"H, h... h... how...?"
"I'm going to save you now. Please endure just a little longer..."
Beato's resolute expression returned, and she grinned boldly, looking down on Erika. Ah, there can be no doubt... That's the expression worn only by the Golden Witch, the presence of the master of closed rooms.
Video: Battler's Escape
The raindrops never touched him, he made no splashes in the countless puddles, his feet left no tracks in the mud. That rushing figure... was Kanon...
Then, he ran up the stairs, to the entrance of the mansion. He did not slow down in the slightest to open the door. He ran straight at it as though trying to break through, and leapt into it...!
Though the door was shut, even that couldn't stop Kanon. He slipped through the door, fell into the entranceway, and slowly stood up. His body wasn't even wet. And, as he recalled those nostalgic days spent serving the Ushiromiya family, which would never come again, he ran once more. He was heading for Battler's guest room.
He ran past the servant room, through the entrance hall, and past the door to the parlor. Then, the doors to the kitchen and the dining hall came into sight... All of it brings back fond memories.
However, that man wasn't rigid all the time. When the family was out of sight and he didn't have to preserve that air of majesty, his face could turn unbelievably childish, and he would sometimes ask me to take part in strange pranks. The Master let me shoot lots of guns, didn't he... That... was pretty fun.
He must have gotten the impression that the Master bullied me a lot. Whenever I was the only one around, he would talk to me in a very familiar way, almost as if he was a classmate of mine. I sort of regret that I held back and never did anything but nod in return...
Ever since some rumor went around saying that she was strict on female servants but soft towards male servants, I get the feeling she viewed me as an enemy. However, she was also a woman to be pitied. When I've seen her alone, I've noticed her shoulders sag with the pain many times.
There were a lot of servants, weren't there... Some lasted a short while, others stayed a long time.
I am both grateful and resentful towards him over many things. They all mix together, cancel out, and I end up with a neutral emotion. In that case, Kumasawa-san could probably be called my mother. She's helped me out many times. I've always wanted to repay her someday, and now I've lost that chance for all time.
Without her, I wouldn't have been able to be me. Thanks for teaching me that the ocean is blue...
Still, when I complimented his stew, he would sometimes turn red and tell me there was enough for seconds. I didn't dislike that part of him. I wonder why such a strong memory popped up during the instant I ran past the dining hall...
And then... my memories of Jessica.
I think those were the first words she spoke to me. Come to think about it, she was probably interested in me ever since then. I really did... have enough time to build up a love that wouldn't lose to George-sama and Shannon's. But... since I could only see the gray sea, I wasted almost all of that time.
What does she like about me? What do I like about her? I get the feeling we never really made that clear. No, she told me. We should have stayed together longer to eventually find that out. The reasons for love could be dealt with later. It took me... far too long... to realize that. Now, I think I can accept it. I know why Shannon won the duel. God must have been watching. You had so much more courage than I did, and God didn't abandon you...
It was Battler. He was lying just outside the guest room, a chain tied to his neck. He had probably struggled to do something with the chain lock from the outside until he lost consciousness... His fingernails on both hands had been torn off, and they were stained with blood. I could tell at a glance just how hard he had tried until the final moment when his heart had died. The collar binding him wouldn't disappear unless the chain lock was set.
Battler responded faintly. He probably hadn't even imagined that help would come to this eternal closed room. He was so scared that this might be an auditory hallucination brought about by his fleeting delusion... that he couldn't let himself open his eyes easily... Kanon grabbed Battler by the arms and dragged him into the room...
The windows had been brutally shattered, and the wind and rain had made its way into the room. All kinds of tools and furniture lay broken there. However, Battler hadn't smashed them out of rage. The curtain had been removed, torn, and twisted up into a bundle. He had probably used trial and error to see if that could be used as a rope for some trick. He had tried using everything in the room, exploring all possible options of escape. The traces could be seen throughout the room, and even in the bathroom. The empty bathtub was stained with just a bit of blood, and the nippers lay there on the bottom. To protect this tale, he had nearly been prepared to accept Bernkastel's brutal method of escape... and cut himself into pieces... while washing himself down the drain. He was even willing to tear apart his own body. To protect the game Beato had entrusted him with, he had probably questioned himself over and over in this bathtub, wondering if there was any other way out.
