Part 86: Ghost Story of the VIP Room
BGM: Le 4 Octobre
"It's not going to leave a mark, is it? Talk about merciless."
"...Did you say something, Jessica?"
"O, of course not...! I've already, uh, learned my lesson, okay?!"
Lion, who had apparently been chatting with the adult siblings, spun around with a smile and stared at Jessica. Looks like the older sibling's firmly in control around here.
"...Those are some sharp ears. I think I finally get this Lion person."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah! Those strangely keen instincts have always been there! And on top of that, adults always seem to love our Successor-sama! I'm always compared against this kid, at home and at school!"
"Come to think of it, Lion was the student council president for both middle school and high school. And the head of the badminton team too."
"So everywhere you go, you get compared to Lion, and it doesn't match up too well for you."
"I said it as soon as I got into middle school. Our Successor-sama was already the vice-president of the student council. I said 'if you're planning to become council president next year, that'll just put more pressure on me, so stop it!' But the next year rolls around, and here comes the announcement of candidacy followed by a landslide election! Same thing happened in high school! I said 'please, just give it a rest this time' when our Successor-sama was already the vice-president! And again, our Successor-sama becomes the council president and a senior at that same time! Dad was oh so proud! Mom kept saying 'now you make sure you do your best as the little sister', over and over and over again!! Nngyaaaaaaaaaaahhhh!"
"But even so, you were still proud to be Lion's little sister, weren't you?"
"I, i, it's not like I ever thought of it that way! Nope, never...!!"
"It can be tough to be compared against perfection. Still, other people are other people, and you are you. There's no need to feel dwarfed. You should live the way you want to with all you've got."
"Of course! But Mom and the others are always going on about how I need to follow in Ushiromiya Lion's footsteps as the younger sibling. They keep telling me to go join the student council, to go play badminton..."
"You don't play in a band, do you?"
Apparently, she's keeping it a secret from her family. Interesting. People often like to place the blame for various things on their family and how they were raised, but this girl called Jessica always likes doing the same thing, even in a different world and a different family. It's admirable that she has such a true and constant interest in something.
"I loved it. That 'pettan, pettan' song. That 'tsui, tsui' song."
"Wah, wah, wah!! Shh, shh, shh!!"
Nothing wrong with the extraordinarily accomplished sort, like Lion, but kids who act their age do have their charms.
"That's the best way to go through life. Enjoy your youth to the fullest."
Apparently, no one had ever told Jessica that they approved of how she lived, and the direct way Will had put it made her turn red and hang her head in embarrassment.
"I want to ask you two now."
"The same thing you just asked Maria-chan?"
"...Well, you can see how much Maria-chan likes witches and the occult. For her, Beatrice is a symbol to be admired, like an anime heroine. She believes every little thing is some sort of prank caused by a witch's magic."
"You are an adult. And the fact that you never say this to Maria is also very adult of you."
"Of course. Childhood dreams only happen when you're a kid. I think respecting that precious experience is an adult's responsibility."
"Looks like the two of us will get along well."
George's position was that Beatrice was nothing more than a fairy tale. However, that phrase...'respecting a child's dreams is the adult thing to do'... That might be worthy of further scrutiny. When she got a candy from Beatrice by magic, Maria probably got excited and told George and the others. Then, the adults followed his lead and positively went along with her story 'as adults should'. However, there's another way this sort of reaction could occur, other than an adult's response to a child's claims.
For example, it could be an inferior's response to the claims by someone of superior rank. If Kinzo, tyrant of the Ushiromiya family, claimed that Beatrice existed and had revived, perhaps the other members of the family would positively go along with his story 'as his inferiors should'. Though Beatrice only appeared directly in front of a limited number of people, it's probably safe to say that the concept of her existence penetrated deeply within the Ushiromiya family, even among those who had never seen her.
It would be necessary to transform the concept of that character from an imaginary fairy tale into reality. So, a person attempting to do this would need to perform something that could only conceivably be done by magic. And that something... was the series of witch incidents, starting with the window-opening pranks played by Beatrice the Elder... and ending with the final closed room murder. Beatrice the Elder referred to this, saying that the anti-magic power filling the mansion would be weakened bit by bit the more she made her existence known.
