Part 82: The Witch who Came from the Sea
"...Aha. So, they don't want our country to take possession of it."
"<What did he say?>"
"<He's saying your group probably doesn't want it reported because you fear that Japan will take possession of the gold.>"
"<Ensign Angelo is actually more afraid of Italy itself finding out. To us, our homeland's current government is a mere puppet set up by the Allied Forces. If they find out, the gold will be returned to them. However, that would be the same as handing the gold over to our enemies.>"
They had come all this way to make sure that the gold didn't fall into enemy hands. They needed to hide this gold from the puppet government until their homeland could be truly restored...
"Ushiromiya. Make a proposal to the Italians. Tell them that we wish to offer our assistance."
"What sort of assistance...?"
"I understand what the Italians are trying to say. They want that gold to be hidden so that their homeland doesn't find out about it. However, they would need to obtain at least a transport ship if they plan to take it from this island. If they tried that, however, the mainland would hear about it, which means that the Italian government would too."
"That's right. In other words, there's no longer any way to take that gold off Rokkenjima."
Later on, several plausible rumors would circulate about how Nazi Germany also moved much of its secret wealth to certain hidden areas in South America just prior to its collapse. It was a very natural conclusion to reach. That submarine was their only method of transporting the gold in secrecy, and it's become completely useless. They can't fully stop the water from seeping in, and it'll probably sink completely before much longer.
There's no longer any way for them to transport the gold in secrecy. In other words, their mission has ended in failure here in the Far East. So, just how is Lieutenant Yamamoto proposing that we assist them...?
"The Rokkenjima base is top-secret, and no one knows about it. The islanders in the surrounding area believe this island to be ill-omened and deserted, so they never come near it. Do you get my meaning, Ushiromiya?"
"<What did he say?>"
"<As we told you earlier, no one knows about this base. And, as you can see, it's of no use strategically, so the higher-ups have already forgotten about it. Sounds like Lieutenant Yamamoto's suggesting that you hide the gold on this island.>"
Beatrice quickly translated this and told Ensign Angelo. The ensign began discussing rapidly with his subordinates. They didn't look happy. Japan may have been their ally, but they probably didn't want the gold for reconstructing their motherland to be entrusted to Asians. Still, it's hard to imagine any other option for them.
"<...It's a fierce debate. Some say that there's no other option, while others think we should remain loyal to our homeland no matter the cost. Ensign Angelo is stuck between a rock and a hard place.>"
The final order given to them by their fallen homeland was to hide the gold. However, by now, there was no way for that order to be carried out successfully. If the mainland or their own homeland found out, the gold would probably be confiscated by the wrong people, from their point of view. If they really wanted to carry out their homeland's orders faithfully, Lieutenant Yamamoto's proposal was extremely reasonable... Though the lieutenant couldn't understand their words, it seemed he realized how divided they were.
"<...He's saying that, if you hide the gold underground and bury it on this island, no one will be able to find it.>"
"<Our side is saying that it sounds like a realistic proposal. However, there seems to be some resistance against accepting Japanese assistance.>"
"...It seems they're having difficulty coming to a decision."
"Heheh. Do you really have a choice, Italians? You don't think you can hide that gold without our help, do you? And I doubt you want to leave it lying around on the beach for much longer."
"<Ensign Angelo wants to minimize the number of people who know about the gold. He doesn't trust the Japanese, but it looks like he's decided that Lieutenant Yamamoto's plan is the best possible option. But... he seems suspicious.>"
"<He's wondering whether they really intend to move a full 10 tons of gold and swear themselves to secrecy... without any sort of compensation...>"
BGM: Closed my Heart
"...Sir, you can't be-"
"Hand over half of the gold to us. With that as our work wages, we'll hide the other half nice and safe for them."
"<...H, he's telling you to give us half of it.>"
The instant Beatrice translated that sentence, Ensign Angelo slammed his hands on the desk and stood up. Instead of flinching, Lieutenant Yamamoto, true to his boasts of once being a thug that everyone feared, actually looked even more relaxed and confident than he had previously.
"After all, they really don't have the option of refusing. We could demand 80% if we wanted. I've lowered that to 50% as a sign of good faith. Of course, we aren't the only ones with leverage here. If the Italians decide to leak this to the outside, all of the gold will probably be taken by Japan or Italy. We won't get even a single yen out of it. This can only work if we're both partners in crime here."
