Part 7: Epitaph on the Portrait
October 4th, 1986, 1:30 PM
As we did, we once again saw that witch's portrait. However, the word 'saw' is probably not the best word to describe that experience. It was more like our eyes were drawn to it. That woman's eyes, with their sage-like glamor, definitely had the power to make those who viewed it stand rooted to the spot.
Back when he had asked what this picture was, the first person to tell him it was Beatrice had been Maria. Therefore, when Battler showed signs of doubt, Maria must have felt that Battler didn't have faith in her. Of course, that's not what Battler meant.
Maria ran up to the portrait and began banging on a plate hanging below it. Maybe the title of the portrait was written there. Maria, trying to prove that she wasn't lying, obstinately continued to hit the plate.
"Ah-, sorry 'bout that, it's not like I doubt anything you said, Maria."
"Uu-! Battler believe it! Uu-!"
When he patted Maria's head and apologized, she seemed to accept it, sticking out her chest and proudly uu-uu-ing.
The plate did have the title of the portrait written on it, but it was much too big to contain only that. Beneath the title, what looked like an long epitaph was also written. If you just skimmed over it, several unnerving words would jump out at you.
"Incredible, isn't it? Grandfather had that written. Pretty deep, huh?"
"Uu-! Maria knows! The place where the gold is hidden!"
"...Wait, is it that story about the Ushiromiya family's hidden gold? There's another thing that I remember from long ago... Wait, Aniki, is that for real?"
"Grandfather had this written, but he never said anything about this picture or the epitaph... Even so, amongst the family, it is often whispered that it points to the location of Grandfather's hidden gold, and that he will relinquish the inheritance and the gold to the person who solves the riddle."
"Uu-! Maria heard that too, Maria heard that too! Lots and lots of gold!"
"...Well, something like that. Something like 10 tons of gold bars. I think it's a fake, though."
"Still, if you read this all the way through, it almost seems real."
Grandfather succeeded the Ushiromiya family after it had been destroyed in the Great Kanto earthquake and, by successfully riding the stormy seas after the war, managed to accumulate great wealth. That much of the story everyone knows. However, from here on, the strange part of the story begins.
Part of it is closely tied to Grandfather's black magic hobby, so its credibility is extremely low, but... Well, wait until the end before you doubt or make fun of it. After the war, Grandfather correctly predicted what the future would hold and won in a huge gamble, accumulating a vast store of wealth, but there is a mysterious legend about how he gained the funds in the first place.
Grandfather came from the branch family and had no connections in the business world or the financial world. Even though he later built connections with the occupying forces, in the beginning he was supposedly a nameless person who had not yet gained anyone's trust. Money can only be gathered based on trust. There's no way anyone would lend money to an untrustworthy person. How did Grandfather, whose trustworthiness was zero, manage to obtain the large amount of funds in the first place? It is said that, when asked that question, Grandfather answered like this...
Grandfather then went on and on about how he continued to research alchemy and techniques for summoning demons in order to become a great magician... And the entity summoned as the result of the demon-calling ceremony was the Golden Witch Beatrice. He then said that he made a contract where, in exchange for his own soul, he would receive fortune and honor. The witch then granted Grandfather 10 tons of gold. Grandfather used this gold as collateral to prepare a vast quantity of funds, and then used that to multiply his wealth by several times and revive the Ushiromiya family...
It seems that this story was so old that our parents had already been told it when they were still children. Therefore, while our parents were still young, they explored this island in various ways, believing that the gold that Grandfather had received from the witch might be hidden somewhere. However, since there was the danger of them getting lost in the abandoned forest, Grandmother began to spread the story that the witch lived in the forest and that approaching it was forbidden.
"We sure were idiots, weren't we? After all, Grandfather used that to build up the funds that he finally bought this island with, right? That means he must have had the gold before coming to this island. There's no reason the gold itself should be on the island."
"That's not necessarily so. Maybe the gold was hidden on the island from the beginning and he bought the whole island just to make sure it was all his. There was a whole 10 tons of it, right? It seems more realistic that he would try to secure the place where it was hidden rather than try to move it all."
"This epitaph was written two years ago. And since Grandfather wrote it himself... I see, this does make the Legend of the Gold more believable. The funds that revived the Ushiromiya family which he calls the witch's gold weighed 10 tons... And that's sleeping somewhere, ready to be turned over to whoever can solve Grandfather's riddle. Maybe that's why he did it? Haa, I guess that sounds like Grandfather's style or something... Ihihi! If it's true, that's pretty incredible."
The epitaph carved into the plate was very mysterious, with something like a poem or a song written on it. That paragraph was incredibly disturbing, filled with the signs of Grandfather's black magic hobby, and its contents were in bad taste, but it could definitely be viewed as a puzzle which, if solved, could lead to the place where the gold was hidden.
"Whether that's what he intended or not, I can't even imagine what his true motive was. All I can say is, this shady epitaph was displayed here so that everyone in the family could see it. By doing so, he could hint at the existence of the gold while still avoiding telling where the hiding place is. That caused our parents' imagination to run wild and call it equal to Grandfather's level of genius..."
