Part 5: Dining Room
"You're late, brats. Hurry up and take a seat."
The old bastard pressed us to sit. Only the places where we would sit were empty at the long table, which only made us feel our tardiness all the more. The seat at the head of the table, called the Incipient's Chair, was for the most highly ranked, reserved for Grandfather. It was still empty. He was probably planning to come in last to ham it up.
The seating order, looking at the Incipient's Chair at the head of the table, went from left to right with the lower ranking seats progressing in rows of two further away from it.
So, on the left-hand side of the first row, closest to the Incipient's Chair, was where uncle Krauss, ranked at number two, should have sat. It looked like he hadn't arrived yet, so that seat was empty.
Going like this, you might think that the next ones to come would be their husbands and wives, but... It's weird, but the next left-hand seat in the third row, meaning number six, was Jessica's seat. Opposite her was George-aniki. Then, next to Jessica, was me, And opposite me was Maria. Then, finally, next to me on the left-hand side of the fifth row was number ten, aunt Natsuhi.
Opposite her was uncle Hideyoshi. Next to aunt Natsuhi, in the sixth row and in the final seat on the left-hand side, was Kyrie-san. The seat opposite to Kyrie-san was empty even though everything had been set out. According to this ranking system, that spot was the seat where aunt Rosa's husband should be sitting. Even though he wasn't supposed to be coming, his place was made up.
These kind of ranking orders usually recognize the status of the spouse, but the Ushiromiya family had an original kind of ranking. Maybe it's a leftover of male chauvinism. If the system is predicated on the idea that a woman's womb is just a borrowed thing, then the children of direct descent would have a much higher ranking, and the grandchildren would come next. Meaning that the spouses, with no blood ties, are considered the last in line. It's terrible, but according to that ranking order, Grandmother, when she was alive, would have been in a position even lower than mine.
In their youth they obey their father; after they get married, their husband; after aging, their children. There's the old saying, 'Women, whether in their past, present, or future, have no home'. Long ago, when I was still incapable of figuring all this out, I'd thought it was so great that we could all chat, with the adult siblings in their group and us cousins in ours. However, now that I can reexamine the seating order after growing up a bit, it stirs up some very complicated feelings in me...
Aunt Natsuhi, married to the eldest son of the family and number two in managing the house, sat to my right, which meant that she was two steps lower than me in the ranking order. It was difficult to guess what was going inside her head. That's why I made a small apologetic gesture before sitting down.
"Boys will be boys, no? How tall are you?"
"I guess about 180 cm? Ah, please, whenever you feel like it, feel free to say 'Stop stuffing yourself!'"
"Huh? ...Aah, *giggle*, I'm sorry."
Natsuhi, after a moment, gave a small laugh, but it seemed she couldn't quite figure out what she was supposed to be laughing at.
She never got into our kids' circle, and she always looked difficult to get along with. And it didn't help that she gave the impression that she was at odds with the other parents. The fact is that having barely ever exchanged words, I hesitated a lot about how to approach her, and I ended up empty-handed.
The silverware had been tidily set up on the table, but the meal itself hadn't been brought in. In essence, until the man at the head of the table had taken his seat, the meal wouldn't start. So, as long as Grandfather, the highest ranked, didn't come, lunch would be indefinitely on hold. Not even the appetizers would come. So, while our parents withstood their hunger, the silence of the dining room would still wait for Grandfather to come.
It's just that the Grandfather I remembered, when we ate together like this, always showed up at the right time. He was supposed to be the kind of person that would never be so late that he'd keep everyone waiting, even though they were all present.
"Grandfather's pretty late. As far as I can remember, he was always strict about staying on time.
"Well, that might've been true six years ago, but it hasn't been that way lately. Seriously, he's off in his own little world so often that he doesn't even show up at family meals. I figured that he'd at least stick around for today's meal... Still, I feel more relaxed and happier without him."
After being scolded by her mother, Jessica faced the other way, sticking her tongue out. No way around it. Nothing to do but wait for the host to arrive. When I glanced at the clock, I saw that it was almost 12:20...
Video: Master of the House
If the last video made you question listening to this game's voice cast, at least give this one a try first.
Genji: Masato Funaki
Krauss: Jurota Kosugi
Nanjo: Akihiko Ishizumi
The clock showed noon, but he didn't even attempt to get up. Putting his spectacles on, he piled up one by one beside him old-fashioned books with elaborately designed bindings, and immersed himself in their reading. It definitely didn't look like it was for his leisure; on the contrary, he exuded impatience, crisis, as though every minute, every second were precious.
The inside of the sealed room, where dense dust danced, stagnated, steeped in the suspicious stench of smelly medicine. Somehow, sweet, heavy. For anyone with an good nose, the first thing they'd do after entering would be to open a window and ventilate the room.
The knocking against the study door had been going on for a while. A voice calling 'Father' sometimes mingled with the knocks. As Kinzo heaved a deep sigh, he snapped the old book he had in his hands shut and slammed it on the table. Then, he yelled at Krauss who was still knocking on the door.
