Part 75: ????
Just having to say that felt like admitting defeat... and I didn't like it. Why is it that she's always so obnoxious and clingy when I don't need her, and then won't answer when I call her name.
Where... am I...?
Annoyed by the completely predictable ending, I had left the cathedral. I had planned on finding some terrace with a cool night's breeze to kill time on until the end of that farcical reception.
I, the great Bernkastel, am lost? A miracle like that certainly couldn't happen. Yes... miracles don't exist in this world. To create a miracle, you need 'an amount of time that can never be reached', a period that is no different from infinity. So, when something that appears to be a miracle happens in a shorter span of time than that, it is not a miracle... but due to someone's... design. In other words, the reason I'm walking down this corridor... is because someone's design has forced me here...
"...Who? Who would have pulled such a complicated prank on me? It looks like you're quite the shy one, calling me out to a desolate place like this."
...Then... from the other end of the dark corridor... I heard a sound.
BGM: Eternal Chains
It sounded as though some small animal, like a dog or a cat, was walking at a quick pace. No miracle could cause a dog or cat to be in a place like this. Such a miracle would not be 'allowed'. Since it isn't a miracle, that means I am being guided in that direction. Very well. This might be some new idea to keep me entertained. If this is some new joke of Lambda's, I'll cover her whole body with honey using my tongue as a reward. And then, I'll stick parasol chocolates into her eyes and tell her to never do it again.
In the direction that the noise had come from, it was not only dim, but shrouded in complete darkness. However, I could sense something in that darkness. There were two emerald green glints... probably cat eyes. The eyes of a black cat that peered through the darkness.
When I looked at my feet, I saw red cat footprints leading towards those cat eyes. It was unsettling, as though it had run there with blood-stained paws. When my eyes adjusted to the darkness, then even with the lack of light, I was vaguely able to make out these red footprints. They weren't actually glowing or anything, but they served perfectly well as a signpost leading me onwards.
As though it was telling me to follow, the cat turned around and dashed off into the darkness. What is it? Something feels... very strange. It's a feeling I haven't felt since I began calling myself the cruelest witch in the world. I can't quite remember what this feeling is. Still, for one as tired of boredom as me, it's surely more fun this way. I followed the bloody footprints of the cat, which would sometimes stop and look back at me, and walked on and on through the dark corridor...
Forward, turn, head down what appeared to be stairs from time to time. And then, though I couldn't really tell because of the darkness, I was standing right in front of a door.
I pushed the door open slowly, but it was dark on the inside, just like the corridor. However, the air and the slight change in the echos made by the footsteps... told me that this was a room, not a corridor. The sounds of the cat's footsteps were gone. However, the bloody footprints remained.
On the other side of some sort of wooden screen, under what looked like a small spotlight... There was that same black cat gobbling down some bloodstained pet food. I see. So, this is its reward for bringing me here...
"Cat... Sorry to bother you during your meal, but I'd like you to summon your master. That is, unless you're actually the one who summoned me...?"
Talking to it didn't cause it to turn around. Well, I guess it is an animal eating its food. If I kick it away, it'll probably run off to its owner.
When I did kick the cat, it sailed away like a stuffed animal, hit the wall, and fell to the ground. Then, it vanished, as though it had melted into the darkness... What's with this cat? Is it just an illusion...?
When I looked at its food plate, it was piled up with what appeared to be blood-drenched raw meat. It was as though someone had torn apart living flesh on the spot and piled it up on there.
"...Come on, what's with the creepy reception?"
The instant I heard that voice, the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. Then, the surrounding area finally brightened... However, Bernkastel had already guessed where this was before it grew bright...
"...A cat who has learned to eat meat and choose its own path. It has been a long time..."
"It's a path I'd never have to have noticed if you hadn't told me. You're the monster who taught me the taste of flesh. So, you've come back to life. Featherine Auaurora..."
"...Augustus Aurora... You never learn no matter how often I tell you that..."
"...Very well. Even that brings back fond memories... I have heard the rumors... It seems you have taken the name Bernkastel, Witch of Miracles, and have been playing a far from praiseworthy Fragment game..."
"I'm just imitating you. Though I could hardly match up to your level. If the rumors you've heard about me are bad, that applies a hundredfold to you."
Bernkastel sat unreservedly in an antique chair, as though she was already familiar with the place.
"...What are you afraid of? I am merely celebrating my reunion with my longest-serving miko so far... Did you really find my messenger cat so displeasing?"
Bernkastel's manner seemed completely relaxed... However, Featherine admonished her, telling her not to be afraid. And, judging by the expression that had risen to Bern's face, Featherine had been right on the mark...
"...Have no fear. Look closely. Do you see any cat stuffing its face with meat...? I just gave it a plate of biscuits as a reward for going to get you..."