...By the clock of the game world, not even a single day had passed. However, just how many years had that lasted in the closed room of the logic error? When faced with an endless span of time, any way of ending it, no matter how cruel, is tempting. However, he had rejected that until the very end. And... even in the last moment when his heart died, he had wanted so much to show his iron will to escape from this closed room... that he had chosen to fall here in the corridor, with the chain still around his neck...
"...Battler-sama. It's Kanon. Please, come to your senses..."
He wiped Battler's face with a towel wetted in the sink. In response to that cold sensation, Battler's heart slowly started beating again...
"Yes, it's me, Kanon. You did well... to endure until today."
"Heh... heheh... Looks like... I slept in... just a little too... much..."
Battler realized that the feel of the towel on his neck meant that the cursed collar and chain were gone.
"There's no longer anything binding you here. Come on. Please, head back quickly."
"...B, but... if I unset that chain lock, that chain will come back..."
"Don't worry. No longer does any chain exist to bind you, Battler-sama. I will remain here."
"What... did you say...?"
By now, Battler knew the terror of this endless closed room better than anyone else. So, he was more filled with shock than happiness... shock at the determination of the one who was willing to become the new prisoner...
"I will be fine. There is no need to worry."
"Battler-sama, isn't there still something you have to do...?"
His stern words and gaze... shot straight through Battler.
"...Are... you sure?"
"Yes. That will be fine. This way, I can repay my debt from back then."
"...Debt? Do you owe me something?"
"It isn't a debt I have with you, Battler-sama. It's okay, so go. I don't like keeping debts. Go, quickly. You must not keep her waiting now. So, quickly."
Battler couldn't argue back anymore. He silently bowed his head, unset the chain, and opened the door. Kanon had remained in the room, so no chain appeared about Battler's neck. He could leave this closed room just by running out... The happy-sounding voices that he had heard at the far end of the corridor... had been replaced with an excited chatter. There must have been some sort of strange disturbance going on.
As Kanon went out into the corridor to see me off, the merciless collar and chain had already captured their new prisoner. He would remain inside this endless closed room... in Battler's place...
"...Kanon-kun. I feel the same."
"I... don't like keeping debts. I'll definitely repay you. And I'll do it soon."
"...I hope I can count on that... Go on. Run. Run to the one you love. And please, never get lost again...!!"
Battler would not turn around any longer. He ran with everything he had. He ran out into the corridor, whose warmth he had cursed so many times. That cursed chain no longer bound him. He ran to the very end of the corridor, beyond the light...
BGM: My Dear
Now, he only had to worry about his own job. Stay in this room... and fix the error in logic.
"...Now, I set the chain lock..."
As soon as he set it, the chain disappeared from his neck. Then, if he hid in the one place Erika hadn't checked... The broken logic would be fixed... The closet door opened slowly. It was well-oiled, and opened without a sound. It was cramped inside, and dark.
This tiny space... is the final place for me. As long as I remain hidden in here, the logic will be preserved.
"...That's an easy job. Easier than caring for the roses."
Kanon went in it... and closed the double doors from the inside. As soon as he did, a single small gold butterfly appeared... melted into the darkness of the closet, and vanished. It was a sign that the logic had been fixed. The witch's game had already stopped, and the clock of the world of the pieces would never tick again. So, for all eternity, no one... would come to save him from this place.
The power of the gold butterfly brooch taught me about love. In the third game, it gave me some quiet time alone with Jessica. I get the feeling it did many other small things for me. At any rate, now I've paid back all of my debts. Now, all of my debts are...
That's okay, isn't it, Jessica...? I liked that one. Can I accept that as a present...?
...You want me to dub over it and hand it back...? Ha, hahahahahaha...
Slowly, Kanon's body began to melt... into a cloud of gold butterflies... And, after the inside of the cramped, dark closet glittered like a golden planetarium, it faded away like the light of fireflies, and was painted over with a pitch blackness. For all eternity...
On the red carpet, standing across from each other, were Beato and Erika. In their hands... were the pistols given to them by Zepar and Furfur.
"Flintlocks, are they? How old-fashioned."
"Pay it no mind. Demons are very particular about style."
Its form was similar to an actual old-fashioned gun, but this was, of course, a demon's gun. This wasn't a gun that would propel a lead bullet with an explosion caused by gunpowder. Like the pistols used in the duel between Shannon and Kanon, whose bullets had contained a magic that would always kill, these pistols also had bullets that were not made of lead...
"There's no need to worry. She'll win easily, and you'll have to deal with her insults again, Lia."
"When this match is over, we should ask to be paid every now and then. When the fight is finished with, I would like to take a trip down to the Caribbean sometime."
