Part 132: Final Family Conference
October 4th, 1986, 11:00 PM
BGM: Dead Angle
"...Y-Yes. Listen well..."
Once again, there was a call from Krauss to the guesthouse. And the message was... that Kinzo wanted to hold a test to see if the grandchildren had the qualifications to become his successor.
"...The Head has said that his successor will not be one of us siblings... That he wants... to pick from among his grandchildren..."
From Krauss's restrained style of speech, Jessica realized as his daughter that he was being forced to speak. And she was forced to realize that the hostages were being exposed to danger even now, and that if they refused this test, there was a possibility that the hostages would be harmed.
"Th-Then, what should we do?"
Krauss put down the receiver, then looked at the grinning Kinzo on the other side of the bars. Kinzo gave his next order.
"...Banish, you say...?"
"There should be a gardening storehouse in the rose garden. Lock Gohda and Kumasawa in there. Hmm, we'll begin from there. Tell them to do it immediately. My weapons will be watching. If they happen to do anything questionable, I'll instantly stop the test and execute all of you as sacrifices!"
"...I-I understand... Hello, Jessica...? Listen closely to what I say..."
Krauss relayed the orders to lock up Gohda and Kumasawa...
"...What kind of test are you planning?"
"Hmm? Aah, it truly is a simple test. I only want my grandchildren to show me their resolve. Well then, I wonder what kind of results they'll show me. *cackle*."
Looking disgusted, Kyrie watched Krauss, who was talking with the children.
I hate it, but for now, we cannot refuse orders. In this dungeon, a feeble resistance won't amount to anything. If we provoke him too much and drive him into a position where he might kill us, there will no longer be any way to stop this murderer. For now, the only choice left is to obey his rules without agitating him, all the while waiting for an opportunity...
However, if we continue to obediently follow his commands, the children might be attacked in this so-called test, and they might even lose their lives. Whether we feign obedience or try to resist, nothing will cause the situation to improve. Anyway, straining our eyes so that we don't let a single chance escape until the very end... is the only resistance possible now.
...While telling herself this, Kyrie watched over Krauss as he delivered Kinzo's orders...
"I understand. It's unfortunate, but all we can do right now is wait. If only we could do something about these bars, we'd be able to return to the mansion..."
"...If only we could somehow get out of here... I-I'll try something. Kinzo-san, I have a request."
"Hmm, what is it, my friend?"
"We understand well that you want to test the children... It is fine for you to do as you desire. Without your power, the Ushiromiya family might have been destroyed long ago. We truly understand why you want to carefully select the person who will take charge. Besides, that is what the family conference is all about. We won't get in your way..."
"Hmm. Your insight is useful. That's right, this is the family conference. The final family conference, where I will select my successor. Fuhahahaha...!"
"And yet, Kinzo-san, it is far too cold here. Since we won't interfere with your test, couldn't you take us to a slightly warmer place...?"
At Nanjo's words, the slight signs that Kinzo's mood had been improving were blown away. Nanjo was struck with a moment of silence as Kinzo gazed at him with dangerous eyes, as though appraising him...
"I cannot do that!! Are you naive, Nanjoooooo...? So, by acting as though you'll skip this turn, you truly and splendidly advance your strategy? I'm not falling for that, you seeeee...? If you're freezing, then why don't I line the floor with red hot coals!!"
Virgilia had tried to help out, but in the end, Kinzo would not comply...
"...You two sure are obedient. If you felt like it, you could easily break these bars."
"...Even if we break them, nothing will come of it."
"Of course. If you were to break these, it would mean the end of Goldsmith's game. All of you, as well as those humans in the guesthouse, would immediately become sacrifices for Kinzo's ceremony."
"...But, surprisingly, you two might be the only ones, yes? Perhaps only you two hold the power to break out of this situation, right? You want to reach the Golden Land, don't you? You must have many dreams you want granted, right...? *cackle*cackle*..."
"Gaap, you musn't provoke them. This is not your game. It is the Master's, as well as Milady's game."
"...What is it, Ronove?"
"Oh, no, nothing. We were talking to the prisoners. Forgive us."
Gaap sent one final sneering smile at Kanon, then turned away. Kanon could only bite his lower lip and shake his fists...
"...You did well... Good job hanging in there..."
"We're powerless... Because we're furniture..."
"That's right, we're powerless. However, furniture is sometimes relied upon... and even loved. Right now, we've only been stored away in the basement. Surely, one day, somebody will love us. Because they'll rely on us. That's why, for now, let's ignore their provocation and bear with it... Okay?"
"Very well. Hang up now. Chiester Sisters, observe the grandchildren as they lock Gohda and Kumasawa away. If they do anything suspicious, then in that moment, the selection test for my successor will be over."