"...Sounds just like my dad, so greedy that he takes something like this so seriously. Even though he laughs at Grandfather's black magic hobby, he'll still believe this story about the hidden gold. It just sounds so good."
"...Well, it's certainly not a realistic story. At that time, when Grandfather was still nameless without any connections, there was no way anyone would just lend him a massive quantity of gold bars for free. Because of that, it's not unthinkable that Grandfather would call his sponsor a witch."
"Yeah, but, it's 10 tons. 10 tons! If you traded that for money, how much would that come to? Anyway, it'd have to be a ridiculous amount, right?!"
"...It would be a ridiculous amount. They say that the total amount of gold mined by humankind since the dawn of history is at most 100,000 tons. That 1/10,000 of all of the gold humankind has obtained throughout history should belong to just one person is just insane... And that all of that was collected in one place and that there was a witch who could just 'poof' lend it to Grandfather. That would be no ordinary person."
"As for me, I think that that number '10 tons' sounds totally fake. In the first place, has anyone other than Grandfather ever even seen it? And even if some generous witch lent him some actual gold, couldn't that 10 be right but actually be mistaken from 10 kilograms? Even 10 kilograms would be a pretty incredible sum, right?"
"Uu-... 10 kilograms of gold is how much?"
Maria, who wasn't following the story and felt like she was being spoken to in riddles, finally found a place where she could ask us a question. A question which I also wanted to know right then. Whether I hear 10 kilograms or 10 tons, I know that it's an incredible amount, but I couldn't guess exactly how incredible each one is.
George-aniki folded his arms and tried to remember the market price of gold.
"...Well. Gold is also affected by speculation. Its price can also change depending on its purity and the trustworthiness of the foundry. You would also need to pay a commission to turn it into money. Still, it is definitely a precious metal, and some people estimate that if gold mining continues at its current rate, within half of a century, humankind will have mined all of it...Just guessing haphazardly, For one kilogram, I think maybe a price of 2 million yen."
"WHAAaa... I know I just randomly said that 10 kilograms would be a humble amount... but even that would be worth 20 million yen, wouldn't it!?"
"Uu-? Maria weighs 28 kilograms."
"...Which means that if we had Maria-chan's weight in gold, we could estimate its worth at over 50 million yen."
"That's just unbelievable... How much would 10 tons be then? 10 kilograms is 20,000,000 times 1000, so... umm... That's it! 20 billion yen?! What the hell!"
How much is 20 billion yen actually worth? ...We can only measure it relative to our own pocketbooks.
...So 100 times this sum is an unbelievable amount of money. If you work from age 20 to age 60, that's 40 years of work... so it's equal to 4000 years of work wages. It's like you worked every day starting from the Jomon period and finally accumulated this much money.
"...Uu-. Is 20 billion yen huge...?"
"Yeah, it's huge. Maria, you could buy more of that shortcake you love than you could eat in a lifetime."
"...However, while that might be possible with 20 billion yen in cash, I don't think it would be very realistic to have that much in gold bars all in one place. Just as I said, gold is extremely heavy, and it is not very convenient for purchasing assets. With highly valued stocks and bonds or really expensive precious gems, it wouldn't be unthinkable though. You often hear of people who, in the period of confusion during the war, often traded their wealth for precious gems so that they could carry it around with them... But you don't usually hear stories of people exchanging their wealth for gold."
"Of course it's heavy, but internationally it's the most trusted and stable. Doesn't that mean something? With bonds, for example, if the country is destroyed they're just scraps of paper."
"You can also look at it that way... but even one 10 kilogram ingot is pretty heavy to carry around. Haven't you heard? A 50 kilogram person can't carry a 50 kilogram bag over their shoulder. With that many gold bars, the amount of labor and risk for one person would be hard to calculate."
"So what you're saying is, while a stack of banknotes worth 20 billion yen would be annoying, 20 billion yen in gold would be such a big mountain that practically it would be kinda pointless."
"That's right. Although the Legend of the Gold does have a pretty interesting ring to it, just the part about the 10 tons of gold makes it pretty much impossible..."
"If you think about it logically like that, it sounds obviously fake. Haha, kind of brings you back down to reality."
"Anyways, that's Grandfather for you. Spreading exaggerated rumors about financing from some kind rich person by calling it 10 tons of gold received from a witch, probably figuratively. Even the number '10 tons' feels pretty symbolic."
"You mean like his gratitude for the money he borrowed was worth 10 tons of gold, or something?"
"Hehehe, maybe some rich man's leisured wife generously granted it to Grandfather. And maybe then he started calling this person a witch?"
...Furthermore, Grandfather later used that money to build a vast amount of wealth. Someone with such a great ability to judge people might also fittingly be called a witch. Also, since she went to the trouble of lending all that money, she might also have enthusiastically guided how it was spent. The decision to unexpectedly get involved with the occupying forces and profit from the Korean War demands might have been inspired in Grandfather by the witch. If you put those together, saying that he received wealth and honor from the witch might actually make sense.
"I see. So, in other words, this witch granted the funds necessary to revive the Ushiromiya family and Grandfather owed her big time. If that's the case, Grandfather, with his feelings of gratitude, had that huge painting drawn and displayed... I get it. It's not that strange a story."
