Part 95: A New Element II
"Thank you, captain. Make sure you take good care of yourself."
"I've got a friend who sells this stuff that's supposed to be great for stiff shoulders. I'll bring you a sample next time...!"
"Oh, no need to trouble yourself... But thanks for caring."
"Hey, brats! How long are you gonna mess around up there? Let's go."
"Hey, Maria. Come down off the boat with Mama..."
Maria, who Rosa led by the hand, was still too young for kindergarten. However, she seemed to notice that her cousins, whom she rarely ever saw, were playing all around her, and she was very excited. Battler and George had the energy of middle-school or nearly middle-school kids. Those two, along with Jessica, who had met them on Niijima, were clambering about on the boat.
"You okay, Asumu? You really don't like riding things, do you..."
Rudolf lent an arm to his wife, Asumu...
The whole family had gathered for the conference. At this point in time, Rudolf's wife was still Asumu, and Ange hadn't been born. Gohda and Kanon hadn't yet been employed by the Ushiromiya family, and the witch's epitaph, which would toy with the family's fate, hadn't appeared yet. They probably couldn't even imagine the bizarre crime that they would encounter several years later...
"Good... Should I call for Father?"
"Please do. I will go welcome everyone. Oh, Shannon. Who cleaned this window frame?! It still has dust on it...! Quickly, wipe it off!"
"A, as you wish, Madam."
Oh, come on. Natsuhi's making her work so hard again. Just what good does she find in such a limited, ulcer-inducing life? I wanted to know.
And what did you mean when you said I already knew what I was missing? Shannon. Is this something I must learn by learning about you...?
"What's different about the day of the family conference on Rokkenjima?!"
"It's got to be the noise! There's never this many kids around!"
"...It may have been a tension-filled day for the adults, but to us kids, it was a wonderful day, the only time we got to see all of the cousins we loved."
"In the summer, we could play with our cousins on the beach, and there were plenty of games we could play in the winter! The family conferences were tons of fun for us."
"Same here. Mom was always yelling about how there must be no mistakes, but to me, it was just the day I got to play with all my cousins. After all, there's usually nothing at all to do on Rokkenjima."
"Back when I was still a little brat, I was always jealous of Jessica, getting to live in this huge mansion with a private beach. But now that I try putting myself in her shoes, it must've been a pretty constricting place to live."
"Probably... There's hardly anything on Rokkenjima. No friends' houses, no next door neighbors, no neighborhood. If you think of how Jessica must have felt, you have to feel a little sad for her."
"That's why the family conference was so special to me. Jumping around, messing around! It felt like I was at a festival. We played tricks on each other all the time."
"If the adults always talked about adult things and told you to go play somewhere else..."
"Then you were three cousins at about the same age. Of course you'd horse around!"
"No, not the three of us. The four of us."
"I thought Ange wasn't born yet, and Maria was still too young to play with you?"
"You've got it wrong, Furfur. The cousins weren't the only ones at the same age."
"Shannon-chan was the fourth. She was about the same age as the rest of us."
"Mom was always going on about not talking with the servant kids, but Shannon and I started to get close. After all, she was the girl closest to me in age on Rokkenjima."
"All four of us played together. We played at every family conference. Right, Shannon?"
"...Right. I knew that Madam would scold me if she found out, but..."
"I wouldn't have let her! You were always the one close friend I had who could understand me...!"
"Thank you for your words, Milady..."
How had she formed a relationship with the children of the family, despite being only a servant? Natsuhi had probably been very careful to prevent such a relationship. However, it's no surprise that Jessica, all alone on this island, would want to be friends with a kid her age. And Shannon was also alone on this island, without any friends her age. Though they both understood their relationship as master and servant, they somehow managed to strike up a friendship...
Then, at the family conference, Jessica had introduced Shannon to George and Battler. All of the adults had their hands full with their complicated discussion in the mansion. During that time, Shannon was able to put aside her role as a servant for a little bit, and act her age with Jessica, George, and Battler. I didn't even know that Shannon had constructed this new world so quickly. As a butterfly hiding in the shadows, I observed this new world of Shannon's.
