Part 102: ????
The room was colored with hygienic tones... in other words, an emotionless white. It was a room at a certain university hospital. Neither her doctors nor the person herself had any doubts that this room, which had a price so high that no commoner could afford to spend a single night there, would be the last room she ever saw...
Even if someone told you that was so, she was unbelievably aged and worn out.
The well-built man in a suit waiting in the corner near the door was having a whispered conversation through an intercom with someone outside. He was a guard protecting Eva's person. After telling the person on the other end of the intercom to wait, he approached Eva's bed. Eva had been awake for a short while. However, she stared at a single point in empty space, as though her mind was not in the same place.
For a long time, Eva didn't answer. However, bit by bit, her eyes began to regain their focus, and she gave a small nod, indicating that she didn't mind if they called Ange. It had been Eva who called her. And she was right on time.
By this point, Eva would refuse anyone who wanted a meeting without an appointment. The room was dark, even though it was still light outside, because the curtains were always closed. There was always one guard waiting in the room, and three more waiting in the corridor and the lobby. They were all there to protect Eva's person...
Eventually, there was the sound of a knock. Also, there was a message from the intercom that the guest's body check had been completed with no problems. The door was unlocked, then opened... and a high school aged girl was standing there.
"Chairman, Ange-san has arrived."
Eva reacted and turned her face towards the guest. However, instead of reacting to the guard's call, maybe it would be better to say that she reacted to the smell of Ange's makeup. After being shut up in this room for so long, Eva was sensitive to even small changes in smell.
"...So you came... Ange."
BGM: Steady Pace
On Eva's face, there was no trace of a person warmly welcoming their niece. And on Ange's face, you couldn't see the expression of one pleased to meet with their aunt.
Eva waved her arm, which had grown as thin as a withered branch, and motioned for the guard to leave. The guard bowed silently and went out into the hall.
"...It's not only stuffy, but dark too. Why don't you have the curtains opened?"
"...Is your plan for that hit man you hired to shoot me through the window...?"
"...I wish I could get hired to assassinate you. All I'd have to do is relax at home for a month and the job would take care of itself."
Their discussion was quite morbid for an aunt and niece. However, they didn't look like they were joking. At the very least, Eva believed that someone was after her life.
...It was said that this fortune also included the 10 tons of hidden gold that Ushiromiya Kinzo was rumored to have hidden. While this vast wealth lay in Eva's cunning, sly, and suspicious hands, no one was able to complain, but it was rumored that as soon as it was passed on to Ange, who was no more than a young girl, certain people were plotting to snatch it away.
By now, Eva and Ange were Kinzo's only descendants. If Eva died, all of the wealth would go to Ange. And if Ange were then to be killed as well, that wealth would go to the family of Ange's mother, Kyrie. In this sense, not only Eva, but Ange as well, were in a position where it wouldn't be odd at all for their life to be targeted by some unknown person.
And Eva had hated Ange for a long time. This was because she knew that, after losing her only precious son, George, the inheritor of her own wealth would be none other than the girl who had been absent at that family conference 12 years ago, and who had survived. Eva shunned Ange, disliked her, and even hated her. She isolated Ange in a special school and separated her from the youth and happiness normal people have, trying to keep her as a pet until death. However, Eva had succumbed to an incurable illness, and ironically, her remaining life was estimated to be the same as Kinzo's had been at that family conference 12 years ago.
Both Eva and Ange... hated each other. Even though they were each other's last blood relatives, they hated each other so much that they hoped the other would die quickly...
"...I don't have much time left. These quack doctors still can't detect any of the poison that's filling me up. I know. I'm sure it's some secret assassination drug used by those Soviet KGBs. Ooh, I'm gonna be killed, I'm gonna be killed...!! Isn't that great?! Very soon, I will die, which will surely be quite a load off your back...!"
"...What a pitiable person."
This always happened. They immediately deviated from the main topic, distorting it into a more unsettling discussion. Eva, who was absolutely paranoid, believed that someone was always after her life. And in actual fact, after inheriting the vast wealth of the Ushiromiya family, she had used wild methods just like Kinzo had done in the past, repeatedly making money by any means necessary and creating many enemies along the way. With a massive supply of capital, she had plotted to aggressively buy businesses that were starting to have rapid growth, making them buy it back at a high price under the guise of reconciliation. Ironically, it was the same type of action that her husband's company had been hit with 12 years ago...
