Part 131: My Mission II
BGM: Scorpion Entrails
...But it was a really strange thing to come in the mail, so I still had a faint memory of it.
It was a strange letter, which I had no memory of sending, but which had me as the sender. I forget the destination address, but the named recipient had been Ushiromiya Rudolf. My father. I remember how disturbed I was when I got a letter I thought was from Father, opened it up, and found a key and a card that I didn't really understand. I felt let down and threw it away somewhere, I think...
Where did I put that envelope? I probably lost it somewhere in the chaos that followed. By now, I have no way of checking its contents. However, I have a general idea... I'm sure the contents were the same. Without a doubt, there had been a key, a card, and a note with a PIN inside the envelope...
'Uryu, uryu, Ange...'
Sakutarou acted nervously. As I looked at his worrying face, my agitation began to cool off bit by bit...
"I'm sorry... My hatred of Beatrice isn't anything new. I was just surprised and angry to find out that I had a connection with the witch already... at the age of six on that day..."
"...For the past 12 years, you've been constantly enslaved by Beatrice-sama's curse. This might be proof of that curse. But please, hang in there. Breaking through that was supposed to be part of the goal of this journey."
"That's right... Just letting the blood rise to my head won't get me anywhere. Got to think calmly... What's going on? What's the meaning of handing out a hundred million yen to the relatives? Is she trying to provoke us...? Damn that Beatrice..."
'Ange, calm down... Uryu...'
As Sakutaro buried his head in my stomach, he urged me to stay calm. I took another deep breath... and started thinking.
"It was postmarked right before the family conference. And it was intentionally set up so that it would be sent back after some time."
'...They wanted it to arrive after the incident, is that it...?'
"Yeah. That's what it implies... But it raises a few questions. Why use such an uncertain method?"
"Yes. After all, no one could even guess at how many days it would take for the mail to return before you used this trick. Normally, you couldn't even guess at the amount of time it would take for the receiving post office to do their research, determine that the recipient was unknown, and return it."
'Yeah, now that you mention it... It'd be more dependable if they just set an arrival date and mailed it that way... Uryu...'
"...Maybe, but still, if they mailed it the day before, then no matter how quickly it returned, it would probably arrive Monday or later. I wonder if they wanted to make it seem like a letter from the dead."
"...A letter from the dead, you say? You're right. It surprised me, and it made me feel bad. ...Some mail with my dead family's name written on the outside in large letters... was thrown into the mailbox with an ominous label attached. However, it doesn't really make sense to me. I would've mailed it to arrive on a specified day. I just can't understand why someone would allow the uncertainty of it arriving on a day other than the one they imagined."
'...Uryu... But it really does sound like Beato to me.'
"Huh? You... know about Beato?"
'...Well, I only talked with her a little. Still, I can pretty much accept that Beato would do something like this.'
BGM: Melody (instrumental)
"...Yeah, that might be true. I wouldn't put it past Beatrice-sama to try a vicious prank like a letter from the dead."
'No, that's not all. Beatrice would find it more interesting to do it through an uncertain method, instead of one that was absolutely certain.'
"...She would find an uncertain method... interesting...?"
I remembered Maria onee-chan's diary... It had described playing with Beatrice very often. During those times, Beato sometimes played pranks on the adult relatives with Maria. But those pranks always had a touch of witch aesthetics. Which was... that they were more interesting when they were uncertain.
It was a popular toy at the time, and if you made the minicar back up, it would wind up the spring in the tires, and when you let go, it would race forwards. They had wound up that minicar and set it behind a milk jug. In other words, the prank was that, if you lifted the milk jug, the minicar would jump forwards and surprise whoever did it. Hoping that someone would get caught in this prank, Onee-chan and Beato had watched the adults from the shadows for their whole teatime. They were looking forward to seeing someone get caught by it, but no one moved the trap milk jug, and the trap ended in a misfire...
When Onee-chan had then muttered 'We should've put it somewhere where it would've definitely caught someone', Beato apparently said this:
...It's probably true that you wouldn't get this kind of excitement from a trap that would certainly go off. Similar accounts occurred in multiple places, making it possible to guess that the witch called Beatrice had a fickle character and loved a random thrill...
