Part 123: Ushiromiya Kinzo
October 4th, 1986, 9:48 PM
Even the rose garden that had looked so beautiful midday... was beaten down upon by the fierce winds and resisted with all its might, undulating and trying to keep the flowers from blowing away...
In that rose garden... was Shannon in the lead, Battler holding up an umbrella, Jessica, and George carrying the sleeping Maria on his back, all heading for the guesthouse.
"Don't worry, seeing you off is also part of my duty..."
"The family conference is going on inside, and Mom and Genji-san are probably getting stressed. If we keep you, they'll misunderstand and think you were being lazy."
"That's right. Just graciously accepting our offer might be the best way to avoid burdening people. Thank you, Shannon."
"Not at all. Certainly, as Milady has said, it is very tense inside the mansion today. Therefore, coming with all of you allowed me a breath of fresh air, and I've been able to relax a bit."
"Probably. I'm sure there's nothing we can do to help out. Just trying to stay out of their way is probably the best way for us to be useful."
"Feh...! I'm sure it's all just 'Money money money!'. Even though they act like they're so rich most of the time, when it gets tough, they all start getting pushy. Why don't they just be graceful and split it evenly between everyone?"
"Ihihi. That'd be awesome. It'd be nice if I got a share too. If I got some too, I'd split it with Shannon-chan right away."
"Th-Thank you very much... Well, I appreciate the sentiment."
"Shannon isn't greedy at all. Normally, girls of your age would have tons of things they'd want to buy."
"I guess. But none of the things I want can be bought with money."
"Ooh! How unselfish! If you lined up all the things I wanted, all the gold in the world wouldn't be enough."
"That's if you're talking about things that can be bought with money. I wonder what these 'things that can't be bought with money' that Shannon wants are. Do you have any idea, George nii-san?"
"W-Well, I wonder. I'm not Shannon, so how could I know?"
"I-I don't know either."
George and Shannon looked down, their faces red. Battler had also heard about what was going on with them, so he knew what Jessica was teasing them about.
"George-aniki is a person I respect. I think you've met up with a really great person, Shannon-chan."
"Yeah. I also feel relieved that we can leave Shannon to George nii-san."
"St-Stop teasing. It's a serious issue for us. More importantly, what about you, Jessica-chan? Have you been able to get a little closer to Kanon-kun?"
"Whaaaaaaaaat?! So, you and Kanon-kun are like that?!"
"Ah, um, well!! Th-That's dirty, George, twisting the conversation around like that's dirty!"
As they had an animated discussion with ups and downs, the four kids headed for the guesthouse...
Apparently, the Family Head, Kinzo, was personally going to be making a very serious announcement, and everyone other than the adults had been strictly ordered to leave. Battler hadn't attended the family conference in six years, so he didn't really notice, but according to Jessica, there seemed to be a very tense atmosphere tonight, completely different from a normal year. Common sense made it clear that Kinzo, whose remaining life was short, was going to make some big announcement about the succession of the Headship and the distribution of his fortune...
"...I see. So, this is the witch's counterattack."
BGM: Golden Sneer
"Damn. My theory that Grandfather was dead since the beginning, and a different 18th person had snuck in, is now suddenly torn apart."
"I had foreseen that you'd begin to doubt Kinzo eventually...! Yes, now your reasoning has all gone back to square one again, right?"
"With this, your theory that Kinzo was dead at the very beginning and I was hiding as the 18th person goes poof! *cackle*cackle*cackle*!"
"...Goddammit... But no way I'll lose heart. That's only one theory gone. I'll attack you like a storm, like a tornado..."
"*cackle*cackle*! I'd have it no other way! Even the first twilight has not yet begun. It is far too early to give up."
"That's right. And, it's not like it was denied with the red truth. At this point in time, Battler's theory hasn't been defeated. It's too early to say that you've won."
"...Uncle Krauss might be trying desperately to hide the fact that Grandfather really is dead until the last second."
"Ha...! I see, I see, you could also think of it that way. Do as you please. It will be resolved soon. Very soon... *cackle*cackle*...!"
Nanjo sat alone, quietly watching the wind and rain outside. Krauss sat down in the seat of his own rank, with Natsuhi standing motionlessly at his side. The other siblings were gathered at the opposite end of the long table, whispering to each other...
"...Is that true?"
"What in the world...? In other words, our strategy has collapsed from the roots...!"
"Not just our strategy. Since Father is healthy and has said that he'll make an announcement himself, our trivial bargaining with Nii-san was completely pointless."
