Part 113: Mariage Sorcière
"...There was a large collection of books, the former possessions of a very rich man, that were being sold at auction, and it was thought that some of them might've been extremely valuable to the study of archeology and folklore, as well as in an occult sense, so this friend wanted to witness their worth confidentially."
"...That was '87. Half a year after the crime on Rokkenjima."
This was apparently a high-class restaurant. A middle-aged man was sitting across from Ange in a secluded and quiet seat. Amakusa could be seen by the entrance. He was probably keeping a lookout for pursuers from the Sumadera family.
The scholarly man across from Ange spoke politely, but with enthusiasm. He didn't lay a finger on the food in front of him, so you could tell how excited he was as he spoke fervently. He was a professor at a certain college, and particularly well-known as an authority on Western folklore. However, among his life works, that was only a convenient exterior. His true life work was... the study of occultism, Western magic, alchemy, and everything else to do with the occult, as well as demonology. In short, he was the person in the best position to understand the details of Kinzo's research...
"First, what I learned by appraising those books was that Ms. Ushiromiya Eva had absolutely no education in the study of folklore...and that the original owner of the books, Ushiromiya Kinzo, was certainly one of the top five authorities on demonology in Japan."
April, 1987. A major city antique shop obtained a large quantity of ancient documents that were thought to have a high historical value. They were entrusted with them by Ushiromiya Eva, who wanted them to be sold at auction.
At the time, it was thought that Eva would succeed the Ushiromiya family and have all the wealth to herself, as the only survivor. However, at that point, not even half a year had passed since the accident, and the others had not been missing long enough to be presumed dead, even under extraordinary circumstances. Because of that, Eva had supposedly been in a very tight spot financially, unable even to collect on her family's life insurance. It seems she tried to sell everything of value, and even the books kept in the place where she'd escaped harm in, Kuwadorian, were used for this purpose. These old books, which would eventually be called 'the Ushiromiya Library', were later gathered from antique shops by authorities in the field so that they could be appraised, and those authorities were astounded.
"This is because... contained within 'the Ushiromiya Library' were many extremely vital documents that had never been found, though their existence had been known of for more than a millenium."
The many dreams of the occult, such as those represented by alchemy, always stirred an intense fascination in dilettantes. It is whispered that many 'magic books' of great historical value, currently unknown to the public, might be in the secret possession of extremely wealthy lovers of the occult. Items such as Leonardo da Vinci's notebooks, which are particularly popular among dilettantes, are said to be prime examples of this. It is said that approximately 5,000 pages of these notebooks currently exist, and that over 10,000 have been lost, but some researchers believe that a large part of this lost portion may be monopolized by certain enthusiasts and members of the extremely rich. It is said that because of this, even now, dilettantes who can't help but seek these spare no expense to search around for quietly hoarded away and unannounced notebooks... There is probably no doubting that Ushiromiya Kinzo was himself one of those dilettantes.
No one knows what Kinzo went through to obtain those, but there can be no mistake that he used his vast wealth freely, buying them off of other rich people with the same hobby as him. Those books, which were so valuable that enthusiasts could never satisfy their desire to hoard them away, were discovered in large numbers at the end of the 20th century, and their release to the public had given the entire world a massive shock...
"Because of this case, the name Rokkenjima became known across the world. The world was also shocked to learn that, in all likelihood, a large number of even more valuable undiscovered books were lost during the accident on Rokkenjima. Because of this, the names of Rokkenjima and the Ushiromiya Library will remain in our memories for all time."
Because of that incident, the name of Rokkenjima had taken on a vital meaning in the world of the occult. There certainly had been a lot of reporting about the accident on Rokkenjima itself, but not on an international level. However, this one part had spread across the world, taking the image of Rokkenjima as a small island in the Izu archipelago... and painting it over as a demonic island where riddles, suspicion, mystery and the occult met. In other words, until Kinzo's library was leaked to the public by Eva, Rokkenjima had been merely a nameless island that no one could remember, and certainly not the island of a witch.