"<He's saying we should all be partners in the crime of embezzlement. By now, he's already moved on to speaking as an individual, not as a soldier...>"
"<Insane... So, he's been blinded by greed...>"
Lieutenant Yamamoto was grinning. It really did look as though he had been blinded by greed, just as Beatrice said...
"If they leave it just piled up where it is, you can be sure that it'll be noticed when the boat comes for them from the mainland. If that happens, none of us will profit. They ought to accept our proposal and hide the gold as soon as possible."
"<...It sounds like Ensign Angelo is dead set on the Japanese and Italian governments not finding out about this. He wants to carry out his duty until the end.>"
"<So, what exactly does that mean?>"
"<He wants the gold buried deep within the island, even if he has to pay some percentage to buy your silence. Of course, some of his subordinates object strongly. They're saying that 50% is out of the question.>"
"Ushiromiya. How are they doing?"
"...They also don't want any more people laying eyes on the gold. However, they seem to object to the portions."
"<Ensign Angelo says that they'll consider 10%. Though he's also saying that he's fairly sure Lieutenant Yamamoto won't accept that.>"
"Ushiromiya. What is the Italians' answer?"
"...They'll consider handing over 10%."
This time, it was Lieutenant Yamamoto who slammed down on the desk. But the Italians didn't flinch either. An incredible tension filled the small room...
However, despite his violent outburst a second ago, Lieutenant Yamamoto's expression still looked smug and in control. He was probably confident that he now had the initiative.
40% for the Japanese. 60% for the Italians. The lieutenant made it sound like he was willing to stand firm on that, but in truth, these negotiations were not being made on an equal footing. If the Italians just wanted the gold for themselves, there wouldn't have been much of a problem.
But what if... What if they really were true patriots, and decided that they would return the gold, even to the defeated puppet government of their homeland, for the purpose of reconstruction? If so, they would probably report the existence of the gold to the Italian embassy. Eventually, the Italian government would petition the Allied nations for the retrieval of their gold. It probably wouldn't all make it back to Italy, but it might be used effectively to repair and rebuild the battered towns. If that happened, Lieutenant Yamamoto and his friends would only be able to sneak out a few ingots at most.
He was greedily planning to make this his own treasure island, so that he and his subordinates could have an enormous fortune all to themselves. If he wanted those ambitions to bear out, the Italians would have to conceal the presence of the gold.
"<...I'd rather not think about it, but Ensign Angelo might have started planning to embezzle the gold as soon as he found out that their mission would be impossible to complete. Right now, he's asking his subordinates for their opinions, both as soldiers and as individuals with families waiting for them back home. The more straight-laced soldiers are furious.>"
The discussion between the Italians was becoming fierce and emotional. Though their homeland had fallen, they had come all this way in accordance with its orders. They had probably been given this mission because they were particularly faithful and duty-minded troops. It seemed they couldn't just agree to a foreigner's proposal to embezzle and split up the gold...
Ensign Angelo looked like he was doing all he could to calm the unexpectedly fervent rage of his subordinates. Looks like the gold is blinding them too. It seems no one can sort out their own personal feelings and the way they want to be perceived...
"How's their answer coming?! Ushiromiya!!"
"<...Bice. Lieutenant Yamamoto's asking for an answer.>"
"<...They're saying they want some time to think. I had you to talk to, so I could let off some tension, but that wasn't true for the rest of them. They lost a lot of comrades at the end of a very long journey, and now they're here in a tight spot. They've even lost their mission, the one thing they could depend upon to guide them. They don't know what to do...>"
"Sir. They say they'd like some time."
"Heheh, sure, let 'em talk it over all they want. But there isn't much time. If we're going to hide it, that'll take time and effort. Make your decision before noon tomorrow. That's all, Italians!"
"<...He's giving you until noon tomorrow. That bastard, it's like he's trying to threaten you.>"
"<Ensign Angelo is asking everyone's opinions...>"
"<How does it look?>"
"<It'll probably be tough going. It seems the ensign is willing to consider splitting it, but his subordinates and the others will probably oppose that. All of them have lost close friends on their voyage to the Far East. They're firm in their desire to do their duty for our homeland.>"
"<...Will they refuse the lieutenant's proposal?>"
"<Even if they do, the gold will just fall into someone else's hands. If nothing is going to be left anyway, Ensign Angelo suggests that they each sneak at least one ingot back with them, and some of the others seem to agree, but... Men always get carried away at times like this. Even I can't guess what they'll do...>"
"In their eyes, Italy that surrendered was probably like an enemy country. Letting the gold go back to that Italy would erase the meaning of their entire voyage."