When Kinzo made his order, the Chiester Sisters appeared behind him in a line.
"Understood, sir. I will scout. 556 and 410 will cover both flanks. 45, you're on wide-area surveillance."
"00, 556 is..."
"Ah, that's right. Sorry."
"...That's why I don't like them nyeh. Good people."
"What are you doing, Chiester Sisters?! Follow my orders!"
"...My apologies, sir. Then, let us go observe. Move out!"
The Chiester Sisters erased their forms simultaneously.
Nanjo and Kyrie had witnessed the instants they appeared and disappeared as if by teleportation, but they interpreted this as moving in and out of the darkness in a way that only looked like teleportation, and the two could do nothing but rub their eyes...
"...Well then, I shall begin the preparations for the test. Ronove, Gaap, I'm asking you to be the examiners. Virgilia, you'll watch these rats. After all, two of my furniture are here. Just in case, be on your guard."
He glanced at Shannon and Kanon. Tightly closing her eyes, Shannon gave a silent bow and answered wordlessly, avoiding any unnecessary actions...
"...Certainly. I'll be careful."
"Isn't this cold hard on your old body, Lia? Should I bring you a hot water bottle...?"
"Shut up. Go quickly. Gap!"
"Pukukuku...! Well now, what a strange experience this game is, to have a test and examiners. I do hope this development entertains Milady."
"...Come, arise, goat attendants."
"Ah, Beato's minions. How convenient. Plus, they seem so warm. I see, so you'll use them instead of a hot water bottle. In that case, wouldn't sheep have been better than goats?"
"Shut up about it, you cashmere mop. They aren't very bright, but they faithfully follow orders and are quite dependable."
"Indeed, I leave it to you, my friend, Virgilia. The rest of you, follow me."
With a dignified gesture, Kinzo fluttered his cloak. Following him were Ronove and Gaap, as well as the three recently summoned goat attendants.
"...Hey, you three are supposed to wait here with me. Don't follow them."
The goats jumped in surprise and then came tottering back. Kyrie, who had been watching stunned as all of this played out, couldn't help but snort.
"L-Lord Goldsmith did not give you permission to speak."
...She was probably embarrassed. Virgilia had spoken cooly, but Kyrie saw through that, and for a little while, she couldn't restrain her muffled laughter. However, on the inside, Kyrie was surprised at the number of people Kinzo had with him. After all, including Kinzo himself, at least 10 enemies had already been spotted...
The dungeon they were currently locked in was supposedly underneath the hidden mansion called Kuwadorian. Although this mansion had been whispered of, not even Krauss had known of its existence until today. Are there actually several facilities like this on Rokkenjima, where many unknown henchmen that only Kinzo knows of hide...? Just how many humans are on Rokkenjima, locked away by the typhoon...?
Were we, who bickered over whether Beatrice existed or not and worried about whether a 19 person existed or not, nothing more than the frogs in a well on this island...? No wait, not only that... By now, are there actually more people on the enemy's side than on ours...?
"...Just what the hell is going on...? Witches? Demons? Magic? Are you telling us to believe in those? Are my eyes screwed up? Or is it my head? I think I'm losing it..."
A mass murder by magic. Demons forming and disappearing into thin air. Setting aside the enemy's numbers, how should we interpret the various things thrust before our eyes that cannot be explained with the common sense of our world? Kyrie started to feel like she didn't know what was going on anymore, and while desperately battling the urge to abandon everything and give up, she grit her teeth and tried to hold onto her sanity...
...But they were threatened that, if they resisted, the hostages' safety could not be guaranteed...
It was fairly hard to get them to agree, but once they started thinking that their safety might actually be guaranteed if the key to the gardening storehouse was to be handed to them after being shut inside, and when it was decided that blankets and food would be carried in for them, they were finally convinced.
BGM: At Death's Door
"...It could be as late as Monday morning at the worst, so a full day and night. I really feel bad about doing this to you two..."
George and Battler cleared a space on the floor, then spread the blankets there. They also left the canned food, crackers, and other light snacks they had brought.
"It'll be hard for you guys to go until Monday with just this... If only we could make a trip to the kitchen..."
"They said not to go anywhere we weren't told to. Sounds like we're being watched... Damn."
"...I am honestly sorry that we cannot be of any use... And these are the times that we are truly supposed to be at your sides..."
"It can't be helped. More importantly, take care of Kumasawa-san. We don't know what might happen. If the going gets tough, I'd like you to play it by ear and come to the rescue. And more than anything, I want you to be safe..."
"...Yes, I understand. Please be careful, everyone. Right now, the Master... is taking human lives like they're pieces on a chessboard. Please look out for yourselves."