However, when knowledge of the Ushiromiya Library spread all over the planet, Rokkenjima's image immediately took on an occult twist.
"What happened next was the discovery of that message bottle. That's what turned that island into a witch's island. A nameless island in the Izu archipelago began to transition into an island of the occult, the island of the mysterious witch, Beatrice. You might say that, lacking either the Ushiromiya Library or the message bottle, the Rokkenjima Witch Legend would never have been established."
"...The message bottle."
"It was once famous as a way of sending an SOS from a deserted island, but because of the influence of a certain prominent foreign detective novel, it has also become known as a method of confessing the truth after one's own death, like a time-delayed will. The case of the Rokkenjima message bottle was certainly one of the latter."
"...This is the thing everyone says a fisherman on a nearby island picked up?"
"Correct. We learned that a young fisherman on Shikinejima picked up a wine bottle with a letter in it. This young fisherman kept it just out of curiosity. Then, because Rokkenjima had fallen under the world's attention due to the Ushiromiya Library, he announced his discovery."
"Is there any chance that it was a fabrication made by the fisherman?"
"Of course, we weren't able to deny that possibility. The scraps of paper in the wine bottle were signed by a certain member of the Ushiromiya family. A girl named Ushiromiya Maria. However, after looking at the writing left on her former belongings, it was confirmed that this message was written in a different person's handwriting."
"...A different person's handwriting...?"
"Correct. At the very least, I believe there can be no doubt that it was written by a person more skilled at writing and of a greater age than her. There's a very high likelihood that someone faked her name when they wrote it. Therefore, at that point in time, the contents of those scraps of paper were thought to have a very low credibility."
"It seems that, due to evidence from the surrounding area and the fact that the bottle had been sealed, the police had decided that its likelihood of being a fabrication was low and that it had been abandoned no earlier than a few days before the accident. And the handwriting for both matched. This caused the credibility of the scraps of paper discovered by the fisherman to rise. It seems magazines and the like have reported on the contents of that message bottle repeatedly, but would you like an explanation?"
"...No. I know about it, more or less."
Many scraps of paper had been stuffed into both of the wine bottles. It was an extensive notebook written by someone calling themselves Ushiromiya Maria, but who wasn't Maria, and which told of the events starting the day before the accident and up until the day of the accident in a diary-like way.
"This bizarre, diary-style notebook described how the Ushiromiya family members, nailed down on the island by the typhoon, were caught up in a ceremony for the resurrection of a witch... and killed one by one in inexplicable ways. And, in the end, the Golden Witch Beatrice revived, and everything was flung into the Golden Land. It was written almost as though it was a complete account of the events on those days."
"Also, it depicted the current situation on the island at the time in great detail, and the former servants who used to work for the Ushiromiya family gave testimony that it had definitely been written by a human who knew the inside details of the island."
"...So, because of a combination of the occult boom from that strange fantasy novel and the Ushiromiya Library, and well as the fact that the truth remained shrouded in darkness, the legend of the Rokkenjima witch was born...?"
"Correct. More than 10 years have already passed since that case, and it is still the focus of interest for occult enthusiasts across the world."
"No, to the contrary, you could say that it has become increasingly deified as time passes. There are still many enthusiasts who try to secretly land on Rokkenjima, even though it's prohibited. Could there be another message bottle that has still not been discovered? And on that day, what really happened on that island? There is still much to be discussed."
As though he had finally remembered that he'd been going on and on for some time, the man took a gulp of water. His potage was getting cold, but it seemed that the man's hunger had already been blown away.
"...I'm pretty sure I heard that the fisherman's scraps of paper and the police's scraps of paper had completely different contents."
"Correct. Due to that, interest in the Rokkenjima mystery increased even further. Inside both bottles were diary-style notebooks on which was written an account from the day before the accident until the day of the accident. However, while both of their contents described the same two-day period, they were completely different. It was as though one was the truth and one was a lie. Or perhaps both were lies. In any event, the beginnings and endings alone matched each other. In the beginning, the 18 people including the relatives are sealed up on the island by the typhoon. And in the ending, everyone dies, the Golden Witch is revived, and everything is flung into the Golden Land."
