Part 92: New Days
BGM: Toy Box
In my new, more colorful life, I smiled at the spring sunshine peeking through the trees, gazed up at the column of summer clouds, enjoyed the piles of fallen leaves in autumn, and played in the winter snow the few times it did fall. As these days passed one after another, there was a considerable change to my environment.
The servants coming from the Fukuin House had switched. There weren't specific grades like in school, so there was no rule saying how long a servant could work before quitting. Each servant made their own decision about when they would 'graduate' from Rokkenjima. Some of those who couldn't stand the environment would quit in as little as three days. After all, life on Rokkenjima was strict. It was also strict in the Fukuin House, of course, but there were a lot of Rokkenjima-only rules, and Natsuhi, the one who supervised the servants, was also very authoritarian. It was probably easy to feel constrained. That constrained feeling and the money sat on opposite sides of the scale that they used to decide the time of their graduation. And sometimes, someone from the Ushiromiya family would use their influence to secure someone a new job, encouraging them to spread their wings and start a new life.
The cycle usually lasted two or three years. No one decided this, but it was one of the goals most servants shot for, an unspoken rule. However, I was an exception to that rule. I continued to go to school in Niijima while still living as a servant...
It wasn't at all rare for friends to quit at the same time as each other. All of my fellow servants from the Fukuin House graduated from the island at once, leaving only me behind...
Of course, I wasn't on particularly good terms with them. On the contrary, it was annoying to be treated like a kid and called Yasu all the time. Even though some new servants had come after me, the older ones had already gotten them believing that 'Yasu loses things all the time', so it wasn't really any more pleasant to have new comrades. Those unpleasant older servants, as well as the ones who started at the same time or after I did, all quit at once.
The Ushiromiya family had no quarrel with those who left. Adult servants were easier to handle in the first place. The Fukuin House servants were only accepted so that they could be trained. So, all of the other servants left, and no one tried to stop them...
"...I don't lose things anymore."
"Hmph, later. Make sure you listen to what Madam says. Don't you go troubling the next group of servants."
"...You know, it's still a mystery. Why did someone recommend Yasu?"
"It's even more surprising that Madam let Yasu stay this long."
"It must have taken some guts to not give up and run away. Keep it up, Yasu."
At the very end, I finally said the one thing I'd always wanted to say to them. However, they basically ignored me, and just picked up their things and left...
"...Guess you never got a chance to become friends with them."
"I wouldn't even want to."
"Yep. I'm sure they feel the same way, so you're even. Let's just forget about those people. They no longer have anything to do with us. So, there's no reason to worry about it."
"...Yeah. You're right."
I felt just a bit disappointed. I never got a chance to prove to them that I could take care of myself.
"It's hard for people to throw off their first impressions. That's just how it is. No matter how wonderful a person you grow into, they would probably always call you Yasu and make fun of you. There's no reason for you to want their admiration."
"...Yes. Yeah, you're right, Shannon. I'll completely forget about those people."
"Good. You have two great friends, Kumasawa-san and me. And if you want to prove that you can take care of yourself, prove it to the new servants who are coming."
Shannon was exactly right. Ever since that day when I held the key with the spiderweb charm up high, I'd regained my confidence and pride.
...I am now the most experienced Fukuin servant. The new servants who come will still probably be older than me, but I need to teach them the ropes as the more experienced servant. Genji-sama even told me to guide the newer servants...
Okay. I'll give it my all.
"That's the right attitude. Let's give it our all together."
"My name is Berune (鐘音). Pleased to meet you."
...The newly arrived servants looked... a bit superficial. When I first joined the Ushiromiya family, I was incredibly nervous. However, I couldn't see any trace of that nervousness on these girls...
"How were they selected? Who did it?"
"The board of directors came and interviewed them. And other things, like watching their everyday conduct..."
"So! As long as they acted like good kids in front of the adults, they could pass?"
"...Well, ummm... there were times that they passed because the adults thought they looked suitable..."
"All of the children who came from the Fukuin House were highly individualistic. They polished that attitude while they worked as servants, and eventually grew to be servants that would not shame the Ushiromiya family."
"However, encouraging this behavior was the role of the more experienced servants. Since I was the only one with experience, it was my responsibility to guide them."
"What were the new kids like?"
"They were the elite, of course! Of irreproachable conduct!"
"...I think they were like that when Madam and Genji-sama were around. However, when their superiors weren't around... well, they didn't take things quite as seriously..."
"Kyahhahahahaha! Huh? Su~re. So~rry."
I also have to be alert as a more experienced servant.
