Part 94: A New Element
BGM: Far (piano version)
"Did you make sure they were facing the right way when you set them down?"
"Yes, of course. Everything's as the list says."
"*giggle*, thanks. Genji-sama, the guest rooms are ready now."
"Good work. Make sure you check over everything with your own eyes, Shannon. Also, Madam has ordered us to change the tablecloth in the dining hall again."
"My, my. Why again, when we all worked so hard to change it earlier today...?"
"The color of that tablecloth simply does not fit. Once I saw it against the backdrop of the room, I could see that it matched terribly. We should use a different tablecloth."
"Oh, and did you make sure to clean the chandelier in the parlor? I don't want Eva-san looking up and saying 'Oh, is that dust? And even a spiderweb?' again...!"
"Do not worry. It has already been carefully cleaned and checked. I will now perform a final check on everything myself."
"Is that so? Very well. I will do the same. Shannon, take the young servants and prepare a new tablecloth. Try to find something white, with a bit more of a clean feeling."
"Y, yes, as you wish."
Natsuhi was even more high-strung than normal and walked about barking orders here and there. Even though the sky was beginning to get dark, the servants moved hurriedly about. Tomorrow is the annual family conference. It isn't particularly rare for each of the individual families to visit the island, but this is the only time that they all come together.
It was the most important day of the year for both the Ushiromiya family and Rokkenjima. Natsuhi, who was short-tempered on top of being high-strung, kept ordering that the servants redo this or that, since it really didn't look good after all. This would keep them going until late into the night. Now that Shannon had many years of experience and Natsuhi had put her in a position of responsibility, she was called over many times to have strict orders showered on her... So, when Shannon finished her shower and lay down on the bed in the servant waiting room, she fell asleep almost immediately...
It's a bit different from the sound wind outside a room would make. It's almost as though... I'm sitting in a deck chair in the rose garden, turning over in my sleep, with the feel of the wind in my hair. That's right, the feel. This isn't a sound, it's a feeling.
Then is this... a dream...?
Just as I was about to accept this theory, I thought I heard someone talking to me.
My, my. It seems the work of a servant is just as boring as it ever was.
Not only boring, but difficult, strict, constraining, joyless... All you get in return for your years of service is some level of respect from the newer servants. And even that is far from sufficient to repay you for all the hard work you've done...
Huh? Who...? She wasn't just imagining someone talking to her. She was shocked to find that it was real. When Shannon opened her eyes, she gulped.
She couldn't say any more. She was literally stunned silent. Shannon, who had been sleeping on a bed, was somehow in a rose garden. However, though this rose garden somehow resembled the rose garden on Rokkenjima, it was also completely different. After all, the roses were golden. Not only the flowers, but the dancing butterflies too.
It was a golden rose garden of mysterious beauty. Somehow, Shannon was sitting in the chair under the arbor. It was as though she'd taken a nap there and woken up from a dream. But it felt strange. Is this golden rose garden a dream? For some strange reason, it even felt as though my entire life up to this point had been a dream, and that I had finally awakened here...
There was that voice again. Shannon looked around to find who it was. As she did, a golden butterfly landed on the seat across from her and instantly created a human form...
This woman laughed as though she was an old friend of Shannon's. However, Shannon obviously didn't remember this strange gold rose garden, and she didn't remember this person's face either...
"Indeed. You no longer remember me, do you?"
"...Have I forgotten about you...? If so, please forgive me..."
"There is no need to apologize. I made you that way, so it is no sin of yours. Allow me to introduce myself. I am the Golden Witch, Beatrice."
"...B, Beatrice... sama...? Th, the benefactor of the Ushiromiya family, whom the Master always speaks of...?"
"Not that Beatrice. I am the Golden Witch, the one who controls Rokkenjima's night. I am the other master of the mansion, the one you always pay homage to."
"Y, you are... Beatrice... sama..."
"Hahaha... You need not fear. The two of us used to be friends, no, roommates, did we not? At one time, I idolized you and tried to be the best servant I could."
"...I've always had a single-person room, so I couldn't have had a..."
"When we last parted, I stole away your memory. However, I have not forgotten that we were once roommates. I also remember that I was the one who destroyed our friendship and left."
"So as to not leave you alone in sadness, I erased all of your memories and the very world of our days together."
"You do not need to understand... But believe this. I have not called you here to do you harm."
"I, isn't this inside one of my dreams...?"