Beatrice. Why are you willing to go so far to make all others accept your existence? Because the imaginary becomes the truth if everyone acknowledges it? Because at that moment, the being called Beatrice will be acknowledged and will become human? In that case, before Beatrice is acknowledged by all people, she's less than human. She's furniture.
Why would furniture want to become human? It feels like this was the theme of the previous game. Because they want to gain the right.
...It really is quite simple. It's directly connected to the reason the chick Beato was born in the first place.
"...I see. I do understand, but it's complicated."
"I feel bad for saying this at Beatrice's funeral, but, truth be told, I don't know enough about Beatrice to explain her. My apologies."
"As far as that goes, Jessica-chan does live here, so she might know a little more than I do. Speaking of which, have you introduced yourself to this gentleman yet, Jessica-chan?"
"Nah, not yet. There's this idiot going around pinching people's butts, so I didn't really have the chance yet... ehehe..."
A bit late, Jessica looked embarrassed for acting rudely in front of an unfamiliar guest. She cleared her throat and made a beautiful bow that didn't fit well with her normal attitude. She even lifted the corners of her skirt in a curtsy.
"P, pleased to meet you. My name is Jessica. Allow me to welcome you to the Ushiromiya family on this splendid day... umm, I mean, please enjoy our hospitality... and..."
"...Willard. Call me Will."
"Huh? Huh? Wah-"
"Wah, wah... waah..."
Not expecting her greeting to be returned in such an old-fashioned and formal way, Jessica turned red and was unable to speak. However, Will had returned the greeting in what he thought was a perfectly serious way, so he didn't understand what was making Jessica's face glow.
"Have I done something strange?"
"No, no, I just didn't... ah, ahahaha..."
"I want to hear what you know about Beatrice... Nn."
A sparkle leaked around the edges of Will's right hand, which was grasping Jessica's hand. Looks like the theatergoing power is having its effect on Jessica. Didn't mean for that to happen. Oh well...
"Beatrice, is it...? Well, I can tell you, but will you promise me something? Promise you won't laugh. Thinking about it now, it sounds more than a little crazy."
"What is it you know? I won't laugh. Tell me."
"S, sure... Umm, where should I start..."
BGM: White Shadow
You've heard of those, right? Almost all schools have a set of tall tales or ghost stories that get passed down. Like 'on some days, the piano in the music room will start playing by itself', or 'the skeleton in the science room dances around at night'. Everyone's heard of them. But of course, that doesn't mean they believe in them. The stories about Beatrice were the same. It was just one of those strange tales about our way-too-big mansion.
The servants would sometimes talk about seeing things during their night patrols. Sometimes, I felt a bit annoyed about them turning my home into a place for ghost stories, but I didn't pay it any more attention than that. That's how little it mattered to me. So, during my normal, everyday life, I would completely forget about the name 'Beatrice'.
Of course, when that huge portrait was first hung, it definitely felt creepy. Even I'd try not to meet her eyes after dark, so it's no surprise that the servants found it eerie. But that only lasted for a short while. We all walked by the portrait every day. We gradually got used to it, and eventually bored of it. I didn't really care anymore about the portrait of the mistress from Grandfather's delusions.
"Exactly. That's why every time the family came for a family conference, they'd always stand in front of that portrait and talk about Beatrice. So, I was reminded of it every year."
"You really do like Beatrice, don't you? You've been in such high spirits ever since Grandfather had this portrait hung."
"Huh? Where's Ange?"
"She went back with Aunt Kyrie to take some medicine."
"Her body really is frail. Totally the opposite of Battler."
"She's the sort that gets sick whenever she's stressed. I also used to get sick on big holidays or trips."
"Maria's really tough by comparison. She's been talking about Beatrice non-stop since we left Niijima. Don't you think she's taking this a bit too far?"
"It's not so bad, right? It's normal for kids to have an active imagination. If a kid told you that she'd met Santa Claus, would you tell her she's a liar?"
"...Well, of course I wouldn't go that far."
Maria kept talking to the portrait as though it was an old friend. She promised to play with it later, as if she was talking to a living human. George, a man, seemed to think that this behavior from a younger member of the opposite sex was cute. But, to be perfectly frank... Jessica, who was the same sex as Maria, found this behavior a bit unpleasant, even though she realized that the other girl was younger.