The contents of both message bottles wrote about the events of the day before the accident and the day of the accident. But the details were completely different. Both diaries outline a serial murder following the epitaph of the witch, but the order of the sacrifices, the ways they died, and even 'the tale of the two days' were different. However, in both, everyone died in the end and the witch revived, making for the same general plot.
"Because the only survivor, Ms. Ushiromiya Eva, has remained silent about what actually happened on that island, the events of that entire two-day period are shrouded in darkness. These two diaries presented a full two theories to wipe away that darkness. Those two days could be explained with either of those two diaries. However, we don't know which is correct, or even if there's anything correct contained within them."
If it isn't denied, even a mixture of truth and fiction can be the truth. Through the media, these scraps of paper had of course been shown to Eva as well, but in the end, she never broke her silence...
"Who sent the message bottles... and why?"
"Earlier, in their special issue for the crime's 10th anniversary, a certain magazine took that topic up for discussion in a grand manner, didn't they? That theory seems to be the one garnering the most support lately. But it is rather dull. What happened on that island, on that day? Considering this question is the true charm of the Witch Hunt."
"The Witch Hunt...?"
"Yes, the Rokkenjima Witch Hunt is the name of a group of enthusiasts who try to explain the truth of that crime from an occult perspective. Discussion of the mysteries that surround Rokkenjima, from the Ushiromiya Library to the mysterious two-day period to the Legend of the Golden Witch, is flourishing even today among enthusiasts."
"For the 10 year anniversary, an international convention was held in New York. I also participated as a representative of Japan! I was able to intermingle with zealous overseas Witch Hunters in many ways. Witches are a very popular category overseas. The age span of the participants stretched from elementary schoolers at the bottom, all the way to famous cultural figures at the top! Even in Japan, in recent years, there was finally-"
Even though I didn't ask anything more, he kept continuing on excitedly all by himself. As I swirled the thin film on my potage with my spoon, I shrugged my shoulders and sighed.
Looks like researching about the message bottle really was a waste of time. No, if there's one thing I've found, it's that the notebook supposedly written by Maria onee-chan was actually written by a different person faking her name. And, that person wrote up an occult legend on their own, put it into the bottle as though it was the truth, and threw it into the sea.
...I have a question.
With a message bottle, there'd be no guarantee that it'd ever pass into anyone's hands. If their luck had been bad, it could've sunk in the ocean, never to be seen by anyone. And even if someone had picked it up, they might've not cared about it and thrown it away. Why would they entrust their confession of the truth to the sea with such an uncertain method? And why would they write up multiple, differing tales?
If there'd been one message bottle, claiming that its story was the truth might be reckless, but not impossible. However, because there were two, that made both of them doubtful. If someone was plotting to make out those two days to be the work of a witch, then they really did go one step too far. And because there were two, it suggests that an undiscovered third one, or possibly even more might exist. In other words, the two differing contents makes both of them harder and harder to swallow. But despite that, the contents of both matched in that they told of a witch in a tale. So, is that the main point the writer wanted to get across to us...?
It seems to me that the only possible explanation... is that someone who wanted to give rise to an illusion of a witch carried out this crime for their own enjoyment. However, the 17 people other than Aunt Eva lost their lives, and a vast wealth or maybe even 10 tons of gold had moved around secretly in the darkness. It doesn't feel right... for a confession occurring after all that to bring up this illusion of the witch.
Even if we ignore the magazines' theories, it's very doubtful that the message bottle really was a diary. After all, the amount of writing was massive. It's hard to imagine that someone actually caught up in the middle of a serial murder like that would be able to calmly write it down. In that case, it's probably more realistic that this diary was written slowly over a long period of time, up until the day prior to the accident.