A fickle person is very hard to deal with. I can't spin the chessboard around... to find out what that witch from 12 years ago was planning.
Then, she suddenly showed interest in the wall. There, several framed pictures were hung. Many of them were commemorative photos from when the relatives of the Kumasawa family gathered or went somewhere to play, and Kumasawa was in several... And she still wore a smile that made it so you could almost hear her lighthearted 'hohohoh' laugh.
...It's part of my distant memory, but I definitely remember that she was this sort of cheerful old lady...
"Nope. She looked the same as ever. The family conference put her on edge, so she was always grumbling about how tough it was."
"...? What's this?"
Among the several frames, there was one that had something other than a picture of people in it. It was a picture of an enlarged relief of a door from a Western-style house or something. You couldn't see any interesting subject in particular, which actually bugged me a bit as I wondered why anyone had gone to all the trouble of taking it.
As I got closer, I realized that some characters had been written with a pen.
"...Oh yeah, that's a photo I got when Mother's belongings were distributed. I think it probably has something to do with that 'Legend of the Gold' thing."
"The witch's epitaph, you mean? It was whispered that it pointed out the location of the hidden 10 tons of gold... So, Kumasawa-san tried to solve it too. But this isn't the epitaph. It's the first time I've seen it."
There was an arch above the Western-style door, and that's where the relief was. English words were engraved there, and that seemed to be what the picture was focused on. The pen writing appeared to be a translation into Japanese.
"In Mother's belongings, there were quite a few photos and notes that looked like her trying to solve the riddle of the epitaph. Mother was actually surprisingly fond of that kind of thing. And there was that rumor that 10 tons of gold bars were hidden somewhere. It's no surprise she got so absorbed by it."
In both Maria onee-chan's diary and in her grimoire, there was a description of the witch's epitaph. It had talked about how it was a ceremony to open the door to the Golden Land, Beatrice's resurrection ceremony, Beatrice's succession ceremony. On and on. Maybe the most interesting one was the last part, about it being a succession ceremony. According to Beatrice, if you were able to solve the witch's epitaph, you would receive not only the 10 tons of gold and the Ushiromiya family inheritance, but her own magical power and name, as well as the title of Golden Witch. Among the Ushiromiya family household at the time, the witch's epitaph was thought of as a difficult quiz, which the Family Head, Kinzo, had arranged for to choose his successor. But with the Mariage Sorcière interpretation, the questioner was Beatrice herself, and she had posed the question in part to choose her successor.
...There were slight discrepancies in the details of the two interpretations. Either way, its ominous contents brought to mind a bloody serial murder, and both of the message bottles drew a tale of a crime following that pattern. If I could solve the witch's epitaph now, 12 years later, I wonder if I could expose some plot made back then...
I tried to solve it many times myself, but I never did have a clue what it meant. It seems that many Witch Hunters tried as well. I also found theories like the La Plata theory and the Enoura theory in certain books. However, neither of these theories were conclusive...
"Are there any other materials?"
"I think so, but they were all split up between my siblings. I don't have a clue who has what. Sorry."
"...Just reading this English text that Kumasawa-san took a picture of, it gives the impression that this was a forbidden door that was rarely opened. But where in the mansion is it, I wonder? Judging by the lighting, it looks like it's outside. I wonder if Kumasawa-san thought that the gold might be hidden in there."
"Who knows. Either way, I do wonder where in the Rokkenjima mansion it was. I hate to say it, but there wasn't enough money in Mother's bank account to make me think she found the gold. Uhahahaha, she probably didn't find it after all."
Which meant that the witch was the true owner of the gold. Beatrice was the owner of all the vast fortune of the Ushiromiya family. The witch holding this vast wealth had massacred the humans on Rokkenjima on that day, sending large amounts of money to the surviving relatives like it was a game.
...Like hell it's a letter from the dead. This is a desecration of the dead. I was once again convinced. When my family died on that island that day, they didn't go to heaven. They're being trapped by the witch even now... and are being desecrated and tormented for all eternity...