At one time, even I was fascinated by anime heroines and other fictional characters. However, Maria's behavior seems to signify something more direct than mere fascination. It's something more definite... more vivid. Am I the only one who notices something odd about her? I'll bet the others all notice too, but try to ignore it because of that adult dignity George nii-san is always talking about.
BGM: Steady Pace
Until a second ago, Kinzo's children were complaining that eating lunch with their father would give them indigestion. But now that they knew he wasn't coming, they started grumbling about how he should at least spare the time to come down during the annual family conferences.
"Then let us begin lunch, everyone. I, Gohda, have made use of all my talent and experience to make sure that you guests, who have come from so far away, will be entirely satisfied with your meal..."
No one's stomach would fail to rumble after hearing that from the Great Chef Gohda. By the time the splendid dishes were laid out, everyone had stopped talking about Kinzo's absence... It was now Ange's absence that was being discussed. Apparently, her stomachache had gotten so bad that both she and Kyrie could not make it to lunch.
"Poor thing. Gohda. Make sure you talk to Kyrie-san later and have some porridge made."
"Thanks a bunch for the concern. Really sorry about this. Seems she just can't handle much stress."
"That's how it is when they're young. They're cute, at least when they're not regurgitatin'."
"George used to do that all the time. He really was frail, way back then. Right?"
"Let's not talk about the past... It's not exactly a mealtime topic."
"Uu-. Poor Ange. She doesn't get to eat this yummy food."
"Yeah, poor girl. Let's make sure we play with her a lot when she gets better."
"Uu-, can't. She can't play with me."
"Wh, what are you talking about? Why?"
"Because I'm gonna play with Beatrice, of course. So I can't play with Ange."
"Play with Beatrice... You mean you're gonna go off on your own again to mumble to yourself and read some book?"
Jessica slightly regretted that she hadn't been more tactful. However, she couldn't wipe away that uncomfortable feeling she got every time Maria talked about Beatrice, and that feeling slipped out through her words...
BGM: Witch in Gold (cembalo)
Maria may be young, but she does know how to read a person's tone. She immediately burst out in anger, drawing the attention of everyone in the room... Normally, Rosa would have stopped her at this point. However, she happened to have gone to the bathroom at that moment. So, there was no one to calm Maria down...
"Kihihihihi!! Poor Jessica, you're just a clump of the toxin! With Beato's weak magical power now, she'd burn to a crisp if she ever appeared in front of you! But she will appear before you eventually. Yes, in front of everyone else too!! Kihihihi, and then the door to the Golden Land will open!! But who knows if you'll be invited in? Of course, she will take me there, to the Golden Land! But not Jessica, not Jessica!! Not someone who makes fun of Beatrice, not an unenlightened, stupid, confused, filthy, toxin-stained human!! Kihihihihihihihihihihhihhihhihhi!!"
"There was a theory about Maria having multiple personalities, wasn't there?"
"Multiple personalities! Yeah, that probably describes it perfectly. Or else, maybe that was Maria's idea of an ideal personality."
"You mean that thing about 'creating another self', the way you want to be...?"
"Huh? How'd you know my motto?"
"Don't think too hard on it. You'll just get a headache."
That was something Jessica had once told Kanon. She had been talking about how anyone can create another 'self' in the image of the person they want to be. I think we heard those words somewhere near the beginning of the second game. Now that I think about it, some very interesting stuff's been around since very early on...
"True. Changing yourself means changing your environment. That's not easy to do."
"So, my idea was to leave 'who I am now' be... and to create another 'self' to be the person I want to be."
"You felt suffocated, forced to live the life of a rich family's daughter, and you thought up a 'self' that you wanted to be."
"But I couldn't do anything outlandish at home, of course. Nothing fun about getting Mom to yell at me all the time. So, I made my plan. At home, I would obediently do as my parents said, but I would also create a second 'self' to do what I wanted."
"At home, you did everything your parents told you, and outside, you did what you wanted. That's a good way to live. You should be proud."
"Heheh, thanks... And, well, if there's something you really want to be, and you really work for it, it's easier to do than you'd think. I figured Maria was pretty much the same."
"Sometimes, I think that's the person Maria really wants to be."
"...As the youngest member of the family, she is adored, but not respected."
"Every time she learns something, there's always someone in the family who already knows it. She doesn't get to show off her knowledge about anything. Whenever she does learn something new, we try to smile and praise her, but that might actually have hurt her."