Beatrice snapped her fingers, and a storm of gold butterflies all rose up around the rose garden. As the cloud of butterflies danced over the table, a gorgeous tea set appeared. There were tea cups and a tea pot, more elegant even than those used by the Ushiromiya family. The tea was filled to the brim and had a sweet rose scent, one which Shannon had never smelled before. Before there was even time to be amazed by that scent, butterflies started gathering one by one on the table, and a tea stand sprouted right out of it. It was like watching a magical mushroom from a fairy tale kingdom grow out of the ground. It was a many-layered tea stand, filled with beautiful cakes, like edible jewels. Of course, there were also several lovely, light-brown scones. The honey truly was golden honey, with bits of gold leaf dancing through it...
"...I, incredible... I've never seen anything like this..."
"*cackle*cackle*. Even if you did, it would only have been as a waitress. You are my friend. I need no waitress. After all, I am a witch. That is more than enough. Come, do not be shy. Stuff yourself to your heart's content."
"Th, thank you... very much..."
That was all Shannon managed to say. It would be hard for anyone to say much more after being suddenly invited to such a beautiful witch tea party.
"Let us begin with black tea. The milk is fresh, and the sugar is so delectable that you'd almost want to eat it raw."
"But I recommend you try your tea straight first. With nothing more than a single rose petal floating on the top, it will surely be so delicious that you'll be unable to drink the black tea of the human world ever again...!"
Laughing happily, Beatrice opened, not a sugar pot, but a rose petal pot, picked up a single crimson petal, and floated it on her tea after relishing its scent. Shannon did the same, picking up a single petal and smelling its aroma.
"...It smells so wonderful... Is this... really the scent of the roses in this world?"
"I am glad you enjoy it. I bred this rose simply for the purpose of using the petals with black tea. If you crush them, they're also splendid for making jam! That goes better with scones than anything else imaginable. Do you want to try?"
"Uh, ah... sure, just a bit."
Shannon had been invited to this witch tea party suddenly. However, the witch seemed so truly innocent, and her smile as she played the hostess was so happy that it made Shannon want to smile too. The tension in Shannon's heart gradually faded, and she started to enjoy her chat with this witch...
"How surprising. So, you worked as a servant once too?"
"For a short time. You probably don't remember, but I worked alongside you. I was a clumsy fool who always lost things. You were my idea of a perfect servant, and the person I looked up to."
"...That makes me even more sorry that I can't remember."
"There is no need for apologies. Here, you are not a servant, but my friend and guest. There are no inconveniences here, no trials nor boredom. I can give you anything you desire. That is how much power I currently possess. I wanted to let you know that I have now reached that level."
"...I'm truly grateful to you for welcoming one with so few redeeming features, in such an extravagant way."
"*cackle*! Think of it as a reward for all of the painful days you have withstood."
"Come, gold butterflies! Don't let my friend get bored! Show her a little dance! When you have tired of that, allow me to call the band to perform any song you would like. When you have tired of that, my refined familiars will show you some conjuring tricks. Fear not, for time is endless here. And I can grant your wishes endlessly. My tea party has no end...!"
In a truly good mood, the witch told Shannon several strange stories. They were all stories Shannon had never heard before. Very interesting stories. And, they were all odd, bizarre fairy tales. Shannon felt as though she had become Alice in Wonderland. The time she spent at this tea party was strange, pleasant, and relaxed. No, the clocks have no hands at this tea party. So, the time passed like a Sunday morning, when you can wrap yourself in your blanket for as long as you want...
"There is no need for thanks. In the human world, words of thanks go along with words of farewell, do they not? There will be no end to this tea party. So, there is no need for thanks either."
"*giggle*. But I am grateful. Thank you so much, Beatrice-sama, for this wonderful tea party. But all dreams must end, and so must this one."
"Hoh. And why must they end?"
"Because, I start early tomorrow. If I stay here talking too long, I'll sleep in, and Madam will give me a good scolding..."
"Pft, hahhahhahahahhaahahahahaha! Why are you so anxious to return to the world of that short-tempered Natsuhi? Really, now. Are you really saying you want to return to the human world, where it's all work and no rewards?"
"But I am human. I can't impose myself on you forever."
"Shannon. It seems that you do not understand. I invited you here, but I have no desire to chase you away again."
"Here, time is eternal. You are not obligated to say farewell, ever. I will never tire of enjoying tea with you. On the contrary, it is quite agreeable to have you to talk to."