There lived the man who had been the boat captain of the ferryboat to Rokkenjima at the time. Even he, who had once lived as a man of the sea, had retired after contracting a serious illness, and was now taken care of at the house of his son and his son's wife...
The former boat captain was in such high spirits that you couldn't really tell why he had retired in the first place. His memory seemed clear too, and he could remember the events of more than a decade ago well, apparently even about how Ange had been at the time. The way he chatted on was very helpful for Ange, but at the same time, he also remembered the final family conference very well, and the fact that he remembered even details like Battler's 'fall fall madness' on the boat was actually painful for her.
It had been so back then as well, but even now, there was no public way to cross to Rokkenjima. It was necessary to make an individual request to an owner of a boat to make the voyage. I'd been unable to arrange for a boat to Rokkenjima, so if he refused me, such a voyage would probably become hopeless...
"I getcha. It won't be easy to find a boat eager to go to that island. By now, there are even some who call it by its old name, Akujikishima, instead of Rokkenjima. It's understandable why the sailors around here would turn down your request."
From the start, fishermen had feared Rokkenjima as an island of misfortune. And because of that incident 12 years ago, this fear had reached a peak... They respected the sea, feared it, and revered it. There were almost no sailors who would try to take a boat to the cursed island. Because of that, most of the Witch Hunters were unable to cross over to Rokkenjima... and were limited to taking a trip around the island.
...Ironically, this had caused the sense of mystery surrounding Rokkenjima to increase even more, which had resulted in the propagation of the bizarre witch stories they loved so much...
"...Would you take me in your boat?"
The former boat captain promised that tomorrow, he would go back to his previous job and take his boat out to Rokkenjima. Now, my method of transport to Rokkenjima is ensured.
This is probably all I can do on Niijima. All that's left... is tomorrow. On Rokkenjima, I'll reach the final destination of a journey that stretches back 12 years.
"It sure does. I'd heard that it would be hard to find a boat, so the boat captain's helpfulness really saved me."
"...Although it may not be the same as it was for you, Ange-sama, I'm sure the incident 12 years ago has been a thorn for the boat captain as well, one that he still hasn't been able to pull out."
'...Uryu. Even the boat captain wasn't able to sort out his feelings. This whole time...'
"That's probably true. If that guy had taken his boat out on October 5 as promised, there's a chance that he could've saved a lot of people. If he hadn't been hesitant to go out just because of a little wind..."
'Uryu, you shouldn't say things like that... I'm sure that's pained the boat captain constantly until today...'
Apparently, they truly had been right in the middle of a typhoon on October 5. According to the boat captain, he had known for certain that they'd be trapped by the typhoon if they headed to Rokkenjima on October 4. But the family had been very persistent about the date of their conference, which had been determined beforehand.
It was only natural. All of the relatives had been very busy at the time, and they came to the family conference only after arranging their schedules beforehand. It was probably a situation where they couldn't easily push it back to the next week just because a typhoon was approaching.
It wasn't the boat captain's fault. But perhaps you could say that he wasn't so irresponsible that he could place the blame wholly on the typhoon. Certainly, just as these two said, there's no doubt that the boat captain has been dragging the events of 12 years ago along with him this whole time. And, by taking me, the last member of the Ushiromiya line, to the island, and bringing me back safely, he might be trying to find some resolution for his past...
"...There's nothing that would make me more satisfied by staying longer. I'm grateful just to have you take me there."
"Yep, don't mention it. If I hadn't parted with my boat, I'd be able to guide you to the island as much as you liked, without being stingy..."
It's not like I have a goal of doing something in particular on Rokkenjima. So, I'll be there during the evening...
...The evening, which straddles the two different worlds of day and night, seemed almost like a borderline between this world and the next... or possibly, 1998 and 1986, and it felt like the most fitting time to visit Rokkenjima. It's not like I have anything in particular to do there. Just staying there for a few hours should be enough for me to find some closure.
I nodded back and told him about how I had succeeded in reserving a boat for tomorrow.