...It looked as though soot covering the plate at her feet was blown away, even though there was no wind. There lay a lovely... and perfectly normal... cat dish, with a pile of small biscuits on top of it...
Bernkastel didn't even hide her displeased grimace. Featherine shrugged and muttered 'you haven't changed, child of man' as she rocked her rocking chair.
"...I see you're as unpleasant as ever. But I'm happy now. Imitating you really has been far from boring."
"...Scold me as you please. It is the parting gift I gave you when we last met."
"You liked abusive mikos because they kept you entertained, right...? Tch, ridiculous. If talking will only please you, I'll shut up. So, what do you want with me...?"
"It seems Beatrice's game has ended with Battler's victory. I observed it. It was quite entertaining."
"...I'm sure you liked seeing me fail miserably."
"Nonsense, it was a splendid performance... I'm sure Beato is very grateful to you."
"...Hmph. And? If you want me to read the Fragments of Beato's game aloud for you, I refuse. I'm not your miko anymore."
BGM: Smile-less Soiree
"...I believe I have formed an answer for all the riddles in my own way. The culprit. The motive. The individual tricks. I'm not yet clear about the very last part of the epitaph's riddle, but I have enough of a theory that if I actually went to Rokkenjima and investigated, I should be able to resolve that part as well."
"Of course, since there is no single truth, my theory is probably only one of many possibilities. However, it is one of those possibilities, so that problem is a trivial one."
"...What are you up to? Do you want to debate Beato's game with me?"
BGM: Fishy Aroma
Those words of Featherine's made Bernkastel straighten up. Her old master did not fail to notice that small reaction.
"So far, you have spiced up this tale as an actor. In doing that, you have probably come to know many truths. However, even you are unaware of the truth behind several riddles that Beato has skillfully kept hidden, correct...?"
"...I see... You want to use me to chew apart and string out the guts of something again."
"After watching a play, reading the pamphlet and learning what goes on behind the scenes is similar to, as you would say it, enjoying some black tea after a meal. That enjoyment cannot be left undone."
"You like to play with them and love them while they're alive, then eat their flesh when they die. So, cats are doubly useful to you. Just die, monster."
"I want... to look at the answers. I'm sure you want to know them."
"Think of it as a burial for Beato's corpse, where you are in charge of the service. What do you say about that, child of man?"
"...Now, you're starting to speak my language."
When Featherine snapped her fingers, a thin spotlight appeared on the table, which was covered with cluttered books. There... lay a folded version of the game board for Beato's game. The Witch of Theatergoing spun her finger in a circle, and the game board opened up by itself, showing the black and white pieces lined up inside it.
With a rustling sound, the book flipped through all its pages of its own accord, front to back, shut itself, and flew to the side of the game board, where it waited. Inside it, all of the movements of the pieces during previous games were recorded...
"...I see. So you were short a player and a commentator..."
"We're also short on black tea. Similarly with dried plums. Of course, I will find some."
"...Okay. If you add on some mustard rice cakes, then we have a deal."
"The negotiations are concluded."
"I have one condition."
"Oh, and what is that?"
"I only want to check the answers. I don't particularly care about the tale itself. I'm not deeply interested in what sort of tale you'll create. Ah, yes. Now I see what you're after."
"...Will you accept that condition?"
"Very well... I want to know the answer. You have your grudge to worry about. The negotiations are concluded."
When Featherine snapped her fingers once more, a large chair appeared, as though beckoning Bernkastel to sit there. It was horribly mismatched with the furnishings of this room... a throne.
Wait, I've seen this before. This is-
"...Are you sure? Are you really... sure...?"
"You can create whatever sort of tale you like to satisfy your grudge. I am not interested."
"However, I have one condition as well. Answer all of the questions I ask for. No hiding, concealment or tricks."
"Heh, heheheheheheheheheh...! Leave it to me. Tearing apart the chest and ripping out the guts is my specialty. After all, you trained me."
"Let us make some black tea. We'll use our own hands, not magic. Let the master treat her miko to some tea..."
"The old Beato told me that witches are the best ones to have black tea with."
"It seems we don't match with that description... Heh, heheheheheheheheheheheheheheheh."
...At some point, that dish piled with biscuits... had once again been covered with a mountain of torn-apart meat and a splatter of red. No, not just meat... even the bowels...
BGM: Fishy Aroma (vocals)
"Correct. A fitting number."
"Fitting for Beato, you mean, right?"
Bernkastel slowly picked up a black piece. It was... the piece that represented Beatrice. It was sometimes a king, sometimes a queen, and could become a knight. However, that was only if it got promoted. Until then, it was only a trash piece, like a pawn.
First comes the placing of the pieces. By this point, the witch's game has already begun. Bernkastel took Beato's piece... and raised it high.
TO BE CONTINUED