"What if this person looked like an old witch-like granny? If that's true, I can definitely understand why Grandfather tried to pretty her up when he had the painting drawn. Hahahahaha, I'll bet if we ever did meet this person, she wouldn't be nearly this pretty!"
"Hahahaha, that's possible. The name Beatrice sounds pretty western, and if you think about how everyone in our family has western-style names, maybe even the name Beatrice is the result of Grandfather trying to rearrange some Japanese person's name to make it sound western."
"I get it, I get it. That means that this pretty girl doesn't exist outside the picture. Guess that means I won't be able to rub those elegant breasts~, ihihi! In the first place, isn't a witch a little weird? Like you could find something like that anywhere on earth."
As I made fun of the witch, laughing, I was trying to separate myself from the kid I was six years ago who was afraid of the witch of the forest. At that time, Maria tugged on my sleeve. The strength with which she did was filled with a little unhappiness.
"Witches exist! Witches exist! Uu-uu-uu-!!!"
"Well sure, they do exist... if you turn the TV on and watch anime or something."
"Exi-st!! Witches exi-st!! Uu-uu-uu-!!!"
I started getting impatient, not knowing why Maria was jumping on me like this. Then, Jessica tapped me on the shoulder and told me in a small voice.
"Dumbass, you're smashing a kid's dream. Maria really believes that things like witches and Beatrice exist."
"Come to think of it, Maria-chan, in social studies at your school, when you were asked to write what you wanted to be when you grew up, you wrote 'a witch', didn't you?"
Maria nodded seriously. Tears started to run from the corners of her eyes.
...I see. To a girl who wants to become a witch in the future, the existence of Beatrice was proof that witches do exist in this world, and was therefore an image that she yearned after and admired.
"Exi-st! Exi-st! Witches exi-st!! But Battler still doesn't believe! Uu-uu-uu-!!!"
"It's alright. They exist, witches. Onii-chan believes it."
George-aniki kneeled down and held Maria's head. Watching this, Jessica poked my side.
"...Oh, I'm sorry. I wasn't trying to make fun of your dreams. I apologize. Beatrice does exist. Even now she's living in the forest, and comes every night to the mansion to peek in and see what everyone's doing... So you shouldn't go into the forest. At night, you mustn't stare into the dark forest. You might be seen by the witch of the forest, Beatrice. After all, Grandmother said so."
"Uu-... Really? Battler really believes?"
"Yep. I believe. Sorry for doubting it. C'mon, let's make up."
I stuck out my hand and Maria grabbed it with her tiny hand, and we made up. Maria didn't grumble any more than that, so George-aniki and Jessica were relieved.
BGM: Moonlit Night
"Ah, Shannon. Well, this is the first time Battler has seen Beatrice's portrait. He was just fascinated by it."
"That's right, it is fascinating. Beatrice-sama is truly beautiful. I am sure that she captivated the Master."
"Ahahahaha. In addition to the patron theory, there's also a theory that she was Grandfather's first love. Either way, although it's been several decades since he met her, even now she holds a special place in his heart... Which must mean that he is still captivated by her."
"Sheesh. That must have made Grandmother pretty jealous, right?"
"I'm not really sure, but that might actually be true. Apparently Grandmother believed that he was cheating on her with some blonde-haired person."
"Ah, I apologize. I was told by Kumasawa-san to bring them to everyone."
"What is it, I wonder? ...Ooh, excellent! Cookies."
"Uu-! Want to eat cookies! Want to eat cookies! Uu-!"
"Please, eat as much as you would like... But, umm..."
"Maria, why don't we eat someplace other than here? Let's put the cookies in a bento and have a picnic."
"Uu-! Have a picnic, have a picnic!! If we can eat cookies, let's go!"
"That's right, let's go get some fresh air. We shouldn't grab food right in front of the witch."
"That's right, didn't we say that we wanted to go down to the beach in the first place? Let's go, let's go."
"Shannon-chan. Sorry, but could I ask you to get us a blanket to sit on and some flasks of tea."
Shannon-chan received her instructions and gracefully bowed before retracing her steps. We headed for the beach on our own. Everyone headed for the entrance in a group.
...Feeling as though that witch was staring down at our backs, I turned around once more.
"Nope, I believe. That way is more imaginative! The golden witch Beatrice gave Grandfather 10 tons of gold! And that gold might be sleeping around somewhere. And besides, didn't Grandfather write that strange epitaph as though challenging us to find it if we can? I think that kind of romantic story is way better."
"20 billion yen worth of go-ld! Hehe, even if we split it up between the four of us, that's still a ridiculous amount of money!"
"5 billion yen for each of us...Incredible! With that kind of money, any business would prosper. No wait, we could live our whole lives fabulously without working at all."
"Uu-uu-! Not 5 billion yen, cookie, cookie!!"
"Wahahaha, Maria would take cookies over money. Still, 5 billion yen, that's like a dream!"
BGM: Corridor of the Sands of Purgatory
"...The story about a witch who gave him the gold and so forth, we obviously don't believe. However, there's no mistake about the gold."
"The fact that Father obtained gold bars from an unknown source can be confirmed in several ways. We heard that, before the president of the Marusoo company died, Father showed him a large amount of gold somewhere. Father used that claim to prove that that there were 10 tons worth."