"Enough talk about 'when the fight is over'... That's an ill-omen before a duel."
"Beato! Take this seriously!! This is no time to be standing around laughing!"
"Why is Riiche relaxed and Lia tense? Come on."
"""Beatrice-sama, you can do it!!"""
"...Beatrice-sama is at a disadvantage in this duel."
"...Normally, witches can win by numbers. However, since the game has been suspended, she has nothing on her side except 'the riddle of Battler-sama's guest room."
"If Erika can just strike a blue wedge through that one riddle, it'll mean that she's solved everything!!"
"They can win. I believe in Beatrice-sama... and Battler-sama... our two masters...!"
"For once, it feels as though our chances for winning are 50/50. So I'd like to thank you beforehand."
"It is simply my JOB. There is no need to thank ME."
"...In the last game, when you protected me after I lost pathetically, I was happy. That was the first time in my life that anyone has ever protected me. Even my master has never done so. All she has given me is a way to negate my pain by exposing the truth to others, and causing them just as much pain."
"...Please, forgive my ARROGANCE. I felt that I needed to protect YOU. As soon as I realized what a frail truth you live by... and how much you have been tortured by the violence of a more plausible mixture of truth and lies, I wanted to protect YOU."
"Thank you. It wasn't for long, but you were a wonderful partner."
"And I will remain SO."
"...You're right. Once we've defeated her, let's make tons of mysteries on this island together. I'll have you solve them, and tease you as we play. How does that sound?"
"...Sounds INTERESTING. I am looking forward to your CHALLENGE."
"Ah, sorry, that's a lie. I take it back. That'd be one of those loser flags, wouldn't it?"
When the two demons clapped their hands, the duelists instantly returned to their bold, tense smiles.
"The bullets within those magic guns are not lead!"
"They are bullets of red and blue truth for the battle between mystery and fantasy!!"
"As long as you possess truth, your bullets are endless!"
"However, being hit by a single one means instant death!"
""Are you both prepared?!""
""Lady Lambdadelta, the great and powerful Witch of Certainty and member of the glorious Senate!! Please come forward!! Will you swear to oversee this duel?!!""
"Of course. I swear it."
The crowd split, and Lambda walked forward with Bernkastel by her side. She looked between the faces of the two duelists. Then, she took out an envelope with the seal of the One-winged Eagle... and lifted it high.
"'The chain lock is still set! And without any contradictions with any red truth made up to this point!'"
*chatter*chatter*chatter*...!! The many goat attendants knew the details of Battler's closed room. They realized how difficult it was. And, though fiery debates had swept across the crowd during the reception, none had been able to find an answer. And now... it was clear that Beatrice had already reached one.
"Therefore, this duel is legitimate. It will center around one, single point. The closed room of Battler's guest room! Battler disappeared from within a closed room sealed by a chain lock!"
"Therefore, Erika has been armed with the blue truth. Beatrice has been armed with the red truth to counter back. The duel will continue until one side is victorious!!"
"OK. Well then, Beato. Present your new, revised tale and riddle to Erika."
"Kanon used magic, to escape from the cousins' room without breaking the seals. He reached the guest room and used magic to let Battler escape, from that closed room."
"...Hmph, what a foolish tale."
"Very well. Erika, is there anything you wish to confirm?"
"Repeat it. 'The one who rescued Battler was, without a doubt, Kanon.'"
"Repeat it. 'Battler and Kanon are different people.'"
"I'll say it. Battler and Kanon are different people."
"...Hmph. That's enough."
"Erika, are you done confirming things?"
"That was all I needed. I've already decided how to fight."
"OK! Let both sides load their bullets...!!"
There was no rule saying that she had to turn away, but she didn't want her expression to be read. Or, it might have been because she couldn't stand the tension of looking at Beato's bold smile.
Beato had already finished loading her red truth. She waited for Erika to finish while calmly puffing on her pipe. Then, she looked at Battler, who sat on the throne of the territory lord, right next to the two witches who sat as witnesses to this duel. Battler's consciousness was still hazy. However, he apparently understood that Beato had come to duel for his sake, so that he could be saved. It was all he could do to just look at Beato with those sluggish eyes, but a flood of emotions passed between them. There was no need for words. A look was enough for them now.
Erika closed her eyes tightly, her finger still up against the barrel. At that moment, her stunning powers of concentration made all the distractions of the outside world disappear.
...<Good>. It's always been like this, but my concentration really is good.