She had repeated this constantly for 12 years. She had also earned a lot of hatred. If her husband had heard of this from beyond the grave, he might have defended her, saying that the loneliness from losing her family fueled her actions. However, of all the people who knew her now, none would defend her. For some time, Eva eloquently spoke of how her life was being targeted, listing off names of people who hated her, and sneering at the fact that she still hadn't been killed. Even though Ange heard her own name included in that list, there was no particular change in her expression, and she waited indifferently for Eva to tire herself out...
"I'm honored. Same here."
"...I built this future for George's sake. To think that it would be snatched away by you. To think that it would be stolen away by Rudolf's daughter... I can't bear it. To think that... I would have my fortune stolen away... without even leaving behind a child... That, I cannot forgive...!"
"...If only you'd just give all of your fortune to charity. What about all those religious people you used to go so far out of your way to find?"
"...*cackle*cackle*! They all say the same thing. ...My excessive wealth has become a burden to me. And they always say something about how I need to give it up and cleanse myself. ...Ahhahahahahahahahaha! Then I thought of something. I stopped donating!"
For a time, Eva had searched for the founders of several strange and new religious cults, perhaps seeking peace in her heart. But they gave her heart no relief, and if anything, they ended up increasing her paranoia further...
"...If you have too much money, why don't you start buying up thoroughbreds and make some corned beef?"
"I've thought of something even more interesting. *cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*! I've worried over it a lot. What could I do to make things horrible for you? I thought about killing you. I also thought about erasing all of my wealth, leaving you penniless, and selling you off to a slave trader or something. Wouldn't that be wonderful? You'd have your arms and legs chopped off and be forced to take customers until you died. Aaah, that would be so wonderful, *cackle*cackle*cackle*!!"
"Oh yes, it is. It's fun to scare you, but very soon, I will die. So I thought about how I might continue to cause you pain even after my death. And then, *cackle*cackle*!! It was surprisingly simple. I called you because I wanted to talk about it."
"...I have midterms coming up. Keep it brief."
"Not only that, but I decided that until the very day I die, I'll expand that fortune as much as I can, inflating it to massive proportions before having you inherit all of it. *cackle*cackle* Can you even imagine what that would be like...?"
"...I don't get it. Because it's stupid."
"Ehhehhehheh, *cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*!! That's right, you don't get it, do you...?! Look forward to it, it really is fun, being rich...! Every day, youkai from across Japan come to play. From now on, your entire life will be followed by talk shows and weekly magazines. The media will criticize me no matter what I do or don't do! If I donate, they'll attack me for being bourgeois, and if I hesitate, I'll be abused as a miser. Oh, every day really is wonderful, you see? I decided it'd be great let you have that kind of life, when you're so young and have so much ahead of you. Doesn't that sound absolutely wonderful?"
"...Looks like the public's opinion of all you've done was spot on."
"*cackle*cackle*cackle*!! Too true, yes, that is too true. Go ahead, abuse me as much as you want. Soon, you will face that same criticism. Japanese culture dictates that good people live in honorable poverty, while the wealthy should just die. No matter what you do or do not do, you will eventually be lifted up as a symbol of envy and hate across Japan. *cackle*cackle*cackle*! I wonder how twisted your life will become after living that way... You have no allies! No one will listen to your worries. Abusing you will become a public sport. And no one can stop that! Oh, Ange! Heheheheheheh, oh, I'm really looking forward to it. I wonder how you will live your life... and how you'll end it...! Enjoy to the fullest a life of being unable to trust anyone in the world, being unable to love anyone, being unable to talk with anyone...!! I'll be patiently waiting for you to take that story of hardship down with you into hell. Heheheheh, ahahhahahahahahahaha, wa-hhahhahhahhahhahhhahahahahahahahahahhahha, gkk, *cough*cough*, ghah!!"
Her insane laughter turned into a painful cough.
Perhaps because he found the violent coughing suspicious, the guard gave a short knock on the door and rushed in at the same time. Ange glanced at him, wordlessly making it clear that she didn't intend to move a step from where she was. Ange was prepared for some kind of trap to frame her in Eva's death.
However, that was fortunately a needless fear. As the guard rubbed Eva's back, he poured hot water from a thermos into a mug. As he did, Eva kept coughing, apparently in pain. Ange figured that this was probably the last she'd see of the Rokkenjima Witch's final days.
Eventually, the coughing subsided, and Eva regained her normal breathing. However, the glittering madness inside her eyes hadn't subsided in the slightest.
"I don't need that. More importantly, tell me. On that day, what happened on Rokkenjima? I don't believe it was an accident. Tell me the truth about what happened that day, and why Father and Mother and Nii-san died...!!"