"Just running around and playing was a blast."
"Yep. Those were the only times that Shannon-chan smiled like a girl her age."
"I might have... gotten a bit carried away. It's embarrassing..."
"Battler's insanely huge now, but back then, Shannon and I were both taller and stronger than him."
"I just grew slowly back then."
"*giggle*. They say that those who start late end up the tallest."
"Ihihi! Yeah, totally! Back then, your chest was nothing like this, right?"
"That's not true... Shannon already had plenty of womanly charm back then. Right?"
"U, ah... wh, who knows..."
"What the hell do you mean by 'womanly charm'? Sounds kinky!"
"Well, I was still pretty cute back then myself. That bra strap you could see through the shoulder of her summer clothing set off the lightning of youth in me...! I remember whispering with George-aniki that night about how big her tits were! Ihihi!"
"I, is this true, George-sama...?!"
"*cough*, *cough*cough*!! I believe there has been some sort of misunderstanding...! A, all I remember was lecturing him, as the older and more knowledgeable cousin, about the differences between how boys and girls grow, *cough*cough*!! And so, rather than dirty talk between cousins late at night, it was, instead, a sign of healthy growth and, umm..."
"...About how apparently, someone in the next class had kissed someone else, or how you held hands with a girl you liked at summer camp... And about so-and-so who you thought probably liked you, stuff like that...! Dammit, it's so embarrassing it makes me shiver...!"
"Isn't that nice! Another sweet page in the book of adolescence!"
"The most pure love comes when boys and girls first start noticing each other!"
"That simple, pure desire just to be around someone of the opposite sex, the noble first loves."
"Just wonderful... A bunch of kids thinking and talking about the world of love...!"
"D, did that sort of thing... r, really happen...?"
"Ihihi~! Don't play dumb! You were the most absorbed and curious of all of us, sitting there 'til even your ears turned red, ihihi!"
"I, I was not curious...! I, I was just... s, surprised... at how much everyone knew... and..."
"That's right. Shannon always played dumb the most, even though she was the most interested. She was the biggest pervert the~re. Ihihihi."
"Th, that's not true, that's not true, I hate you, Milady!"
"Hahahahahahahahahaha... Yeah, it was always like this. In the day, we'd run around like kids, and at night, we'd hug our pillows and talk about secret stuff. Looking back on all of it now, it really brings back some fond memories."
"We'd be whispering about something dirty, and whenever we heard the footsteps of the adults coming by, we'd jump under the covers and pretend to be sleeping!"
"Yeah, I remember that! Like some school field trip!"
"Those times we all dove under the covers at once. It felt like some sort of unspoken rule, like a strange sense of unity. I really liked that feeling."
"Well, anyway. That's not all we talked about. There was a lot more than that. We really did enjoy our youth to the fullest."
Shannon. Is this that 'fun thing' of the human world? Is this incomprehensible messing around the thing that you found?
"A bunch of kids gathered together, playing stupid games and talking about trivial things. Is this the human pleasure you found that surpasses the pleasures of witches?"
"...Yes. Doesn't it look fun to you?"
"I won't call it boring. However, I cannot see how such a vulgar game can compare to my paradise, where all wishes can be granted."
"Interacting with people... is a lot of fun. Of course, I also think your world is fun. But even so, I choose this world."
"...I don't understand. I don't understand..."
Beatrice held her head as though she was having a headache. But no matter how much she grimaced, she couldn't think of an answer.
"...Tell me. What is it you found within this vulgar playing?"
"...Do you want to know...?"
"Th, thank you very much. I'd be happy to borrow it."
"That's okay. You can keep it, Shannon-chan. I've already read it."
"B, but... I can't accept this... It was probably expensive."
"It's just something I got for a few hundred yen at a bazaar. Don't worry about it. I'd rather if you read it quickly so we can talk about it. It's fun to talk about this sort of stuff with you, Shannon-chan."