Gohda stared at the floor, even now unable to believe what had happened as he remembered that atrocity in the dining hall, and he hung his head in shame at his failure to fully describe that terror.
"Thank you. Make sure you stay on your guard. You too, Kumasawa-san."
"...And you all please take care as well... I don't have any idea what's going on anymore..."
"Well then, we'll be off. Let's go, Battler-kun, Jessica-chan. Come on, you too, Maria-chan."
Looking at the pitiful expressions on the imprisoned pair's faces, it got really hard to close the shutter. But we can't disobey. We're being watched.
At that side, there was a small latticed window that could only admit light and ventilation. It looked like something from a jail, making the two of them seem even more pitiable, but on the other hand, it would hopefully protect them from Kinzo and his subordinates...
He opened the window and called out.
"...Are you okay? You aren't cold, are you?"
"We're okay. You've given us so many blankets, after all. If we wrap ourselves up, we'll be just fine."
"I wish we could've brought them a kerosene stove or something..."
"...But it wouldn't have ventilation here. It'll probably be tough for them, but there's nothing we can do now. Hostages are being held against us. We can't disobey..."
"...Dammit... If we manage to save Kyrie and the rest somehow..."
"Shh. ...They might be listening. Gohda-san, here. It's the key to the shutter."
"...Indeed. I'll hold on to it."
Gohda took the key, showed it to Kumasawa, and placed it in his own pocket. There's only one key to the gardening shed's shutter. That key was being held by the ones locked up inside it. If the children had kept it... and had it stolen from them by some chance, that would do nothing but expose the lives of those in the shed to danger. And even with the key, the shutter could not be opened from the inside. Kinzo's demands were fulfilled this way. However, there was now no longer any way to open the shed from the outside either. This protected them. Kinzo had ordered that they be confined, and we could do nothing but trust that this cold closed room would protect them.
Jessica watched this while holding Maria's hand, then looked over the thickets in the pitch-black rose garden. Somewhere in this darkness, somebody was hiding, watching to see whether we obeyed orders or not. Of course, when we pointed our flashlights out there, no suspicious silhouettes appeared. But somebody was surely out there, hiding and watching. I was hit many times with an urge to scream at them... But I was able to hold that urge back through reason. The four children left the area, repeatedly looking back over their shoulders. The light from the faint lightbulb in the gardening storehouse was seeping out slightly.
I wonder if this insane incident will come to an end somehow... so that we can meet those two again. To George, who had closed the shutter himself, the resistance of the lock had made it feel as though he'd killed them with his own hands.
"What's with this test...? Damn geezer, don't screw with us...! Killing Mom, capturing Dad for that... I don't get it, I'll kill him...!"
"...It's okay, Jessica onee-chan. There's nothing to be sad about..."
"Soon, the witch will be revived. Soon, we'll be able to meet in the Golden Land. Kihihihihihihihihi..."
"Don't laugh indiscreetly like that. Seriously, a resurrection ceremony for a witch? Getting so many people involved... in delusions he should've just kept inside his head. That's gonna cost you, bastard..."
"...Let's return to the guesthouse. It'll be bad if we aren't there when Grandfather calls."
Urged on by George, everyone began walking towards the guesthouse... At that moment, Jessica turned in a circle, facing towards the darkness of the rose garden, and roared.
Of course, there was no reply, only the howl of the wind and rain... The children returned to the guesthouse... While fearing what was waiting for them up ahead...
After they left, from the exact point in the darkness that Jessica had yelled at, two rabbit ears sprung up...
BGM: Organ Short No. 200 Million in C Minor
"It's because you're too slow nyeh. Nihihihi, Pendragon-sama's gonna scold you~"
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, please don't tell Pendragon-samaaaaaaaaaa!"
"Be quiet. It was obviously just a bluff. Gohda and Kumasawa's imprisonment confirmed. Mission complete. We'll report back."
"Ya-i, ya-i. Nihihihihihihihihi! Ouch."
"Do you want us all stuck on nothing but carrots and water because of collective responsibility? Let's go."
BGM: Corridor of the Sands of Purgatory
Because, when they returned to the cousins' room, turned the lights on, and laid down on their beds, the phone rang again. Earlier, Jessica had been answering the phone, seeing as this was her house, but now it was the eldest, George, who picked it up. This time, Kyrie-san was on the other end of the line. George handed it to Battler out of consideration...
"Thanks for worrying. At the moment, we're all doing great here. Sorry, I've been ordered to refrain from idle chatter. Listen to what I'm about to tell you."
The fact that they were hostages still hadn't changed. Kinzo or one of his subordinates was listening to the conversation. Battler restrained the urge to talk about other things...and focused on what Kyrie had to say.