The fact that Aunt Eva left this world without saying anything is... infuriating. She definitely said it on her death bed. She definitely said that her reason for not telling me the truth was because it was her best way of harassing me. Yeah, by now, it's painfully obvious. Of all the things Aunt Eva did to harass me, this was probably the last and the greatest.
...But thinking of it this way, it's pretty doubtful that Aunt Eva is the true culprit. Of course, that's not because the handwriting on the message bottle was different from Aunt Eva's, or anything like that. It's because in both tales that were discovered, Aunt Eva was included among the victims. If the writer of that diary was the culprit... Maybe Aunt Eva was also one of the targets to be killed. Maybe Aunt Eva survived because something went wrong.
...Because I hated Aunt Eva, I came to believe that she had to be the culprit. But the existence of the message bottle... makes me suspect that the mastermind is a far more profound and unknown person than her...
As he continued to speak fervently, I suggested that I wanted to bring this discussion to a close. He seemed to be aware that he'd gotten excited and talked too much, so he quickly accepted this.
"Thank you very much for today. I believe I've heard something truly valuable."
"...No, no. It was truly fun to be able to welcome a young lady as a new friend of the Witch Hunt. I have many precious materials that I couldn't show you because of this change to a different venue from the usual. I would be glad to show you them at the next chance we get."
"Thank you, Professor. Could I ask one more thing?"
"Yes, what is it?"
"Professor, why are you interested in witches...no, in occultism and demonology?"
"Well, that is somewhat embarrassing. A daydream I had in my childhood, that if I could use a mysterious power, I could take on even the biggest of bullies, went on to become my life's work. After all, the primitive desire of admiring unknown power is as universal today as it ever was in the past."
"Professor, if you could do it, would you want to become a witch? Do you still dream of being able to use magic at will?"
"But of course. Even though, at this age, I understand logically that such a thing couldn't exist, I cannot forget my child-like dreams, such as flying in the sky and turning scrap iron into gold. Hahaha, if you would, please keep this a secret from my students."
"...If I told you that I was a real witch, would you believe it?"
"Hahhahhahha. My pet theory from my few experiences with women is that they are all witches."
Ange snorted at the old professor, who must've been an earnest scholar with barely any experience with women.
"I have indeed."
"In that case, do you know that handwriting well?"
"Of course. I am not a specialist in that area, but at least when it comes to the handwriting of the message bottle, I am proud to be the most knowledgeable in Japan."
BGM: Melody (instrumental)
"...And this is? I have never seen it before."
He prided himself on his thorough knowledge of all literature related to Rokkenjima, and he looked bewildered at this binding that he hadn't seen before...
Ignoring him, Ange silently flipped through the pages, opened to one of them, and showed him. On that page was a handwritten paragraph beginning with 'To my beloved witch apprentice'. And at the end, there was a signature in katakana that said... Beatrice.
The instant he glanced at it, his face went pale. She knew the answer before asking, but Ange asked it aloud anyway.
"Does the handwriting in the paragraph on this page match the handwriting in the message bottle...?"
"W-Well, umm...I-I must take this home and investigate more... P-Pardon me for asking, but what in the world is this book?! Where did you get it?!"
The man stretched out his hand, but Ange pulled it back. As though telling him not to touch it with his filthy hands.
"Thank you. Just that reaction is all I need. Thank you very much for today. Here's the reward I promised."
As she stood up, clutching Maria's diary, Ange carelessly tossed a wad of 10 thousand yen notes wrapped with a strip of paper onto the table. As Ange turned her back to him and made to leave, the man raised his voice as though clinging to her. But Ange didn't stop walking.
"...Both you and I are in the Witch Hunt, but it looks like we aren't pursuing it at the same level. You're entertaining yourself with the outside of the cat box. And what I want to know about is the inside of the cat box. And this book is the key to opening it. It's too good for you. Well then. <Goodbye, gentlemen>. <Have a nice day>."
"P-Please wait, Sumadera-san...!!!"