"I'm grateful for your words, but I am human. I must return to my own world."
"Why do you want to return to that colorless world, where you waste all your time with school and your job and the family works you to the bone?"
"Despite all that, it's still my world."
"Shannon. Does that sort of world really need to be yours? Let me be honest with you. Shannon. I didn't just invite you here. I came to take you home."
"Take me home...?"
"Once, I tried to become a good servant like you. Then, I became fascinated by witches and became one myself, learning all the pleasures of magic. And now, I have come to take you home."
Beatrice spoke quietly and slowly rose from her seat.
"...Now that this golden rose garden has been completed, I have reached my goal. This place is paradise. Yes, let us call it the Golden Paradise. Now that it has been completed, I have come to welcome you in. There's no need for any inconveniences, any perseverance or hard work. Here, you and I can enjoy ourselves for all eternity. It will be like a never-ending fairy tale..."
"...I'm truly grateful for your splendid proposal. However, I need to go back to my original world."
BGM: Witch in Gold (cembalo)
"I acknowledge it. This is not the world you have lived in until now. That's why I have invited you here! From this point forth, this will be our world. You are no longer a guest. You are the second master of this world. You need not show any restraint for my sake. We'll just live in this endless world like we once lived as roommates..."
"I regret that I have no memory of that time. However, I'll have to turn down your invitation."
"Why? What responsibility forces you to return to the world of humans?"
True, the world of humans, or the world of servants, is busy all the time. Madam is strict, high-strung, and has a short temper. It'd be a lie if I said the everyday chores weren't a pain, and having to balance work with school makes it even harder. Beatrice had watched over Shannon's painful days the whole time. She had seen those constantly tired shoulders heave in a sigh many times. That was why she had invited Shannon here. To this Golden Paradise. She had tried to give Shannon a perfect welcome, to truly make her happy. So why had Shannon selected her original world over this one?
Beatrice was overcome with shock, and completely unable to understand.
"I have given you the perfect welcome to this paradise. And the days to follow will be even more fun."
"...So, if you still choose the human world after all of that, does it mean that you find something there that is even more fun than the pleasures of witches?"
"...That's right. There are things in the human world that are even more fun than magic."
"Absurd... That can't be...!"
"...Yes, it's true."
Shannon's expression was soft. However, her words were firm. There was something wonderfully fascinating in the human world. And, that something was apparently not in this paradise, which was supposed to have everything just as they wanted it...
As Beatrice muttered, she shifted restlessly several times. However, no matter how often she said it, Shannon's smile didn't falter, and Beatrice couldn't think of an answer...
"In that case, it's time for me to leave. Your tea was delicious."
"...I don't... understand. I am the great Golden Witch, the one who can have anything endlessly. You tell me that I cannot give you what you want?"
"I want to know. I believed I had everything, so tell me what it is I lack...!"
"I think... that you already know. Isn't that why you invited me here...?"
"...Are you trying to speak in riddles to a witch? Heh, *cackle*."
"That's all for now then... I can't live here, but I would be glad to come over whenever you invite me for tea."
"I won't call for you again... Have no fear of that."
Shannon's soul had returned to the dream of her original self. While humans have many dreams in a night, they can remember none of them. The tea party in this paradise mixed in with many other dreams and vanished. The next morning, Shannon would not remember this tea party. However, Shannon's cup remained here. The witch who had lost her guest and was standing alone looked all the more lonely...
The witch dug her fingernails into the tablecloth. That grimace as she bit her lower lip made it clear that she still hadn't solved the puzzle Shannon had left behind.
"Riiche. There's no need to worry about it."
A black hole opened above Shannon's empty seat, and the owner of that voice fell out of it.
"...I do worry. Ah, come on, how could she say it with such certainty..."
"Maybe she just wanted to get back to sleep quickly, since dawn is coming soon."
"...What pleasure could Shannon know that I do not?! What is this 'something' that can be found in the human world but not in my paradise?! I don't understand! I want to know!"
"Thinking about complicated stuff will just fuel your headache. I can be of service in Shannon's place. Let's enjoy a tea party together."
"I don't feel like it anymore. I'm bored of having tea parties with you."
"...Aw, she's cranky."
The witch shrugged and laughed, then took a bite out of a scone. She then blew into it, and it swelled up like a balloon before finally popping. Golden ribbons and butterflies flew out, but Beatrice didn't appear to notice...