"Yes, it's fun for me too. It's much more fun to read mystery novels with two people instead of alone."
"I like discussing it and imagining all kinds of things. With mystery novels, reading's only half the fun. My theory's that you can only really enjoy it when you talk with other people who've read it too."
Our relationship began when we realized that we both read mystery novels. We were both surprised and very interested to find that the other not only read tons of mystery novels, but read them very thoroughly. Ever since then, it's been like this. Separate from the games we played with all the cousins, the two of us met together for some time alone... At first, it was like a sort of contest to see who knew more than the other.
However, eventually, this turned into respect for how much the other had read and how deeply they were able to think about it.
Of course, all of that had still fallen within the category of 'friendship'... But we were still slightly aware of the fact that the other was of the opposite sex, making for a relationship that was charming, or youthful, or maybe you could call it exciting. However, we were still at the age where the word 'little' would not be an exaggeration.
Of course, we didn't know a thing about love. So, we couldn't understand that exciting feeling in our chests, both bitter and sweet, that we only felt when we were alone together. However, we realized that there was some unknown emotion hidden behind that feeling, and as our hearts raced, we had our hands upon the door. That was the exciting age we were at.
So. At some point, our discussions about mystery novels became just an excuse for us meeting alone...
"The 'why dunnit'? You mean the culprit's motive...?"
"Yeah. There are three points you need to figure out in mystery novels: the 'who dunnit', the 'how dunnit', and the 'why dunnit'. A lot of mysteries deal with the first two, but surprisingly few worry about the final one."
"Well, I know about many works that take great care to have the culprit confess his motive after he's found out..."
"But it has to be something that you can reason out before the culprit confesses, or it doesn't count. Personally, I think it's unfair for a person who supposedly didn't have a motive to commit the crime, unless it's possible to reason his or her motive out."
"There are a ton of works that ask about, who the culprit is, and what tricks they used. In fact, almost all are like that. However, I don't think there are many novels that ask you to figure out the motive."
"Good point. That might be the most neglected of the three."
"Mysteries that don't take the 'why dunnit' seriously don't really feel complete to me. No, I'm not saying they're boring. It's more like... they're missing the most important part."
"The most important part... is missing...?"
"The heart. The heart is missing."
"I think the human heart is a really important thing. If a person's gonna decide to commit murder, plan it out, get everything ready, and actually carry it out, you'd need an incredibly strong force of the heart. The heart is what moves people."
...In other words, only the heart can kill a person. When an emotional upheaval grows strong enough to make a person want to kill, the result is the tragedy called murder. If we turn it around, does that mean that the true way to close in on the crime is by searching for the heart that brings about the tragedy of murder? Only the heart can kill. So, if a person has been killed, you must search for the heart. That's what he was saying.
"That's why, I can't really enjoy novels where the culprit is just a homicidal maniac who kills for fun."
"...Then you like novels that show a strong enough movement of the heart to lead to murder?"
"That's right. And my favorite ones are the novels that let you reason that out."
As he spoke, he looked back at me and smiled. Before today, I used to like novels that focused on exposing the tricks. However, I decided to look for novels like the ones he recommended in the future.
"...Yeah. I think you're right..."
This isn't limited to the mystery genre. All humans are moved by their hearts all the time. Being able to notice the heart is what allows for interactions between people... no, interactions between hearts.
None of us humans can live on our own. And yet, we have no way of peeking into the hearts of others. That's why every meeting between people... is a mystery of the heart. Finding those, reasoning about them, and understanding each other is the key to interactions between people and hearts. The two of us are here, all alone, talking together about mysteries. And through that... We are searching out each other's hearts, speaking of the heart's mysteries...
I want you to feel about me... the way I feel about you. We're both searching, trying to figure out the depths of the other's heart, in this mystery of love.
"Nn, look how late it's gotten. I wonder if Aniki and the others are waiting for us."
"Yes, we should probably go back soon..."
"...Time seems to fly by when I'm talking with you, Shannon-chan."