"Yep... That old bastard. Why couldn't he have just shown himself right away without making a show of it? Thanks to that, we've just been quarreling with Aniki uselessly."
"...Or maybe he wanted to test us on that point. I might not be one to talk, since we aren't related by blood, but your Father is very intelligent, correct?"
Eva uncharacteristically held her head, dejected. If, as Kyrie had said, everything had been going according to Kinzo's plans from the beginning, and if this was a huge setup that had been kept up for over a year, trying to find the siblings' true intentions, then they had fallen for it completely...
"...We still don't know for sure that it's reached Father's ears."
"No, it definitely has. Everyone but Nii-san claimed that Father was dead, and none of us believed in Father's good health...! Aaah, it's already over... Father will make an announcement. Nii-san will become the Successor, and he'll say we aren't even qualified to wear the One Wing... Oooh, I..."
"Nee-san, get ahold of yourself..."
"...Rosa-san, I wonder if Maria really received that umbrella from Father."
"Huh? What do you mean...?"
"...Maria-chan might have seen Father. However, we haven't seen him. Maria-chan only claims to have seen him."
"What are you saying...? Are you saying Maria's lying?!"
"Calm down, Rosa. Maria-chan didn't necessarily lie. Still, she's an innocent kid, right?"
"...For example, if Genji-san came up to her and said something like 'I was told by your Grandfather to hand this to you, Maria-sama', then even if Maria-chan hadn't met Dad, she still might say that she got an umbrella from him, right?"
"...Th-That's right. That trick could work...!"
"But what was it Maria-chan said? 'Grandfather came and handed me the umbrella'."
"Yes, that's what she said. She clearly said that she received an umbrella directly from Grandfather."
"...Directly, huh? Then we're stuck."
"...They often say that bad thinking is no better than sleeping. If you think about it a bit, all of this about the umbrella is a trivial problem."
"Why's that? Couldn't Maria-chan have been bribed by Nii-san to lie and say something that made it seem like Father was in good health?! There is no evidence that Father actually handed the umbrella to her...!"
"Regardless of whom Maria-chan received the umbrella from, assuming she was even given an umbrella in the first place, Father will appear very soon. Once Father's in front of us, the problem with the umbrella will become completely trivial."
"...In other words, this is not the time to gossip about the umbrella issue."
"What do you mean, this isn't the time?"
"...I see, I got it. This is probably what Kyrie-san's sayin'. Father is supposed to come here very soon, but the chance still remains that he'll get mad again and won't show up, right...?"
"...I-I see. That's true... Maybe Nii-san just said Father was going to appear at random in a desperate bid to buy time against our investigation. Father really is dead already, and Nii-san is still lying and saying he's healthy...!"
"In short, if Father appears, then no schemes will be effective. There's no need to even think about that case. We're fish on the chopping board. We'd have no choice but to leave fate to the heavens and negotiate directly with Father. That means we'd have no choice but to let him clobber us with his fist, then prostrate ourselves and beg for money."
"...But on the other hand, if Father doesn't appear, then our primary strategy isn't hampered in the least."
"...I see. In short, no matter which way it goes, there's absolutely no need to get flustered now."
"That's it. If Father shows up, we just have to carry out the normal family conference. If he doesn't, we just have to keep on investigating Krauss-san."
"We can't let him talk his way out of it, like if he says Father's mood has suddenly gotten worse."
"...It seems what we really should be trying to figure out... is what scheme Nii-san is going to try and trick us with. The way he just doesn't know how to give up is something I know better than anyone."
"If Father is well, we'll prostrate ourselves and beg for money. If it's a farce of Krauss-san's, then we'll continue our ugly sibling fight. It sounds like this year's family conference is going to be just wonderful."
"Yep. So, bad thinking is no better than sleeping, huh? It's almost 22:00. Should we press Aniki?"
Rudolf and the rest looked at Krauss. He was sitting down firmly... and looked like he was awaiting Kinzo's arrival with an air of composure. They couldn't tell if he really was composed, or if he was scheming about how to tie together his lie.
"...Calm yourself. We won't get anywhere by making a fuss after all this. Let's leave it to Genji-san."
"It's almost... 10:00, isn't it?"
That was the time that had been set for tonight's family conference to open. And, it was the time that the Ushiromiya Family Head needed to appear...