"And Berune-san, you shouldn't set your key down in a place like that. You'll lose it."
"I'm not gonna lose it. I never forget where I put things."
When I first arrived here, the older servants would often tell me off just as I had done now. They would probably have been mean and obnoxious about it. I had hated that, so I tried to be more gentle when admonishing them, but they wouldn't take me seriously...
"L, listen up. You know there's a witch living in the mansion, don't you...?"
"Kyahahahaha! That sounded just like him!"
"Don't tell me you believe in that too, Shannon-chan?"
"Y, yes, she really exists... If you leave things lying around, the witch will prank you and hide them..."
"That's right. It's gotten me into trouble many times..."
"A witch hiding things?"
"That's totally impossible."
"There's no way witches could exist! Kyahhahahahaha!"
BGM: Terminal Entrance
"...I thought they were just pranks. No, it was just easier to think of it that way."
"Do you think the witch Beatrice actually existed...?"
"I don't believe it."
"...I don't know if it was Beatrice, but I do think that something that wasn't human... really did exist in that mansion."
"Do you think there's a chance that this non-human thing was Beatrice...?"
"...I wish I could say it was ridiculous."
"That must have been a prank of Yasu's. No, not a prank, revenge."
"I did think that at first, but..."
"Did something happen that couldn't be explained away as a prank...?"
"Specifically, what sorts of things happened?"
"Things I set down would disappear as soon as I looked away for a second."
"Didn't Yasu just hide them?"
"I thought so at first. It was only natural to think that. But I started getting this feeling that something wasn't right. I kept thinking... could such a timid kid really get away with something so obnoxious?"
"Can you tell us what happened?"
"Maybe Yasu just pulled that one key off while you weren't looking...?"
"Is that even possible?! Practically speaking?! Hiding the whole ring is one thing, but if you really think about it, taking a single key off the key ring isn't that easy! The keys would clatter together. I was standing right next to them, facing the other way, get it? If you took your time removing a key when I was that close, even an idiot like me would've noticed!"
"But a single key just vanished without a sound. At that moment, I finally realized. This wasn't Yasu trying to get back at me, it was something... worse..."
"And where did you find this disappearing key?"
"Berune is pretty careless herself... Are you sure you didn't just take that key off and put it in your locker...?"
"Why would I take that key off the ring?! Have you ever taken a key off or put a key on your key ring, Asune?! I tried doing it myself. It's really stiff! I would never go to all that trouble. There's no point in it! Am I a sleepwalker or something?! How could I not remember something I'd done?! I may be stupid, but I'm not that stupid! I don't forget about things I do that easily!! And anyway, I know I had my key with me when I entered the room! Otherwise, how could I have unlocked the door?!"
"...Okay then... Yasu, careful not to make any sound, slipped the key off, and hid it in your locker. That has to be it..."
"That's what I thought at first! I jumped at Yasu, telling that kid not to mess with me! But even as I said it, I realized. Isn't there something completely wrong here?!"
"After all, on that day, we were cleaning that room with Yasu the whole time, right?! There couldn't have been time for Yasu to noisily remove a key! It was impossible for Yasu! In fact, that should have been impossible for anyone!!"
"M, maybe the ring was missing a master key when you got it..."
"I already told you!! The key really was there in the beginning! I was the one who unlocked that room! So it must have been there! And then, I went into the room! I'm stupid, and since I hate having the keys clattering around, I placed the ring on the bed...!"
"Then, when we finished cleaning, I picked up the ring, tried to lock the door, and it was gone! I may have turned my back on the ring, but it was right next to me! So, if someone tried to pull a prank by removing just one key, I'd have heard the clinking! And yet, just the key for that room vanished and appeared again in my locker!!"
"...So okay, let's say that Yasu managed to sneak it away. It's easier to think of that way. But still! How could Yasu have put it in my locker?! Yasu and I were together the whole time, right?! When I started yelling about it being gone and ran all over the place looking for it, Yasu was with me until the moment I found it in my locker, get it?!"
"...According to Yasu, the reason things used to go missing all the time wasn't because Yasu was forgetful, as everyone said, but actually... it was because... impossible things would suddenly happen, just like they had to me, and... and...!"
"...Yasu was with you the whole time, so there was no chance for Yasu to put the key in the locker?"
"Did other strange things like that happen?"
"Yeah, they did. Afterwards, other things happened... and not just things disappearing... over and over... Of course, I started getting nervous and made sure not to put things down in places like that, but that didn't help."
"...At first, I was angry at Yasu, but at some point, I began to realize that I was mistaken. One time, a key even disappeared from a ring that was in my pocket! Then, I realized. These weren't Yasu's pranks. The same thing that happened to Yasu was now happening to me...!"