"The test will be carried out by Jessica-chan, George-kun, Battler-kun, and Maria-chan, in that order. You'll each be summoned in turn, so until then, do not leave the room. When someone's called out, they'll head to their designated location, alone."
Battler repeated it out loud, so that the cousins listening in around him could hear.
"...So it'll be Jessica, Aniki, me, and Maria, in that order, and we've gotta stay in the room until we're called, right? Got it."
"...Maria too? Even a nine-year-old girl... What's the damn geezer trying to force us to do, that bastard...?"
"...The fate of the Ushiromiya family rests in all of your hands. ...Do your best."
Battler noticed the strange nuance in Kyrie's words. Even without any blood connection, he could still understand thanks to the long-lasting bond they shared. At this point, it doesn't make sense to worry about the Ushiromiya family itself. That probably wasn't the message Kyrie wanted to send. She probably meant 'There's no way for us to escape from this dungeon, and we can only wait to be rescued. Our lives are in your hands.' Something like that.
"Yeah, leave it to me. We don't know what kind of test it is, but no problem. I'll take it gladly. It's gonna be a serious test, right? Should we really... go all out?"
"...Yes. It's a serious test. Grandfather truly does intend to test you all."
"It's no good, no goddamn good at all. Some old fart on death's door is gonna give me a serious challenge? Let him spout nonsense after he gets in the coffin. I know he's there, so tell him this for me: I'll be your successor. And my first action will be to shove my fist into your face...!"
Even without Kyrie having to repeat it, Battler's powerful declaration of war reached Kinzo's ears...
"I can't wait to see just what a man who once threw away the Ushiromiya name has attained, just what lot in life he's reached when he appears before me!! Tell him...!"
Unfortunately, Kinzo's voice was not picked up by the reciever. Therefore, Kyrie spoke for him.
"It sounds like he's more than up for the challenge. Got that, Battler-kun? There's no need to hold back. You are Rudolf's son. No, you are my son. Show me something I can brag about to anyone. I leave everything in your hands."
"...All of us here have lost the right to inherit the position of Successor. Now, we're just the same as pieces taken off the game board looking on from the outside. So you'll have to fight by yourselves."
The nuance of those words meant... 'We've already given up, so forget about us.' But... for that very reason, I won't give up... I'll definitely crush this test or whatever... and save everyone...!
"Really, go to your room? What's your game, you damn geezer..."
"It seems he means Jessica-chan's personal room, the one in the mansion."
"...I'll hand it over to Jessica. Tell her directly for me. Jessica, here."
"H-Hello... Yes, I understand..."
Even Jessica was probably tempted to succumb to the fear of a girl her age. But she crushed those feelings and strengthened her resolve.
"Be careful, okay?"
"...We're probably being watched, right? We can't do anything we aren't told."
"...They say that old geezer killed those six in the dining hall instantly, with no hesitation. So, if we try to fight back, we might end up the same way."
"I know... I'll beat them at their own game."
"Don't do anything reckless. If you think you're in any danger, your own safety comes first. If Uncle Krauss finds out that his daughter sacrificed herself for him, there's no doubt it'll tear his heart apart."
"It goes the other way too. If Mom and Dad are both killed, and I'm the only one left, my heart will rip itself to pieces."
"...Battler-kun, what you said earlier is true, right...?"
"Yeah. Kyrie-san and the others are already... prepared for what will happen."
"Then, the way things are now is just perfect. Everyone's lives rest on our shoulders. The hostages can't do anything while they're locked up. That means we'll have to manage something ourselves."
"...If something happens, run back to the guesthouse. At that time, we'll be done playing along with Grandfather's game."
"At that time, we'll declare war. Wherever they're locked up, we'll save them, and we'll deal with Grandfather accordingly."
"...Are you sure, Aniki? Shannon-chan's there too."
"...That's why I'm saying it. I'm not sitting around and waiting for my fiancée to be killed. What scares me is not that Shannon might be killed by Grandfather."
"I see... This really does sound like a test to see who'll be the Successor."
"Yep. The first one to bury a fist into that old face will be the next Head."
George, Battler, and Jessica each forcefully nodded their heads and put their fists together.
Then, Jessica headed off to her own room, as designated... Her form disappeared into the darkness of the rose garden waving in the strong winds. Watching her go, George and Battler gripped their fists even tighter, making them quiver...
Left on the second floor, Maria watched Jessica's back through the window. She wore a blank expression...
Jessica's form was already being completely swallowed up by the darkness. At that time, the phone began to ring again. Battler and George heard it and came clamoring back, but Maria picked up the receiver right away.
"...I-Is that Maria-sama...? It's me, Shannon. Would you please hand the phone to George-sama?"
This time, it was Shannon on the phone. And this time, the message was to tell the next person, George, where he was to go...