"...Father. Isn't today the annual family conference? Everyone's gathered down there. Please come out."
Krauss called out to his father through the door. Kinzo always shut himself up in the study and hated it when even his family entered the room. For that reason, Krauss had no choice but to call out thus from the corridor...
...Before the door, Krauss, Nanjo and Genji kept waiting for the master of the house, who would not come out.
He himself hadn't really believed his father would answer his calls. However, as it was the duty of the eldest son, he had formally made the request.
"Shut up, be silent!!! Do you admonish me, Nanjo?!! I do not call for you lot, I said to call for Genji!! Now call for him immediately! Time is short, the apostles are already readying their trumpets! Why do you not understand, you foolish sheep!!"
Kinzo slammed the old, heavy book on the table over and over. The racket obviously indicated his highest displeasure. He put his spectacles down and flew up from his chair. He spread his arms wide open, as if to sing to a packed opera house, as if appealing to someone, and yelled.
"Why?! Why is there always something in my way?! I would throw it all away, I would offer up everything, and there is only one thing I ask in repayment!!
"...I have no idea what he's yelling. I guess he's finally gone nuts."
"Krauss-san... Isn't that a bit harsh, to your birth father..."
"My father is already dead. All that's here is a phantom of what Father once was. At any rate, as long as he has no intention of coming out, there's nothing we can do."
Choking coughs continued to pour from the study...
"I'm going back downstairs. It would be a waste to let that lunch Gohda's so proud of get any colder. It's one of the few things we can look forward to... in this family. Hmph."
Krauss spun on his heels. He looked at his wristwatch, mumbling and acting as though he had wasted time doing something he knew would be in vain.
"Genji-san. Father is calling for you. Keep him company."
"Doctor Nanjo. Let's go eat. If we stay here any longer, even our sense of taste will go insane from this sweet smell."
Without waiting for Nanjo, Krauss went downstairs.
Genji urged Nanjo to go and eat. Nanjo looked first to Krauss's back as he disappeared down the stairs, then to the study door, and he let out a deep sigh.
"...Sorry, Genji-san. Please."
"Yes, Please leave it to me."
"If possible, don't give him alcohol. It's too powerful a habit."
"Is Genji not here yet?!!! Who dares keep Genji from coming?!! Aah, Genji, where are you, call for Genji!!!"
"Now, please leave it to me."
Nanjo gave a small duck of his head and descended the stairs... Genji saw him off, and knocked at the study door.
"...Master. It is Genji."
"Yes. I am alone."
Kinzo returned to his seat in the study and pressed an old-style switch on the table. After a small delay, the heavy sound of the door unlocking could be heard.
Kinzo believed that his family might try to break in his study. Perhaps someone once opened the window for some air and scattered important documents and other stuff? Is that what made him so nasty? Now, Kinzo had placed a secure lock in his own room, making it so that without his permission nobody could enter, and locking himself in the dungeon he'd created.
Genji, who he trusted the most, was relatively free to enter the room, but that was also not absolute. If Kinzo was in a bad mood, even he wouldn't be able to enter. Anyone else would be limited to holding a conversation through the door, not even seeing his face. And most of the time, they wouldn't even get a real conversation.
However, that didn't become a big problem for the family, because going to the trouble of speaking to the aged Head, who was impossible to please, completely immersed in his odd research, and always locked up in his hideaway, just wasn't worth the effort. They were happy that he didn't come out of his study and, putting him in the hands of the servants, they themselves also tried to avoid him.
"Genji, my usual. I'm busy."
Genji headed to a corner of the study. There, a suspicious-looking bottle boasting a venomous color was displayed. It was actually liquor, but, considering that it was placed in this suspicious-looking room, one begins to doubt whether it isn't actually some kind of ghastly poison.
Inside the study, the mysterious collection of books that Kinzo had gathered had grown into a mountain. They were bizarre ancient or banned books, all of them either forbidden, cursed, or sealed.
There were many mysterious objects, like a candle suspiciously melted and molded into a strange shape, which probably had something to do with black magic. The constellations drawn on a certain celestial globe contained quite a few dots that a person who knows the night sky well would tilt their head at. The illustrations inscribed in old, casually opened books were all full of religious, or possibly demonic, grotesque arcana, as well as the weird shapes of various magical circles.
And above all, the sweet, poisonous smell that filled the room profoundly assaulted those who entered for the first time in their sense of sight and smell, then all their senses, making them lose their grip on reality... Inside that study, Genji, with his well trained hand, prepared Kinzo's usual drink. If you didn't know that the ominous dark green liquid that filled the complexly designed bottle was liquor, you really wouldn't want to put it in your mouth. He poured a small quantity of the spirits into the glass. After placing a cube of sugar in a strangely shaped spoon, he then poured water from a pitcher over it. Strangely, when the transparent water was poured, the dark green liquid turned a cloudy white.
It was a strange optical illusion, as though the water had caused a chemical reaction and made the drink become even more unrecognizable as liquor. It improved the original flavor Kinzo liked and adjusted the taste. There was no recipe. Its success was measured only by Kinzo's mood swing when he drank it, and he had learned how to make it only after many decades.
Genji placed the glass in the tray, and faced Kinzo. Kinzo was now gazing out the window.
Kinzo, now unrecognizable as the man who was shouting, screaming and yelling just before, regained his composure. In that man's back dwelt a dignity and intelligence made plain simply by how he tilted his glass and gazed down at the scenery beyond the window. Genji, in order to allow Kinzo to set down his glass any time, motionlessly waited behind and to Kinzo's left, as though he were a living sideboard.
Thereupon, while Kinzo looked out the window, he stuck out only the glass. There was just a mouthful remaining. It was not a gesture intended to set it upon the tray, as Genji expected, but was an motion to hand the glass over to Genji.
"...Drink it. My friend."
"...That is more than I deserve."
"No need for ceremony between us. Drink it. My friend."
Genji respectfully received the glass and inclined it a little to taste its contents. After that, he agitated it.
"I attempted to imitate your concoction, but no matter how I try I cannot replicate the taste... The way you make it is pure relish."
"...Thank you very much. It is the fruit of your guidance, Master."
Kinzo smiled at his loyal subject who refused to put aside rank even when asked to. However, he was not making fun of him; it was relaxed, like a smile at a close friend's unriddable bad habit.
"...Until now, you have served me exceedingly well. My sons call me eccentric. The servants that were once many, all of them, retired in their growing fear of me. Only you, even now, serve me."
"...That is more than I deserve."
"...I do not have much time left to live. My sons are vultures, lazily waiting for my inheritance to fall into their hands."
"That fool Krauss squanders money like water, throws away two gold coins to obtain one. With that, he deludes himself in saying he earned money!! Eva is a slave to money, thinking of me as a hen or whatnot!! As if when I die, she'll even use my carcass to make broth!!"
Why, why is the Ushiromiya blood so incompetent!?!? Is there anyone worthy to inherit the glory I built?! Aah, of course, I know, this is also Beatrice's curse, I know it!! ...Aah, Golden Witch, is this the revenge you planned for me?"
After howling, Kinzo choked once again. Genji set the tray and the glass down and patted his master's back... his facial expression did not change.
...It was always like this.
"...*cough*... Hmhm. Thank you, my friend."
The outburst, like his previous agitation, had calmed, and Kinzo regained his composure again. His change of stance was like seeing two different people, a wild Kinzo and a composed Kinzo, living together inside one body.
"Therefore... I have decided. I cannot stand spending my dimmed, remaining years procrastinating thus. In this body, if I have a coin to bet in the end, it seems I'll entrust it to the roulette of the demons. The power of magic is always settled with a gamble. Like visiting a shrine at the Hour of the Ox in ancient Japanese sorcery, to nail a curse doll to a tree. The magic power dwells in incurring the risk that it will be seen within the seven days the curse takes. The more dangerous the risk created, the stronger the magic power created will be."
"That is because Moses, instead of betting on incalculable odds in the Roulette of those with power, managed to spectacularly draw to himself the single miracle carved within the eyes of many. That power that can triumph over astronomical odds!! Yes, magical power is that fortune through which miracles are grasped!! To obtain this mighty magic power, one must face the risk of despair!! Those who possess no magical power call that desperation rather than a bet!"
Kinzo looked up to the sky outside the window. He spread his arms as if appealing to someone up in the skies.
...His nonsensical yells segued into a scream...and then into a wail. Kinzo folded over onto the bed, and tore it with both hands. Genji had no choice but to wordlessly watch over his master's lament...
"Certainly. I shall begin today's luncheon."
"...Doctor Nanjo, is Father's condition that bad? It would have been nice if he at least showed his face, right?"
"Rather than his physical condition, it's his mood... And for that, there is no medicine I can prescribe."
"Hey hey, 'mood', you say? Not that again. We come to see how he's doing, making time in our schedules in this damn busy season of autumn. And now that-"
"Hmph, don't complain, Rudolf. I managed to see how he's doing. Do you want to take my place, and try to persuade our ill-humored Father to come join us?"
"...Are you kidding?"
Rudolf shrugged. Apparently, even though Rudolf seemed to resent the way his father did whatever he pleased... he'd rather avoid seeing his father's face if he could help it.
"Does it seem like his mood will improve before dinner? Krauss nii-san?"
"I have no idea. You can try and ask Father directly. Although, I think his mood will improve faster if we don't bother him."
"The only one who can get Grandfather better is Genji-san. It sucks though, making the servants deal with your own parent's bad mood."
"Jessica. Don't speak out of turn."
She'd planned for her complaint to be heard only by her cousins, but it had reached even Krauss's ears. Scolded, Jessica scowled and turned away, sulking.
"...His disease can't be that bad, can it, with that kinda temper? I mean, if he's not healthy, and his mood is bad, at least it's proof he's still hanging on."
"It's because Grandfather has especially strong willpower. But, it doesn't mean that his body will always follow that. Since last year, they keep saying that he has three months left. If the initial diagnosis was correct, Grandfather has been prolonging his life by willpower alone. It should be a cause for concern."