"That's just the nonsense of a senile old man. Along with Father, he was just fabricating a story. You can't take it seriously."
"If that gold didn't exist, he wouldn't have been able to gather so much funding! Before the president died, he was a person with such a sincere personality that he gathered the respect from many in the business world. He couldn't have become a partner in such a fraud!"
"Aniki, the president of Marusoo definitely saw it. 10 tons of it, clearly with his own eyes. Even more, Father let the president take one ingot at random and have it examined. The results of the examination showed that the 10 kilogram ingot was 99.99 percent pure. He said that the Ushiromiya family crest, the One-winged Eagle, was carved into it."
"Almost instantly, the Ushiromiya Legend of the Gold spread amongst the fixers of the business world. Gold from an unknown foundry has a poor rate of conversion into money. Thinking that it was a chance for decisive profits, they accepted it as collateral, and as a result Father was able to receive a giant loan..."
"Isn't there a limit to how ridiculous you can get? How old are you people? Are you still taking that nursery tale you heard as a kid seriously? Where is the proof that this 10 tons worth of gold even exists? Isn't it just the lies of Father and those who were closest to him?"
"...Of course it's just a story. But still, Aniki. The amount of money that Father raised required a suitable quantity of collateral. Even if the gold was just a rumor, that he must have shown them a treasure of comparable worth is an unmistakable truth."
"It was just an illusion of money created by our penniless father. He made it seem that non-existent gold actually existed and fooled his sponsors. It was probably the gamble of a lifetime. Fortunately, his use of those funds proved successful. If the Korean war demands hadn't come and the Ushiromiya family had not been restored, Father would probably have been hounded after as the crook of the century."
"In that case, are you saying that the gold never existed, and that Father made it all up?"
"Of course. Therefore, after he was sufficiently successful, the illusion of gold became inconvenient. So Father made up that absurd story about the witch and black magic and made the whole thing seem less believable. In other words, he revealed that the illusion of gold was fabricated. If he says that he received the gold from a witch, no one would believe that it exists at all, right? He possibly said it for all of your sakes. Nevertheless, some stupid offspring wanting to divide up this non-existent gold with the rest of the inheritance have appeared. Rosa, don't tell me that even you believe this kind of a fabrication...?"
"...I can't prove whether or not Father really has the gold. However, as one of father's four children, I just want to claim my rightful share."
"Ho... It looks like even Rosa's started to say it. All right, maybe this is what you all want to say: that I am trying to keep all of the gold to myself..."
"Nii-san, the fact is that you've obtained a massive amount of funding. If we rule out the possibility that you have been embezzling Father's personal funds, then there's only one possibility left, right?"
"Aniki, maybe you have already found the 10 tons of gold bars. It sure looks that way to us."
"Ridiculous. Something like that never existed in the first place."
"Then explain yourself. Embezzlement of Father's assets or Father's hidden gold. How could you have gathered so much funding if you didn't use one of these?"
"I also have many friends in the political world and the financial world. I have done nothing more than gain their assistance. And as to that, I have no responsibility to explain it to you. You understand, don't you? There are some topics that can't be talked about."
"...If you insist on it, that's all right. But Aniki, Father doesn't have long. Nobody can ensure that he will live to see this day next year. When Father dies, the inheritance will be passed on. We will all set up impartial lawyers and accountants to inspect Father's financial and political status."
"If, at that time, the fact that our brother has unjustly interfered with Father's money comes to light... you understand, right?"
"I don't have a clue what you're talking about. You're starting to make me feel as indignant as my wife was."
"...Father's gold is definitely one of Father's assets! I understand that it's money that you can't reveal openly, but the four siblings should have an equal right to it."
"In short, even though you are our brother, we will have your financial situation investigated to determine whether or not you are hoarding the gold."
"Isn't this a good opportunity. Prove the existence of this backup from friends and acquaintances that you mentioned. That way we can sportingly apologize for foolishly doubting you. Right, Rosa?"
"...That's right. Krauss nii-san, you are the one who's avoiding the topic. If you were guiltless, you could just prove that you were in the right. Yet you aren't even trying to respond."
"However, Aniki, we still have to consider your position here. As Father's representative, you're probably bearing a larger share of the burden than we are. It wouldn't be fair for the rest of us, who have been living terribly relaxed lives until now, were to complain without taking that into account."
"...Ho. Until just now I've been busy being spoken ill of and being flattered. Please get to the point."
"...When the inheritance is distributed, you will be rewarded for your years of hard work taking care of Dad by an agreement that is generous in your favor."
"Don't misunderstand us, Nii-san. It's not like we are saying that we will abandon our rights. It's just that when we claim what we deserve, it wouldn't be bad if we allow a generous understanding from your position. That's what we mean."
"In other words, if you'll accept our conditions, at the time of the division of the inheritance, we won't mind leaving the investigation of Father's financial status to you, Krauss nii-san."
If, as they claimed, Krauss was actually embezzling money, Krauss would be able to hide that fact. Besides that, it would also be possible for him to control the distribution of the inheritance in a manner favorable to himself. Krauss, also realizing that this sounded to good to be true, couldn't help but feel doubt. He had to worry about what kind of collateral they had to make this kind of a compromise...