He seemed to be speaking the words of my heart. We were thinking the same thing, so the same words came out.
"I wish we could talk together like this forever... I hate clocks."
"Same here. Talking about this stuff with you is the most fun part of coming to Rokkenjima."
When I saw that his smiling eyes were looking right at me, I turned around. I couldn't let him see my suddenly red face.
"If only I could leave this place, I'd be able to read so much more..."
The bookshop on Niijima that I go to and the bookshop he goes to in the city are on completely different scales. The book exchange between the two of us had become completely one-sided, with him giving me all the books.
"...I don't know."
"If, someday, you decide to quit..."
"If I do...?"
BGM: Song Without a Name (ver. 2007)
He said it almost carelessly. Maybe he was a bit embarrassed, since he laughed weakly and blushed.
"And then, we won't need to worry about time running out anymore."
"...That's right. We could be together... as long as we wanted..."
The little secret dates on this island only happened a few times a year, and even when they did happen, it was only for a short, uncertain period of time. It wouldn't work over the phone or with letters. We can only talk about our mystery when we're standing together like this.
"I know that day'll come someday."
"...You think it will...?"
"Yeah. I'm certain of it."
Certain? Why is he certain...?
After saying this, he turned away. He was probably too proud to show me his blushing cheeks. But even without seeing, I knew what his face looked like. To come riding on a white horse... umm, isn't that... Uhh, isn't that like a prince riding a white horse...? So, what exactly does that mean... umm... ummmmm...
...My mind was going blank, so I just couldn't reason out his mystery of love, even though it was all plain and simple...
"I, I wonder... when that day will come..."
"Very soon, once you've made up your mind."
My heart skipped a beat... It was so sweet... yet it hurt...
"Any time's good for me. This is your life we're talking about, Shannon-chan. You should think about it carefully before you decide. And once you've made up your mind, I'll respect your decision, no matter when you make it."
"I'll keep on waiting until that day comes."
If only I had been a bit more foolish... and courageous. I could have said then and there that I was already prepared, and asked him to take me away from this island right away... But I couldn't say it. I had to think carefully about my future, for both of our sakes... My head was filled with pointless, senseless thoughts...
"I, I'm glad... Thank you..."
With his back still to me, he scratched his head and laughed. I knew he was doing this out of embarrassment, so I could clearly tell what his expression must have been. In the same way... He must have realized what my face looked like.
We're both puzzle-solvers of love. We theorize about each other's love, solving each other's mysteries...
"You have all the time in the world."
"No. I'd feel bad, if I kept you waiting too long."
"So, I've prepared myself. No, I should say that I will prepare myself. I'm not going to quit my job right now. Yes, one year. I'll do it in one year."
...If, a year after now, you still feel like coming for me on a white horse... And me too. If I still like you a year from now... I'd like to dedicate the rest of my life to you...
"One year from now, right here, I'd like to make my decision."
"...A whole year, huh? That sounds good. Spring, summer, autumn, winter. That's a good amount of time to look deep into your heart."
"S, so... next year..."
He responded to my cowardly determination with a quick, strong answer...
"I'll be waiting for that day to come."
"Yes. I'll be waiting too... Make sure... you come, okay...?"
"...Don't forget. Come here next year, okay?"
"Yeah. I'll definitely come. I'll meet you here."
BGM: Soul of Soul
So, this emotion that feels like sweet suffocation... is love...? It is an emotion I do not know. One I do not have. Though my magic can grant any wish. Though my paradise can grant any wish. That thing I cannot have... that incomprehensible emotion... that burns like fire, and yet, madly, one wants to hold it close...
All I know is that no matter how great a witch I might become, I cannot create this emotion. It must be given by another person. For the first time, I realized that I wasn't all powerful. And, I knew what Shannon had discovered in the world of humans...
"...This emotion... it's just too much... Once you've felt it, there's no forgetting it, is there..."
...Shannon. You win. Love, is it? It may be the most important element, and the one that I lack...
...Shannon. I'll watch and see how your love develops. So please, tell me more and more about this new emotion...