"*cackle*cackle*...! Oh, yes, that is the best way I have to harass you, isn't it? What happened on that day? What happened on this day in 1986...? You want to know what they said before they died, riiight...?"
That laugh continued until she started coughing again. And that cough did not subside until she started moaning and going into convulsions...
On Rokkenjima, the Ushiromiya family's customary... and final family conference was held.
And on the next day, October 5...
'An extremely unfortunate accident' occurred, and the Ushiromiya family was wiped out. 'Fortunately', Ushiromiya Eva escaped from that...and inherited almost all of the Ushiromiya family's fortune. However, due to the many turbulent rumors surrounding the Ushiromiya family, the way Eva acted afterwards, and her unnatural actions 'at the time of the unfortunate accident', the public was in an uproar over whether this might have been a conspiracy to get all of the inheritance for herself.
Under pressure from the public, prosecutors repeatedly tried to investigate the matter, and the media began tracing the outline of a conspiracy they called the Rokkenjima Suspicion, but in the end, they weren't even able to find proof that this 'unfortunate accident' was a crime. However, because the media continued to give the impression that the Rokkenjima Suspicion was a conspiracy of Eva's, public opinion began to believe that she was the true culprit. Of course, that was also influenced by the bad impression caused by all that easily-condemnable, overbearing financial activity, which she had carried out using that vast wealth. Every time she did something and the rumors started spreading, the media would bring back the Rokkenjima Suspicion, blaming the criminal justice system by saying that she was the true culprit, and that the only reason she hadn't been arrested was because even the police had been bribed.
So the impression that she was a great villain grew stronger and stronger... Her heart eventually degenerated, and ironically, it began to transfigure her into the kind of human that the public expected...
After her beloved husband passed away, the talk shows occasionally mentioned his company, saying that it was run recklessly, while criticizing and disgracing its former accomplishments. Even her beloved son, George, was dramatized as the stereotypical 'rich, lazy son' that the public expected, and no one even wanted to know what a simple and honest character he had possessed.
As to how much all of this hurt Eva and ran her to ruin, no one cared. The public was only interested out of curiosity... about how a super-rich evil woman who killed her whole family lived her pitiful later years. So that happened more and more, and eventually... Eva's personality was transfigured until people started calling her a lunatic... It was said that this sometimes reminded her of her father, whom she had once admired, in his later years, and that she laughed at herself with scorn... And, on the day of that final family conference...
Because Ushiromiya Rudolf's daughter, Ange, had been sick and had stayed with her mother's family, she had not participated. At the age of 6, she had lost her family and had gained Eva as her guardian. Since Ange had become Eva's only blood relative, Eva 'took very good care of her'. She had imposing guards surrounding Ange's person at all times, to prevent her from coming to harm. Ange had even her right to play with friends, to come home from school together, and to enjoy the seasons together... stolen away. 'So that she can live a full and pleasant school life', Eva had sent Ange to an elegant boarding school that took care of her every need, completely isolating her from the world.
She didn't even know the popular songs that girls her age might hum. She was never given a chance to enjoy window shopping with her friends or stuffing her mouth with crepes, much less an encounter with a member of the opposite sex to make her heart throb.
All of them were strictly ordered not to let shabby humans approach the daughter of the esteemed Ushiromiya family.
During that time, the talk shows were always mentioning Ushiromiya Eva, always spreading rumors about her countless financial misdeeds. Those who knew who her 'daughter' was naturally began to keep their distance. Even now, she was called a witch at school, and anytime something bad happened, even if there was no proof, it would be whispered--whispered as though if were absolute truth--that she had imposed her will on the school staff.
The environment makes the person. By now, she had a heart as wild as those around her feared. No one trusted her, so she never bothered to believe in anyone. No one loved her, so she never even tried to love. And when Eva caught an incurable illness on top of all this, it was whispered that this too was a conspiracy, and this time, Ange was set up as the mastermind...
...So Ange also... accepted it as though it was definitely... no, as though it was obviously true. Therefore, since she already believed that she was a witch, when she heard that the name of the Golden Witch was being turned over to her, she only felt like saying 'You just figured that out now?'
However, she was at least sure of one thing. This title of witch that she had inherited... would definitely never be inherited by anyone else. She would be the last Head of the Ushiromiya Family, and the last lonely... Golden Witch...
Compared to the winds of the world that had beaten down upon her until now, this strong, cold wind was warm and pleasant. Below her lay a beautiful nighttime scene, and a dazzling river of red and white lights. It was supposed to be clear out that night. So there really should have been countless stars stretching out over the sky. However, the light from the ground was too bright, so you couldn't see them at all.