"So, Maria wanted to become an authority on something?"
It's something that all young boys and girls, who want to shake off their childhood, think. It's not a bad feeling when you learn something new and your parents praise you. But when you realize that your parents already knew that thing, it sometimes feels like they're talking down to you. When a kid learns their one-digit times table, their parents will probably praise them. However, inconsiderate parents will sometimes ask mean questions, like 'then what is 11 times 11?' or 'what is 16 times 16?' or something similar. If that happens, the kid will lose his feeling of accomplishment and will start to feel as though he could never surpass his parents...
"So, it's easy to guess why Maria got interested in the occult, something no one else knew about, and started learning more and more about it. I think the person Maria wants to be is an authority, on the occult who is respected by everyone."
"And if she talked about the occult all the time during her everyday life, Rosa'd smack her. So, like you, she's been hiding this other 'self' most of the time."
"That's what I think she's doing at times like this. Maybe I should say that this is her real self slipping through the cracks to cover up her normal self."
"Actually, I've had some experience with that myself. I've thought at times it'd be nice to become a frail, secluded lady... so I'd pretend to cough a lot, and it sort of became a bad habit."
"Because everyone would be nice to you if you started having coughing fits?"
"Haha, no... Whenever the conversation turned to something I didn't like, or something that made me feel uncomfortable, I could do that to change the subject."
"I see. And that's another 'self' you wanted to become."
"Haha, I'd appreciate it if you didn't tell anyone about that."
Then, just what is the 'other self' in Maria's case? An authority on the occult who can out-argue even adults? Or else, does it have to do with her relationship with witches? Either way, denying Beatrice in front of Maria is clearly taboo. In her search for something more than her everyday life, Maria had found it in Beatrice and inside herself.
Then, is going to the Golden Land with Beatrice... Maria's wish?
"And you said there was no way Beatrice could exist?"
"Something like that. 'If she exists, then just let me see her'. Of course, once Maria started crying, I realized I'd gone too far."
"At the end of the family conference, I was the only one still upset. Maria acted as though nothing had happened. Instead, she went off somewhere on her own, and came back talking happily about how she had played with Beatrice again."
"Everyone, me included, decided not to contradict her. By that time, it was best to just accept it and ignore it."
"Is that all you have to say about the family conference?"
"About the conference, yes. What I wanted to talk about was what happened after the conference was over and everyone left."
If Maria had just stayed mad, we'd have made up with each other and I could've put it all behind me. But since Maria got over it, it felt like I was the only one unsatisfied...
"Oh, Milady. Why the gloomy face?"
"...Oh, it's you. It's nothing important. Did everyone make it back okay?"
"If they're still on schedule, they should have reached the Niijima airport by now. You've done your part well, Milady."
"I haven't done anything. It's you servants who've done a great job."
"...Are you still upset over that fight you had with Maria-sama yesterday?"
"She's just a kid, right? It's not something you need to worry about, all grown up and in high school."
"You think that's just a kid's nonsense?"
BGM: Minute Darkness
"See, even you call her 'sama'."
Beatrice is the name of Grandfather's mistress, the person he's still infatuated with. I realize that, as a servant, Kumasawa-san can't speak of her indiscreetly. Still, that's now become the name of the fictitious witch who lives in the mansion, and it's almost normal for people to call her 'sama'.
"Beatrice is just a ghost story created by the adults to stop us from wandering into the forest. Maria just thought it was interesting one day and decided to pretend it was true."
"Hohoho... You'll end up cursed if you say such things. After all, Beatrice-sama 'exists'."
"Come on, we both know that isn't true. I don't need George nii-san to tell me not to make a fuss about Santa not existing. But that doesn't mean Santa actually exists."
"...You'll find you're wrong there, Milady."
"Oh yes. The gods do dwell in all things. In the same way, Beatrice-sama dwells in this mansion. Like the gods, Beatrice-sama will do you no harm if you respect her. As you say, it'll be as though she doesn't exist... However, if you ever fail to show proper respect, her curse will descend upon you. Of course, this doesn't apply only to Beatrice-sama."
"Heh, if there's a curse, let's see it. I'd just love to meet her."
"M, Milady...! You mustn't say such things...!"
"You were splendid today..."
"Shannon, Gohda-san. You guys know about Beatrice, right?"
"W, well, I do know of her, of course. Why do you ask?"