"C, calm down a bit... I think some of those were Yasu's fault, and the others were just you being clumsy. It's true that the mansion's always dark and eerie, and it does feel like the sort of place you'd find a curse. I'm sure that's what made you scared like that..."
"You saw it too, didn't you?! Remember that vanishing white shadow we saw in the VIP room that rainy day?!"
"...Y, yes, I saw, but couldn't that just have been Madam or Milady wearing something white...?"
"What do you mean, something white?! Have you ever seen either of them wearing something like that?! And besides, that VIP room is always locked! They don't have keys to it! That had to have been some kind of ghost... no, the silhouette of the witch!"
"...Ha... hahaha... So, right, Berune started acting like this at one point. Totally scared. I've got more street smarts than her, so the more scared she was, the more I thought that witches were stupid and couldn't exist. Still, I had to be careful about what I said. I mean, I realized that this wasn't something I should talk about carelessly. All ghost stories and curses sound stupid to outsiders. But to the people who believe in them, it's absolutely not a joking matter. It really was... no joke."
"...Asune didn't believe a word of what I said. So, I eventually stopped telling Asune about it... and confessed to Yasu instead. I told Yasu 'I thought you were the culprit, but it couldn't have been you'. I said that something... strange... was happening to me...!"
"...And what was that kid's answer?"
"Yasu said that the same thing happened many times already, but everyone Yasu told didn't believe any of it...! The older servants always made fun of Yasu, but that kid clearly wasn't as clumsy or stupid as they said. I hated being treated like an inferior by a younger person, so I always resisted, but Yasu always got the work done flawlessly. I've always thought it strange that people made fun of Yasu for losing things...!"
"And that was the witch Beatrice...?"
"If that's what you want to call it, I'll believe it. Anyway, something that couldn't be explained away by human actions definitely 'existed' there! People who didn't understand kept calling Yasu and me forgetful! They didn't get it... They just didn't get it!!"
"...B, but still, it did freak you out for a while, but then you got a lot better... After that, all that fuss about you losing things went away, right...? So it must have been your imagination all the time..."
"You're wrong!! I talked to Yasu, Shannon, and Kumasawa-san about it! And they said that the witch really did exist... The old servants all made sure to respect her! They said I had been cursed because I'd stupidly gone around saying that Beatrice didn't exist...! So I reformed! Yasu taught me how to give offerings to the doll in the VIP room! I asked Genji-sama and prayed at the shrine by the sea! And then it all stopped, all at once!! You were okay, Asune, since you stopped making fun of the witch, but if you'd cluelessly gone on making fun of her, you would surely have been cursed next! Yes, I guarantee it! You definitely would have been cursed...!!"
"...It's true... that it wasn't fun anymore... I stopped saying it aloud, but..."
"You just don't get it! You really don't!! So, I made sure to teach all the newer servants well! A witch called Beatrice-sama lives in this mansion...! If you make fun of her, you really will be cursed...!!"
"When... things disappeared, that was a sign that the witch was close by and watching us... If you said it was a prank, or that witches couldn't exist, you'd be cursed even more...!! It was like that for both Yasu and me! When the key disappeared, that was a sign that the witch had appeared...!!"
No matter how much I warn her, she doesn't change her ways. She's always making fun of me and calling me Yasu, so she won't listen to what I tell her... Why won't she listen to what I say...? You mustn't leave things lying carelessly about. If you lower your guard, the witch will prank you...
BGM: Golden Slaughterer
"St, stop it, please...! That's Berune-san's key! Keep your pranking to me alone. Let the others be...!"
"You've gotten so cautious lately that it's no fun anymore. *cackle*cackle*, just kidding."
"Still, how unpleasant these people are, refusing to listen to my friend's kindly advice. Any insult to my friend I take as an insult to myself...!"
"...Are you planning to steal Berune-san's key...? Please, don't do it...! She'll think I hid it again...!"
"She thinks my magic is naught but the scheme of a child like you...?! *cackle*cackle*, very well then. Let's just show her something that would be impossible for a human...! Let's show her my magic!! Foolish Berune! I'll make you regret not listening to my friend's advice! This flimsy body is not enough! I'm borrowing yours!! It's been too long since I've shown you real magic! Let my body return to the land of the living for just a moment!"
A shiver ran up my whole body like an electric shock. From that moment onwards, I couldn't move any part of my body by my own will. Like a moment of shock after a blackout, I could do nothing but accept the fact that I had lost control over my body...