"...Hoh. After mistrusting me completely, you now say that you're willing to restore your confidence in me as the eldest sibling? And what are you asking for?"
"Just what we deserve as siblings. You aren't the kind of person who would steal Father's property. However, there is no patron financing you. Considering all that, there is a certain explanation that would satisfy the rest of us."
"...Nii-san, you found 10 tons of gold and used that as collateral to gather some funding. Yes, just like Father did in the past, right?"
"If that's the case, there won't be any funny bits in Father's finances. You've always been a good son, lookin' after Father. Why would we mistrust a person like that?"
"...You're being so roundabout I can barely understand you. Say it more clearly and practically."
"Our second condition: Regarding the gold, take each sibling's portion and pay it to us."
"How foolish. With the non-existant 20 billion yen of gold, that would be 5 billion yen per person. Are you telling me to pay a total of 15 billion yen? Ridiculous!"
"Keep listening 'til the end! We know that much money can't just appear. We're not asking you to make an impossible deal! Of course, regardin' the portions of the gold, we plan to reward you sufficiently for your hard work until now in our calculations."
"Our third condition: The portion of the gold to the one bearing the title of successor to the Ushiromiya main family will be 50%. The remainder will be split fairly between the siblings. Of course, this also includes you, Krauss nii-san."
"Of the 20 billion, 12.5 billion will go to Aniki, 2.5 billion will go to Eva nee-san, 2.5 billion will go to me, and 2.5 will go to Rosa."
"...That portion makes me so grateful I could cry. So you're saying, for the sake of the gold that doesn't exist, I must pay you 7.5 billion."
"What's wrong? Nii-san, your share is five times the size of ours. That's such a good condition, I'd be jumping for joy. Uhuhuhuhuhu..."
"Our fourth condition: The divided gold will be included when the inheritance is distributed at the time of Father's death. However, as a deposit, 10% of our portions will be paid to us promptly. The payment must be made before March of next year."
"What do you think, Krauss nii-san? This is an ideal chance for you to restore the trust you need to run Father's assets, isn't it?! Of course, it might be impossible to get a whole 7.5 billion before Father dies. However, you can't say that you couldn't manage a deposit of 750 million, right?"
"Paying 700 million in half a year might be slightly bothersome, but Aniki, who has many friends in the political and business spheres, should be able to manage it."
"Normally, I'd hope to receive the 7.5 billion right now, all at once. But out of concern for you, I'll show my sincerity by asking for only 1/10 of that for the time being. It's alright to let the remaining 9/10 carry over until the distribution of the inheritance. Right? With 1/10 to show sincerity, even you would notice it."
"...So my right to investigate the status of Father's assets is being sold to me for 750 million. Heh, heheheh. Isn't that great? You all sure have grown. I never thought you all would become capable of offering a deal to me."
"Nii-san, If you accept these, the rest of us siblings will leave the investigation of Father's assets to you. However, the results of that invesigation will be subject to protest... It's only natural, right? We'd be sad if you adjusted our portion of 7.5 billion downwards."
"As a general rule, we wouldn't complain. As long as you do it neatly, it's fine. As long as you don't do anything significantly obvious, we don't plan to aggravate anything. We just want the inheritance quickly. We don't want it to get all drawn out and led astray."
"...In the case of a complaint, who would do the second investigation?"
"...It's alright if it is you. This will probably be the first and last opportunity for the siblings to discuss this. I believe that it won't come to that."
"Heheh, *cackle*cackle*! Rosa really can talk sometimes."
"I'm sorry, but the conditions still continue. Our fifth condition: This decision must take precedence over Father's will. Later on, we don't want some will to appear and make this decision completely useless."
"...You are quite scrupulous. Then let me ask, if the gold really were found, what would you do?"
"As long as you settle this matter with the corresponding payment, the rest of us 'really' don't care whether the gold appears or not. You can think of our share as an advance payment."
"*giggle*, it's alright to dream. You plan to turn this island into a resort, right? During construction, you might stumble upon the gold by chance."
Eva let out a high-pitched laugh. Krauss watched without even flinching.
"...Let me add a 7th condition before I accept. In the situation that any sibling other than myself finds the gold, they will immediately turn it over to me."
"Yes, yes. Of course, we'll hold onto it for you. *giggle*!"
It was a play on words. The others, who were forcing Krauss to pay money for some nonexistent gold, would of course not ensure Krauss's portion if they actually found the gold.
From the beginning, this deal had been nothing more than a threat directed at Krauss. While the truth might be different, the possibility that Krauss was embezzling his father's assets was extremely high. When at last Kinzo faced death and the inheritance would be distributed, surely some unpleasant facts would be established. That situation would likely be a fatal wound to Krauss. They had snatched up that weak point and, under the veil of compromise, were threatening their brother to try and wring out a huge sum of money.
Krauss, noticing that Eva, sure of her victory, could not hide her smile, relaxedly let out a gloating laugh as he spoke.
"Hahaha. Isn't that a great story? ...I also have felt a deep pain in my heart at my estrangement from the rest of you. If by accepting these conditions, the relationship between the siblings could once again become friendly, I would be quite pleased. I'll join in on this with pleasure. Be happy, Rosa. The deal is concluded."