"That's great. It's about time for us to go. We'll be counting on you tomorrow, Captain."
"Sure, leave it to me! I've heard all about what you guys've gone through. I also watched the talk shows at the time... and was disgusted by the people who stirred up that incident just for fun. I'll help out any way I can."
"Thank you very much. Then we'll see you noon tomorrow. Umm, here. The fare for the boat."
Ange took a wrapped wad of ten-thousand yen bills from her pocket. The boat captain should have noticed its thickness as well, but he paid it absolutely no interest and shook his head.
"...I'm grateful to you. This is a sign from the heavens. I've been given a final chance to take you to Rokkenjima and bring you back safely. Now, I'll finally be able to finish the final job Kinzo-san entrusted me with. So I'm grateful to you. I got more than enough money from Kinzo-san back then. I can't accept yours."
"...Thank you very much."
"Watch your step on the stairs. It's steep."
...I went down the steep staircase that was the exact opposite of 'accessible'. It was getting hard to believe that there was actually a chest of drawers and a TV in the room upstairs. Most of the first floor was a bedding store, with many futons piled up on each other.
We weaved our way through the cramped futon shop. After cautiously checking around outside, Amakusa dashed out first and started up the car.
BGM: Worldend (solo)
"Thanks a lot for the offer. But this way, even if the unexpected happens, you won't be bothered."
"...I don't know the details, but it seems you've been caught up in a lot of trouble. There's a rumor that some suspicious people are searching for someone. That wouldn't happen to be you, would it?"
Ange played dumb, but it looked as though the boat captain had guessed.
"My job is to take guests to Rokkenjima... and bring them back again. That job was put on hold 12 years ago, and it still hasn't ended. So, thanks to you, I'll finally be able to finish it."
"So listen. Let me finish this job, okay? Do you understand me?"
"...Yeah. It's not like I'm going there to die."
But part of me does feel that, if I could die on that island, I'd surely be able to go to where my family is...
I might have come all this way, heading towards Rokkenjima, in search of a place to die. The boat captain had guessed that as well. That's why he repeatedly told me not to die.
"...Yeah, I won't die. I promise. After all, I'm still not sure if there's any reason why I need to go to Rokkenjima."
"No, I'm sure there's a reason. Even if there isn't one for you, there is one for them. The island called you. That's why you came here."
"...That might... be true. I might... have been called."
I was called. For what reason? For them. Father. Mother. Battler onii-chan. And, Maria onee-chan. Or maybe, the Golden Witch. Beatrice.
What is on Rokkenjima? And what will I achieve? Even though tomorrow is finally almost here, I still haven't been able to understand my own mission...
There was the sound of a car stopping in front of the store, and a short honk could be heard.
"Then I'll see you tomorrow. If you'll excuse me..."
Winding between the stacks of futons in the cramped store, I was about to go outside.
Then, my feet stopped.
"...What is it?"
BGM: F Style
"Hmm? That? What? What are you talking about?"
Trembling all over, I pointed at it. But no matter how much the boat captain squinted, he noticed absolutely nothing in that direction that should have surprised me.
...That must mean, th-that must mean...
'...U-Uryu... Ange, what does it mean? What's going on here...?!'
"...I-I don't have a clue either... There's no way something that ridiculous... Is this magic? A miracle...? Yes, this is probably fate. Now, I understand... This was... my mission."
"I... don't have a clue what..."
Shaking, I pointed into the thin darkness inside the store... and froze up...
"Thank you, Captain. Everything, everything... was fate. Even me visiting this place... was fate. This is... the mission... and the purpose... that I'm going to Rokkenjima for..."
"...Ange-san? What is it, is something wrong?"
"I-I don't have a clue either...! This girl just froze up while pointing into the darkness...!"
"Ange-san...? Are you okay? What can you see...?"
"Can't you two see it? It's that, right there. Can't you see it?!"
"All I can see is a normal display case. There's no one there, right...?"
Sakutarou lifted his face towards Ange... From his eyes... slid a single tear.
"...I understand, Onee-chan. And... Beatrice."