Ange couldn't help but think that what she truly sought must lie in that unseen starlight. The world of reality below her looked so far away from here. She could imagine that this place was the closest to the world she really should be in. There was only one thing that Ange cursed. Why had she not been able to go to that family conference, on that day 12 years ago? Even though, if she had gone, it would probably have been possible for her to stay with her family forever.
...Lately, I'd been dreaming about my family over and over again.
But both Dad and Mom are too far away, and my hand won't reach them. Battler nii-san always loved me a lot, and he'd always pat my head, but even though it looks like that hand's about to touch me, even it does not reach.
For some reason, I started having that dream over and over. Every time I had that the same dream, I uselessly tried to stretch out my hand even more forcefully, over and over and over. Even if only Battler nii-san had lived... Then, perhaps, we'd at least be able to support each other in my cold and lonely reality. But his hand never reaches me. Even if I climb to the roof of this tall building... I'm so far away from all of them.
...A mysterious girl appears in my dreams and urges me. She urges me to find the truth of what happened 12 years ago.
There was no way... that anyone would answer that question for her.
I get it. In this world, I have no family or friends. So, let's go. Let's go home. To where my family is.
The scenery below her eyes was distant, beautiful, and so fantastical that it actually didn't give rise to fear. If I look down, I'll surely be swallowed up by the world below. So I looked up. Because I wanted to be taken to the world above, the world where my family was.
Who cares about vast wealth? Who cares about cursed gold? Who cares about the Golden Witch, Beatrice? What I really want, even a mountain of gold couldn't get me... What I need for that... is to take a single step forward, just that little bit of courage.
...At that moment, I definitely heard a voice. It was a voice I knew. A voice that had... called to me in my dreams for so long...
Before my eyes... in other words, in mid-air above that jet black nighttime scenery... There was the figure of the girl I'd seen in my dreams...
She spoke again, with the same voice I'd heard in those dreams.
Video: Farewell, 1998
"...My... assistance...? Who needs it...?"
"...Your family needs it. Your family has been eternally imprisoned in the span from this day 12 years ago until the following day."
"I-If I save them, does that mean my family will come home?!"
When I asked the question I had most wanted to, the girl cruelly stopped talking and hung her head.
"...I cannot promise that. The enemy is the Golden Witch, Beatrice. A mighty opponent. I cannot oppose her. But, another Golden Witch might be able to manage something."
"...I-I don't know...what you're talking about."
"That witch from 12 years ago... took away my family...?"
"That's right. She is your foe. The root cause that always leads to your future of isolation."
"...My... family's... foe."
"...I had planned on bringing you that ideal Fragment as a present today, but I still can't find it. This is a very firm fate. I haven't seen the likes of it since the time I fought Lambdadelta."
"...I-I don't know... what you're talking about."
"...I'm giving you a chance for revenge. In exchange, I promise to search for and bring you the happiest resolution among the possibilities you're capable of accepting."
"...It may be a fruitless effort. Even if you succeed in your revenge, there's no definite proof that your family will return. Even if you manage to hit a miraculous probability, you may only be able to bring one person back, if that."
The dream where it seemed that, with just a little more stretching, her hand might be able to reach at least Battler nii-san.
"A miraculous probability... means it's still higher than zero, right...? Is it 1%...?"
"...Trying to read any probabilities before the result is useless. So I cannot tell you that number."
"But it'll definitely be slightly more likely than if I do nothing."
"Yes. As long as you do not throw that desire of yours away. But be prepared. It is extremely close to zero."
"...Are you sure? You probably won't be able to return here again."
"This isn't the world I'm supposed to be in. ...I'll find the world I am supposed to be in myself. Tell me your name."
"The Witch of Miracles, Bernkastel. And by that name, I acknowledge you as the Golden Witch, ANGE Beatrice. As of now, you are a true witch."
The instant she proclaimed that I was a witch... I felt dizzy, as though something inside me had changed drastically.
At that time, I heard a *clunk*. It was the sound of the door that opened to the staircase to the roof. It was Aunt Eva's guards. They're only 'guards' in name. Aren't they the cage that wraps the tightest around me, shutting me in?
They saw that I was already on the other side of the fence and dashed forward, horrified.
"Ange-san...! We were looking for you! It's dangerous there, so quickly, come this way!"
"...My fan club. I'm pretty popular."
"No point in getting caught. Let's go."
Watching that perfectly casual gesture, I followed her as though it was completely normal.
"Ange-san!!! Wait! Don't be hasty, look ooooooooooouuuut!!"
"Please send a limo to get me. 'Cause everyone else will be there too. See you."
TO BE CONTINUED