The two looked at each other. They looked like a pair who had just heard a clueless person suddenly utter a forbidden word...
"Let's have it straight. Does she exist? That ghost?!"
"...If it's a question of whether she exists or not, I would have to say she doesn't... probably."
"And why do you say she 'exists'?! Have you ever met her?"
"I, I've never met her directly, but..."
Shannon talked in detail about how she would sometimes feel a strange presence or see a silhouette while doing the midnight rounds. And each time she started, Jessica would cut her off, saying she must have seen it wrong or been mistaken.
"You haven't met her either, right, Gohda-san?!"
"O, of course... well..."
He was being very evasive. Even a man as big as Gohda was apparently unable to deny the existence of someone he'd never met. This really didn't sit well with Jessica. She was herself a resident of this mansion. They were acting as though someone else, someone she didn't know, was living here. Of course she didn't like it.
"Nn, wait a sec. Tell me that one more time."
"Huh? Y, you mean...?"
"Th, the story about the VIP room...?"
Gohda and Shannon had been recounting several ghost stories about Beatrice. One of those drew a reaction from Jessica...
"Yeah, that one. Sounds pretty cool...!"
Gohda and Shannon glanced at each other. They hadn't been trying to talk about anything 'cool'.
"The one about how Beatrice-sama returns to the VIP room every morning at 2:00, so you mustn't go near it?"
"Yeah, that's it. Pretty cool. All the other stories are about people saying they heard or saw something they thought was Beatrice, but this one isn't. This one says that, if you go to the VIP room at 2:00, you can actually meet Beatrice-sama...!"
"W, well, I, I wonder..."
"Milady... They say that a servant who spoke ill of Beatrice-sama was cursed. Furthermore, the VIP room is Beatrice-sama's room..."
"...Even you, Milady, should probably reconsider..."
"The VIP room is locked now, right? Where's the key?"
"Was that key... in the key box...?"
"I, I think Genji-sama keeps that key by his own chair."
"The master key can open it, right? Let me borrow yours."
"Th, that... I cannot do that...!"
"Milady, you mustn't approach an ill-omened place without reason..."
"Hold it, don't you go calling my house ill-omened. Anyway, I've made up my mind. If you can't give me your master key, there's still that key for the VIP room, right? Let me borrow it."
To Jessica, the expressions worn by the pair felt more like an ill omen than anything else did. To Jessica, the ill-omened thing wasn't the witch or the VIP room. It was 'them', Maria and the others who believed in witches. In the end, Jessica forced them to agree, and she made them bring her the key to the VIP room...
"Pretty much. Still, I wonder why I was so stubborn about it. It must have been because of my fight with such a little girl."
...Of course, the weather just had to be terrible on that particular night. To be honest, I slightly regretted sticking my nose into something so pointless. But I'd already said so much, and even borrowed the key from them. I couldn't just go to Shannon the next day, let her ask me how it went, and answer 'well, I got scared so I gave up, tehehe...'
Normally, I go to sleep long before 2:00 AM. If Mom found me wandering the corridors at that time of night, she'd definitely yell at me. So, I waited in my room, staring at the hands of my clock as it ticked closer to 2:00. Outside, the rain was incredible, and the wind strong. The swaying, rustling trees were particularly eerie.
BGM: At Death's Door
...The Ushiromiya mansion is huge. Honestly, I can't think of the entire mansion as my own house. As Mom says, the hallways of the Ushiromiya mansion should be treated like public roads. In other words, my own room is part of my home, but the hallways and the rooms I don't usually enter are 'outside'. So, while part of me felt that this VIP room ghost story was ridiculous, the other part of me was so creeped out that it kept trying to convince itself that the first part of me was right.
Only 10 minutes left 'til 2:00. If I want to be inside the VIP room at 2:00, I need to go in there before then.
Nothing's going to happen. I know that. It'll just be a stupid waste of time for a few minutes. I touched the doorknob to the door of my room, and was startled by how unpleasantly cold it was. As long as I stayed in this room, I could laugh off anything. After all, this was MY room. But it wouldn't be like that in the hallway. That's... outside my territory. And the doorknob, the barrier between the two, is ice-cold...
...Idiot... What are you so scared of, me? You aren't taking Shannon's, Gohda-san's, or maybe Kumasawa-san's gossip seriously, are you...?