Right then, they heard the sound of footsteps approaching from the hall. There were multiple sets. Natsuhi raised her head, relieved... But because of the sound of a knock, her expression was filled with disappointment. Because Kinzo probably wouldn't have knocked.
It was Gohda and Kumasawa. Unlike the powerful Gohda, it was rare for Kumasawa, with her old body, to be forced to work this late. Of course, Krauss also seemed to know that.
"Indeed. Good work. My apologies for making you work at such a time, Kumasawa-san."
"Oh, it's nothing. I may not look it, but staying up late is still one of my specialties. Hohohohoh...!"
"...Wouldn't it be okay to at least let Kumasawa leave without being an observer? It really will be difficult on her body, I imagine."
"...The order was to gather all of the servants as well. I cannot disobey."
Tonight's family conference was clearly different from normal. On a normal year, no one was allowed to attend except family members. To have the servants present for such a thing... was unthinkable. But this year was different. All of the servants were told to attend. Of course, they were not allowed to talk. They were there as observers.
Just what in the world was happening that needed to be observed by five servants? Even Krauss didn't know.
"Hohohoh. I don't look it, but I'm good at staying up late. If you stuff yourself with mackerel too, Krauss-sama, you'll be more manly at night."
"Hahahaha. I see you're still in high spirits. I'm sure you'll be working in such high spirits until you're a hundred."
"Madam, forgive my arrogance, but I have prepared a light snack. I can serve it at any time, so feel free to order it."
"Thank you. You really are considerate. Please offer refills of coffee to the others."
After nodding, Gohda took the pot towards the relatives gathered at the other end of the table. As he did, more footsteps approached from the hallway. It was a single set. And it was light. Even before the knock, they could imagine who it was.
"Good work. Tonight is a special evening. Make sure you stay alert."
"Y-Yes. Certainly, Madam..."
Genji had gone with Kanon to meet Kinzo. There was still no sign of their return. The hand of the clock passed 22:00 slightly. Once sure of that, Eva spoke to Krauss.
"...Nii-saaan? It's time. Are you still not going to start the family conference?"
"...The arrival of the guest of honor has been delayed. Wait a short while."
"How long? Sorry, but time's up. I won't have you saying 'Father hasn't quite shown up yet' over and over until dawn."
"How could I make a promise about the time Father shows up? Why are you in such a rush? Why not drink some tea and calm down for now...?"
"Aniki, we're gathered here for a family conference. Not a farce. We'll wait 30 more minutes. But if that doesn't work, you'll let us break into the study, okay?"
"B-Break into... Such an action would be quite lacking in respect for the Head!"
"Oh, right, our apologies. We'll be good for 30 more minutes. Hehheheheh..."
"...I look forward to seeing if you can keep that same smile up 30 minutes from now."
"...So, you honestly believe that Father is dead?"
"I have no desire to discuss that now. We can wait until Father comes here. There's absolutely no need for me to argue you down, Nii-san."
"The Ushiromiya Headship will be passed on to the proper person in the proper manner. No matter what you may scheme, you cannot resist. Of course, the same goes for me."
"What are you trying to say? And after bragging all these years about being the Successor yourself...!"
"I'll turn your own words back on you. I have no desire to discuss that now. All that matters is for Father to come here and proclaim it with his own mouth. There's absolutely no need for me to argue you down. Right? Heheheh!"
Krauss casually turned Eva's words back on her. Of course, that added oil to Eva's anger. But it didn't ignite.
Both Genji and Kanon were usually very reserved when they knocked. They wouldn't hit the door with such a violent strength. It was like a judge's gavel slamming down in a call for silence. So, everyone went quiet...
The door opened slightly, and Genji showed himself. Then, he spoke with a serious tone different from his usual one. It wasn't the tone he used when carrying out his duties. It was the tone he used when speaking for Kinzo himself. So just by hearing Genji speak like that, the siblings were struck with a sudden tension.
At those words, the dining hall was wrapped in total silence, and everyone hurriedly returned to their designated seats. It was as though students who had been bustling around just before homeroom had suddenly returned to their seats when the teacher came, and it might even have looked humorous. But there was no way anyone would joke about it. Everyone sat in order, and Shannon, Gohda, and Kumasawa stood up straight in a row by the wall.
"...The Head of the glorious Ushiromiya family and lord of Rokkenjima, the island that sparkles gold, Lord Ushiromiya Kinzo has arrived."
Of the double doors that led to the dining hall, Genji opened the right door from the inside, and Kanon opened the left door from the outside.