Rosa's expression dimmed. When her brother started talking like this, the conversation would never change for the better. Eva was also sensitive enough to realize this. Therefore, even though Krauss had obediently accepted the deal, she was unable to wipe away her feeling of insecurity.
"...My, how obedient. That's not like you, Nii-san."
"That's harsh. You think I have an ulterior motive? Of course there isn't one. Just the same as all of you."
'Just the same as all of you'. It felt as though only that part was emphasized. The color of Rudolf's face darkened. He heard it as 'I have an idea at the same level as yours'. That gave him a sense of urgency. Trying to bring this near-finished discussion to a conclusion, he rushed to wrap it up.
"...Then we are good. So, Aniki. Would you mind signing here? This is a written contract containing the discussion we have been having. There's one for each person. Everyone will sign for the same contents."
Rudolf took four written contracts out of his breast pocket that had the details of their deal written on them.
"The seventh condition that Krauss nii-san proposed will, of course, be added from now on. Don't worry."
"Aniki, will you use a pen?"
Rudolf took a fountain pen out of his breast pocket and offered it to Krauss. Krauss made as if to accept it, but then, with a small laugh, drew back his hand without taking it and spoke.
When Krauss said that one sentence... All of the siblings felt as though something annoying was creeping up their backs at the same time.
"...Tha-, that won't do. We've already decided, haven't we? Quietly sign it."
"Eva, why are you so impatient. Of course I will sign. I'll promise that your share of the gold will be 7.5 billion yen. I also promise that, when Father's inheritance is distributed, I will cleanly and neatly liquidate it... However, in one part, there is a point that I cannot compromise on no matter what."
"...What are you talking about. What point don't you like...?"
"The part about promptly paying 1/10 of each portion, 750 million yen. As you pointed out, my political and financial status is not prosperous. While I can ensure that I will definitely collect on various future investments, at this time I have no choice but to admit that I am very poor. In short, I have absolutely no money that I can move around right now. I am incompetent, and my business skills and senses are dull. Since I am as weak as you all have said, I have no power to move 750 million in just half of a year."
"Tha-, that can't be true. Are you trying to deceive us with such a careless trick?"
"At the time of the division of the inheritance, I will liquidate everything at once. Remove the condition that I quickly pay you 1/10. That is the only condition under which I will sign."
"...Krauss nii-san, no matter what, that 1/10 is a number to measure your sincerity, isn't it? In that case, there's no spare margin in the deal. If you would at least grudgingly accept that for the time being, then at least 1/10 good faith can be spread around as a huge service to everyone. After having that explained, to reject it would cause our mutual trusting relationship to fall into the shadows, wouldn't it...?"
Hideyoshi had a humble expression on his face and was rubbing his hands together, but his eyes were not calm at all. Krauss had already seen through the shadow in the depths of those eyes.
"...Hmph. Why are you all so hurried? Or are you possibly afraid of something? Rosa, won't you tell at least me? Secretly, without telling the rest of the siblings."
"...It, it's not like I..."
"Quit it, Aniki. All we're asking is whether you're going to sign or not. Just forget about making any strange deals or anything suspicious."
"...Hoh? So I have no margin for negotiation. Do you claim that my position is so weak that we are not in an even relationship...?"
"Shouldn't this deal be made on an even footing? To me, this deal will restore the long lost trust of my younger brother and sisters and deepen the love between us siblings. And there has been an uneasiness in my heart to have this resolved quickly. I would be very happy if it could be resolved today... But you too would be very happy if this deal were quickly resolved, wouldn't you...?"
Krauss stared at each of the siblings. They avoided his gaze with animal-like instinct. Only Hideyoshi was slow avoiding it, so he was caught in Krauss's gaze.
"Hideyoshi-san. I hear that your company has been going extremely well recently, hasn't it? With a swift rhythm it has become listed as a stock, and both its performance and stock prices have soared. I am truly jealous."
"...M, my husband's situation surely has nothing to do with this."
"However, it is unfortunate that you have neglected your stockholders. It's also horrible that you were unable to solidify your base when you became stock-listed. Before you realized it, some bad-natured colleagues of yours had bought up a huge share of your company's stock, didn't they?"
"...H... how could you know something like that..."
"The same way as Hideyoshi-san. If you can collect evidence proving that no one would offer a loan to me, then I can collect evidence on Hideyoshi-san. Hahaha, is it really that strange of a thing?"
Krauss grinned broadly. In contrast, Hideyoshi's face was turning obviously pale...
The greatest advantage of being in the stock-holding system was that, by selling stock certificates, a large amount of financing could be gained. That amount was far greater than the actual profits from the business. This made it an extremely effective way to gather the massive funds needed to grow his company even further.
However, in exchange for financing the company, the stockholders had certain rights. That was, in order to give the company that they had financed even greater profit, they had the right to observe and control it. That right was guaranteed to all stockholders, and they would sometimes use it to dismiss ineffectual management. It was the 'right' to prevent the money they had spent financing the company from going to waste by watching the management of the company.
However, if they use this right forcibly, they can eject the former management and take over the company... Because the general body of all shareholders has the power to dismiss the management and nominate new management. That power is determined based on the majority decision of the stockholders, and people who hold more stock get to cast more votes.