All of the cells throughout my body felt tingly. It felt as though my body had been transformed into someone else's. I realized that the witch Beatrice was using my body as a vessel to revive for a short period of time...
"...Hmm, very nice. That ticklish feeling of the air on my skin... Having a body is simply wonderful!"
Wh, what are you trying to do?! Please, don't do anything mean...
This time, everything was backwards. My words were spoken inside my heart. And the witch's voice was coming out of my mouth...!
BGM: Patchwork Chimera
Everything went completely white and my mind stopped. Once again, that tingling sensation slid up my body. I could feel it all gather in the fingers of both of my hands, and come out the tips of my fingers. It was an incomprehensible, undescribable, unknown sensation.
My head went blank, and I couldn't think at all. I could do nothing but abandon my soul to the sensation. I finally understood... what it's like... to use magic...
"Come, try and remember. Where have you been sleeping...?"
I never knew that having my body move without my control could be so exciting... When Beato lifted my finger as if a string was attached to it, the key ring lying on the bed stood on end. Berune-san... didn't notice. Neither did Asune-san. They were fully occupied by their happy chat as they cleaned the room...
I doubt that either of them would have dreamed that a witch was right behind them, readying herself to use magic. They probably couldn't even imagine the key ring doing a little dance right behind their backs. It was like an anime fairy tale I'd seen once as a kid. The happy way the keys danced and spun made it look as though they had a will of their own. I could feel the fun of making those keys dance with my fingers wash over me...
Yes, this is... pleasure... As I powerlessly watched the witch control me, I couldn't help but surrender myself to this new joy called magic...
Beato controlled my fingers, controlling the magic. And thereby controlling the keys. The key ring slumped down on the bed, and then just the mansion's master key stood on end.
"Well now, what shall I do with this? Just erasing it would be so boring. So, *cackle*cackle*! Why don't I throw it into her locker?! That way, I'll give my friend, who's been working here with her the whole time, a perfect alibi!"
"Come, try and remember. Where have you been sleeping?! Yes, it was a warm, dark place..."
"The inside of Berune's locker!! *cackle*cackle*cackle*!!"
When Beato snapped her fingers, the key burst and became a gold butterfly. A gold butterfly...? I see, it's gold because she's the Golden Witch, who gave the Master all of his gold. And butterflies are scared of spiderwebs. So, it's a gold butterfly. The minions of the witch Beatrice... are gold butterflies...
After flitting into the air, it burst into a shower of gold sparks and disappeared. Then, the vanished key... went to Berune-san's locker... Though it was far away, in a changing room locker, I could tell exactly how it had happened. It wasn't by sight or by touch. It was by some other sense inside my heart, which couldn't be explained by the five senses. A completely new sensation that I'd never felt before. It was the completely alien concept... called magic. A completely unknown pleasure that left me in a trance.
"...That's enough, my friend. I'll give this body back to you..."
BGM: L&D Circulation
Like when you're having a great dream, but you wake up suddenly, and all you remember about the dream was that it was fun. That sort of lonely feeling. Though Beato had been borrowing my body, it was my own body that used magic. I could still feel that sensation in my hands. The key ring over there had danced along with the movements of my fingers. No, that's not quite it. The key ring and my fingers had danced together. That fun, that excitement... still tingled slightly in my hands...
"Whoops, that was close."
Saying this, Berune-san suddenly turned around and picked up the key ring she had thrown down on the bed. She must have realized that I was staring at it.
"Almost had Yasu complain that I shouldn't leave keys lying about like this. I'd never put something down and forget about it."
With a grin, she put the key back into her pocket. However, she still hadn't noticed. She probably couldn't even imagine that just a single key had vanished while her back was turned for a second... It's not easy for a human to do things like that. But, with magic... With just a little dance of the keys and a butterfly popping, it had disappeared.
"Alright, fingertip inspection! Bed, okay. Curtains, okay!"
"Tools, okay. And keys too! See? Nothing wrong, right?"
"Y, yes, that's good... Then let's go on to the next room. Ah, Berune-san. Could you... lock up this room for me?"
...Did Berune-san's key... really disappear by magic? Was that fun magic just a daydream I had...? I was so scared of that being true... that I tested it.
"What's wrong? Why're you taking so long?"
"...Huh? Huh? Huh?? Wait, are you kidding me?"
"...It's not this one. And it isn't this one. Huh? What the...?"
"What is it? Do you want me to lock it?"
"I, I don't get it? What's going on? My master key's gone. Just my master key is gone. Wh, why...?! This ring's so stiff... There's no way it'd come off...!"