"However, embezzling and splitting the gold would also erase the meaning of their journey..."
"The country they felt obligated to serve had already fallen. That alone destroyed the significance of their journey. Not a happy story for them."
"...If it's bound to be meaningless anyway, wouldn't keeping hold of even just a few ingots be better than nothing?"
"Sure, if you want to calculate straight-up profit and loss... But men aren't like that."
「I don't like it! We must remain true to our soldier spirit until the end, for the sake of our fallen comrades!」
「And how do you define 'remaining true'? By hiding the gold on this island? By accepting the proposal of those Asians?!」
「We can't trust them! Especially that Yamamoto person! We must not let our guards down!」
「Unloading the gold and letting the Japanese see it was a huge mistake! We should have let it sink with the sub!」
「Oh, wonderful idea, let's just sink it right inside a Japanese base! It would have been pulled up eventually. That wouldn't hide anything!」
「It doesn't matter, there is no way to get the gold off this island without anyone knowing.」
「If we had just taken the honorable path and scuttled the sub, none of this would have happened...!!」
「If we had known then that the sub would be broken beyond repair...」
「Why did the ensign contact the Japanese military and ask for help? How was he planning to carry out the mission if they found out about the gold?」
「Our mission was a failure from the moment he asked them for help!」
「All of us have families waiting for us back home. And we've more than done our part, I'd say, voyaging all the way to this island country in the Far East. You could call this a fair and just payment for our services.」
「... And what do you mean by extreme measures, Corporal?」
Someone gulped. A stiff tension hung over the room...
「The Japanese here are pushovers. They're all cowards with no battle experience.」
「And we are the elite. We know the layout of almost the entire base, along with the number of Japanese troops and how they are arranged. If Ensign Angelo gives the order, we should be able to subdue them quickly.」
「Only a few of them, Yamamoto included, look like fighters. The rest are just laborers attached to the military. It may look like they have the advantage of numbers, but we have the greater military force.」
「If we kill the Japanese, how are we going to explain it when the boat comes for us? You really think that'll work?!」
「There should be plenty of ways, as long as the corpses aren't found.」
「Ensign Angelo. It will be easy to subdue this base. If we kill Yamamoto and the few strong fighters, the laborers will probably surrender easily.」
「Let's have them carry the gold and bury it. Of course, we'll have to silence them afterwards.」
「Are you suggesting we massacre all of them...?」
「Let's do it. If we kill them all, no one will have to know about the gold.」
At that moment, the door, which had supposedly been locked, opened slightly, and a metal object was thrown in.
BGM: The Girls' Witch Hunt
As the yell rang out, the table was kicked over to be used as a shield, and they all dropped to the floor. However, in this cramped room, it probably wouldn't do them any good. The Italians were all prepared for death.
「A dud! It's a dud!!」
Fortunately, the shoddy grenade was a dud. The door was slammed open, and three Japanese soldiers wielding pistols jumped in.
「Return fire!! Fire at will!!」
In this small room, no matter who shot where, it was bound to hit someone. The exchange of bullets instantly caused a rain of blood, with casualties on both sides. The three who had jumped in were covered with bullet holes and fell over, moaning and thrashing...
「Gggghgggghghgh... gghh... *cough*.. *cough*...'」
「Gino!! Gino!! Damn, they got his lung, we can't save him!!」
「We should consider ourselves lucky! If that grenade had gone off, we'd all be dead!」
The grenade was still rolling about on the floor... It had been a surprise attack. Lieutenant Yamamoto had probably judged that the negotiations would not go his way and had decided to make the first move. Or else, maybe he had been planning from the beginning to put them in a position where they would be gathered in one place to discuss his offer.
Rokkenjima was their island. If they killed all of the Italians, then not half, but all of the gold would go to the Japanese. There was a chance the grenade might go off late. The Italians rushed out into the corridor. They heard gunfire from down the hallway. It was coming from the direction of the submarine dock. Clearly, the troops guarding the pile of gold were being attacked.
「We have no choice!! Kill the Japanese!!」
"L, Lieutenant! These guys are good. Those Italians aren't your ordinary sailors!"
"Heheh, I see, they needed men good enough to guard that gold. We have the numbers. Keep your cool, surround them, and kill them!! Let's hunt some Italians!!"
As soon as I heard the sound of repeated gunfire, I knew. I knew that something, which had been smoldering since the time the gold was unloaded, had finally burst. When looking at the gold, the eyes of our soldiers hadn't been normal. Yes, those eyes had been entranced by demons. The Italians had been pushed to the limits by the heavy burden they bore. Who wouldn't have snapped after being trapped in a distant land, where you can't understand the language or the writing?
Thinking I had to do something, I ran towards the sound of gunfire. Looking back on it, that was an extremely stupid thing to do. That sound meant that there were people shooting at each other. People killing each other. And yet, unarmed as I was, I dashed towards the sound, as though I was trying to mediate some schoolyard fight. It didn't take long before I learned how foolish and naive such a thing was in the heat of battle.
Warrant Officer Hiraoka was lying face down, his entire body drenched in blood. Judging by the trail of blood behind him, it was clear that he had somehow managed to crawl here from a different room before dying. No, he was still twitching. He might not be dead yet. But, on this island without a doctor... how could anyone possibly... save a man who had been shot this many times in the chest...
When I looked into the room he must have crawled out of, I saw two more blood-stained Japanese corpses.
I fell backwards pathetically on my butt, my mouth hanging open in shock... Come to think of it, that was the first time I had ever faced death in my life. The entire world was at war. Even though millions were dying both East and West, this was the first time I met with a person's death directly. Ridiculous. Didn't I join the army hoping to die? Didn't I whine about not being sent to the front lines? Yeah, so rejoice, Kinzo. Isn't this the death you were looking for...?! Why not spread your hands and yell out loud? 'Come for me, magnificent death!!'
Someone came running towards me. It was a colleague of mine, a Japanese man. Tajima-kun.
"R, ru, ru, r...!!"
He dashed towards me, pale-faced and out of breath. His face seemed horribly contorted with terror. Mine probably looked the same.
"Tajima-kun... Wh, what happened...?"
"R, run away... W, we'll... we'll all be killed!!"
Someone yelled in Italian, and at the same time, Tajima-kun let out a scream... Then, he grabbed onto me as he fell to the floor. A red stain was spreading across his back before my eyes...
"R, run... *cough*..."
As he spat bubbles of blood, he said that one word... and died. But the shock of seeing someone die right in front of me did not freeze my heart. At a fundamental level, all living things aren't concerned with the deaths of others. The one thing that matters is whether they themselves die or not. It was the barrel of the gun the Italian soldier was pointing that froze my heart...
Tajima-kun's back burst once more as he leaned against me. Flesh tore, blood splattered. The warm splash of it covered my face. Was the Italian still trying to finish him off, even though he had stopped moving for good? How foolish I've been... Can I still not understand the scene in front of me?! Rejoice, Kinzo!! Now you'll finally get what you've wanted all this time...!!
The Italian hadn't fired to finish off Tajima-kun. He had been aiming at the man Tajima-kun had fallen on... me, Ushiromiya Kinzo.
I pushed his corpse aside, scrabbled against the floor, and dashed away, tumbling over myself. My hands had pushed off against the floor hard enough to tear off the ring finger fingernail on my left hand. When faced with death, humans truly can resist with all they've got. I tumbled over and over as I ran, scraping up parts of my body. It was painful, hot. But that didn't matter at all! I heard the yelling in Italian come from behind me over and over again. It felt like they were running, chasing after me. I didn't want to look back. So I kept on running and running, as though the Italians were right behind me.
This is... death...!! Didn't you want to die? No, I don't want to die!! Why? Didn't I want to die so badly? But now, I know. I know how wonderful it is to be alive. She taught me. Bice did. I can only be free when I talk with her. No! By talking with her, I was finally alive for the first time. I was born!!
I want to live. I want to live, I want to live, I want to live!! I don't want to die! I want to live and see her, right now!! If I don't see her, I'll die! I'll be killed!! Stay cool, Kinzo. She might be killed too...! If you live and she dies, you might as well be dead...!!