In many companies, their stock gets bought up by malicious people and, in order to prevent their position from being threatened, they make their own employees or people close to them buy a lot of stock certificates. To prevent hostile action from being taken by the majority, they try to take some kind of defensive measures. However, since Hideyoshi's company had only recently become stock-listed, he hadn't had the time to strengthen those defensive measures. No, maybe Hideyoshi himself was so engrossed in the management of his company that he couldn't realize the dangers of being stock-listed.
It's hard to say whether he should be viewed as a kind-hearted and skilled manager immersed in management, or a foolish manager who had his feet swept out from under him... There were people out there who would not let him get away with that naivety unscathed. They began repeatedly buying up Hideyoshi's company's stock and suddenly gained such strength that they couldn't be ignored. They then sent anonymous documents to the shareholders and began to capture the majority. The documents read: 'The current management continues to make pointless investments and is ignoring the needs of the stockholders. Let us force the current management to retire, cut the current wasted investments, and let this company be born again as one that gives more back to the stockholders.'
It is very difficult to make the actual state of a company's management known. The success created by Hideyoshi's tiny amount of sleep and his constant concern for his company was cruelly twisted, and he lost the trust of his stockholders. Their efforts had almost collected a majority of the stock in the company. At that point, even Hideyoshi noticed and started to buy back the stock, but the stock holders, who realized that the company was undergoing an acquisition maneuver, demanded a ridiculous price for the shares that Hideyoshi was trying to buy back. They continually tortured Hideyoshi, who had no leeway in the negotiation of the price.
One of the certainties of capitalism is that value will rise when both parties vie for the same thing. And one of the certainties of democracy is that the majority controls everything. So in the end, whoever manages to buy up the most stock wins. So, whoever has the most money wins.
"And you, Rudolf, you've been in a lot of trouble lately, haven't you? They say it's scary overseas, but it seems that's really true. American trials are settled quite emotionally. They won't give a generous judgement to a foreigner. Weren't you advised by your lawyer that making a settlement with the other party would be more economical in the end?"
"...What are you talking about...?"
"...Well, it's some trouble from work. It's no big deal. It'll be settled with money..."
Kyrie quickly recognized what Rudolf's complicated expression meant. Her husband had gotten wrapped up in some kind of trouble without her knowledge, and had been suffering alone.
"That's right. In this world, anything can be settled with money. After all, it can even buy back the broken bonds between siblings! America is very fussy about the violation of rights. But with money, anything can be settled. Long live capitalism. Although it's rumored that the settlement money can reach several million dollars, isn't it?"
Rudolf had been building a large amount of wealth with a certain type of niche market. However, a niche is a niche. It's definitely not a sunny job. An American corporate giant was trying to accuse Rudolf's company of violating their rights.
For various reasons, it was thought that winning the trial was extremely unlikely, and Rudolf went for an all-out surrender... But even that was a path resolved with money. If he could only pay that money, though it might be painful, he could still pick himself back up.
"...Rosa, you're a good and noble little sister. You wouldn't even touch a dangerous money game. However, your softhearted nature was your ruin, wasn't it? I wouldn't think one should agree to become a co-signer so lightly."
"Nn, ...umm, ...Th-, that has nothing to do with you, Krauss nii-san!!"
Rosa uncharacteristically lay bare her emotions and yelled. There's no way he could know.
As Krauss watched, he let slip a muffled laugh...
In other words, the situation had been reversed. Because only Krauss, who they were threatening, had no urgent need for a large sum of money. Compared to that, the three who were threatening him wanted money quickly, no matter what the cost. So Krauss was able to control this deal however he liked.
Krauss was very sly. He had known of their Achilles heel from the beginning. Even so, he had not been certain. Therefore, he had hidden that until the very end, and, upon closely and completely examining their attitude, he had struck back.
"If I could, I would love to raise some money for my cute brother and sisters in their time of need. But unfortunately, I have nothing on hand... If you have any sponsors in mind that can raise a whole 750 million, I suggest you try there first."
Krauss's elated words were horribly blunt. The other siblings could do nothing more than listen, grinding their teeth. If they could think of a sponsor that convenient, they wouldn't have kept up this charade. They had entered this huge battle specifically because they had exhausted all other options.
"...If you're still set on relying on your older brother, you can use my influence to find a sponsor. Oh wait, you already said that I have no influence. Well then, I can't do anything, can I? Hehheheheheheheh!"
"...Don't make me laugh... As if I could borrow from you...! Don't make me laugh, don't make me laugh...!"
"...If... if we relied on you, how would you help us..."
"I told you, didn't I. All I can do is find other sponsors for you. Of course, I will negotiate for the largest interest rate possible. Hehheheheh, gahahahahahahahaha!!"
"...Damn you... taking advantage of us..."
"...Honey. Please calm down."
"I am calm. I'm extremely cool... You bastard...!"
Kyrie grabbed her husband's hand. But that action made him feel even more pitiful, so Rudolf shook it off. Krauss laughed as though seeing that made him extremely happy.
"In times like these, it sure would be nice to find Father's hidden gold. If you did, you could split it up into 2.5 billion yen portions right now. How sad, how sad. How very sad! How extremely totally truly hopelessly sad!"
"...Yes. Whether or not Krauss-sama actually discovered the gold, he would pay Eva-sama, Rudolf-sama and Rosa-sama a total of 7.5 billion yen for their shares. However, 1/10 of that would be paid before March."
"...Yes. Krauss-sama exposed that Eva-sama and the younger siblings all had an urgent need to get money."
"Hmph. Can you really call something of that level exposing? That incomplete, incompetent man. What are they doing now?"
"...That conversation has been interrupted for now. Now, Beatrice-sama's epitaph is being discussed."
"So, they are trying to solve the riddle and find out where my gold is hidden?"
Kinzo set down his glasses and snorted.
"...Will the miracle be fulfilled first, or will those fools expose the gold first? What a sight. If those fools solve my puzzle, at that time I will be completely defeated. They can suck my corpse down to the last fragment of bone. Great magic can house a miracle from the fools' greed. And yet!! If the fulfillment of the miracle comes first... If it comes first! Beatrice will be resurrected again!! That smile which I have been chasing half my life will be restored...!"
Kinzo choked, apparently in great pain. Kanon got closer and tried to pat his master's back, but Kinzo signaled that he didn't need to.
"...Do you know why I went to the trouble of exposing the hidden location of the gold so that everyone could see it?"
"It is because magical power is decided by risk. If the number of people who try to discover Beatrice's gold is great, and the danger of that happening is great as well, then assuming that the bet is successful despite those long odds, the magical power will bring about a grand miracle... In other words, magic is a game. It is not true that the most superior person will become the winner. The winner is superior because he is granted magic. Do you understand? The miracle of life can be granted only after winning against the divine odds of several hundred million to one. Is this a little difficult for you to understand?"
"That's fine. It all comes down to this. To the one that solves the mystery of Beatrice's epitaph, I will give all of that which I have built up. Wealth, honor, gold, and the inheritance of the Ushiromiya family. Everything that I have established! Since tackling the riddle is the only condition, it is not limited to my children. For example, if you succeeded in solving it, that would make you qualified to gain everything."
"...Yes. However, I couldn't possibly understand such a difficult riddle."
"Of course. I made it difficult... But you must also challenge it. That will become the seed with which the miracle of my magic will be summoned. If everyone challenges it, and everyone fails, that will be that. However, if the miracles are gathered and the magical power is born, it will happen then! Beatrice will revive. Therefore you too must challenge it. Everyone must challenge it. And in doing so, they must give strength to my magic!! Do you understand?!"
"...Yes. I will try."
"It's all right, leave me. There is a bag of sweets on the liquor cabinet. You can take some with you as a reward."
"...I'm fine. Because I'm... furniture."
"...Hmmm. So furniture doesn't eat things like sweets? Indeed. In that case, leave me."
"Yes. ...Excuse me."
Kanon bowed and left the study. As the door was closed, a heavy locking noise resounded.
He was already unable to trust anyone excepting, not the sons who shared his blood, but those servants who called themselves furniture...
For the most part, Genji also understood the family's situation. It must have made him want to frown, knowing that right now in the lounge, the master he served was being discussed so disrespectfully. But it would have been very difficult to gather that from his indifferent expression.
"...But, I don't understand. Why did Kinzo-san have something so provocative written, I wonder."
Nanjo looked at the portrait of Beatrice. No, he actually directed his gaze beneath the portrait, at the plate with the epitaph.
"...I don't presume to understand the Master's thoughts. However, I have realized that those thoughts are very deep."
"Since long ago, when Kinzo-san played chess, he would always prepare his moves according to some far-reaching judgement. Yes, sometimes even to make moves I couldn't understand. For an average person like me, it was impossible to see through to whatever it was he was planning..."
"Sometimes I wonder whether this is not some kind of will from the Master. Would he entrust his assets and inheritance to whoever could solve this riddle?"
"Then maybe he hoped to force the four siblings to work together and solve the riddle before some outsider like myself solved it. It might be something like that. Kinzo-san might rudely abuse his children, but he may also hope that the siblings repair their relationship."
However, both Nanjo and Genji realized that at least that much was definitely impossible. As those who held the longest relationship with Kinzo, even though they were more trusted than his blood relatives, they could not guess at Kinzo's true motive...
"...The Master is always saying that it doesn't matter whether they're a member of the family as long as they have the qualification of solving the riddle. What about you, Doctor Nanjo?"
"No, no... It's a little too hard to understand for this senile old man. Actually, I wrote this epitaph down on my notebook at one point in time. Night after night, I would try to solve it before going to sleep, but, hahaha, it really is hard. It looks like there might be some free time to relax and consider it before someone comes to get us. What do you say, Genji-san?"
"...I am nothing more than furniture that serves the Master. Gold and assets are useless to me."
"My, my, you are a humble person. That's probably why Kinzo-san trusts you so much."
"If so, I am honored..."
As Nanjo lightly laughed in response, he once again looked at the epitaph.
"...My beloved hometown, the sweetfish river running through it. You who seek the Golden Land, follow its path downstream and seek the key..."
That which is written on the epitaph of the portrait of my most beloved witch Beatrice is as follows: